The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Would you like to learn what each of the hours symbolize, where to find your place in the book, what time to pray, and how to enter more deeply into the Word of God in the Psalms?
If so, then we would like to invite you to learn to pray, The Little Office of The Blessed Virgin Mary, so loved and prayed by so many Saints, Martyrs, Laity, Religious, Priests and Popes to honor the Mother of God through the centuries. This is not an in-depth historical study into the origins and rubrics of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but an invitation to learn how to pray these little hours.
Perhaps you already have the book in your possession but are uncertain how to proceed, or maybe the Office appeals to you through your own personal love of Mary, the Mother of God.
The readings and offices within the book are far less variable and easier to find than the Great Office, or the Divine Office, also known as Christian Prayer, therefore they are within the capability of everyone to understand and to pray; their very repetition causes them eventually to be written on our minds and hearts. Perhaps you already pray the Christian Prayer of the Church but would like to bring to it a special devotion to Mary?
We would like to invite those who are interested to receive personal guidance with the Office — not simply in the way of an impersonal “form letter”, but through the personal instruction of one of the staff at the Boston Catholic Journal who will guide you through any difficulties you may experience, someone who will also help you understand more deeply the meaning of the Psalms and their place in your daily life.
Whatever the reason we would like to help you begin to pray this Office which will lead us to a more intimate acquaintance with Jesus Christ through Mary … and through Jesus and Mary begin to live our lives more authentically in Christ.
We highly recommend this version of the book published by Baronius Press in English and Latin. There are other versions of a Little Office to Mary, but this is the one that we recommend and are using for direction. It has a leather cover and superior binding. It ships from the US for American customers. We derive no profit whatever from Baronius Press which simply publishes excellent quality Catholic books.
Praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is very much a manly aspiration to devout Catholic men, as it is a womanly aspiration to devout Catholic women. Devotion to Mary throughout history has been the hallmark of a devout and manly Catholic unafraid to express his love for, his commitment to — and his defense of — Mary Most Holy. Mary needs, Our Lady calls to, her Joseph's in this world.
All those women who walk in the footprints of the Mother of God bring to her, in prayer, and through this Office, their magnificent womanhood and all that is beautifully inseparable from it, — especially the nurturing of that life created anew in Christ, both in themselves and in others to whom they, in turn, are called to be other Mary's in this world, bringing the sons and daughters of men to Christ, her Son.
Men, in turn, bring their strength, their unwavering and courageous commitment, to the service of Mary — even to the protection of Mary, as befits, even compels, every man in his devotion to whom he loves — and most especially in his love for the Mother of God ... who deigned to love him first!
Countless male Saints of the Church were dedicated and totally bound to Mary in love! Indeed, the place of Mary in the life of a Priest and that of any Catholic Christian man should be an integral part of their spiritual lives as Catholics. There is no doubt whatever, as we see so clearly throughout the history of the Church, that men — priests and lay alike — who are devoted to Mary possess and live their Faith passionately, manfully, fearlessly, in a way conspicuously absent in men without devotion to Mary. They behold in Mary not only Mother but Queen: Regina Angelorum, Regina Apostolorum, to whom they joyfully submit their lives in loving service and uncompromising faithfulness.
Mary, Mother of God as she is, still needs her guardians and protectors, she needs that fearless witness to humility, to simplicity and to trust through manly men being willing, even eager, to be seen and known as those fighting for her Son’s glorious cause, for the triumph of good over evil, life over death, Christ over the world!
Who can forget the great love and devotion, and the total dedication of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul the Great to Mary? Was he not truly a man among men, unflinching in, and unapologetic of, his manhood, and all the more manly for his unabashed devotion to Mary!
Being faithful to keeping the time and making the effort to pray the daily Office, or some part of that Office, takes perseverance and discipline, a perseverance that can only be motivated by love and a discipline that manifests itself in sacrifice; it is the courtly invitation to the soul of a man to bring honor to his Lady and Queen and to the Church whose image she is.
Mary needs her Josephs! May this be a call to men, this call to enter into, and to pray, the Little Office, and honor her who is so worthy of honor.
The first step upon having obtained your copy of The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is to simply to become familiar with the book. Get use to handling the little book and it will grow to be a familiar friend and the means of communing with your God and honoring Mary in a unique way.
