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Fixed-hour prayer, sometimes called the Daily Office or the Divine Hours, is the regular and consistent pattern of praying at set times throughout the day. Usually these times consist of praying portions of the Scriptures along with Bible reading and prayers that have been passed down through church history.

Along with the Lord’s Supper, fixed-hour prayer is considered one of the oldest forms of Christian spirituality. It is surprising that, considering its history and longevity, it is missing from contemporary Christian practice. Jesus and the Jews of his day prayed at set hours of the day. After Jesus’ death, his disciples continued to pray this way (Acts 3:1; 10:3, 9, 30). This custom of praying at set hours throughout the day was a part of the early church and has continued up to our day and age.

There has always been some flexibility with the set times and frequency of the prayer time. In some monastic traditions there are as many as eight times set aside for prayer. Most contemporary expressions consist of three fixed times of prayer:

  1. the Morning Office (to be observed some time between 6 and 9 a.m.);
  2. the Midday Office (between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.);
  3. the Evening Office or Vesper (between 5 and 8 p.m.).

These prayer times usually take no more than ten minutes. [1]

Guided Resources

See also Liturgy/Daily Office

The 8 Canonical Hours

In the Rule of Saint Benedict, written in the early 6th century, we hear of eight prayer periods:

  1. Matins or Vigils (in the night, or about 2 a.m.) - The hour that Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane; before his arrest.
  2. Lauds (dawn: 5 a.m or when the sun comes up) - The hour that Christ testifies before the Pharisees; before the rooster crows. Also the resurrection.
  3. Prime (first hour: 6 a.m. or first hour after sunrise) - The hour that Christ testifies before Pilate and the crowds who reject him.
  4. Terce (third hour: 9 a.m.) - The hour that Jesus was nailed to the cross.
  5. Sext (sixth hour: 12 noon) - The hour that darkness descends and covered the land (lasting until 3 p.m.)
  6. None (ninth hour: 3 p.m.) The hour of Jesus' final cries, death, and earthquake in which the veil in the temple in torn.
  7. Vespers (dusk: about 6 p.m.) - At the lighting of the lamps - The hour when Christ's body is taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb.
  8. Compline (before retiring, or about 7 p.m.) - The hour when Christ descends to the realm of the dead, takes the keys of death and testifies before imprisoned spirits.

See also The Seven Sayings of Jesus upon the Cross.