Many people think that the daily life of the church centers around the celebration of daily Eucharist. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us in its document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows” (no. 10). However, whereas the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is the pinnacle and foundation of the life of the Christian community, the daily celebration is more of a devotional practice, though certainly an important one.
The primary liturgical rhythm and prayer of the church each day is the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. This is typically associated with consecrated religious, deacons, and priests—women and men who are nuns and monks, friars and diocesan clergy. It is the cycle of psalms and canticles, readings from scripture, hymns, and prayers that form the seven “hours” prayed throughout the day:
- Office of Readings
- Lauds (morning prayer)
- Terce (mid-morning prayer)
- Sext (mid-day prayer)
- None (mid-afternoon prayer)
- Vespers (evening prayer)
- Compline (night prayer)
The monastic communities typically pray all seven hours, while the Mendicant Orders (such as the Franciscans), apostolic communities (such as many communities of women religious), and diocesan priests prayer the ‘major hours’ (1, 2, 6, and 7).
Again, though it is a requirement for us in religious life to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, it is really the prayer of the whole church. At certain periods in Christian history, it was more common for the laity to come to the local parish or nearby monastery to pray the office with the religious or clergy. Today, some parishes have incorporated this into its daily liturgical schedule, though it remains a less-common practice than daily Eucharist in most places. You do not have to be ordained to lead or pray the office, anyone can do it.
Throughout the liturgical year the readings and antiphons (the short, often one-line, prayer said before the start and after the conclusion of a psalm or canticle) shift to reflect the proper church season.
During Advent there is a very special and ancient tradition that begins on December 17 and continues until Christmas Eve. This tradition is known as the “O Antiphons.” Special antiphons are introduced for each of these last days of Advent and prayed with the Magnificat, the Gospel canticle (Luke 1:46-55), at Vespers each evening. They also have been included as the Alleluia verse in the Lectionary for the day.
They are called the “O Antiphons” because they begin with “O” followed by one of seven names for Christ that are found in scripture. They are Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations, and God With Us. Most Christians are familiar with the O Antiphons, not from the Liturgy of the Hours, but from hearing or singing the best-known Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
I have always loved the O Antiphons. Longtime readers of the DatingGod.org blog know that each year I try to offer a reflection on each of the O Antiphons during these last days of the Advent season. Their introduction into the Church’s liturgy coincides with the increasingly proximate arrival of Christmas and our celebration of the Incarnation.
Beginning with today’s antiphon in the next post here, I hope to offer another set of reflections and pray that you too may find a source of peace, consolation, challenge, and transcendence in these last days of this great Advent season.