In Christianity, the Little Hours or minor hours are the canonical hours other than the three major hours.[1]

In the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church, two denominations in Oriental Orthodox Christianity, these fixed prayer times are known as 3rd hour prayer (Tloth sho`in [9 am]), 6th hour prayer (Sheth sho`in [12 pm]), and 9th hour prayer (Tsha' sho`in [3 pm]).[2]

In the Catholic Church, since the reform of the Liturgy of the Hours mandated by the Second Vatican Council, they are called the office of readings, morning prayer and evening prayer. The minor hours, so called because their structure is shorter and simpler than that of the major hours, are those celebrated between lauds and vespers (morning and evening prayer) together with compline (night prayer).[3][4]

The major hours are those whose traditional names are matins, lauds and vespers.


From the time of the early Church, the practice of seven fixed prayer times have been taught; in Apostolic Tradition, Hippolytus instructed Christians to pray seven times a day "on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight" and "the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ's Passion."[5][6][7][8] This has given rise to the practice of praying the canonical hours at seven fixed prayer times.[1]

Hours between morning and evening prayer in the Roman Rite

Between lauds and vespers, both Western Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox Church traditionally celebrate three canonical hours, consisting mainly of psalms and bearing names derived from the hours of daylight: terce (third hour, 9 a.m.), sext (sixth hour, noontime) and none (ninth hour, 3 p.m.). These prayer times derive from ancient Jewish practice and are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. They also commemorate the events of the Passion of Jesus.[9]

The Roman Rite also had prime (first hour, 6 a.m.). This has been suppressed by mandate of the Second Vatican Council.[10]

In English, the other three hours celebrated between morning and evening prayer are now in the ICEL four-volume edition of the Liturgy of the Hours called midmorning, midday and midafternoon prayer, and collectively the daytime hours;[11] and in the three-volume edition in use in most English-speaking countries outside of the United States they are indicated as before noon, midday and afternoon, and collectively as prayer during the day.[12]

Celebration of these three hours is in general obligatory for those who lead a contemplative life. For others, recitation of all three is recommended and, in order to preserve the tradition of praying during the day's work, those who have the duty to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours are obliged to say at least one.[13] The Latin collective term is hora media.

All three have the same structure. They begin with the versicle Deus in adiutorium meum intende and its response, followed by Gloria Patri and (except in Lent) Alleluia. A hymn is then said or sung, after which come the psalmody (three psalms or portions of psalms, together with their antiphons), and a short reading, followed by a versicle and a prayer.[14] Two psalmodies are provided: one that varies from day to day for use by all, and a complementary one, with psalms chosen mainly from among the gradual psalms, for use by those who say one or two additional hours.[15]

Eastern Christian practice

Further information: Canonical Hours--Eastern Christian

The text of the fixed portions of the Little Hours as used by Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics of Byzantine Rite is found in the Horologion. At the Little Hours, the majority of the Office is read (actually a simple recitative—never just said with the normal speaking voice) by the reader alone, with very few variable parts. Those parts which are variable are the Troparion and Kontakion of the day. Structurally, the Little Hours are related to Compline and the Midnight Office. The structure and propers of the Little Hours are governed by the Typicon. The Little Hours are normally not read individually, but are usually aggregated with other services. The priest normally vests only in Epitrachelion (stole) and, in the Slavic practice, Epimanikia (cuffs). The Holy Doors and Curtain on the Iconostasis remain closed. The deacon does not normally serve the Little Hours.


The structure of all of the Little Hours is the same:

Lenten Seasons

During Great Lent, the Little Hours undergo significant changes on weekdays, and are celebrated with greater solemnity than during the rest of the year. On weekdays, in addition to the normal three Psalms, a kathisma from the psalter is read, the choir chants special Lenten hymns in place of the Troparion and Kontakion of the day, and the Sixth Hour has added to it a special Troparion (called the "Troparion of the Prophecy"), Prokeimena, and a reading from the Old Testament (Joel and Zechariah during Cheesefare Week, Isaiah during the Forty Days of Great Lent, Ezekiel during Holy Week).[18] (In monasteries, it is traditional to add a reading from the Ladder of Divine Ascent at the Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours.)[19] Finally, as at all Lenten services, the Prayer of St. Ephraim is read with everyone making prostrations.

