1 The Prophet says: Seven times a day have I praised you (Ps 118:164). 2 We will fulfill this sacred number of seven if we satisfy our obligations of service at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, 3 for it was of these hours during the day that he said: Seven times a day have I praised you (Ps 118:164). 4 Concerning Vigils, the same Prophet says: At midnight I arose to give you praise (Ps 118:62). 5 Therefore, we should praise our Creator for his just judgments at these times: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline; and let us arise at night to give him praise (Ps 118:164, 62).
Commentary by Philip Lawrence, OSB, Abbot of Christ in the Desert
Here our Holy Father attempts to give a reason for having the Divine Office seven times during the day and once during the night. At a practical level, we know that he was inheriting these Divine Offices. The only one for which we have a sort of place and date of its origin is the Office of Prime, which was suppressed by most western communities after the Second Vatican Council. Saint John Cassian says that it began in his monastery and the date must have been around 382 A.D.
The other hours of the Divine Office go back even further. We can understand Terce, Sext and None, since they seem to have been hours celebrated even by pious Jews.
The purpose of these hours is to recall us to prayer. For some, it becomes a way to return to prayer during the day. For others, it is simply a matter of praying a certain amount each day. For us monks, there is no doubt that the goal is continual prayer, living in the divine presence each moment. Thus the Divine Office throughout the day is a means to call us deeper into union with the Lord. We should be praying all day long and the hours simple remind us of that.
At a practical level, most of us have to try again at each hour of the Divine Office to give our energies to the Lord, to leave the Divine Office but not to leave praying.
It is a strong discipline to try to pray all day long. Most of us are much more accustomed to taking a little time here and a little time there for praying and then we do our work and all of the other things that we want to do in between the times of prayer. This is surely not what Saint Benedict was thinking of. It is one of the marks of difference between an apostolic community and a truly monastic community. The monk tries to pray all day long. May we be given that gift.