The Little Office of Our Lady

An Introduction

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The Official Prayer of the Church

 

Next to the Holy Mass, the Divine Office (or Breviary) is the most important prayer offered to God.  It is offered by the Church and in the name of the Church, conferring multifold graces and blessings on those who recite it worthily, attentively and devoutly.  Normally the domain of priests and religious, the Church has continued to recommend her official prayer to the faithful.  However, until now, the complexity of the rubrics and a lack of suitable translations has deterred many.

 

Now Accessible to the Layman

 

With the help of modern technology, it has become easier to overcome these problems.  The result is the Roman Breviary published by the Confraternity of Ss. Peter & Paul in both Latin and English.  No knowledge of the liturgy is required.  All you have to do is click on the feastday, and then on the Canonical Hour you want to say.  The rest is just like reading a book—everything is laid out for you in order according to the rubrics of the day.  No more flicking through the ribboned sections of a weighty volume.  No more apprehension that you are forgetting some obscure rubric.  It's all there spelled out, in order, every day.

 

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And if you do want to deepen your knowledge of the Breviary or the Confraternity, this website can help you with that too.  We already provide a short history of the Breviary, instructions on when to recite which Hours, a brief commentary on the psalms, and much more.  And for those who would really like to understand the rubrics in greater depth, we provide in our bookstore a detailed but simply written electronic manual entitled How to Say the Breviary.  We shall be expanding this website regularly with more information, so check back with us frequently.  And may God reward your prayers by bestowing on you all those spiritual favours that come from a devout reading of the Church's Divine Office.

 

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Link to the Office for the Feast of St. Pius X, our secondary patron.  You can browse through the various Hours of the Office and get a feel for what to expect.

 

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The Little Office at Breviary Online

Our online Breviary service includes as part of your subscription the Little Office of Our Lady in Latin and English.  A type of abbreviated Breviary, the Little Office is dedicated entirely to the Blessed Mother, and may be said by laymen instead of the Divine Office.  Its recitation often fulfills the daily requirements for certain sodalities and third orders.

To find the Little Office on the Breviary Online, scroll down through the list of this year's feasts until you come to the link "Other Prayers of the Roman Breviary".  You will find the Little Office at the top of the list of contents on the linked page.  If you are currently logged in to your account you may link directly to the Little Office by clicking on the following button.

Little Office

You will find the Little Office to be in the same easy-to-read format familiar to all our subscribers to the Divine Office, complete with stunning artwork and sublime choral accompaniment.

If you already subscribe to the Breviary Online, the Little Office is now offered at no extra charge.  If you are not yet a subscriber, here's one more reason to join up.


 

Origin of the Little Office

The word Office means charge, function, or duty, and the Divine Office is the collection of chants, rites, prayers, readings, and ceremonies by means of which the Church shows forth her religion and performs her duty to God.  This service is essentially a public one, carried out by sacred ministers to whom it belongs as their chief work and function, in the name of the whole Christian people convoked together.  In quite early times the custom arose in monasteries and chapters of adding to it the Little Office (so called on account of its brevity), in honour of the Mother of God:  in choir each Hour of the Little Office preceded or followed that of the Great Office.  At the Council of Clermont in 1095, the reigning Pope, Blessed Urban II, went so far as to impose its recital upon the whole body of the clergy, in order to secure the special protection of Our Lady for the First Crusade.  More than five centuries later Saint Pius V released them from this obligation, but he retained the Little Office as an integral part of the Roman Breviary, and the more recent reform of St. Pius X was careful to keep the old custom.  Thus the Little Office is one of the official prayers of the Church, and the most venerable of all devotions in honour of Mary.  This is why so many religious societies have adopted it as their meed of praise to the Queen of heaven, and as a link uniting them with the great voice of Catholic liturgy rising up day and night before God.  The Sovereign Pontiffs have, moreover, encouraged the recitation of the Little Office by granting it many indulgences.  In enumerating these below, the authorized edition of the Raccolta has been followed throughout.

1.     

  Indulgences

 Leo XIII, by a Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Indulgences, dated November 17, 1887, granted to the faithful who recite the whole of the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, even though they are bound to it by obligation,

An Indulgence of 7 years and 7 quarantines, once a day.

A Plenary Indulgence once a month on any day at their choice, to those who have recited this Office daily for a month.  Conditions:  Confession and Communion.

An Indulgence of 300 days once a day to those who shall recite the Matins and Lauds only.

Besides these, a Rescript of the same Congregation, dated December 8, 1897, grants an Indulgence of 30 days for the recitation of each Hour of the Little Office, including Vespers and Compline when said separately.

 

Purpose and Composition of the Little Office

The arrangement of the Little Office is the same as that of the canonical Hours.  It is made up of Psalms, Antiphons, Canticles, Hymns, Lessons, Responsories, Versicles, and Prayers, each of which in turn invites us to glorify God and thank him for having given us Our Lord through Mary.  To God alone we offer the worship of latria or supreme adoration, but we honour the Blessed Virgin with a special worship called hyperdulia, because of her ineffable dignity as Mother of God and men.   In singing the praises of Mary and invoking her, we acknowledge that He that is mighty hath magnified her, associating her as he has so closely with the mystery of our salvation.

