A Modern Book of Hours

Hour by Hour

Forward Movement Publications, 2007. ISBN 0-88028-240-1, 128 pages. $17.95

Well, it may have taken me a while, but I seem to have found a modern book of hours. Its not quite a medieval style Book of Hours, but its a nice compromise.

Hour by Hour contains the four hours of daily prayer available in the Book of Common Prayer — Morning prayer, Noon, Evening prayer, and Compline– for one week. This means that there are seven sets of prayers. To make it more seasonal and applicable for daily life there are a collection of prayers at the end for the church seasons and major feasts, and for life events (births, sickness, anxiety, thanksgiving, death etc). These prayers can be added to any hour as needed. Because these seven sets of prayers are repeated every week the lessons are good for all seasons.

What it is not is a breviary. Monastic offices aim to be comprehensive, to cover the entire psalter every x days and to read scripture in a systematic way. Books of Hours make no attempt to do this. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, for medieval people their Book of Hours was the only book they owned so it was not complimented by a bible. I have been using Hour by Hour for a couple of weeks so far and I really don’t mind the repeating weekly. Having a full week’s worth is enough variation. That is not to say that I may not make the same choices, but that I don’t mind repeating. If I really like an office, I wouldn’t mind repeating it even more often. I like it when an office gels together well so that the lessons, psalms, and prayers all reinforce each other. This is something that the daily office doesn’t achieve for me.

Choices for readings etc brings me to another key topic in Books of Hours — they were very personal. I might make some different choices if I were to design one week’s worth of offices. I know I would choose some different prayers for the optional prayers in the back. I’ve already pasted two onto the back flyleaves of Hour by Hour. I also really miss the calendar and one that I could have added my own dates to. Hour by Hour comes completely from the Book of Common Prayer, filling in bible selections for the lessons.

Differences between Hour by Hour and medieval Books of Hours are significant. In some ways this book has more to offer. It has different offices for seven days. Medieval books of hours did not . They had two or three specialized sets of offices: The Little Office of the Virgin (seven psalms of accent), an Office of the Dead (seven penitential psalms), and sometimes another office also more themed. Late medieval Books of Hours and Breviaries had seven daily hours; the Book of Common Prayer calls for four offices daily. Books of Hours always began with a calendar to which owners could add their special memorial days (births, deaths etc); this one lacks a calendar. The earliest Books of Hours were very specialized for their patrons at least in their illustrations and in their extra content.

With all this being said, Hour by Hour is still the best book of hours I have found to date. It would be a excellent book to travel with, whether that is commuting or vacations.

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2 thoughts on “A Modern Book of Hours

  1. Thanks for the link to Time to Pray. We’ll have to see if it is ever available at a reasonable price in the US. I have Celebrating Common Prayer (Pocket ed, 2002) too; I’ll get around to reviewing it one of these days.

    One of the advantages of Hour by Hour is that it is truly a pocket edition. Its a very slim volume that can fit in a pocket or purse for just about everyone. For example, it would fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans.

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