The hymn of praise that is sung through all the ages in the heavenly places
and was brought by the High Priest, Christ Jesus, into this land of exile has
been continued by the Church with constant fidelity over many centuries, in a
rich variety of forms.
The liturgy of the hours gradually developed into the prayer of the local
Church, a prayer offered at regular intervals and in appointed places under the
presidency of a priest. It was seen as a kind of necessary complement by which
the fullness of divine worship contained in the eucharistic sacrifice would
overflow to reach all the hours of daily life.
The book of the divine office, gradually enlarged by many additions in the
course of time, became a suitable instrument for the sacred service for which it was
designed. Since over the generations a good many changes were introduced in the
form of celebration, including the practice of individual recitation, it is not strange
that the breviary, as it was sometimes called, underwent many transformations,
sometimes affecting the principles of its arrangement.
The Council of Trent, unable, because of shortness of time, to complete the
reform of the breviary, left this matter to the Apostolic See. The Roman
Breviary, promulgated in 1568 by our predecessor St. Pius V, achieved above all
what was so urgently needed, the introduction of uniformity in the canonical
prayer of the Latin Church, after this uniformity had lapsed.
In subsequent centuries many revisions were made by Sixtus V, Clement VIII,
Urban VIII, Clement XI, and other popes.
In 1911 St. Pius X promulgated a new breviary, prepared at his command. The
ancient custom was restored of reciting the 150 psalms each week and the
arrangement of the psalter was entirely revised to remove all repetitions and to
harmonize the weekday psalter and the cycle of biblical readings with the
offices of saints. In addition, the office of Sunday was raised in rank and
dignity to take general precedence over feasts of saints.
The whole work of liturgical revision was undertaken again by Pius XII. For
both private and public recitation of the office he permitted the use of the new
translation of the psalter prepared by the Pontifical Biblical Institute and in
1947 established a special commission with the responsibility of studying the
question of the breviary. In 1955 all the bishops throughout the world were
questioned about this matter. The fruits of this labor and concern were first
seen in the decree on the simplification of the rubrics, published 23 March 1955,
and in the regulations for the breviary issued by John XXIII in the Codex
rubricarum of 1960.
Though only a part of the liturgical reform came under his seal, Pope John
XXIII was aware that the fundamental principles on which the liturgy rests
required further study. He entrusted this task to the Second Vatican Ecumenical
Council, which in the meantime he had convoked. The result was that the Council
treated the liturgy as a whole, and the hours in particular, with such
thoroughness and skill, such spirituality and power, that there is scarcely a
parallel to the Council's work in the entire history of the Church.
While Vatican Council II was still in session, it was our concern that after
the promulgation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, its decrees should be put
immediately into effect. For this purpose we established a special commission
within the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy.
With the help of scholars and specialists in the liturgical, theological,
spiritual, and pastoral disciplines, the Consilium worked with the greatest zeal
and diligence over a period of seven years to produce the new book for the
liturgy of the hours.
The principles underlying it, its whole arrangement, as well as its individual
parts were approved by the Consilium and also by the 1967 Synod of Bishops, after
consultation with the bishops of the whole Church and a very large number of
pastors, religious, and laity.
It will be helpful here, then, to set out in detail the underlying principles
and the structure of the liturgy of the hours.
1. As required by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, account was taken
of the circumstances in which priests engaged in apostolic works find themselves today.
The office has been drawn up and arranged in such a way that not only clergy
but also religious and indeed laity may participate in it, since it is the prayer
of the whole people of God. People of different callings and circumstances, with
their individual needs, were kept in mind and a variety of ways of celebrating
the office has been provided, by means of which the prayer can be adapted to
suit the way of life and vocation of different groups dedicated to the liturgy
of the hours.
2. Since the liturgy of the hours is the means of sanctifying the day, the
order of this prayer was revised so that in the circumstances of contemporary
life the canonical hours could be more easily related to the chronological hours
of the day.
