“Who is Heb?”

Last week, I was Heb.

No, I didn’t get a new nickname, nor is “Heb” slang for a cool nun (we wish!).

“Heb” is short for “hebdomadary,” a liturgical role common in monasteries of monks and nuns. The Heb is responsible for leading the sisters in praying the Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, or, more simply, the Office. In addition, in our monastery, the Heb gives the blessing at dinner.

We rotate the role of Heb among the sisters, week by week.

It sounds like a simple role to fulfill, and most of the time, it is. There is a pattern to each “hour” of the Divine Office, and that pattern of hymns, psalms, Scripture readings, responses, and prayers is the rhythm of our days, the rhythm of our lives as Poor Clares.

The Heb leads the sisters in prayer but isn’t a leader in the traditional sense. The Heb starts prayers but isn’t like the starter at a race. The Heb is a role rather than a person. You can identify the Heb by when she speaks and by which sections of the Office she takes. Her voice is an instrument of our prayer.

It doesn’t really matter who is Heb; it only matters that there is a Heb, a voice that opens and concludes each hour of the Office.

When the Heb speaks, the other sisters respond, their voices answering that first voice in an ancient pattern of praise and prayer. This pattern continues every day, day after day, year after year.

It continues not only in our monastery, but in monasteries and religious communities around the world. Nuns, monks, sisters, brothers, and priests all pray the Office. At every moment of every day, the Office is being prayed, countless voices in continual prayer and praise of God. In this way, “the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God.”1

This is why it doesn’t matter who is Heb or who is praying; the personal is subsumed in the communal, the universal. When we pray the Office, we pray on behalf of and for the Church, the Body of Christ. More importantly, Christ prays with and through us. The Divine Office “is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.”2

Hebs change; religious communities change; seasons change. Still, we pray.

Who is Heb? In a sense, we all are.

Know that your Poor Clare Sisters are praying for you!

1 Paul VI, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), 84. https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html

2 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 84.