Q: What is the Little Office?

A: The Little Office is a way of living in praise and reflection of the principal moments of each day with Mary, making ours her ardent love, joyous praise and deep faith in the mission for and alongside her Son Jesus Christ.

Like the Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours the Little Office comprises a Morning and Evening prayer, a Midday and Night prayer before retiring. The Midday prayer is made up of three hours said at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. Each of these six hours (Lauds, Prime, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline) is composed of a hymn, some psalms, scripture readings, intercessions and a concluding prayer. The traditional hour of Matins (nocturnal hour of prayer) was transformed into a time of meditation. In all of these texts emphasis is given to the person of Mary, not in isolated fashion but integrated into the history of salvation.

Since the publication of the revised Liturgy of the Hours in 1971 the Little Office has undergone some notable adaptations to restore its popularity and harmonize it with the official prayer of the Church. It has a long history beginning in the ninth or tenth century. The exact origin and authorship is not known. It was possibly meant to coincide with the "Votive Masses of Our Lady on Saturday," composed by Alcuin, and represented an abridgement of the "Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary" found in the Divine Office, another name for the breviary. The form of the Little Office varied; it was revised and recommended by Peter Damian (d.1072), adapted for their use by Cistercians and Camaldulensians and utilized by the secular clergy. The Little Office was used by many lay people. It became part of the famous Book of Hours in honor of Mary, and a popular prayer book for members of Third Orders. A standard form was determined in the sixteenth century which had very little variety according to the liturgical seasons and days of the week.

The 1952 version allowed for psalms, canticles, hymns, responsories, short readings, antiphons, and different prayers for each of the six liturgical seasons. There were twenty-eight Marian feasts included, each one of them with proper antiphons for the Benedictus (Canticle of Zacharias) and Magnificat (Canticle of Mary). Vatican II in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy made the Little Office part of the public prayer of the Church (#98).

To view the Little Office, visit http://www.udayton.edu/mary/prayers/LittleOfficeBVM.htm

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