Thursday, April 3, 2014

Divinum Officium et Liturgia Horarum

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:
  1. Pascha
  2. Pentecost
  3. Epiphany/Theophany
  4. Nativity
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.


  1. The amplification of readings as done by Solesmes in its Lectionnaire Monastique (7 volumes, methinks) is the only thing worth bothering about in the Reforms, all of them, and can be used with some tweaking for Advent, Lent, the Feasts, etc. Still, hopeless re: "Ordinary Time" - a concept which I do not, sincerely do not understand.

  2. Also, the partial restoration of the pre-Urban VIII hymns is about the only good to come from the LH. Your analysis that the LH is designed for reading in the arm chair is very apt. I had one unfortunate experience praying the LH with a group many years ago, and behold, we all sat in cozy arm chairs whilst reading the psalms of "morning prayer" in a spoken voice; it felt like a book club.

    I do have one minor disagreement with you here - when you say that it's not a good thing if more of the laity are praying the Office, I do understand the point you make about the sung Office, but still, if this is to be restored de facto as a public prayer, is it not good that as a preliminary step we get more of the faithful exposed to just the bare concept of the Divine Office - i.e. let them discover that it exists? Now certainly, it is a risk that it be approached from a devotionalist mindset, as I have seen with one neo-con Cath type (but who assists at the TLM) friend who, after I had waxed about the Divine Office, picked up the LH to "enhance his personal spiritual life". But will he attend Vespers on Sundays? Not a chance. So, I see your point, but I think we need to give it more exposure. After all, how else did we become so familiar with the Office if not for perusing the books at our leisure? Tis a testament to our moving away from the clerical possessivist mindset of the Breviary.

  3. I agree with assessment of the LH. As one who has prayed it quite a bit and is now making some headway with the Monastic Diurnal, there is no comparison. The translation of the Psalms is truly
    awful and I think the hymns are mostly dreadful as well. However, the Mundelein Psalter has at
    least remedied that particular problem with a good selection of hymns set to plainchant. For example
    during Lent you can go to the back and find the same hymns for Lauds and Vespers that are used
    in the MD. But the intercessory prayers - as is the case with the ones I hear frequently at Mass -
    are bad, really bad. The collects too are awful. As you mentioned the structure of hours is the
    same which is something that only recently occurred to me. In some ways the less said the better.
    As to its growing use. I suppose I agree John R but not with any great conviction about the wider
    use of the LH. I hesitate to recommend something that is of such low quality. However, if people
    acquire a taste for prayer and then are led on to look deeper they may well find themselves desiring
    the older Offices. I approached the pastor at the Cathedral church in town about doing Evening
    Prayer I after the Vigil Mass and he signed off on it. That was two years ago and we have done
    this for both Advent and Lent, sung, using the Mundelein psalm tones. I wouldn't say the response
    has been great but it is hard to know. At least for twenty minutes in a Cathedral church the
    Divine Office is being sung. I am sure it is very amateurish since I am the one doing it.

    1. I am unconvinced of the wider use of the LH. Sure we hear of lay people reading it with regularity, but how many? In the "old days" when say a third of parishes had Vespers on Sunday nights how many people attended? Perhaps a few dozen. Do any more than that recited an hour of the LH? The LH, as far as I can see, takes the Office out of its proper setting, but fails to disseminate usage.

      And I agree, the hymns are remarkably bad. The vernacular ones are especially idiotic, often accompanied by optional hymns taken from protestant repertroires.

      Good to hear you're doing your end in encouraging more celebrations of the Office. Good job!

  4. A further note or two. One of the churches in town recites Lauds every week day before the eight-thirty
    Mass. Something. And the lay Carmelites sing the Office once a month at the Cathedral. My previous
    church in Ohio will have solemn sung Vespers Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings of
    Holy Week - beautifully done - as well as Tenebrae on Good Friday evening, the setting by Tomas
    luis de Victoria. It takes a good hour and a half to do. And at the same church the choir ( it seems
    they are singing continually on Good Friday ) will sing the Chants to Be Sung During the
    Adoration of the Holy Cross, the Reproaches and all that goes with it. This is a Novus Ordo
    parish and yet they have a rich liturgical life. I was a new Catholic when I experienced all of this.
    What I can't fathom is that this is exceptional when it should be the norm, and they are using in
    my opinion inferior materials - the Novus Ordo and the LH. But this parish is weak on the public
    singing of the Office except for Advent and Holy Week. Why are average Catholics not beating down
    the door of the Bishop's house demanding that the Office be celebrated. And yet they aren't.
    They hardly know what the Office is, at least the Catholics I rub shoulders with.

  5. I am one who prays - reads - the Liturgy of the Hours... I have done so for 25 years. over the years I have learned to appreciate it so much that no seeing the 4 volume prayer book makes me distressed.

    We must encourage the prayer of Liturgy of the Hours, in Latin if at all possible. just now I have come back to Latin, after the dissolution of TLM. it is a pleasure and a feel of going back where prayer needs to be... Thank you for the opportunity of sharing my thoughts.

  6. As someone who has the MD, the 1962BR, and the 1985LH(2nd Ed. In Latin), I can say that it is very difficult to pray the whole traditional Office. As a married layman with 5 kids and a full-time dental practice, there simply is not enough time. Beyond that, if I must attend an OF Mass, it creates a disharmony praying Collects in the Office that do not correspond with Mass. I admit the collects are more solid in the old rite, but I would not say that the newer Office is displeasing to Our Lord, nor would I say my faith is harmed. I find the value of a more practical Office combined with a daily Rosary to be greater than a rushed EF Office where, more often than not, you either lump multiple offices of the day together or skip them. Most people get no benefit from such spiritual indigestion.