You will notice immediately both the color of the book and its title. The book is blue, and this already communicates quite a bit. Blue is the color of faithfulness, and we are entering into communion with the Blessed Mother of God, the faithful woman, faithful to the Words of her Son and faithful unto the end when she stood underneath the Cross of her Suffering Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Mary is often depicted wearing a blue gown and a white veil. The blue is for her faithful love and the white for her purity. The Office is a service, a religious rite, implying a freely offered and faithful commitment. In this case we have been moved and entrusted by the Holy Spirit to pray to God and to honor Mary.
Again let us examine the title, The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary the Immaculta, who conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, who gave birth to her Son while remaining, by a singular grace of God, a virgin. Mary is worthy of our love and all honor. To pray these offices with our heart and attention is a gift of love to Mary … a gift given in union with Holy Mother the Church throughout the world.
First, we must understand that the Praying of the Hours does not mean that we pray each section for the duration of an hour. We understand “hour” in another sense, in the way of pertaining to specific hours within our day which are consecrated to God and to Mary, set apart (which is what “holy” means) from our usual endeavors, not as 60 minutes each which few laymen and laywomen can afford, but as “the acceptable hour” in which some measure of time is given to God … Who Himself gives us all time, and even eternity.
Before opening your book pray to the Holy Spirit to guide you, to enlighten your understanding and to enkindle your heart with the WORD of God.
It is traditional (although optional) to pray a Hail Mary slowly in silence before the commencing of the Office thus focusing upon whom we are addressing.
It is also customary to pick up the Hours and kiss them, while slowly making the sign of the Cross, mindful of whom we are about to give our love and hearts to. Then we pray the following, (we mention this because it will not be indicated before every Hour in the Office. It it is presumed that you already know this since it is a standard practice in praying any Hour of the Office):
|O God, come to my assistance,
O, Lord make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son
and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the
beginning , is now and will be for ever.
|Deus, in adjutorium meum intende.
Domine, ad adjuvadum me festina.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
sicut erat in principium, et nunc,
et in saecula saeculorum.
( to which, “Alleluia” is added, except during Lent)
In this opening we are focusing on God, aware of our weakness, our fragmentation, our wandering minds and we want in our wills at least to praise God to the best of our ability, and so we ask for his assistance and grace, then given thanks to God, the Most Holy Trinity. We then proceed with the hour as usual.
The Praying of the “Hours”,
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The term, hour, as we said, does not indicate that each section of the Daily Office should take an hour to pray (although under the direction of the Holy Ghost this could be!) but that the word, the hour, relates to a specific time of the day. This division of prayer into hours has its roots in Divine worship as celebrated in the Jewish tradition of the synagogues, even before Christ.
In this edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the traditional Latin names are used for the hours. (Matins and Lauds are regarded as one hour, although in practice they are often prayed separately). As the Psalmist sings, “Seven times a day I praise you, O Lord !” So let us look at what are called the “Canonical Hours” that we will find in The Little Office. It will help you to understand that:
Each Canonical Hour Consists of:
- an introduction
- then a Hymn
- followed by an Antiphon.
- Three Psalms
- and then a repeating of the Antiphon.
- The “Little Chapter” reading and responses
- Final prayers and responses
- the Final Blessing
- and end with an Intercession for the Dead.
THE CANONICAL HOURS EXPLAINED
Matins: (from the Latin, matutinas vigilias, or “morning watches”) The hour of Matins was a nocturnal hour, it was celebrated at midnight onwards and often joined with Lauds as a continuing vigil of prayer. Within this is a great consolation, the realization that even now, in many parts of the world, midnight is the advent of the expectant new day... and “we do not know the hour when the Lord will come!”
Lauds: (pronounced: lawds or loords) The word Lauds is derived from the Latin word laus meaning, praise. This is always an hour of praise, as is clear from the Psalms chosen within the text, which recall the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and the gift of new life that comes to us in this new God- given day.
Prime: (pronounced: prime) (Latin: prima, first) was originally the earliest Canonical Hour, prima hora, and the first hour of the Roman day. Prime is celebrated at 6 AM, an hour in which we consecrate the forthcoming day to God, giving thanks for the awakening to life and being open to God’s gift of Himself through his Word.