For this reason the hour of prime was suppressed; morning prayer and evening
prayer, as hinges of the entire office, were assigned the most important role
and now have the character of true morning and evening prayer; the office of
readings retains its character as a night office for those who celebrate it
during the night, but it is suitable for any hour of the day; the daytime prayer
is so arranged that those who choose only one of the hours for midmorning,
midday, and midafternoon may say the one most suitable to the actual time of
day, without losing any part of the four-week psalter.
3. To ensure that in celebrating the office mind and voice may be more easily
in harmony and that the liturgy of the hours may become in reality "a source of
devotion and nourishment for personal prayer,"
in the new book, the amount of obligatory daily prayer has been considerably
reduced, but variety in the texts has been notably increased and many aids to
meditation on the psalms provided, for example, the captions, antiphons,
psalm-prayers, and optional periods of silence.
4. In accordance with the ruling by the Council,
the weekly cycle of the psalter has been replaced by an arrangement of the
psalms over a period of four weeks, in the new version prepared by the
Commission for the Neo-Vulgate edition of the Bible, which we ourselves
established. In this new arrangement of the psalms a few of the psalms and
verses that are somewhat harsh in tone have been omitted, especially because of
the difficulties anticipated from their use in vernacular celebration. In
addition, new canticles from the Old Testament have been added to morning prayer
in order to increase its spiritual richness and canticles from the New Testament
now enhance the beauty of evening prayer.
5. In the new cycle of readings from holy Scripture there is a more ample
selection from the treasury of God's word, so planned as to harmonize with the
cycle of readings at Mass.
The passages provide in general a certain unity of theme and have been chosen
to present, in the course of the year, the principal stages in the history of
6. In accordance with the norms laid down by the Council, the daily reading
the works of the Fathers and of ecclesiastical writers has been revised in such
a way that the best of the writings of Christian authors, especially of the
Fathers, is included. Besides this, an optional lectionary will be prepared with
a fuller selection from the spiritual riches of these writers, as a source of
even more abundant benefits.
7. Anything that is not in harmony with historical truth has been removed
from the text of the liturgy of the hours. On this score, the readings,
especially biographies of the saints, have been revised in such a way that,
first and foremost, the spiritual portrait of the saints and their significance
for the life of the Church emerge and are placed in their true context.
8. Intercessions (preces) have been added to morning prayer to express the
consecration of the day and to offer prayer for the day's work about to begin.
There is also a short act of supplication at evening prayer, drawn up in the
form of general intercessions.
The Lord's Prayer has been restored to its position at the end of these
prayers. Since the Lord's Prayer is also said at Mass, this change represents a
return in our time to early Christian usage, namely, of saying this prayer three
times in the day.
Now that the prayer of holy Church has been reformed and entirely revised in
keeping with its very ancient tradition and in the light of the needs of our day,
it is to be hoped above all that the liturgy of the hours may pervade and
penetrate the whole of Christian prayer, giving it life, direction, and
expression and effectively nourishing the spiritual life of the people of God.
We have, therefore, every confidence that an appreciation of the prayer
"without ceasing" that our Lord Jesus
Christ commanded will take on new life. The book for the liturgy of the hours,
distributed as it is according to seasons, continually strengthens and supports
that prayer. The very celebration of the liturgy of the hours, especially when a
community gathered for this purpose expresses the genuine nature of the praying
Church and stands as a wonderful sign of that Church.
Christian prayer above all is the prayer of the whole human community, which
Christ joins to himself. Everyone shares in this prayer, which is proper to
the one Body as it offers prayers that give expression to the voice of Christ's
beloved Bride, to the hopes and desires of the whole Christian people, to
supplications and petitions for the needs of all humanity.
This prayer takes its unity from the heart of Christ, for our Redeemer
desired "that the life he had entered upon in his mortal body with supplications
and with his sacrifice should continue without interruption through the ages in
his Mystical Body, which is the Church."
Because of this, the prayer of the Church is at the same time "the very prayer
that Christ himself, together with his Body, addresses to the Father."
