Office of the Dead

Hallowtide is upon us, and I, for one, am practically vibrating with excitement.

What is Hallowtide, you ask? It’s the ancient Christian custom of praying for the dead and celebrating the countless (named and unnamed) saints in Heaven over the course of three days: All Hallows Eve (aka Halloween), All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It once had its own octave for the eight days of Allhallowtide, but that was discontinued in 1955. It’s a beautiful practice to focus your prayer on the dead during the Hallowtide triduum, and there’s a particularly intriguing option that the Church prescribes for November 2, All Souls Day: The Office of the Dead.

The Office of the Dead (it just SOUNDS spooky and special, doesn’t it?) is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, and is available for the faithful to pray all year (with exceptions, see below), but is mandatory for priests and religious to pray on All Souls Day. It is a combination of psalms, antiphons, readings, and prayers designed to be prayed for the souls of all the faithful departed. Everything calls back to the death of the physical body and the hope we have in the risen Christ. It’s haunting and beautiful, and a unique expression of our Catholic faith.

Laity have been encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (also referred to as the Divine Office) since the reforms of Vatican II. It can be a bit daunting to learn (there are a lot of rules and ambiguously-placed ribbons), but it is a rich treasure to tap into. Thankfully, there are free and easy-to-use versions available for those starting out, or for those who prefer praying with a digital resource instead of a physical book. Consider taking advantage of these in order to pray the Office of the Dead on November 2:

  • Download the iBreviary or Divine Office apps. You can also access the prayers at the Divine Office website
  • The Office of the Dead is available on Divine Office on November 2, whereas it is accessible in iBreviary any time of the year (click the prayer hands at the top of the app, then Prayers, then scroll down to Office of the Dead)
  • If you already own a breviary (either Christian Prayer or the four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours) check the table of contents for where the Office of the Dead is located, typically near the back of the book

The Office is divided into seven “hours” of the day, with hours referring to occasions of prayer and not time spent praying. If you’re new to this, start with Morning and/or Evening Prayer, as those “hinge” hours are what the Church recommends for laypeople. Since we don’t live in religious communities we aren’t bound by the same rules as to when and how many hours to pray. Morning prayer is best in the early morning (to take full advantage of the sunrise vibes present in the psalms and antiphons for that hour), but honestly I’ve squeezed it in at 11:59am plenty of times. Evening Prayer is typically prayed anytime after 5pm. The apps do all the work for you in sorting out exactly what to pray in which order.

Want someone to pray with? I’ll be live on Instagram praying Morning and Evening prayer for all of Hallowtide, beginning with Evening Prayer on Halloween night. Let’s pray for the dead together!

For the Divine Office Nerds (Like Me)

There are some rules we need to follow around praying the Office of the Dead. It can also be prayed after the death of a loved one, for example, or on the anniversary of their death. According to the general instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, however, it cannot be prayed on the following days:

  • Solemnities
  • Sundays
  • Feasts of the Lord
  • Weekdays of Lent and Holy Week
  • The octaves of Christmas and Easter
  • Weekdays from December 17-24

If you want to learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and use it to incorporate daily prayer habits, then check out Everyday Holiness. It’s not open for enrollment currently, but get on the waiting list and you’ll be first to hear when it’s available again.

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