Terce: (pronounced: terse) (Latin: tertia hora) Called thus because the Romans celebrated it at what they regarded the third hour of their day, which was 9 AM in the morning. Terce is often called the golden hour, or the Hour of the Holy Ghost, recalling the hour when the disciples went up to the Temple to pray. It also commemorates the event at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles at this hour. As did the Romans, we celebrate Terce at approximately 9 AM and it is, therefore, a prayer inspiring us to begin the day under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in union with Mary Our Mother. “Come Holy Ghost!”
Sext: (Latin, sexta hora) This was the sixth hour of the Roman day, what is for us about Midday. At midday the time we recall the hour that Christ was raised upon the Cross of Salvation for us, and Mary His faithful Mother standing faithfully by Him in His suffering. This is midday, and this hour can be regarded as an oasis of prayer, a time to turn to Our Savior and pray in union with Mary for the suffering of the world.
None: (pronounced: known) (Latin, nona hora) This hour was regarded by the Romans as the ninth hour, hence the Latin name nona, which for us occurs about three o'clock in the afternoon. It was at the ninth hour, we will remember, that Jesus cried out in his agony, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani?” which means, “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me!” This is the hour of Crucifixion, the hour of Redemption, and in this hour we bring all our burdens to Christ on the Cross, praying for all poor sinners with and through Mary His Immaculate Mother.
Vespers: (Latin, Vespers Espera ) was a name given to the evening star of Venus, which rising in the evening was a call to prayer, a light in the Heavens announcing the drawing on of the day, Vespers is prayed anytime after the Hour of None and before Compline.
Compline: (pronounced: complin) From the Latin word (Latin, complere, or to complete) so named because it is the last hour of the day to be prayed. Compline is a beautiful way to complete our day, to pray with Mary and to Mary for the dying and for all those upon whom the night either of the spirit or in fact will soon fall. We pray for Gods protection for the night, conscious of the many evils perpetrated in the nocturnal hours. It is an hour in which we commend everything , surrender everything to God. How many times on our Christian journey we pray, “Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death ...”
This, hopefully, will give you a basic idea of when the hours are traditionally prayed, even while there is some flexibility within them. It may be that due to your commitments you are not able to pray all the hours. If this is the case, it is better to pray one or two with all your heart, rather than attempting all 8 hours every day in haste and anxiety. If you are not able to pray the entire Office, then ideally choose one Office or Canonical Hour at the beginning of your day and one to complete your day.
Let us, then, begin.
We will keep the following two Canonical Hours — Prime and Compline — for some time.* You do not have to go to different sections or pages in the book each day. This is part of the beauty and simplicity of the Little Office. You repeat the same prayers each day. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the Readings until they come to you naturally, even by memory! This is not “rote”. It is immersion in prayer and in the ever unfolding depths revealed to you in each prayer. There is no rush! The world rushes you. God does not. Take the time to read and learn the Latin, side by side as well, and in this way praying as your forebears did for 100 generations in a beautiful and unbroken continuity. Latin has always been the unique and distinctive language of the Catholic Church. Everything written from the Seat of Peter in Rome is written in Latin. It's beauty is ever ancient and ever new.
IF YOU WISH TO LISTEN
TO THE LATIN AS YOU READ:
- for the Canonical Hour of Prime in English, click: here
- for the Canonical Hour of Compline in English, click: here
(to download any single file, right-click on any underlined “here" text above and choose: “Save Link As ...” in Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox or “Save Target as ...” in Microsoft Edge, and save it to your desktop.)
If you need further help in understanding and praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we suggest you visit the following:
Our deepest gratitude to the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns of the Ty Mam Duw Monastery in Harwarden, Wales, for their indispensible contribution and direction, apart from whom this series would be impossible.
A REFLECTION ON PRIME:
“FLESH OF MY FLESH” — MARY’S ROLE IN OUR SALVATION
“Who didst vouchsafe to choose the chaste chamber of the Blessed Virgin Mary to dwell therein”
Through the Incarnation, when Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the divine nature of the Son of God was united, and forever remains united, with the human nature of the Son of Man such that the one divine Person Jesus Christ, is indeed both “truly God and truly man”.
