Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Liturgy of the Hours Considered

This blog fondly analyzes and discusses less considered aspects of the old Roman liturgy which have been lost both during the mid-20th century reforms and the cultural milieu in the days prior to then. Among these forgotten facets is the Divine Office. For more thoughts on the Office changes in general click here.

The changes to the Divine Office in the 20th century were more radical than those to the Mass and they occurred in several turns. There was the new psalter, kalendar ranking system, and rubrics governing feasts in 1911-1913, the drastic reduction in readings and feasts as well as another re-ranking in 1956-1960, the abolition of Prime in 1964 and the introduction of vernacular, and then the full blown new Office in 1970 with translations becoming available over the following five years. Unlike the Mass, which although different in much of its content at least retained its primitive outline (entrance, readings, Gospel, offertory, Canon, Communion, dismissal), both the structure and the ornament of the Office were re-done entirely. 

Except for the so-called "Office of Readings," all the hours follow the same structure of an introduction, a hymn, three psalms (often fragments and often Biblical texts other than the psalms), a reading, and a canticle (sometimes non-song text made into song) followed by petitions and the dismissal. The readings hour may be recited at any time. Lauds and Vespers are rebranded Morning and Evening Prayer. And the little hours are replaced by three choices of "Daytime Prayer"—only one need be used. The old journey through the psalms to the Benedictus or Magnificat at the major hours or the familiar simplicity of the [mostly] unchanging minor hours is gone. The "Readings" Office is the oddest of them all, with long, turgid passages that are unsingable and clearly meant to be read sitting in a chair. Another unique feature of the Pauline Office is that since now Mattins/Readings may be read at any time prior to Vespers, the psalm that began Mattins in the old rite (94/95) has been misplaced to whatever hour is celebrated first. 

Below is a comparison of Lauds for Holy Saturday in the old rite, for which I take the pre-Pius X as the text, and the Pauline Morning Prayer for the same day, copied from's edition using the English Grail psalter.

Old Roman
Invitatory rites
Ps. 50, 42, 62 & 66, Canticle of Ezekiel, ps. 148-150
Ps. 64, Canticle of Isaiah, ps. 150
Responsory (replaces chapter for Triduum)
Reading from Osee 5:15-16:2
Benedictus with antiphon Mulieres
Benedictus with antiphon Save us/Salva nos
Oration Christus factus est and psalm 50
Pseudo-Byzantine intercessory prayers
Prayer Respice, concluding in silence
Concluding rites
Some features of the Pauline Office for this day are thoroughly un-traditional, such as having a hymn or using Gloria Patri.... during the Triduum, a time in which the rubrics and prayers are somewhat like those for a Requiem Mass and Office because the Church is in mourning. The old Benedictus antiphon about the women at the tomb—and the stone cold tomb is the point of consideration for this day—is replaced by a general text about salvation. The intercessory prayers, which in the Pauline Office are subject to options, as printed have the Greek response "Lord, have mercy" after each petition, but lack the character of the Byzantine litanies; Roman responsories are traditionally that, with the two sides of the choir exchanging prayers, something un-accomplished here. And the subtle, silent ending of the old Lauds is replaced with "May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen."

Lastly, the inversion of the old Office seen in praying Vespers after the morning Mass and Mattins and Lauds in the darkening evening, a strong reflection of one's spirit during the Triduum and the uniqueness of this time of year, is discarded in favor of using the same prayers and rubrics as are used the entire year round. Mattins and Lauds, since 1955/6, are now prayed in the morning as they are every other time of year during public recitation and Vespers (non-existent in the Pian Holy Week actually) are prayed at night.* Of course the strepitus, symbolizing the earthquake when our Lord died on the Cross, also died in 1955/6.

The new Holy Saturday Morning Prayer may not be heterodox, but it is heteropractic.

For more on the old Holy Saturday, especially the Mass with pictures, click here

* = to be fair, there are provisions for praying the Pauline Readings and Morning Prayer at night, but scheduling often puts this at an un-pastoral hour like 10:00 PM.


  1. Another riveting Post, The Rad Trad. Thank you.

    Like many others, I long ago despaired of the "watered-down" Liturgy, Office, Prayers, etc, that was imposed after Vatican II.

    My answer ?

    Purchase as many old Breviaries as possible, the older the better. I'm currently reading 1872.

    Ergo, no watered-down Liturgy, Office, Prayers, etc

    And nobody nudging me in the ribs to insist on leering at me and wanting to shake my hand. Or, even worse, a total stranger waving furiously at me from across the Church.

    I think it's called "by-passing the problem".

    in Domino.

    1. "Purchase as many old Breviaries as possible, the older the better. I'm currently reading 1872.

      Ergo, no watered-down Liturgy, Office, Prayers, etc "

      I am in complete agreement, your holiness!

  2. Plus, of course, the Divine Office is available, from time to time, at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, Kent, England, in the form of Solemn Vespers.

    Deo Gratias.