Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 87

Vatican website translation:

81 [sic]. In order that the divine office may be better and more perfectly prayed in existing circumstances, whether by priests or by other members of the Church, the sacred Council, carrying further the restoration already so happily begun by the Apostolic See, has seen fit to decree as follows concerning the office of the Roman rite.

Latin text:

87. Ut autem divinum Officium, sive a sacerdotibus sive ab aliis Ecclesiae membris melius et perfectius in rerum adiunctis peragatur, Sacrosancto Concilio, instaurationem ab Apostolica Sede feliciter inceptam persequenti, de Officio iuxta ritum romanum ea quae sequuntur placuit decernere.

Slavishly literal translation:

87. So that the Divine Office, whether by priests or by other members of the Church, may be better and more perfectly executed in those things connected to [present] realities, it is pleasing to the Most Sacred Council, pursuing the restoration happily undertaken by the Apostolic See, to decree the things which follow concerning the Office according to the Roman Rite.

Art. 87 represents the transition between the theological-liturgical rationale for changing the Roman Rite’s Liturgy of the Hours and the practical decrees implementing such change. It once again affirms that the Divine Office is not to be understood as a clerical prayerbook, but as a liturgy of the Church, intended for celebration by groups other than (but possibly including) priests. The Council Fathers acknowledge earlier reforms of the Office, probably most notably that of Pius X. Finally note that these decrees formally only apply to the Roman Rite, but one should remember that “[a]mong these principles and norms there are some which can and should be applied both to the Roman rite and also to all the other rites. The practical norms which follow, however, should be taken as applying only to the Roman rite, except for those which, in the very nature of things, affect other rites as well” (art. 3).

As Pray Tell readers consider the following practical norms, they may wish to indicate how the norms do or do not represent the theological-liturgical foundation offered earlier in the Constitution. They may also wish to share with readers the reformed Liturgy of the Hours presently found in the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, any of the Eastern rites, and the practices enshrined in the celebration of the Divine Office by canons and monks/nuns, as well as those marking lay communities.

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23 comments

  1. Liturgy of the Hours represents perhaps one of the weakest aspects of SC, at least as it was implemented. It remains, sadly, a clerical prayer book, slightly simplified.

    If we were to revisit the Divine Office today, I suspect there would be enough lay support for significant adaptations to place it more solidly in the hearts of the laity, young people especially.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #1:
      If it remains a clerical prayer book, that’s only because most clerics have not seen fit to implement it at all with the laity. And that may be because there was a dearth of resources, until recently, to actually sing the office as it should be. The Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City has a good practice, instigated by Msgr. Mannion: seasonal Choral Vespers, using both Latin and English; regular Sunday Morning and Evening Prayer, in English, led by a professional cantor and sometimes organist; daily Morning and Evening Prayer led by a sexton. Even the daily observances are mostly sung. The Antiphonale Romanum II is a beautiful book for sung Sunday Vespers, and I look forward to further volumes.

  2. @Doug O’Neill – comment #2:

    If it remains a clerical prayer book, that’s only because most clerics have not seen fit to implement it at all with the laity.

    Actually no. The main reason the laity have not taken it to their own is because the structure is still far too complex.

  3. I think the popularity among the laity of periodicals like Give Us This Day and Magnificat prove that there is a hunger for this. Does the current Liturgy of the Hours need to be adapted? I am not sure. I think people simply need to be taught, in person, how to use the book. I have taught a few people and my experience is that it has to be done person to person. I also wonder if there is a need for something like the Little Office, which was popular among the lay faithful for many years.

  4. Is there any chance the Office of the Ordinariates could be considered as a better structure for a community Office for the whole Church?

  5. Over the past year, I have begun praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a lay person. There are becoming many more resources to make it accessible- most notably the iBreviary and DivineOffice.org apps for mobile phones. I use iBreviary, and it’s laid out well (no turning to other sections like in the book). Another great resource was Daria Sockey’s blog and book on Liturgy of the Hours (which I read). If people are looking, they will find these helps. Once you get used to it, the structure isn’t so confusing, and I think I could readily use the book if I needed to.

  6. I think web services for the Office do indeed make the books themselves much more accessible. One can learn the skeleton online before trying to fly solo with a book, and then once one is trying to use that book the “ribbon placements” can be checked against at least one “correct” setup.

    I don’t pray the office nearly as often as I used to, but when I do I use the Breviarium Romanum. The reformed office strikes me as a half-way attempt at reform that fell between two stools.

    1) One the one hand, it did not go far enough in its simplification to provide a “cathedral office” that is immediately accessible and able to be contained in Joe Catholic’s memory (e.g., a parish full of Joes can memorize Ps 141 and perhaps a few more stock tunes to belt out at a “cathedral” vespers, but they won’t be able to do the same with the current LOTH without considerably larger investment in printed materials and much longer, sustained exposure to the cycle of psalmody).

