The Little Hours are the fixed daytime hours of prayer in the Divine Office of Christians, in both Western Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox Church. These Hours are called 'little' due to their shorter and simpler structure compared to the Night Hours. Traditionally, these times of prayer include Prime (First Hour), at 6 a.m., Terce (Third Hour) at 9 a.m., Sext (Sixth Hour) at noontime, and None (Ninth Hour) at 3 p.m. These prayer times derive from ancient Jewish practice and are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles; the prayers consist mainly of psalms.
After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Prime was suppressed, and only one of the three remaining prayers need be normally said, unless bound by a rule that states otherwise. The three hours are now referred to collectively as Daytime Prayer (Latin, Hora Media) and may be celebrated as a single hour. These prayers, like the rest of the Liturgy of the Hours, may now be sung or said in the vernacular; in the current English translation they are called Midmorning (Terce), Midday (Sext), and Midafternoon (None) prayer. The reformed structure of the Little Hours includes an introductory prayer, a hymn, three psalms with antiphons, which vary by day of week, a reading, a versicle, and a closing prayer. If more than one of these Hours is said, a complementary set of invariant psalms may be chosen instead of repeating the daily psalms at all three hours. These prayers do not change with the feast. These prayers are intended to be short enough to be memorized, to avoid interruption of work during the day.
Eastern Christian Practice
The text of the fixed portions of the Little Hours as used by Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics 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:
- The Usual Beginning
- Three Psalms (these are fixed for the particular Hour, and do not vary from day to day)
- Troparia (one or two, depending upon the day), and a Theotokion that is proper to the Hour
- A brief Psalm verse
- Trisagion and the Lord's Prayer
- Lord, have mercy (40 times)
- Prayer of the Hours
- Concluding prayers
- Dismissal by the Priest
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). (In monasteries, it is traditional to add a reading from the Ladder of Divine Ascent at the Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hours.) 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. 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.
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: 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).
- The Hours derive their names from the hours of daylight: First Hour being read at the rising of the sun, etc.
- 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..."
- If another service immediately follows the Hour, there will be no dismissal.
- On Great Thursday there is a reading from Jeremiah at the First Hour.
- According to Nikolsky Ustav if the Ladder is not read at the Little Hours, then the Inter-Hours should be read.
- In some traditions, these Lenten changes to the services are only observed on the first day of each of the Lesser Fasts.
- Compline and Morning and Evening Prayers are also chanted using the same Paschal Hour format.
- The Night Offices: Vespers, Compline, Matins or Office of Readings, and Lauds.
- Also, older names of night prayer: Nocturns and Vigils
- Royal Hours
- The Dynamic Horologion & Psalter Eastern Orthodox Reader's Services
- On-line Horologion Reader's Services