The Little Office in Advent

All the Proper of this Office is either taken directly from the Gospel of the Annunciation or inspired by the sacred text of Saint Luke, containing as it does the strongest reasons for filial piety towards the Blessed Virgin.  The Archangel Gabriel coming down from heaven announces to Mary that she has been chosen to be the Mother of God.  At her consent the famous prophecy of Isaiah is accomplished:  Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel.  The Holy Ghost will himself accomplish the miraculous Incarnation of the Word in Mary’s womb.  Jesus is to have no other Father save God himself, but on earth he will have a Virgin Mother.  Every time we say the Ave Maria let us think of that blessed moment of time when the Word was made flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the word of the Angel (Prayer for Advent).

After Christmas

The different Antiphons and Prayers proper to this season vie with one another in exalting the fruitful maidenhood of her who remained a virgin before, during, and after her miraculous child-bearing.  They praise Mary above all women, since she alone had the happiness of uniting the joys of motherhood with the glory of spotless virginity.  The God of all holiness did not derogate from his high sanctity in becoming incarnate in her; without the aid of man he took our nature upon him in her womb, like the dew ascending from heaven on Gideon’s fleece, or the mysterious fire which kindled Moses’ burning bush without consuming it.  Mary is the stem which bore the flower of Jesse on whom the Spirit of God shall rest, and her divine motherhood is to make her the mother also of all those redeemed by the blood of her Son who is come to take away the sins of the world.

During the Year

The special purpose of the Little Office in the course of the year, throughout the long weeks of Epiphany, Septuagesima, Lent, Easter and time after Pentecost, is to glorify Mary as Sovereign of heaven and earth.  The Antiphons for Lauds and the Little Hours, as well as some of the Chapters, Responsories, etc., are taken from the Office of the Assumption, the mystery which reminds us of her triumphal entry, body and soul, into heaven, whither she was welcomed by saints and angels with transports of holy joy as their Queen and Well-Beloved.  The remainder of this office is from the Common of Feasts of the Blessed Virgin.  Filial piety will find here an inexhaustible source of consolation, inviting us as it does to meditate upon her eternal predestination, her perfections, her compassionate loving-kindness, her invincible power over the evil one and against heresy, her role as mother of all Christians, etc., etc.  Let us especially never lose sight of this article of our faith:  I believe… in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, for this must be the solid foundation of all our devotion to Our Lady.

Composition

Like the canonical Office on which it is based, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin is made up of seven Hours:  Matins and Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline.

  1. Matins and Lauds (Praises) really constitute the prayer of night, according to the old custom of reciting them after midnight.  In this part of the Office we can meditate on the birth of our Saviour or on the many nights spent by Our Lord in prayer.

  2. Prime used to be said at the first hour of the day, at the time when the divine Sun of Justice rose glorious from the tomb.

  3. Terce, or the third hour (9:00 am) is the time at which the Holy Ghost descended upon the Blessed Virgin and the Apostles gathered together in the Cenacle.

  4. Sext, or the sixth hour, corresponds to noon, the time at which Our Lord went up into heaven.

  5. None, or the ninth hour, reminds us of the moment at which our Saviour breathed his last sigh upon the Cross.

  6. Vespers, (Latin for evening prayer or Evensong) used to be solemnly chanted  at the decline of the day.  The faithful were especially bidden to assist at this Office.

  7. Compline is the evening prayer, the canonical Hour which ends and completes the Christian day.

1.     

  Division of the Little Office

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin is essentially the same throughout the year.  As Advent, Christmas and Eastertide, however, have portions proper to themselves, the Roman Breviary divides it into four Offices corresponding to the liturgical season.

1.  During the Year

This Office is recited from Matins of February 3 until None of the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent inclusive.  In Eastertide the proper Antiphon Regina Caeli is said with the Canticles as noted below.

2.  During Advent

This Office is said from Vespers of the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent until None of December 24, Christmas Eve, inclusive; as well as on the Feast of the Annunciation.  The Office extends, on this latter occasion from First Vespers on the Vigil until the end of Compline on the Feast.  Except when the solemnity is transferred until after Easter, the Alleluias must be omitted with the Antiphons; the Commemoration of the Saints at Lauds and Vespers is Sancti Dei omnes, and the final Antiphon Ave Regina or Regina caeli, according to the season.

3.  After Christmas

The third Office is said from Vespers of December 24 to Compline of February 2 inclusive.

