Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Towards a Public Domain Liturgy of the Hours

Just like they did when they were Jews, the early Christians prayed at certain times of the day. This never went away, but turned into the Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office, the Office, the Daily Office, Common Prayer, Opus Dei, or the Work of God.) This is a system of psalms, prayers, and readings, varying by the weekday, season, and time of day, so people get big chunks of the Bible and don't get bored.

Most people don't do all of the Hours, but those who've been ordained are supposed to; most cloistered monastic communities also say all the hours. Some even sing or chant it. Most religious communities at least do morning and evening (Lauds and Vespers) prayer together, though they may follow their own community's usage instead of the standard breviary. However, the Council Fathers of Vatican II also recommended that all the laity make morning and evening prayer according to the Hours. (I never saw a felt banner pointing that out.)

You may ask yourself, where the heck do I get a breviary? What does one look like? Why didn't someone give me one at First Communion, if it's so honking important? (Okay, maybe that's just me.) Well, there are two major print options. One is a one volume book called Christian Prayer. (Boy, that just screams "find Liturgy of the Hours inside", doesn't it? Nothing generic about that title.) The other is a four volume set called "Liturgy of the Hours" which allows you not to waste all your time flipping back and forth, but will cost you somewhere between 100-150 dollars. (Ah, the accessibility.) Needless to say, none of these volumes have anything like the purty pictures you might recall seeing in medieval books of hours, even if the art books were very vague on what the written bits said.

The Internet has been a big boon to this devotion, making it possible not only to explain the principles of saying the Hours to clueless newbies such as myself, but also allowing them to pray along without dropping a wad of cash on hard-to-find books.

So it's kind of a big deal when Bettnet notes that is going off the free Net, to be replaced by a subscription service called is still fine, though. Also, we have Fr. Roderick's Praystation Portable.

Clearly, what we need is some sort of public domain liturgy of the hours, with the new breviary presented with its readings from the Bible and various other sources being drawn from public domain translations.

Meanwhile, one approach is that taken by Fr. Kenny, a Dominican in Nigeria who has created "the ultimate Liturgy of the Hours". The current version of the readings and prayers are all presented in the original languages, which cuts out the middleman. (Don't panic. He also made his own translations.) He also includes the chant tunes. (But the links to hymns are often to hymns in Hausa, so I hope you've boned up on your clicks and such.) Yes, this is real PODness, with a large helping of linguistic and musical geekdom on top. And no pages to flip. Awesome work!

Another liturgy of the hours resource is Pray the Psalms Daily with the Monks. It's more than just the psalms. (Oh, and Blue Cloud Abbey is a Benedictine monastery out in South Dakota. So that is a real placename.)

Here's something really interesting: a site for the Byzantine Catholic liturgy of the hours! Breathe with your other lung for a while! This site also features extensive links to Eastern Catholicism resources.

The Erie Benedictines write out some of the readings. The Yankton Benedictines provide a list of the readings, but you have to look them up yourself. There are plenty of other websites of this kind, as well as communities using their own readings and prayer schedule.

For those who'd like something shorter, there's also the modern version of The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No pictures, alas. Here's an HTML version, but it only includes Morning and Evening prayers. An English version of the old Office is available (with illustrations!) at the Hypertext Book of Hours.

Finally, since I saw it listed on several links sites, I thought I should probably point out that is an Anglican site, although it doesn't say that right off. Their Divine Office and the Catholic Divine Office are not the same. Just so we're all clear on that.


  • At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for the mention! Yes, Universalis continues to be free.

    The big problem is that translations are copyright and the copyright owners are ferocious about protecting their property. For some time I used the Douay Bible for the scripture readings in Universalis; but the trouble is that both scholarship and the English language have moved on in the past 400 years.

    Eventually we came to a deal with the owners of the Jerusalem Bible: we'd sell downloads incorporating their translations (we charge a one-off price of £30/$55 for something that will work essentially forever), and pay them royalties on those sales, and they would allow us to keep the present pattern of Universalis on the Web, which is that it's free of charge, giving you yesterday, today, and 7 days into the future.

    It was expensive (there was quite a lump sum to pay) but I reckoned it was worth doing. I'm filling in the missing Second Readings myself, and making a start on the Prayers and Intercessions.

    By the way, I had a look at Fr. Kenny's site, and I see that you're right about "original languages" as far as Hebrew is concerned. The links to the Greek are broken at the moment, and the Second Readings are simply links to... Universalis!!!!

    It's taken me years to get this far with Universalis and I think the sheer scale of the problem is what you're facing if you're looking at having a fully public-domain Liturgy.

  • At 4:02 AM, Anonymous phen375 said…

    awesome!very helpfull post


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