    On the other hand, the reform went too far, for just as the Council was calling for richer scriptural fare in the Mass and scriptural engagement in general outside of it, the reformers managed to strip out part of the regular scriptural exposure through the Office. The Council did indeed suggest a longer time frame for completing the whole Psalter, but FOUR weeks seems like a large jump from one. If the desire to make the rites accessible through abbreviation prevailed to so great an extent, why then add in (quite frequently uninspiring) intercessions when you have just axed Holy Writ itself, the vehicle by which we offer our prayer with Christ’s own voice? I opt for the office with richer scriptural fare, so I’m implementing the call to extend the Office to the laity in modern circumstances (where laymen can use a Latin liturgical book!), just not according to the usage by which the Consilium attempted to answer that call.

    1. @Aaron Sanders – comment #7:
      I’ve never been fully convinced by the idea that the LOH is a failed reform because it is too complicated for the average layperson. It can be complicated, yes. But if, say, one wanted to do Sunday Vespers with the laity, it’s largely the same from week-to-week. The first psalm (110) and the canticle are the same every week; only the second psalm changes. You can use the same hymn every week. You don’t need to use the “psalm prayers” (I never use them, and I suspect they’ll disappear in the new translation of the office). In fact, except for the second psalm and the Magnificat antiphon, the people’s parts would be pretty much identical each week.

      Also, while the structure of the Office might be unfamiliar, it’s far less complicated than the Mass, which lay people seem to have no real trouble in mastering.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #9:
        I agree with Fritz.
        It’s largely a matter of layout, and planners can put it all in order in a booklet so people can follow it. Or a small book of, say, just Sunday Vespers could be laid out with ease of use, not requiring all the ribbons and paging around of the one-volume or four-volume LoH.
        And note that the General Instruction of the LoH allows introducing simplifications, including differences in psalm distribution, in celebrations of the LoH with the people.
        awr

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #11:
        There already is a lovely book of Sunday vespers for every week of the year, which was put together by a layman who saw the need. It’s called Evening Prayerbook: Sunday Vespers, Liturgy of the Hours.
        As far as complexity, learning where the ribbons go, etc. Two things were not done that would have helped immeasurably. First, Catholics never really had the LOTH explained to them: what it is and why they should try it. For most, if they know anything about it at all, it’s “that prayerbook that priests use”, unless they’ve reached enlightenment on a blog somewhere and then got the divineoffice.org or ibreviary app. I’m sure that most of the same people who are faithful to the rosary, to adoration, and other devotions would jump at the LOTH if they could just hear or read SC #83. I mean, wow! I get to do that? I get to sing that eternal hymn with, through, and in Christ? Gimme that breviary! So that’s the first thing. If people are excited about the LOTH, they will be motivated to learn it.
        2nd, there are no user friendly instructions in currently available breviairies. For all the hoopla about lay participation, the books were still designed for seminarians and postulants who would largely learn it by observing their elders. Most of us don’t have a monastery down the street or even a weekly lauds or vespers in our parishes where we can watch others. Yes, if you read all the General Instruction excerpts and the ordinary and the table of feasts (loads of fine print) you could kinda sorta figure out most, but not all of what you are supposed to do. For example, nowhere in the Christian Prayer one-volume will you find it stated that one should make the sign of the cross at “God Come to my assistance” not at “May the Lord bless us, etc.” That’s just one example. I hope the revised breviary better has a user-friendly “quick start up guide” we well as a clear orderly explanation of the other details.

  7. The office is sung at Solesmes and booklets are provided so that the public who attend can follow what is sung and said. There are usually a number of lay people who attend.

  8. I believe an Australian Cardinal advocated the use of BCP Mattins and Evensong as far back as the fifties. I do remember Notitiae mentioning that the BCP office was considered, but revision was to be in a different direction. I suspect that this was so because the BCP approach was set up for the orderly reading of Holy Scripture. Cranmer’s original plan was to arrange his lectionary according to the civil calendar and his hope was to saturate people in the scripture. The Catholics simply had a different vision. IMHO, they did an excellent job. The problem, as a commentator on the Holy Communion Service in the BCP wrote, was not so much the text as the lack of use.

    1. @Brian Duffy – comment #10:

      What you have written Brian is a great shame, since Prayer Book Mattins and Evensong are pillars of the English language that uplift the greater glory of God. I don’t find the English language translation of the LOTH (for North America) to be anywhere near as edifying as the BCP. I have a feeling that the coming “translation” will be even more clunky, considering what has happened to the missal.

      I am ambivalent about the Ordinariate Mass. However, it would be a blessing if Mattins and Evensong were permitted for Roman rite parishes as well. Some have claimed that the Prayer Book is hard for present-day English speakers and readers to understand. I would say that this is overstated, perhaps by those who are strong advocates of a very modern and paratactic interpretation (e.g. the 1973 Sacramentary).

