A brief guide to the breviary
(Liturgy of the Hours, Divine Office)

This is a guide to help individuals start praying the Liturgy of the Hours with minimal confusion. Please don't regard these instructions as authoritative (like if you're under obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or something). I don't have that much experience with the Liturgy of the Hours, but as a computer scientist I'm supposed to be good at writing instructions with mechanical precision! So I've tried to reformulate the official instructions as clearly as possible, with as few distracting options as possible. I hope it's helpful to someone.

What day and hour is it?

The rules for figuring out the liturgical day are complicated—it might be easiest to refer to a precomputed calendar or a web page.

On a saint's day, you may see a rank indicated: solemnities are the most important, then feasts, and then memorials. If no rank is indicated, it's an optional memorial: you may use it or ignore it. (UK edition: if no rank is indicated, it's a feast.) Remember this rank; you will need it later. Memorials during Lent and Dec 17–31 (sometimes called commemorations) are done in a special way, if they are done at all. The simplest rule is: during Lent and Dec 17–31, ignore all memorials.

There are seven hours each day:

If you only have time to pray two, make them Morning and Evening Prayer.

Sundays and solemnities have two Evening Prayers: Evening Prayer I on the day before and Evening Prayer II on the day itself. Similarly, there are two Night Prayers. Usually this means that the day before loses its Evening Prayer and Night Prayer:
Day beforeSunday/Solemnity
InvitatoryInvitatory
Office of ReadingsOffice of Readings
Morning PrayerMorning Prayer
Daytime PrayersDaytime Prayers
Evening Prayer IEvening Prayer II
Night Prayer after Evening Prayer INight Prayer after Evening Prayer II
Occasionally the diagram above is not correct, because a day will only give up its Evening Prayer (and Night Prayer) to a more important day. If you really want to figure it out, you will have to consult the hairy Table of Liturgical Days.

What does each hour look like?

InvitatoryOffice of ReadingsMorning/Evening PrayerDaytime PrayersNight Prayer
*Lord, open my lips.
And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
+God, come to my assistance.
Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. (Alleluia.)
Psalm 95
[The invitatory is always joined to the first hour.]HymnHymnHymnExamination of conscience
Hymn
PsalmPsalmPsalmPsalm
PsalmOT Canticle/PsalmPsalm(Psalm)
PsalmPsalm/NT CanticlePsalm
VerseReadingReadingReading
First reading
Second reading
(Te Deum)+Gospel canticle+Gospel canticle
Intercessions and Our Father
Concluding prayerConcluding prayerConcluding prayerConcluding prayer
Let us praise the Lord.
And give him thanks.
May the Lord bless us,
protect us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life.
Amen.
Let us praise the Lord.
And give him thanks.
May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death.
Amen.
Marian antiphon
* Make the sign of the cross on the mouth.
+ Make the large sign of the cross.

To join two columns together (the invitatory with the Office of Readings or Morning Prayer, or the Office of Readings with any other hour): remove the red portion from the first column and blue portion from the second, and join. Also, you need only sing one hymn in a sitting; move the hymn from the second hour to the first.

Where do you find each part?

There are five main sections in the breviary:

These sections can be thought of like layers of a cake:
Proper of Saints
Proper of Seasons
Psalter
Ordinary
The Ordinary provides the foundation, but with some empty slots. The Psalter fills all the slots in, but may be overridden by the layer above it (which may be overridden by the next layer above). So find the most specific page for the day (in one of the Propers, or else the Psalter). Then, for each part listed in the Ordinary, look for it starting with the page for the day. But what if you don't see a particular part?

How do you say each part?

Psalms and canticles

These occur in many places, and always have the same form:

Often a psalm has a title and a quote in front of it. Look at them, but don't read them out loud. The psalm-prayers are supplemental; you don't need to say them, and I don't know where to insert them.

Often during Daytime Prayer there is only one antiphon given for all three psalms. Then it would seem the most consistent thing to do is:

Readings and responsories

The responsories have a few different forms. The most common one (at Morning/Evening/Night Prayer) looks like this:

A, B
—A, B
C
—B
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
—A, B
(UK edition: there is a single response, not split into A and B). In individual recitation, you don't have to repeat so much. For example, you could leave out the responses A, B after the first time.

Intercessions

The intercessions always have the following form:

V: R
A1—B1; R
A2—B2; R

etc.
(UK edition: the versicles are not split into A and B.) You don't have to repeat the R each time.

Concluding prayer

Sometimes the ending of the prayer is not written out, but says something like, "We ask this...." At Morning/Evening Prayer and the Office of Readings, the rest is:

...through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
At Daytime/Night Prayer, the rest is just:
...through Christ our Lord.

Marian antiphon

There are several options for this closing hymn, but the traditional scheme is as follows:
SeasonLatin nameEnglish name
Advent to PresentationAlma Redemptoris MaterLoving mother of the Redeemer
After Presentation to Holy SaturdayAve Regina CaelorumHail, O Queen of heaven
Easter to PentecostRegina CaeliQueen of heaven, rejoice
After Pentecost to before AdventSalve ReginaHail, holy Queen

Some editions don't have Ave Regina Caelorum. Here it is:

Hail, O Queen of Heav'n enthroned,
Hail, by angels Mistress owned,
Root of Jesse, Gate of morn,
Whence the world's true light was born.
Glorious Virgin, joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in Heaven they see,
Fairest thou where all are fair!
Plead with Christ our sins to spare.