A Beginner’s Guide to Praying the Liturgy of the Hours

As I have said before, praying with a physical breviary can be challenging especially if no one is there to show you how. However, after an initial introduction to praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it becomes quite easy and is like clockwork.

Today, I will walk you through the most common prayer book lay people can pick up to pray the principal hours of the divine office: Christian Prayer. It contains: Morning, Evening & Night Prayer, with an abbreviated section for the Office of Readings and Daytime Prayer. If you only have enough time to pray one or more of those prayers, I suggest picking-up Christian Prayer.

First of all, as with any breviary, there are the all-important “ribbons.” These are extremely important and allow you to mark the correct parts of the divine office.

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To begin setting the ribbons, take one of them and open to page 686 where the “Ordinary” and “Invitatory” are located. The “Ordinary” is the basic “instruction manual” for the Liturgy of the Hours and acts as a reference point if you ever get stuck.

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Here we see how the common phrase “Say the Black, Do the Red” comes in handy. All the words printed in the color red are your instructions and all the words printed in black are the prayers you actually pray. There are plenty of instructions and options, so read it all very carefully. I suggest reading through the entire “Ordinary” before going any further.

The “Ordinary” also has prayers that are repeated each day such as the “Magnificat” and “Benedictus.” You pray these at Evening and Morning Prayer and are typically memorized in the monastery. Until you have them memorized, you can always turn to the “Ordinary” to find them.

After you have read the “Ordinary,” you can leave your first ribbon where it says “Invitatory.” This is composed of an antiphon and Psalm 95 and is typically prayed before Morning Prayer (or the Office of Readings). If you are praying the Invitatory on your own, you will say the correct antiphon once, pray Psalm 95 and then recite the same antiphon at the end. When with others, you will recite the antiphon after every stanza.

Before we go any further, a note about Christian Prayer. Unlike the full version of the divine office, the antiphons are only printed once at the beginning of each Psalm. That means after praying a Psalm, you will have to flip the page backwards to recite the correct antiphon. This is important to remember and will be repeated in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, etc.

The second ribbon will be located in the front of the breviary in a section called the “Proper of Seasons.” This section of the breviary has all the prayers according to the “seasons” of the Church: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter & Ordinary Time.

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Typically it has special antiphons and prayers for the hours prayed on Sundays throughout the year. During seasons such as Lent, there are specific readings and prayers for each day.

For now, you can place the ribbon on page 344. You will see that it says, “Fourth Week of Lent” and “Monday, Morning Prayer” at the top of the page. In order to figure out what week it is, go to USCCB.org and click on their calendar. Alternatively, you can order your own wall liturgical calendar that says what day it is.

This is an important part of the breviary as when you reach the next Sunday, it says what “Psalter” you are currently in:

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You will see that it reads “Psalter, Week IV” below “Fourth Sunday of Lent.” This indicates where to put your third ribbon.

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This third ribbon is located in the middle of the breviary and for our purposes is located on page 937. You will see that it reads, “Monday, Week IV” and is where we want to be. If you ever get confused on which “Psalter” you are supposed to be in, go back to the “Proper of Seasons” and the correct Sunday will tell you.

The fourth ribbon should be located at the current day for “Night Prayer.” Which is much easier to understand, as it only has a single cycle that is repeated each week. For today, it is located on page 1041.

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The fifth ribbon can be placed in the “Proper of Saints,” which contains the special prayers and antiphons for specific saint days. All you need to know is the calendar date to know where to put the ribbon. Today it is located on March 7th, the Memorial of Perpetua and Felicity.

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Once you have all of the ribbons in place, you can start praying every day and go through it one page at a time. If you ever get lost or confused, go to the “Ordinary” and it will tell you what to do.

If you don’t know where to set your ribbons, you can alternatively go to divineoffice.org and they have the page numbers provided for you.

At first it can be quite confusing, but after several weeks of praying it goes much smoother. After several years of praying, it is like riding a bike. If you have any trouble, I am more than happy to help as well.

Praying in this manner, while more difficult than opening up an app, is very beneficial. In an age where everything is available at the touch of our finger, it is healthy to learn the “art” of praying the divine office.

Next week, I will open up the four volume set and we will take another look at praying the Liturgy of the Hours.




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  • Paul Eugene Feurer

    Phillip: Before you begin doing the Liturgy of the Hours Please get the book entitled:” Morning & Evening Prayer: Meditations & Catechesis on the Psalms & Canticles by Pope St. John Paul II & Pope Benedict XVI. The publisher of thos book by Catholic Truth Society. I would write an e-mail to Catholic Trth Society to get permission to deliver your address.

  • Andy

    Thank you for the practical advice – i struggle with keeping m place in Liturgy and this is the first place to explain a pathway in terms that I can even begin to understand. Again thank you.

  • Michael Donahue

    I have prayed morning and evening prayer on and off for some years. The practice was once interrupted by the fact that my pet rabbit chewed on all the ribbons until they were flush with the pages. So keep an eye on your Christian Prayer!

  • Bob Wilkens

    Well, much simpler, if a bit repetitive, is to buy the circa 1865 Little Office Of The Blessed Virgin Mary from Baronius Press, which is also approved liturgy thanks to Pope Benedict and was used by nuns and priests and brothers in active orders for nearly 1000yrs.

