I've recently taken to praying the Liturgy of the Hours using the Universalis program. This is fabulous in all kinds of ways. Today, however, I found something that I didn't understand.

Normally at the daytime offices (Terce, Sext, None) you can choose whether to say the psalms of the day or the complementary psalms (which are always the same). Today, however, there is an instruction at the psalms for Terce and None:

SPECIAL FOR TODAY: If you are celebrating Sext today, you must use the psalms of the day at Sext, and use the complementary psalms now.

There is a similar instruction on Wednesday, but this time the psalms of the day are to be used at None instead.

Why are there these specific instructions about which sets of psalms to use on these certain occasions?

  • 23,22,21,20,19,18,17,16. My guess would be that it has something to do with the Antiphons, do they start with the letter O?
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 17, 2013 at 3:17
  • When is "today"? If you were reading Sext around the time you posted this (about 21:40 GMT) then you're in a very different timezone to me. Dec 17, 2013 at 8:20
  • @AndrewLeach Monday in the third week of Advent. Dec 17, 2013 at 9:42

3 Answers 3


I alerted Martin Kochanski, the author of Universalis, to this question, and he's written a blog post specially for it, to which readers are referred.

The simple answer is: on certain days in the four-week cycle, the Breviary has a small and slightly obscure rubric whose effect is that the complementary psalms aren't allowed at a certain daytime Hour.

No reason is ever given, but when I was programming Universalis I finally managed to work it out. On those days, some of the complementary psalms in question appear in one of the main Hours. For instance, on Monday of the third week of the four-week cycle, Psalm 70(71) is recited at Vespers. Psalm 70(71) is also one of the complementary psalms for Sext — so, to avoid repetition, the Breviary says "don't use the complementary psalms at Sext".

Similar things can happen at Lauds with the Invitatory psalm, and even in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, where some psalms which are alternatives to canticles are prohibited where they occur in the ordinary course of reciting the psalter.

  • Many thanks for your answer, Andrew, and for contacting Martin Kochanski. I hope you'll forgive me for accepting the answer from the horse's mouth! Dec 17, 2013 at 19:28
  • 1
    From his answer to me, I wasn't actually expecting him to chip in; although I was able to supplement the information with other similar occurrences. No hard feelings, indeed. I hope @MartinKochanski continues to look in occasionally: his knowledge of the Calendar is probably second to none (and I'm grateful for Universalis too: highly recommended). Dec 17, 2013 at 22:35

I've posted a detailed answer to this interesting question on the Universalis blog. Universalis reproduces exactly what the official books are doing: the Latin Liturgia horarum and its English equivalents.

The reason isn't given anywhere in the books, as far as I know, but it is this: if you used the complementary psalms at Sext on Monday in the third week of the four-week cycle, you'd recite Psalm 70(71) at Sext. But Psalm 70(71) is already being used at Vespers on that day, so you'd end up saying it twice. That is why the books say "don't use the complementary psalms on that day at that hour". It's to avoid repetitions.

There are seven days in the four-week cycle in which this sort of thing happens.

(I don't hang out in Stack Exchange: Andrew Leach kindly pointed out this question to me. Please, if you have any other questions to do with Universalis, could you ask directly? You can comment on a blog post or just email me at universalis@cardbox.com).

  • 1
    It's too bad you don't "hang out here". Hopefully you'll drop by for a visit once in a while. If you do decide this site is worth your time, check out the help page and How we are different than other sites? for basic guidelines. (That has nothing to do with the quality of your posts, it's just standard to guide new visitors there.) Dec 17, 2013 at 13:36
  • Many thanks, Martin, for this answer (and indeed for Universalis itself!). I asked it here because, as your answer demonstrates, it's about the LOTH rather than about Universalis particularly, but I'm delighted you were able to answer. (And I'll add your blog to my regular reads...) Dec 17, 2013 at 19:27
  • We're always looking for pros instead of us aspiring amateurs. I would be great if you'd stop by once a month or so.
    – fгedsbend
    Dec 18, 2013 at 8:03

The idea of praying to God regularly is to build your trust and faith in him. How can you do that if you are reciting someone else's prayer? Philippians 4:6

"Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God"

James 4:8

"Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you indecisive ones."

Prayer to God should always be from your heart. You cannot cultivate a relationship with God by merely reciting words that really have no meaning to you. Doing so takes away from the real intention of prayer. The Jew's made the mistake of doing things out of habit and routine. That is not what God want's from us and even warns against it at Matthew 6:7-8

"When praying, do not say the same things over and over again as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words. So do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need even before you ask him."

You can look at those prayers in order to gain an understanding of what is proper to ask for. Even the prayer that Jesus gave us in Matthew 6 is just a model.

I think the purpose of using the psalms of the day is to get people to read the bible and to keep them thinking about spiritual things. Doing so is a good precursor to making regular prayer and maybe that is the goal of this schedule. Good motive, but what the bible teaches us to do is make our own regular prayers to God. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

Pray constantly. Give thanks for everything. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

  • 7
    I'm sorry, but this really doesn't address the question I asked. I'm not really interested in debating liturgical vs extemporary prayer (personally I need and value both), but in a technical question about the Liturgy of the Hours. Dec 16, 2013 at 22:24
  • I'm saying that maybe the goal of the schedule is to make prayer a regular thing.
    – Jeremy
    Dec 16, 2013 at 23:13
  • 1
    Well of course it is: it's the monastic Offices which set out prayer through the day. But this answer doesn't address the question asked. Dec 17, 2013 at 8:18
  • This one is not your best, Jeremy, because it seems like you are attempting to discredit the prayer entirely and avoid answering from the preferred perspective, which is Catholic, and in the Catholic Church, reciting prayers is a very long standing tradition.
    – fгedsbend
    Dec 18, 2013 at 8:06
  • I misunderstood the question. I thought maybe he wanted a biblical answer for the liturgy, but he was looking for a technical doctrine answer. I may just delete this answer instead of revising it...
    – Jeremy
    Dec 20, 2013 at 11:43

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