Judaism and the early church
The canonical hours stemmed from Jewish prayer. In the Exodus 29:38–39). Eventually, these sacrifices moved from the Tabernacle to Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. During the Babylonian captivity, when the Temple was no longer in use, the first synagogues were established, and the services (at fixed hours of the day) of Torah readings, psalms, and hymns began to evolve. This "sacrifice of praise" began to be substituted for the sacrifices of animals.
After the people returned to Judea, the prayer services were incorporated into Temple worship as well. As time passed, the Jews began to be scattered across the Greco-Roman world in what is known as the Jewish diaspora. By the time of the Roman Empire, the Jews (and eventually early Christians) began to follow the Roman system of conducting the business day in scheduling their times for prayer. In Roman cities, the bell in the forum rang the beginning of the business day at about six o'clock in the morning (Prime, the "first hour"), noted the day's progress by striking again at about nine o'clock in the morning (Terce, the "third hour"), tolled for the lunch break at noon (Sext, the "sixth hour"), called the people back to work again at about three o'clock in the afternoon (Nones, the "ninth hour"), and rang the close of the business day at about six o'clock in the evening (the time for evening prayer).
The narrative of Jesus' crucifixion and death refers to the sixth and ninth hours:
Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ... and breathed His last.
The first miracle of the apostles, the healing of the crippled man on the temple steps, occurred because Saint Peter and John the Apostle went to the Temple to pray (Acts 3:1). Also, one of the defining moments of the early Church, the decision to include Acts 10:9–49).
As Christianity began to separate from Acts 4:23–30), which have remained the principal part of the canonical hours. By 60 AD, the Didache, the oldest known liturgical manual for Christians, recommended disciples to pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day; this practice found its way into the canonical hours as well. Pliny the Younger (63 – c. 113), who was not a Christian himself, mentions not only fixed times of prayer by believers, but also specific services—other than the Eucharist—assigned to those times: "they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity ... after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal."
By the second and third centuries, such Church Fathers as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian wrote of the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer, and of the prayers at the third, sixth and ninth hours. The prayers could be prayed individually or in groups.
As the form of fixed-hour prayer developed in the Christian monastic communities in the East and West, the Offices grew both more elaborate and more complex, but the basic cycle of prayer still provided the structure for daily life in monasteries. By the fourth century, the elements of the canonical hours were more or less established. For secular (non-monastic) clergy and lay people, the fixed-hour prayers were by necessity much shorter, though in many churches, the form of the fixed-hour prayers became a hybrid of secular and monastic practice (sometimes referred to as 'cathedral' and 'monastic' models).
In the East, the development of the Divine Services shifted from the area around Jerusalem to Constantinople. In particular, Theodore the Studite (c. 758 – c. 826) combined a number of influences from the Byzantine court ritual with monastic practices common in Anatolia, and added thereto a number of hymns composed by himself and his brother Joseph (see typikon for further details).
In the West, the Rule of Saint Benedict was modeled on his guidelines for the prayers on the customs of the basilicas of Rome. It was he who expounded the concept in Christian prayer of the inseparability of the spiritual life from the physical life. St. Benedict set down the dictum Ora et labora – "Pray and work". The Order of Saint Benedict began to call the prayers the Opus Dei or "Work of God." The fixed-hour prayers came to be known as the "Divine Office" (office coming from the Latin word for duty).
As the Divine Office grew more important in the life of the Church, the rituals became more elaborate. Praying the Office already required various books, such as a Psalter for the psalms, a lectionary to find the assigned Scripture reading for the day, a Bible to proclaim the reading, a hymnal for singing, etc. As parishes grew in the Middle Ages away from cathedrals and basilicas, a more concise way of arranging the hours was needed. So, a sort of list developed called the breviary, which gave the format of the daily office and the texts to be used. The spread of breviaries eventually reached Rome, where Pope Innocent III extended their use to the Roman Curia. The Franciscans sought a one-volume breviary for their friars to use during travels, so the order adopted the
Breviarium Curiae, but substituting the Gallican Rite Psalter for the Roman. The Franciscans gradually spread this breviary throughout Europe. Eventually, Pope Nicholas III adopted the widely used Franciscan breviary to be the breviary used in Rome. By the 14th century, the breviary contained the entire text of the canonical hours.