Let me begin with a clarification concerning my most recent post: it was an April Fools joke, clearly visible at the bottom of the page, and not a serious posture concerning the liturgy, papacy, Ultramontanism, or general Catholic life. Private correspondence has shewn not a little confusion over this post. Next time, just scroll....
Now let us consider one of the most and least discussed aspects of the new liturgy, the transitional liturgy, and the old liturgy: the Office. We talk about the Office often on this blog, particularly as it existed prior to the 1911 reforms. John R and Rubricarius are among those who promote the older Office in some form or another, but discussion of the unreformed Office on this blog usually contrasts it with the Divine Office of Pius XII/John XXIII (same commission made alterations of both popes). The 1961 Office used as the "extraordinary form" is based on the Pian psalter of 1911, a heavily reduced kalendar, fewer patristic readings, and the Missal used at the same time. And the 1961 is very reduced when compared to the 1911 Office, which is itself reduced from the 1570-1910 Office. Consider that this past Monday one using the Tridentine Office would have prayed:
- 12 psalms at Mattins with 3 readings
- 8 psalms at Lauds with the preces and psalm 129 and then the Suffrages
- Mattins and Lauds of the Dead
- the full little hours
- 5 psalms at Vespers with the preces and psalm 50 and then the Suffrages
- Compline with the preces
- Were one at a collegiate church he would have seen a Lenten ferial Mass and a Mass of the Dead
In the 1961 scheme the preces and Suffrages are gone, 12 full psalms at Mattins and 8 at Lauds are reduced to 9 and 5 fragments respectively. Ditto for Vespers. The Office of the Dead is axed. Previously a private recitation of the Office on a Lenten feria—with the Office of the Dead—would take upward of 90 minutes. The 1961 Office could be prayed in about 45 minutes. Quantity does not equate with quality, but we must admit something has been lost.
This we all know. Let us turn our attention to the Office of Paul VI, the Liturgia Horarum.
The name Liturgia Horarum seems ill-suited for the Office of Pope Paul VI given that it does very little to follow any concept of time. There are comparatively few first Vespers when considered with the ancient Roman Office. Indeed, feasts are rather un-festive and undistinguished from normal days. The ancient Office, and even the Pian Office until 1955, especially emphasized time and creation by extending the great feasts of the Church year for eight days periods called "octaves", signifying the eighth day of creation, the Resurrection, the aeon, the last day of the world. If one were to rank the most important feasts of the older Office theologically and liturgy the top four results in order would likely be:
Other great feasts—the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter & Paul, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Corpus Christi, All Saints and more—similarly broke from the brutal ferial psalter to celebrate the work of Christ through these persons and events for eight days, enlightening every mystery by the Resurrection.
The Liturgia Horarum does none of this, reducing the number of octaves to two (!). The 1961 Office has three octaves, including Pentecost. The LH has just two, the two that the secular world often perceives as the most important Christian holy days: "Easter" and the Nativity.
Perhaps the most apparent and arbitrary feature of the LH is its structure of hours, times, and psalms. Whereas the old Office descended from public prayer vigils prior to great feasts and Sundays, replete with psalms and Scripture readings in alternation, the LH, although in theory a restoration, is actual something meant to be read at a desk or in a chair. The old Office of course was usually said privately by clergy outside of monasteries as was the Pian Office, but both retained the structure and concepts of time latent in the Roman tradition. Moreover both the Pian and ancient Offices are singable because of their psalms and hymns. The LH, with its turgid passages and misuse of non-musical texts, is exclusively readable.
The hourly structure of the Pauline Office reveals the rational attitude towards prayer and religious supplication held by its creators. In the older Office(s) the majors and minors hours varied considerably in their character and purpose, and so their formatting both reflected those causes and effected a uniqueness to those hours which the person praying them could anticipate. For example Mattins begins with psalm 94, a hymn, then between three and twelve psalms followed by scriptural pericopes. The other majors hours were structured to have five "psalms", followed by a hymn, a canticle, and the orations of the day. The minor hours held the same structure except for Compline, which is again unique. With the lonely exception of Mattins, rebranded the "Office of Readings"—again betraying its new essence, every hour of the Pauline LH has the exact same structure: opening rites, a hymn, three fragments of psalms, a short reading, another canticle, some responsory prayers, and an Our Father. The hours must be prayed in order, except for the Office of Readings, but not in entirety. One can pray just one of the three daytime hours, the estranged riche nouveau cousins of the little hours of the Roman Office. The psalms themselves are read in fragments of ten to fifteen lines over the course of four weeks rather than one week. Of course the praying of all the psalms is a Roman practice and not a universal one (psalms in the Byzantine Office hardly ever change), but it is Roman. It is our tradition. It is part of our liturgical mind. The LH, by eviscerating any distinction between the hours and by trekking through bits of the psalms at a time, enters time rather than sanctifying it. What distinguishes "Evening Prayer" from "mid-morning prayer?" The title. Psalm 143 was prayed today at Evening Prayer and will not be prayed again for a month, ensuring very little familiarity with it among those who pray it.
One may be tempted to protest these observations and demonstrate the virtues of the LH by highlighting the increased number of laypersons now praying the Office. Surely this is an improvement over the older state of affairs, is it not? No, it is not. The Divine Office is a public prayer, not a private one. Would one be happy if an increased number of priests were celebrating Masses which no one ever attended? Surely not. "Liturgy" comes to us from a Greek word meaning "public service." The service is one provided by God for us and not the other way around. And never before has the Office been celebrated so sparingly in public. Prior to the 1960s one could certainly find Vespers at some church on a Sunday night in a city or major town. Most well staffed churches had Tenebrae during the Triduum. In the local rites Vespers would be interpolated into the Communion rites for the Triduum. Even today in Oxford one could have a pick of Vespers on a Sunday night (Oratory, Blackfriars, Ordinariate). The average parish today however never so much as considers a public celebration of the Office, and why should it? The same things the Rad Trad finds troublesome about recited Mass hold true for the LH: its spoken nature makes following it and praying it exceedingly difficult.
There are some things in the LH which are [mild] restorations. Clement VIII reduced the length of many Mattins lessons in the ancient Office for the convenience of priests. The LH revives the idea of long readings, but not necessarily the longer readings themselves. On the whole, not an inspiring liturgy.
I have prayed the LH on maybe four occasions in my life, all of them times when a friend of mine happened to have his hard copy LH and would not listen to reason. What is your experience?
P/S - for a detailed illustration of the Roman Office in different stages of its existence look here.