During Holy Week, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the services are similar to those during Great Lent (including the reading of Kathismata), except that instead of the normal Lenten hymns which replace the Kontakion, the Kontakion of the day (i.e., that day of Holy Week) is chanted. Also, the four Gospels are read in their entirety (stopping at John 13:32) over the course of these three days at the Third Hour, Sixth Hour, and Ninth Hour. On Great Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Little Hours are more like normal, except that a Troparion of the Prophecy, prokeimena, and a reading from Jeremiah are chanted at the First Hour on Great Thursday. On Great Friday, the Royal Hours are chanted (see below).

During the Lesser Lenten seasons (Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast) the Little Hours undergo changes similar to those during Great Lent, except the hymns are usually read instead of chanted, and there are no additional Kathismata on weekdays.[20] In addition, on weekdays of the Lesser Fasts, the Inter-Hours (Greek: Mesoria) will be read. These Inter-Hours follow the same general outline as the Little Hours, except they are shorter, one Inter-Hour following each of the Little Hours.

Festal Seasons

Main articles: Royal Hours and Paschal Hours

The Royal Hours are the most liturgically splendid celebration of the Little Hours. This service takes its name from the fact that it used to be officially attended by the Emperor and his court at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Three times a year, on the Eve of the Nativity, Eve of Theophany, and Good Friday, the Little Hours are celebrated (together with the Typica) as one continuous service. The priest vests in Phelonion (chasuble), and the deacon vests fully and serves. The holy doors and curtain are open for most of the service, and the gospel book is placed on an analogion (lectern) in the center of the temple. At the beginning of each Hour the priest or deacon censes the Gospel, Icons and people. At each of the Hours, one of the three fixed Psalms is replaced by a Psalm that is significant to the Feast being celebrated; the Troparion and Kontakion of the day are replaced by numerous hymns chanted by the choir; and each Hour has an Old Testament reading, a Prokeimenon, and an Epistle and Gospel.

The Paschal Hours are celebrated during Bright Week (Easter Week), and are the most joyous of the entire year. At this time the Little Hours are completely different from any other time of the year. Everything is sung joyfully rather than being read. Each of the Little Hours is exactly the same:[21] No Psalms are read; rather, each Paschal Hour is composed of hymns taken primarily from the Paschal Vigil. On the Sunday of Pascha (Easter) itself, the priest vests fully, as for Divine Liturgy; on the other days of Bright week, he wears Epitrachelion, Epimanikia and Phelonion. The Holy Doors and Curtain are open (as they will be for the entire Bright Week).

