Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 84

Vatican website translation:

84. By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.

Latin text:

84. Divinum Officium ex antiqua traditione christiana ita est constitutum ut totus cursus diei ac noctis per laudem Dei consecretur. Cum vero mirabile illud laudis canticum rite peragunt sacerdotes aliique ad hanc rem Ecclesiae instituto deputati vel christifideles una cum sacerdote forma probata orantes, tunc vere vox est ipsius Sponsae, quae Sponsum alloquitur, immo etiam oratio Christi cum ipsius Corpore ad Patrem.

Slavishly literal translation:

84. The Divine Office from ancient Christian tradition is so constituted that the entire course of the day and night is consecrated through the praise of God. When in truth priests and those deputed to this task by the institution of the Church, or the faithful praying one with the priest with the approved form, perform that marvelous canticle of praise rightly, then it is truly the voice of the Bride herself which speaks with the Bridegroom, while also being the prayer of Christ with his Body to the Father.

Continuing the concise theological foundation for our understanding of the Liturgy of the Hours, art. 84 directly asserts that the purpose of the Divine Office is the “sanctification of time,” particularly as time unfolds during the day and night. The Liturgical Year (which will be treated in Chapter 5) also “sanctifies time” and will have an impact upon the Liturgy of the Hours, but the focus of the Liturgical Year is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery through the symbols of seasons and feasts while the focus of the Liturgy of the Hours is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery through the symbols of the alternation of light and darkness over the course of twenty-four hours.

Three groups are singled out as having special responsibility for the celebration of the Divine Office: 1) priests (including bishops, since they too bear the designation “sacerdos”); one should include deacons in this category; 2) those deputed by the Church to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours (this would include eremitical and coenobitic versions of monastic life, the life of friars and canons, as well as certain
”active” orders; and 3) laity who pray along with clerics in an “approved form.” This last may be a reference to the “little Offices” that developed alongside the official Breviary, but possibly prayed in the vernacular and with less variability. Here we perceive a trajectory that would claim the Liturgy of the Hours as the prayer of the Church, and not simply the obligation of the Breviary for clerics, or choral office in various religious communities.

The article concludes with two images that will constantly recur in later developments of the Liturgy of the Hours: the Office is the prayer of the Church-as-Bride to Christ as well as the prayer of Christ, Head and members of his Body, offering prayer to the Father almighty. This dual focus will have consequences for the way psalms, as Hebrew texts, are re-interpreted as Christian prayer.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss the elements of the keeping of time in our families, households, towns and countries that support celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours as well as challenges posed to this regular daily prayer by the surrounding cultures in which we live.

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5 comments

  1. The “keeping of time” in our home was marked by food and prayer…..prayer in the morning before breakfast (although, admittedly, punctuated by panicked shouts of disarray as we prepared for work and school), prayer before dinner and prayer before bed. This ordered our day.
    Practices like the Advent Calendar, Lenten candles and an Easter “empty tomb” display helped order our year.
    Our culture does, indeed, challenge this ordering of time in the home. The pressures of high school activities soon put a big dent in this order as the children had to be places which did not respect the family dinner hour and the parents had to be out some evenings also.
    Outside the home, we can see the “ordering of time” getting less and less respect in favor of prime shopping opportunities i.e. Halloween stuff out in late August, Christmas out in late September. We have to make a concentrated effort to live in the present because the culture is pushing us ahead in hopes that we will spend MORE to keep the wheels of commerce turning.
    Let me preface this by saying that I love praying Evening Prayer in the parish. We have sung Evening Prayer during Advent and Lent in our parish for more than 25 years. The only time we see a spike in attendance is when there is a penance service connected or a mission preacher. The normal attendance is paltry even after 25 years and catechesis. People who come say that they love it and that it is a beautiful way to pray, but it is hard to make time to come out of an evening. There is a myriad of reasons and most of them have to do with infant/child care or earning a living.
    I do not know where all this rambling leads us except to say that, apart from monasteries or convents, it is most difficult in this culture to order our time through the praying of the “Hours” in community as SC envisions. And this saddens me.

    1. @Linda Reid – comment #2:
      In omy parish our very creative pastor packs them in for vespers from all churches, including evangelical protestants and a sprinkling of pentecostals. There are always refreshments after sunday and festal evensong which clearly helps to provide a convivial atmosphere. We have a superb choir with a sermon on sundays and feasts. That seems to be a great help too.

      The pastor introduced a sermon from the Fathers at both public offices. At times, these are led by a lector or cantor. There’s also an incense rite at our paraliturgical office of readings conflated with a revised lauds. It involves having members of the congregation come forward at the Benedictus and at the Magnificat to drop incense grains in the brazier on the altar.

  2. I don’t know to what extent people order their days anymore, except to the extent that institutions (work, school) order it for them.

    Linda’s wonderful comment mentions meal times. I grew up in a household in which the morning and evening meals were the “hinges” around which family life was organized. They were the two times when at least a subset of the family would come together to break bread, and a time when we would serve one another (cooking, setting the table, washing dishes, etc.)

    As Linda notes, even mealtimes are disrupted now by the pull of institutions (work, school, sports, etc.). I know a number of working professionals who don’t really have a dinner together at the end of a work day; mom and dad have to rush home from work, collect the children from day care or after school care, and then the press of other obligations (or choices) prevents them from preparing a meal and gathering together to eat it as a family. Dinner may be popcorn in front of the TV.

    Our economic life fosters other types of disruptions. I work with many co-workers who live in Asia but who order their work days to American time zones – thus they work deep into the middle of the night in their local area. How destructive that must be of family life.

    My view is that it’s worth trying to order our lives around “hinges” like mealtimes. More generally, I think that people flourish best if they have stable rhythms to their life, particularly if those rhythms foster family relationships. For a baby, that rhythm might revolve around feedings and naps. For older children, it’s family meals and the rhythms of the school day. Teenage years seem to be a time to “blow up” the established rhythms, preparatory to establishing new ones as adults. For adults, it’s driven by the work day, then work day coupled with significant other, then, perhaps, driven by the addition of children and the need to nurture.

    I believe strongly that the flourishing of LotH relies on this foundation of an ordered, rhythmic life.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #3:
      Your comment hit home for me. Five years ago, I started working at night here in Manila, partly to sync with European working hours. (I used to train Europeans in English back then, mainly by phone.) One of the things I regularly observed was praying the Office and the routines of work almost made this impossible. One of the makeshifts I did, however, was to start praying the shorter office of Compline in the middle of the shift. I usually added the prayer attributed to St. Augustine which mentions those who “wake, or watch, or weep this night,” not only for those who were in distress but for those, who like me, were up working.

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