 As we celebrate the office,
therefore, we must recognize our own voices echoing in Christ, his voice echoing
To manifest this quality of our prayer more clearly, "the warm and living
love for holy Scripture" that
permeates the liturgy of the hours must come to life in all of us, so that
Scripture may indeed become the chief source of all Christian prayer. In
particular, the praying of the psalms, which continually ponders and proclaims
the action of God in the history of salvation, must be grasped with new warmth
by the people of God. This will be achieved more readily if a deeper
understanding of the psalms, in the meaning in which they are used in the
liturgy, is more diligently promoted among the clergy and communicated to all
the faithful by means of appropriate catechesis. The wider range of Scripture
readings provided not only in the Mass but also in the new liturgy of the hours
will enable the history of salvation to be constantly recalled and its
continuation in the life of the human race to be effectively proclaimed.
The life of Christ in his Mystical Body also perfects and elevates the
personal life of each member of the faithful. Any conflict therefore between the
prayer of the Church and personal prayer must be entirely excluded; rather the
relationship between them must be strengthened and enlarged. Mental prayer
should draw unfailing nourishment from readings, psalms, and the other parts of
the liturgy of the hours. The recitation of the office should be adapted, as far
as possible, to the needs of living and personal prayer, so that as the General
Instruction provides, rhythms and melodies are used and forms of celebration
chosen that are more suited to the spiritual needs of those who pray it. If the
prayer of the divine office becomes genuine personal prayer, the relation
between the liturgy and the whole Christian life also becomes clearer. The whole
life of the faithful, hour by hour during day and night, is a kind of leitourgia
or public service, in which the faithful give themselves over to the ministry of
love toward God and neighbor, identifying themselves with the action of Christ,
who by his life and self-offering sanctified the life of all humanity.
The liturgy of the hours clearly expresses and effectively strengthens this
sublime truth, embodied in the Christian life.
For this reason the hours are recommended to all Christ's faithful members,
including those who are not bound by law to their recitation.
Those who have received from the Church the mandate to celebrate the liturgy
of the hours are to complete its entire course faithfully each day, respecting
as far as possible the actual time of day; first and foremost, they are to give
due importance to morning and evening prayer.
Those who are in holy orders and are marked in a special way with the sign of
Christ the Priest, as well as those consecrated in a particular way to the
service of God and of the Church by the vows of religious profession, should not
only be moved to celebrate the hours through obedience to law, but should also
feel themselves drawn to them because of the intrinsic excellence of the hours
and their pastoral and ascetical value. It is extremely desirable that the
public prayer of the Church be offered by all from hearts renewed, in
acknowledgment of the inherent need within the whole Body of the Church: as the
image of its Head, the Church must be described as the praying Church.
May the praise of God reecho in the Church of our day with greater grandeur
and beauty by means of the new book for the liturgy of the hours, which now by
Apostolic authority we sanction, approve, and promulgate. May it join the praise
sung by saints and angels in the court of heaven. May it go from strength to
strength in the days of this earthly exile and soon attain the fullness of
praise that throughout eternity will be given "to the One who sits upon the
throne and to the Lamb."
We decree that this new book for the liturgy of the hours may be put into use
as soon as it is published. Meanwhile, the conferences of bishops are to see to
the preparation of editions of this liturgical work in the vernacular and, after
approval, that is, confirmation, of these editions by the Apostolic See, are to
fix the date when the vernacular editions may or must be used, either in whole
or in part. Beginning on the effective date for use of these versions in
vernacular celebrations, only the revised form of the liturgy of the hours is to
be followed, even by those who continue to use Latin.
For those however who, because of advanced age or for special reasons,
experience serious difficulties in observing the new rite it is lawful to
continue to use the former Roman Breviary, in whole or in part, with the consent
of their Ordinary, and exclusively in individual recitation.
We wish that these decrees and prescriptions be firm and effective now and in
the future, notwithstanding, to the extent necessary, apostolic constitutions
and ordinances issued by our predecessors, and other prescriptions, even those
deserving explicit mention and amendment.