    Combine that with daily Mass readings and and the extended readings from the modern Office Of Readings, and you sing your divine praises and get a pretty good read of every major biblical theme and a Catholic education from the Fathers….without all the bookmarks…..

    and can really extend one’s frontiers by buying (Baronius again) the very expensive Roman Breviary and reading their Readings and also the far more affordable 1962 Missal and add those Mass readings and saint of the day commemorations (many now forgotten by an entire generation of modern age Catholics) and even look up those saints on one of the many online versions of The Catholic Encyclopedia….

    most Catholics today are as rootless as any other modern man or woman and they need to get in touch with all those brilliant and saintly folk who proceeded them…most were far smarter and more Christ-like than many today.

    But the Divine Office a good start and hopefully one day we will have one as good as the new order of Mass.

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  • Progressive_Pagan

    NB: The Pauline Media Version of Christian Prayer is ten times easier to follow than CBP’s version, and the most current version can be ordered from the Daughters of St. Paul’s African branch for $25.00. It has all of Daytime Prayer and no Office of Readings

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  • Dominick

    This has been extremely helpful. Thank you and God Bless.

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  • Katrina G

    Hiya I am using the Pauline Cheistian Prayer from 1970. How do we do the ribbon placements for them and how do I ribbon place daily? Thanks

    • Philip Kosloski

      To be honest I do not own that particular version of the Christian Prayer. I will do some research and get back to you once I find a copy of it.

  • Donna Prayer Hour Coordinator

    Hello!
    I have just completed an Ignatian retreat and I would like to begin praying The Liturgy of The Hours today (or soon). I have a beautiful, old leather copy of a book of Advent and Christmas Season.
    I used your tutorial above and I think I now have my ribbons in the right places. I have maybe the “dumb question of the day” — Do I start the prayers following the ribbons in order? For some reason I thought I saw someone at church opening his book near the back to begin. May I ask you, please, to take this one step further and give me the Dummies Version of where to start? Also, some parts appear to be hymns. Am I really supposed to sing? (I don’t have a very pretty singing voice.)

    Thank you very much.
    I am also going to continue looking on-line for a resource. But so far your post is the most clear and easy to follow for me.

    God bless your work here!
    Donna

    • Philip Kosloski

      Thanks for your comment. It can be a steep learning curve, but I encourage you to keep trying. And, no, you don’t need to sing, especially if you are by yourself. You can simply recite the hymn or even skip the hymn. I will see if there is a way to “dumb” it down a bit more in future posts. Thanks!

  • David Hillier

    Thank you for creating this very useful guide. I’ve been praying the Liturgy of the Hours online for over a year now. The Divine Office website is a great resource. Unfortunately, when I’m in front of a computer it’s too easy to sometimes play the audio for the Morning Prayer then look at something else. I’ve had a copy of Christian Prayer for several months now but never knew just how to use it. Your information will help me focus more on my prayer and I thank you for that.

  • Kay F.

    Thank you so much for this guide. Having done what you advise, I have questions. Where are the canticles? I see a direction to pray the canticle of Zechariah, for instance, but don’t know where to find it.

    Am I supposed to jump from Ordinary to Proper of Seasons to the Four Week Psalter, and how do I know which psalms to use?

    Is the period between the Sunday after Epiphany and Ash Wednesday considered ordinary time? Because in the Anglican Church, you use the Propers during ordinary time, and there are no Propers during that period. I look at the schedule of readings in the back of Christian Prayer, and there are none for that entire period, which this year is nearly two months long.

    Thank you for any help you can give me. Even in my poor early attempts at praying the hours, I am sensing the mighty river of prayer through the ages, to which I am now adding my drop.

    • Philip Kosloski

      You mainly use the Four Week Psalter and reference the Ordinary or Proper of Seasons when needed. As I noted above, you know which Psalms to pray based on the Proper of Seasons following the Roman Rite calendar. It is different than the Anglican calendar. Check out usccb.org to find out what Sunday we are currently in. If you ever get lost, the Ordinary has the instructions on where to turn.

      It is somewhat difficult starting out, but eventually gets easier. Hope that helps.

      • Kay F.

        Thank you so much. I’ve been doing it now for three weeks, and it does get easier. I keep stumbling upon information I need. I’m confused about no Saturday evening prayer and EP I and II on Sunday but imagine that too will become clear, in time.

        • Cinaed Mac Seamas

          I suppose you have likely figured this out already, but I will offer my answer: EP I is Saturday Evening Prayer, since Sunday begins the evening of the preceding day, Saturday evening.

  • Ruth John Chow

    This was very helpful! Where can I find your discussion of using the four volume set Liturgy of the Hours?

  • Danielle Miller

    I have the Daughters of St. Paul copy. My goal is to pray the morning prayer every morning. Every how-to-guide is on the one published by Catholic Book Publishing. Can you help at all? Thanks in advance https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f7c5d049e71b2ea4fdc32c46d4cf7597a5cedeaea8a9e9170e027c71d06597fa.jpg

    • Philip Kosloski

      I personally do not own that copy, but many people have mentioned it. I will let you know if I ever do purchase it and make a separate guide for that.

    • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

      Danielle, we have a small booklet “How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours” through our webstore. But basically it is the same as the Catholic Book edition, though naturally the pages differ. I think ours is a little easier to follow, actually. I’m on Facebook, you can send me a message if you need more info about it.

  • Roger Yates

    Hello.
    I just bought this very book. And I did read the tutorial. But I have questions. 1. With ribbons in place, where do I start reading?
    2. USCCB.org does not seem to be working for me. How do I know where to place those ribbons? Is there another site I can go to?
    3. You said, and I quote, “Next week, I will open up the four volume set and we will take another look at praying the Liturgy of the Hours.”
    Where can I find this discussion?

    Thank you and God Bless.

  • Gabe Onwu

    Many thanks for this great work.This is our faith and must be preserved.God bless