Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Office of the Readings

is the largest treasure house within the Liturgy of the Hours. It may be celebrated at any time of the day, but it is quite often celebrated before dawn - in which case it is the first hour of the day and opens with

Lord, open my lips
and my mouth will proclaim your praise.

The Office of the Readings follows the same basic structure as the other hours: the opening, a hymn, three psalms with antiphons, readings, and concluding prayer.

What makes the Office of the Readings unique is, naturally, the readings.

There are two readings, each of them fairly long. The first reading is from Scripture and is followed by a short responsorial.

The second reading is a selection from some venerable Church writing beyond Scriptures, most often by one of the Church’s most famous and ancient spiritual writers (today’s second reading is by St. Clement, a protégé of the Apostles, who later became one of St. Peter’s successors as Bishop of Rome and was martyred sometime in the late 1st century). Often, when the memorial of a saint is celebrated, the second reading is a selection by or about that saint. The readings follow a one-year cycle, providing a great richness and depth of spiritual reading. A responsorial follows the second reading also.

Before the concluding prayer, on Sundays and Feast Days, the great Christian hymn Te Deum is recited or sung.

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord; we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you…

The best resource in the US for praying the Office of the Readings is a four-volume set by Catholic Book Publishing Co. The Daughters of St. Paul’s single volume, Christian Prayer: the Liturgy of the Hours, obviously can include relatively few of the actual readings.

Online, a good resource for experiencing at least some of the Office of the Readings is provided by www.universalis.com, which includes many of the psalms, most of the Scriptural readings, and a substantial number of the non-Scriptural spiritual readings.

Even with its limitations, www.universalis.com is an awesome resource, especially for providing web surfers most days with a meaty portion of good spiritual wisdom.

UPDATE - The complete texts for all of the Liturgy of the Hours for each day (U.S. edition) are available at www.liturgyhours.org.