Praying the Divine Office on Holiday When You Haven’t Got Your Breviary With You

by David Clayton on June 16, 2012

How do you pray the Liturgy of the Hours when the books are too heavy to put into your suitcase and your normal routine is disrupted? I have just returned from a visit to England and Spain to see my family. For various reasons I haven’t been able to leave the US for a couple of years. I couldn’t wait to see everyone again and I had a great time. Lots of time spent with family and friends, walks in the countryside in both countries, visits to English gardens and even a pilgrimage site in North Wales. There was plenty to report on and I will be writing about it in the coming weeks.

First though, how to keep going with the prayer routine while travelling? The quickest answer is to use your smart phone and access the Office online. This was too expensive for me when going to Europe, so I had to go low-tech. Furthermore, not everyone has a smart phone even in the US, so for many this is never an option. The books for the Divine Office are bulky for travel – the time I was away was the transition from volume II to volume III in my three volume briviary, so I would need both. And if you are as careless as I am there is always the worry about the expense of replacing them if I lose them. (I can lose anything that isn’t attached to me – I left the first book of Hours given to me by my spiritual director on a plane.) I could have taken the Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer, but this would still leave me with the problem of what to do for the minor Offices.

Here’s what I did. In his book Earthen Vessels published by Ignatius Press, Gabriel Bunge OSB explains that the essence of the Liturgy of the Hours is marking the Hours and saying the psalms. As a lay person I am not bound to the weekly cycle of the psalms as set out by St Benedict, or the four-weekly cycle that secular priests are bound to. I can devise any cycle of the psalms that suits me and pray them at the hours and this still constitutes liturgical prayer and if I follow it I will still be praying with the Church. I happened to have with me a tiny edition of the New Testament with the Psalms so I made us of this. At each Hour I read the next psalm (or two or even three if they were short) in the order that they come in the bible, 1- 150. I did start with Psalm 94 each day, the invitatory psalm, and where I knew there were penitential psalms (eg psalm 50), I tried to save them for Friday. At the Hours of Lauds, Vespers and Compline, I delved into the gospels and sang the Benedictus, the Magnifcat and the Nunc Dimittis all from Luke. I have included some photos of my little chapel on the patio at my parents’ place in Spain. They have a great view and their garden is lovely, so the motivation to sit out their with a pot of coffee and the psalms was great!

We have been developing psalm tones at for English for use at Thomas More College. These are designed so that any tone can be applied to any psalm. I apply the inflexions in the melody to the natural emphases in the text. This meant that even with just two or three simple tones sticking in my memory, I could sing the whole Office if I wanted to. This is did if I thought I was out of earshot. I am not yet at the level of evangelical fervour to be able to sing the psalms solo in a busy shopping mall (although I am getting there – I am much less self conscious about singing in front of others than I used to be). The great thing about working from such a small book is that I could fit it in my back pocket and during the course of the day, wherever I happened to be, could pull it out and read the next psalm.

For the Vigils (the Office of Readings) I would always read a passage from the New Testament. The Office of Readings also includes each day a reading from the works of the Church Fathers. By chance, for my holiday reading I had with me the collected addresses (70 0f them) by Pope Benedict XVI on the Church Fathers called Great Christian Thinkers, From the Early Church through to the Middle Ages and so I read one of these each day. Incidentally this is a wonderful survey of the mystical and theological writings of the great figures of the Church. If anyone is interested in a guide for reading the Fathers, this is the place to start.

I was also in a position to supplement this with mental prayer and so each day did in addition to this some lection divina. I did a short series of articles on how I was instructed to pratise this ancient form of prayer, here.


If I went for a walk in the hills (we about 45 minutes from Malaga in southern Spain) then my little bible was so small that I could fit it in my back pocket and at a convenient place pull it out and sing the psalms to the plants and any passing mountain deer. I picked a rock among the wild flowers to sit on…

in position where there was a pleasant view of the of Spanish farmland, and began.

Glory be to God for dappled things…!







{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa June 17, 2012 at 3:04 am

Dear David
This was really useful. And thanks for the photos of Spain. Glorious!Praise be to God.
Yours in faith, Lisa


David Clayton June 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Pleasure Lisa, I’m glad you found it helpful, David


Alexey June 21, 2012 at 7:30 am


I posted a teaser for this here:

Thank you for the timely article.


David Clayton June 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

Thank you Alexey


Anne Harriss June 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Dear David,

If you download “Universalis”, which a programme produced by someone in London, it will cost you a once-in-a-lifetime fee of £20. This gives you the full access to the universal Church’s liturgy, and you can download it onto an e-reader of your choice; I use Kindle, onto which every month I download the daily Mass. But when we are away for any reason, I also download the Offices for that period; one can choose any combination of Offices, according to need. It’s brilliant, and worth publicising…

God bless!

Anne Harriss


David Clayton June 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Hi Anne
this is great thanks. When I have my smart phone I always use Universalis (which of course was too expensive to use while travelling). I didn’t know you could get the whole thing downloaded at once though. That’s great to know. So for those reading with an e-reader, I say scrub my article, and in the photos where you see a book, imagine a Kindle as directed by Anne!
Hours of joy!


James Fitzgerald June 29, 2012 at 8:02 am

Thanks David….
Of course… you could just use the pocket-sized very user-friendly resource called ‘Magnificat’ which containg excerpts from Lauds, Vespers and Compline, the Mass readings for the day, and something from the lives of the saints. All in a tiny weeny book, for the whole month, that fits neatly into your backpack.

I’m presently reading the Orthodox classic ‘The Way of the Pilgrim’ and wearing out my chotki in the process. I’m endeavouring to start the Philokalia soon – and when I can get my hands on a copy that won’t break the bank. Have you read it / been read by it? ;o)

God bless
ps, we have a mutual friend in Jim W from Cobham :o)


David Clayton June 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Thanks James, yes. I am a great fan of Magnificat. It’s great for the main offices – as you say Lauds, Vespers, Compline. But lacking for the others. The great thing about the Office is that it is one of things that to do it even partly is so much better than not at all. I strive for the ideal of praying the psalms ‘seven times a day’ and ‘during the watches of the night’. Even if I just do a couple of lines try to mark all of the hours. Magnificat won’t help me here. Say hello to Jim for me!


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