The formal prayers the Church puts into the mouths of her priests and religious, the prayer said in the name of the Church. It is contained in the breviary - the official prayerbook of the Catholic Church.



• It is not primarily I who am praying, but the Church praying through my mouth for all the needs of God’s kingdom here on earth.

• This gives a deeper content to our prayer, we spread out far beyond our own selves-now the Church is praising God through my mouth, now the Church is struggling after souls with my hands. All the sentiments of Holy Mother Church find their echo in us.


• It is a staff and guide to heaven for the individual. It leads us through the Church year – as our Catholic churches sanctify space, so the breviary sanctifies time.

• By the arrangement of prayers in the sequence of canonical hours, we are made to progress in building up the temple of grace within our soul. It puts a sword into our hands for every time-segment of the day.


They provide a perfect way to consecrate the whole day to God and make it holy. The canonical hours of the Divine Office are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.

Traditionally Matins was a nighttime hour of the Office and the other seven prayed during the daylight. The Church made these divisions to imitate David, who sang the praises of God seven times a day.

The theme of a canonical hour is that special thought or motivation to prayer that arises from the needs of that time of day: it is the hour’s prayer intention.

The background from the story of salvation is the mystery or event that bears upon the hour and should enter into the prayer intention while the hour is being prayed – to channel and intensify the spirit of devotion.


Preferred time: at first light

Theme: Resurrection -
nature awakens . . . Christ rises . . .
- spiritual awakening in human soul

Lauds is a jubilant hour, fresh as the morning dew. It is night, nature and men are asleep. In the Far East the gray of dawn appears, the promise of a new day and the world of nature begins to stir. But all this beauty is only a symbol and reminder of the most wonderful event in the story of salvation –the Resurrection.
It was at this beautiful hour when our Savior burst the bonds of death.
If we can know these three pictures intermingling in our Lauds prayer, if we can enter into the spirit of this threefold resurrection, if we can enlist the forces of nature to pray and praise along with us while reciting this hour reasonable early in the morning, then we are certain to be struck by the full impact of its meaning.


Preferred time: at full sunrise

Theme: Dedication of and preparation for the day’s labour and conflicts.
The hymns at Prime enlist all our efforts and abilities in the service of the Lord
and arm us against imminent dangers.

After the singing of the psalms comes a conclusion, which Prime has in common with the other little hours (Terce, Sect, None): chapter, responsory, versicle, and prayer. The chapter – an oath of allegiance to God. The responsory recalls the blind man of Jericho sitting along the road as Jesus passed by. We are that blind beggar. The prayer that follows never changes and contains all the elements of a good morning prayer: thanks, petition, good intention and particularly the plea to be spared the guilt of sin throughout the day.

In the second part of Prime the martyrology is read, the official list of those whom the Church has declared saints. They are placed before our eyes as models at the very moment when our day’s activity begins.

Near the end of Prime we imitate the practice of the monks who received the blessing of the father of their house. As God’s children we receive a paternal blessing before setting out to work: “ May the all-powerful Lord order our days and doings in His peace. Amen.”


Preferred time: 12:00 / high noon

Theme:  Our Lord on the cross and the battle against sin in us and in the Church
The day’s conflict is at its climax; the heat of passion-like that of the day’s burning sun- is at its strongest. Our Savior is hanging on the Cross (12:00-3:00); hell is bringing all its forces to bear against Him. “Lead us not into temptation” is the message of this hour.


Preferred time: late afternoon dusk

Theme: thanksgiving ~ the Last Supper

Vespers is the Catholic Church’s evening song. The Church looks back on the day of salvation just passed and is fervently grateful. Thanksgiving is the principle theme: the Magnificat is the climax, the great thanksgiving prayer of our Lady and the Church.
We are thankful for all His saving graces both to souls and to the Church.

The theme of salvation found in Vespers is the Last Supper.
At the very same time that Vespers is prayed,
Christ was seated with His apostles in the upper room.
A great number of Vesper psalms are Eucharistic songs.
The Last Supper is itself a symbol of the heavenly banquet.



Preferred time: as nightfall closes in
Theme: night /sin
death protection / rest
dismissal from day’s duty / happy death

As apposed to Vespers, it is subjective and individual prayer
for the sinful soul who wants her peace with God.
Light and sun are favorite Scriptural and liturgical symbols of God, Christ, and the divine life.
On the other hand, night and darkness are frequent liturgical symbols for the powers of hell.
It is this night theme that sets the tone for all of Compline.

In darkness we recognize the element of the devil,
night is the cloak for the prince of this world.
The child of God, being a creature of light, is afraid of this night.
Like the tiny chick, he huddles beneath his mother’s wings.
There he is safe from the attacks of the hawk, Satan.
 “Shelter me in the shadow of Your wings.”
The soul prays this night prayer for his own protection
from the powers of darkness and for all souls, everywhere.
The hour expresses earnest petition, contrition,
plea for protection and firm confidence in God.
The chapter – Christ is in our midst- it is in His name that we are gathered.
We pray, “Do not forsake us”. Sleep, too, is a symbol, an image of death.

Spontaneously we think of death when we go to sleep. We pray,
“ May the almighty Lord grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”

Two images of death comes next; the first,
Jesus hanging on the Cross and uttering His last words.
We pray repeatedly, from our heart: the same words, Father, Redeemer,
into Your hand I commend my soul
for this nighttime of the day, of my life, of my soul.

Another reference to death occurs in the canticle from the Gospel,
old Simeon’s swan song. We are in a similar position.
“We bear the mystical Savior in our hands and in our hearts,
the saving graces of the day.”
Our eyes have seen “his visitation”, the divine “light” has risen for us,
Christ is our “glory”.

Now we too, pray to be dismissed from service,
it is the night of rest that follows the day’s work.
We are God’s hired laborers and we must be ready
every day to be dismissed by Him.
Protect us, Lord, while we are awake and safeguard
 us while we sleep (at night),
that we may keep watch with Christ (in life, through grace)
and rest in peace (by a happy death).