4.  Eastertide

This fourth Office is said from Vespers on Holy Saturday until None of the Saturday before Trinity Sunday inclusive.  There is nothing proper to it save the Antiphon Regina caeli for the Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis.  For this reason it is sufficient to mark this Antiphon before and after the three Canticles, so as to avoid confusion with the Office for the Year from which it is not in fact separated.  Throughout Eastertide no Alleluia is added to the Invitatory, Antiphons, Versicles, or Responsories.

 

    General Rubrics

  1. As each Hour constitutes a particular part of the Office, it is permissible to recite each separately, but their order must not be inverted nor their recitation interrupted without reason.  It is, however, allowable to separate Matins and Lauds when saying the Office privately.

  2. As regards the time for saying the Little Office, the faithful will do well to adhere as closely as possible to the rules laid down for the canonical Office.  Vespers are recited in the afternoon, but from the First Saturday of Lent to Easter (except on Sundays) Vespers are said in the morning.  Compline is said in the evening throughout the year.  Matins and Lauds may be anticipated for the following day from 2:00 pm onwards.  The Little Hours of Prime, Terce, Sext, and None are said during the morning if in aggregate, or divided according to the first, third, sixth and ninth hours of the day (dawn, 9:00 am, noon, and 3:00 pm).  These regulations notwithstanding, one may, for a good reason, recite the Little Office at whatever time of day is most convenient, the day being reckoned for this purpose from one midnight to the next.

  3. In Passiontide, and even during the last three days of Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum, the Gloria Patri is still said after Invitatory, Psalms, and Canticles, as well as at the commencement of each Hour.  From Matins of Holy Thursday until None of Holy Saturday inclusive, the public recitation of the Little Office is suspended; it may, however, be said privately.

  4. Only Priests and Deacons presiding at Office have the right to say V. Dominus vobiscum; in their absence it is to be replaced by V. Domine, exaudi orationem meam whenever it occurs.

  5. The Sign of the Cross is ordinarily made at each Hour, when saying V. Deus in adjutorium, as well as at the opening of the Canticles Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis, at the end of each Hour at the V. Fidelium animae, and at Compline at the invocation of the threefold Name of the Holy Trinity in the final blessing Benedicat et custodiat.  At Matins, when saying the V. Domine, labia mea aperies, a Sign of the Cross is made with the thumb on the lips, and similarly on the breast at Compline at the V. Converte nos Deus.  It is also customary to sign the lips and breast when reciting the Prayer Aperi, Domine, before the Office.

  6. The final Antiphon is said kneeling except from Vespers of Saturday and throughout Sunday, as well as during Eastertide.  One of these Antiphons of the Blessed Virgin is always said after Lauds or at the end of the last Hour following it without interruption, as well as after Compline.  At the public recitation of the Office, moreover, the Antiphon is also said after each of the other Hours just before leaving Choir.

  7. Except in case of Indult from the Holy See, it is not allowed to insert the Commemoration of a Saint at Lauds and Vespers of the Little Office.  The introduction of any prayers of devotion therein is still more strictly forbidden.

  8. The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin is always in Latin when publicly recited; when saying it privately, however, the faithful, as well as members of both sexes may use a translation in the vulgar tongue, provided that it is approved by the Ordinary.

 

  Ceremonial

The saying of the Little Office in common by the members of a congregation or religious association, such as the Confraternity of Ss. Peter & Paul, in virtue of their rules, statutes, or pious customs, is considered to constitute its public recitation.

The rubrics for the recitation of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin are the same whether it be recited privately or in common, save for the following modifications in the latter case:

  • Division into two choirs, the first on the side of the hebdomadarian, the second on the opposite side.

  • The Superior, or in his absence the hebdomadarian, gives the signal and begins Domine, labia, Deus in adjutorium, Converte nos, etc.  He also says the Pater noster at the end of the Nocturn and the Absolutions and Blessings before the first two Lessons, and reads the third Lesson.

  • The hebdomadarian begins the Hymn at Matins, Lauds and Vespers, as well as the Antiphon to the first Psalm of the Nocturn, the Benedictus, Magnificat, and Te Deum.  He also says the Chapters and Prayer of the last Antiphon of the Blessed Virgin.

  • The two Cantors recite the Invitatory and the Psalm Venite together.  They also say all the Versicles following the Psalms at the Little Hours, and the Hymn at Lauds, Vespers and Compline.

  • The first Cantor asks the Blessing and recites the first Lesson at Matins; the second Cantor reads the second Lesson.  The first Cantor begins all the Antiphons and Hymns not reserved to the hebdomadarian.

  • The Psalms and Hymns  are said in two choirs.  The whole choir recites the Responsories after the Lessons, alternately with the Cantor.  The Antiphons after the Psalms and Canticles are also said by the whole choir.

  • At the Gloria Patri, at the Doxology Jesu tibi sit Gloria, and at the Prayers with the long ending all those present bow profoundly towards the Crucifix on the altar.  They also bow the head at the names of Jesus and Mary.

It is permissible to sit during the recitation of the Psalms and Lessons, the rest of the Office being said standing save for the last Antiphon, except on Sundays and in Eastertide.