The Unum Necessarium (the one thing necessary)
Mary is the one person ever to contribute, to truly give, the one thing to God that was not already His, even as He first imparted it to her. “The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof: the world, and all they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24.1)
It was something necessary to the final and perfect fulfillment of the will of God. In fact, it was the one thing that God created but did not possess. Apart from it, the suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection — absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of God’s will for the salvation of the world, for the redemption of souls from bondage to sin and death — was impossible: her very flesh! Mary assented to the will of God: “Et Verbum caro factum est”, “And the Word became flesh!”
Jesus Christ took the substance of His sacred humanity from Mary. It was in this Sacred Humanity that Christ preached, healed, raised from the dead, gave sight to the blind. It is also in His Sacred Humanity that Christ suffered, was crucified, and died for our sins and through which He purchased our salvation. Had Mary not consented to the will of God; had she refused to be the Mother of God's Son (Who Himself is One with the Father), the one thing absolutely necessary to our salvation — the flesh and the humanity which Jesus Christ assumed, and through which alone salvation came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ — could never have been possible.
“God is a Spirit” (St. John 4.24), and spirit is not possessed of flesh together with all the limitations inherent within it. God is infinite. Flesh is not. God is everywhere present, flesh is not. God is perfect felicity, which is to say, God in Himself has ever been, is, and ever will be, perfectly happy, unassailed by suffering, and pain cannot touch upon Him — but flesh is not! For this reason, Saint Paul tells us that Jesus Christ, “Who being in the form of God ... emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2.5-7). How? Through the Incarnation. Through whom? Through Mary who contributed her flesh (giving Christ, Who had emptied Himself of “the form of God”, the “form of a servant”; in fact the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53 through Whom mankind was redeemed. Only in the humanity that Christ took from Mary alone, could He possibly suffer ... even die!
Theologians speak of this in terms of the "Hypostatic Union", or the union of God and Man in the Person Jesus Christ. Christ is both! But it was in His humanity that He suffered and redeemed the world — the humanity, the flesh, given Him by Mary alone. In her assent to the will of God, in her “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum”, “Be it done to me according to your word” (Saint Luke 1.38), she, the lowly “handmaid of the Lord”, gave to God the one thing that Spirit does not, cannot, possess: flesh. Her flesh — which the Son of God assumed, becoming through her assent, “True God and True Man.”
This is beautifully expressed in The Little Office during this hour of Prime through the hymn, “Memento, rerum Conditor”:
|Memento, rerum Conditor
Nostri quod olim corporis
Sacrata ab alvo Virginis
Nascendo formam sumpseris
|Remember, O Creator Lord!
That in the Virgin’s sacred womb
Thou wast conceiv’d, and of her flesh
Didst our mortality assume
Mary’s role, then, in our salvation is not, as some contend, marginal; it is central and she can no more be understood apart from Christ than Jesus in His Sacred Humanity can be understood apart from Mary. His flesh is her flesh, and commingled with the flesh of no other! His humanity is, substantivally, Mary’s humanity… from whence it came and from which it is inseparable.
When Jesus gave Mary to us on the Cross, and us to Mary, He never ceased calling us to Him through her. Jesus Christ speaks to each of us in this way:
“… I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go, till I bring him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that bore me.” (Song of Songs 3.4)
It is to a loving acquaintance with Mary, His Mother, that Christ first calls you; to His Mother’s House, which is Holy Mother Church, and into that chamber of the love that bore Him, that you, too, may know the love of Mary ...and be no more an orphan in this world, nor a stranger in the world to come.
* This does not mean that you cannot or should not pray the entire Office with all 8 Canonical Hours. If God gives you the time, and the inclination (it is His to give, not ours), you are encouraged to do so, although God recognizes that for most of the laity this is not possible with all their obligations to family life and work, which are intrinsic to their holy vocation as fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, the single and the providers for their families. This is your primary vocation. It is through this that God calls you to sanctity in your life. It is far more pleasing to God to attend to a crying or wayward child, an elderly parent, or a distressed spouse, that to utter all the prayers in the world as though you can multiply the grace God gives you through praying much and loving little. One Hour (not 60 minutes) of the Office, if this is all that is available to you, will give you all the grace that you need from God. Remember the Widow’s Pence. (“And looking on, he saw the rich men cast their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in two brass mites. And he said: Verily I say to you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast into the offerings of God: but she of her want, hath cast in all the living that she had.”) (St. Luke 21.1-3)
Printable PDF File for the “Reflection on Prime”
At the beginning of Compline in the Office of The Blessed Virgin Mary we pray. “Convert thou us, O God our Savior.” (note the communal aspect; we are not just praying for ourselves, but for all Christians).