See also


  1. ^ a b Kurian, George Thomas; Lamport, Mark A. (2015). Encyclopedia of Christian Education. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 754. ISBN 978-0-8108-8493-9. The Liturgy of the Hours, also called the Divine Hours or the Divine Office, is the historical Christian practice of fixed times throughout the day for prayer. ... By the middle of the third century, Christian leaders such as Clement, Origin, Tertullian, and Cyprian made references to the importance of intervals of prayer throughout the day. They based this practice on biblical passages such as Daniel 6, the Markkan references to the hours of the events that took place on the day of Christ's crucifixion, and the Pauline exhortations to pray without ceasing. In the Apostolic Tradition (c. 215), attributed to Hippolytus, believers were exhorted to pray as soon as they rose from their beds and, if possible, to participate in this with the local church. This prayer time became known as matins or lauds. Believers were to further pray at the third, sixth, and ninth hours of the day (the "little hours"); in the evening (vespers); when they went to bed; at midnight; and once again as the cock crowed. These time frames roughly represent what was to become the long-standing Christian tradition of the liturgical horarium.
  2. ^ Kurian, Jake. ""Seven Times a Day I Praise You" – The Shehimo Prayers". Diocese of South-West America of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  3. ^ Code of Rubrics, 138
  4. ^ Felix Just, "The Liturgy of the Hours"
  5. ^ Danielou, Jean (2016). Origen. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-4982-9023-4. Peterson quotes a passage from the Acts of Hipparchus and Philotheus: "In Hipparchus's house there was a specially decorated room and a cross was painted on the east wall of it. There before the image of the cross, they used to pray seven times a day ... with their faces turned to the east." It is easy to see the importance of this passage when you compare it with what Origen says. The custom of turning towards the rising sun when praying had been replaced by the habit of turning towards the east wall. This we find in Origen. From the other passage we see that a cross had been painted on the wall to show which was the east. Hence the origin of the practice of hanging crucifixes on the walls of the private rooms in Christian houses. We know too that signs were put up in the Jewish synagogues to show the direction of Jerusalem, because the Jews turned that way when they said their prayers. The question of the proper way to face for prayer has always been of great importance in the East. It is worth remembering that Mohammedans pray with their faces turned towards Mecca and that one reason for the condemnation of Al Hallaj, the Mohammedan martyr, was that he refused to conform to this practice.
  6. ^ Henry Chadwick (1993). The Early Church. Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-16042-8. Hippolytus in the Apostolic Tradition directed that Christians should pray seven times a day - on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight, and also, if at home, at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ's Passion. Prayers at the third, sixth, and ninth hours are similarly mentioned by Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and must have been very widely practised. These prayers were commonly associated with private Bible reading in the family.
  7. ^ Weitzman, M. P. (7 July 2005). The Syriac Version of the Old Testament. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-01746-6. Clement of Alexandria noted that "some fix hours for prayer, such as the third, sixth and ninth" (Stromata 7:7). Tertullian commends these hours, because of their importance (see below) in the New Testament and because their number recalls the Trinity (De Oratione 25). These hours indeed appear as designated for prayer from the earliest days of the church. Peter prayed at the sixth hour, i.e. at noon (Acts 10:9). The ninth hour is called the "hour of prayer" (Acts 3:1). This was the hour when Cornelius prayed even as a "God-fearer" attached to the Jewish community, i.e. before his conversion to Christianity. it was also the hour of Jesus' final prayer (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 22:44-46).
  8. ^ Lössl, Josef (17 February 2010). The Early Church: History and Memory. A&C Black. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-567-16561-9. Not only the content of early Christian prayer was rooted in Jewish tradition; its daily structure too initially followed a Jewish pattern, with prayer times in the early morning, at noon and in the evening. Later (in the course of the second century), this pattern combined with another one; namely prayer times in the evening, at midnight and in the morning. As a result seven 'hours of prayer' emerged, which later became the monastic 'hours' and are still treated as 'standard' prayer times in many churches today. They are roughly equivalent to midnight, 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Prayer positions included prostration, kneeling and standing. ... Crosses made of wood or stone, or painted on walls or laid out as mosaics, were also in use, at first not directly as objections of veneration but in order to 'orientate' the direction of prayer (i.e. towards the east, Latin oriens).
  9. ^ General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 75
  10. ^ Second Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 89 d
  11. ^ II-V General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (ICEL edition), 74−83
  12. ^ General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 74−83 in The Divine Office: The Liturgy of the Hours according to the Roman Rite (Collins, Dwyer, Talbot)
  13. ^ General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 76–77
  14. ^ General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 79
  15. ^ General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 81−83
  16. ^ If another service immediately precedes the Hour, the usual beginning is replaced by, "O come, let us worship..."; or, during Paschal season, by the Paschal Troparion: "Christ is risen from the dead..."
  17. ^ If another service immediately follows the Hour, there will be no dismissal.
  18. ^ On Great Thursday there is a reading from Jeremiah at the First Hour.
  19. ^ According to Nikolsky Ustav if the Ladder is not read at the Little Hours, then the Inter-Hours should be read.
  20. ^ In some traditions, these Lenten changes to the services are only observed on the first day of each of the Lesser Fasts.
  21. ^ Compline and Morning and Evening Prayers are also chanted using the same Paschal Hour format.