The Seven (Historical) Hours of Prayer

"Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws." -Psalm 119:164  

 

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By Monk Preston

(Co-Founder and President, The Prayer Foundation)

 

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"Pray without ceasing." -I Thessalonians 5:17

"Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws."                 -Psalm 119:164

Psalm 119:164, seems to be the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament admonition to "Pray without ceasing." (I Thessalonians 5:17), as the Jewish people never formally observed more than three times of daily prayer.  Seven is the Biblical number for "completeness."  However, the early Christians took it more literally, and created four additional Hours of Prayer to observe.  This practice was retained by the early and later monks (who in some cases added even more!).


The Seven Historical (Canonical) Hours of Prayer 

"Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws." -Psalm 119:164

  • aball1i.gif (324 bytes) 6:00 am - First Hour (Matins / Lauds / Orthros)........................... ..........................................St. Patrick's Breastplate, and/or Psalm 5

  • 9:00 am - Third Hour (Trece)...........................The Lord's Prayer

  • Noon Prayer - Sixth Hour (Sext).................................23rd Psalm

  • 3:00 pm - Ninth Hour (None)........................................Psalm 117 

  • aball1i.gif (324 bytes) 6:00 pm (Vespers / Evensong).......................................Psalm 150

  • aball1i.gif (324 bytes) 9:00 pm (Compline)...........Instrument of Peace, and/or Psalm 4

  • aball1i.gif (324 bytes) Midnight Prayer..................................Psalm 119:621, Psalm 134

 

Note: "Orthros" is an Eastern Orthodox term; "Evensong" is an Anglican/Episcopal term.  The Roman Catholic Church also once observed a relatively recent "office" known as "Prime" that has since been abolished.


The Threefold Daily Prayers of 9:00 am, Noon, and 3:00 pm

The Three-fold Daily Prayers are the three Daily Hours (or Times) of Prayer mentioned in the Old and New Testaments (for additional information regarding them, see: Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours).

The Old Testament Verses are:

"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and he shall hear my voice." -Psalm 55:17

"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." -Daniel 6:10

The eight examples given in the New Testament of the Apostles praying The Three-fold Daily Prayers are listed by verse reference below.

The Prayer Practice of the Early Christians

In Roman times 6:00 a.m., was called the "First Hour"; 7:00 a.m. was the "Second Hour", and so on throughout the day.

The early Christians during the times of persecution held worship services in the catacombs (underground tombs).  They added to the three Biblical times of prayer (which were not a part of the Mosaic Law) mentioned in both the Old and New Testament that we see the Apostles in the Book of Acts observing, by just continuing in the catacombs to pray every three hours.  After the end of the persecutions, these additional prayertimes were continued by the later monastics.

...medieval monastic (Canonical) Hours of Prayer...

The traditional medieval monastic (Historical/Canonical 2) Hours of Prayer with some of the Latin names you will often see in historical books and films are listed above (in one case Greek: "Orthros").  The actual times at which they were observed, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, has differed through the centuries, and some of the Hours were at times combined.  The Orthodox Communions pretty much maintain the same order and timing, except that their monks at one period added to them until they were observing nine different Hours of Prayer, and still later combined the observance of them back into just three "Aggregate Times".

The Prayer Foundation Monks have designated specific Psalms to be used at the other Hours of Prayer if so desired.  We pray St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer upon arising, and the St. Francis inspired prayer: "Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace" before retiring for the evening.

Some individual Prayer Foundation Monks also pray from memory Psalm 5 upon rising, and Psalm 4 before retiring.  Psalm 119:621 and Psalm 134 are prayed when awakened in the middle of the night, or when staying up until midnight.  

Personal, individual extemporaneous prayers may be added at these times, and also at all regularly observed times of prayer.  We have never seen a dichotomy or contradiction between observance of these two types of prayer.  

In the New Testament, the Apostles are seen offering extemporaneous prayer as needed (think of Paul and Silas, in chains in jail, praising God at midnight), in addition to observing the Three Daily Prayers.

The Apostles Observed The Threefold Daily Prayers in the New Testament 

Some examples: On the Day of Pentecost; Peter praying on the rooftop when he had the vision of the cloth being let down; Peter and John without silver and gold healing the lame man on their way to the temple at the hour of prayer.  

For a brief Bible-study in the New Testament on this subject of the Apostles and others praying at the historically and Biblically observed three hours of prayer, see: 

Matthew 15:36; Luke 18:10; Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:3-9; 10:30; 16:25; 27:35.

Remember, with the freedom that we have in Christ, none of even the three historic specific Hours of Prayer are required of Christians.  Any that we observe, after the example of the Apostles, is only done out of love for God, who has given us prayer as a means of communion with, and growing closer to, Himself.

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1 "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments." -Psalm 119:62

2 Note: "Canonical" refers to the "Canons" of the Church (Church rules, or laws) that originally were additional decisions passed by the early Church Councils when they met (as with the Council of Nicea, which met for the purpose of composing the Nicene Creed). (Church rules, or laws) that originally were additional decisions passed by the early Church Councils when they met (as with the Council of Nicea, which met for the purpose of composing the Nicene Creed). ____________________________________________________________

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Copyright 2007 S.G.P. All rights reserved.

Daily Prayer: Praying the Hours   PRAYER Category