The response is:
“And turn away thine anger from us.....”
In this prayer we acknowledge our own guilt and we pray also in the name of all sinners fearing punishment from God, Who in fact abundantly gives His grace and mercy to the truly penitent, however held fast in the sinister web of sin from which they struggle in vain to escape. Alone, they cannot. They know this. And God does, too. Acknowledging their guilt, as the Good Thief on the Cross they cry out, “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom. Behold me, Lord, I am held fast by my sin. In justice I have been condemned, but in hope I yet cry out, Mercy, Lord, mercy! Do not turn
away from me. Save me!”
It is the prayer of the guilty. Are there none among us?
We join, then, our hearts to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Mother of Compassion and pray for grace, remembering that a sinner, one guilty — and not one just — was the first to enter the Kingdom. “My ways are not your ways”, God has told us again and again.
*Further Helpful Suggestions with your, “Little Office”
V/ means Versicle: a versicle is the first half of one of a set of preces (the Latin plural of prex, “prayer”) are prayers in liturgical worship that are short petitions, said or sung, and answered with a Response
R/ response by the congregation or choir
Strictly speaking, the following prayers are not part of the Divine Office, but they are widely used by those who pray any Office , both as a preparation for prayer in the beginning and as a thanksgiving at the end. It is not always feasible to add additional prayers to our Office because of time constraints, but when it is possible it is advisable, because the prayer of preparation enables us to focus upon what we are about to do, making us conscious of the fact that we need Gods help if we are to bring our poor wandering hearts and minds to worship. God can read us innermost thoughts, he knows our hearts and the proclamation of this prayer says to our God, “Lord you know I want to worship you, I want to give myself to You, despite the reality of how poor my response may be at times.” God who sees the depths of all things knows, and He loves us.
Prayer in English Before the Office
Open thou my mouth, O lord to bless thy Holy Name,
cleanse my heart also from all vain, perverse, and distracting thoughts,
enlighten my understanding, inflame my affections,
that I may recite this Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary with worthy attention and devotion, and may deserve to be heard in the sight of Thy Divine Majesty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
O Lord, I offer these hours unto thee, in union with that divine intention wherewith thou didst thyself offer praises to God, whilst thou was on earth.
Followed by a silent Hail Mary
Prayer in Latin before the Office
Aperi, + Dómine, os meum ad benedicéndum nomen sanctum tuum.
Munda quoque cor meum ab ómnibus vanis, pervérsis,
et aliénis cogitatiónibus. Intelléctum illúmina, afféctum inflámma;
ut digne, atténte, ac devóte hoc Officium recitáre váleam,
et exaudíri mérear ante conspéctum divínæ Majestátis tuæ.
Per Christum Dóminum nostrum.
Dómine, in unióne illíus divínæ intentiónis, qua ipse in terris laudes Deo persolvísti, has tibi Horas persólvo.
Prayer in English After the Office
Everlasting praise, honor power and glory be given by all creatures to the most holy and undivided Trinity, to the Humanity of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ Jesus, to the fruitful purity of the most blessed and most glorious Mary ever Virgin, and to the company of all the saints, and may be obtain the remission of all our sins through all eternity. Amen.
V/ Blessed is the womb of the Virgin Mary, that bore the son of the eternal Father.
R/And blessed are the paps that gave suck to Christ Our Lord.
Prayer in Latin After the Office
SACROSANCTÆ et indivíduae Trinitáti, crucifíxi Dómini nostri Jesu Christi humanitáti, beatíssimae et gloriosíssimae
sempérque Vírginis Maríæ fecúndæ integritáti, et ómnium Sanctórum universitáti, sit sempitérna laus, honor, virtus,
et glória, ab omni creatúra, nobísque remissio ómnium peccatórum, per infiníta sæcula sæculórum. R/ Amen.
V/ Beáta víscera Maríæ Vírginis, quæ portavérunt ætérni Patris Fílium.
R/ Et beáta úbera, quæ lactavérunt Christum Dóminum.