  9. I fully take the point about *Sunday Vespers* being simple and repetitive enough. But is that all we’re aspiring to in restoring the LOTH to the whole people of God? It’s a liturgy for everyone on Sunday evening, but a continued clerical preserve for all the other hours of the week? Granted again, I don’t think things need to be radically simple for laymen to pray the office (I myself use a complicated version), but I do think that in order to realize participation that is both ritually ideal (and thus sung) and “popular” (not just for the “devout” or those willing to spring for the “full version” but for the masses), an even simpler, more repetitive structure would have done a better job.

  10. Oops, I’m sorry. I had in mind the Latin version of the Liturgy of The Hours but I really don’t know how my words were a cause of such a great shame. I certainly was not disparaging the BCP even though it’s magnificent English is not everyone’s cup of tea, as it were. (My remarks would apply to Bright and Medd’s Latin version.) I simply pointed out that the principles upon which the prayer book is based are different from those of the Roman Office in both its traditional and its revised forms.

    Cranmer’s emphasis was on instruction while the Roman Lauds and Vespers are more concerned with pure praise. Vigils contain instruction but that seems subordinate to praise too.

    I really don’t see the Latin Church allowing a form for her own members that is based on different principles from her traditional use. On the other hand she now tolerates a form of the Anglican office, but that is for a particular group and may very well be for a limited time.

  11. When I refer to the structure being complicated, I’m including such things as chasing through the breviary from one page to another, which even in the simplest offices can be a sigificant obstacle for those unused to it.

    One example of a simple solution to help in this: get rid of the antiphons altogether. The psalms and canticles (including Benedictus and Magnificat) are enough in themselves. Often enough the antiphons are platitudinous or do not add anything very much to the prayer. They come across as verbiage for verbage’s sake, and make it difficult for ordinary folk to focus on the prayer. Just scrap them. (Of course, that’s only one among several other solutions.)

    1. I rarely find myself in disagreement with what you write, Paul. However, in this instance I would not be in favour of dispensing with the antiphons, nor would I agree that they qualify as verbiage.

      Antiphons are one of the distinctive features of the Roman Catholic tradition of praying the psalms (and canticles), and occupy a place there similar to the arrangement of psalms to suit Anglican chant in the Anglican tradition, and of metrical psalmody in the Presbyterian.

      Where a thought from the text of a psalm or canticle is taken up in the antiphon, the result is a threefold iteration of the idea, and, for that reason, especially in a contemplative environment, the idea in question penetrates the mind and heart more easily and more effectively.

      1. @Gerard Flynn – comment #19:

        Gerard, I agree with your final paragraph, but the problem for the uninformed lay person (and even the informed one) is finding the blasted antiphon in the first place!

  12. Brian Duffy : Oops, I’m sorry. I had in mind the Latin version of the Liturgy of The Hours but I really don’t know how my words were a cause of such a great shame. I certainly was not disparaging the BCP even though it’s magnificent English is not everyone’s cup of tea, as it were. (My remarks would apply to Bright and Medd’s Latin version.) I simply pointed out that the principles upon which the prayer book is based are different from those of the Roman Office in both its traditional and its revised forms. Cranmer’s emphasis was on instruction while the Roman Lauds and Vespers are more concerned with pure praise. Vigils contain instruction but that seems subordinate to praise too. I really don’t see the Latin Church allowing a form for her own members that is based on different principles from her traditional use. On the other hand she now tolerates a form of the Anglican office, but that is for a particular group and may very well be for a limited time.

    I thought one of the principles behind the Ordinariates was the welcoming of Anglican patrimony as an enrichment, and I didn’t think it was meant to be temporary.

    I see the Divine Office (in whatever form) as a tremendous ecumenical opportunity; it would be tragic, IMHO, if forms approved for the Ordinariate would be regarded as too different and only tolerable to even consider trying to use in a parish context.

    I think Paul Inwood, by the way, is on to something in suggesting losing the antiphons. I think their value is much deeper in the sung Office than a said one; their melodies determine and complete the psalm tones. What makes the volume of material in the LotH rather unwieldy (although not impossible) for parish use is the antiphons, responsories, and intercessions.

  13. The Antiphonale Romanum II has no psalm prayers, excises the New Testament Canticle antiphons during Ordinary Time, and provides new Gospel Canticle antiphons according to the 3-year lectionary cycle, corresponding to the Mass gospels. I assume that the English revision will follow suit. Do critics of the structure here see those as improvements?

  14. For a while, a few years ago, I chanted both Morning and Evening Prayer daily, using the one volume Christian Prayer. Once I caught on how to use the book, it was really quite simple. I did modify the use of antiphons, to the beginning and ending of the psalm.

  15. Paul Inwood : @Gerard Flynn – comment #19: Gerard, I agree with your final paragraph, but the problem for the uninformed lay person (and even the informed one) is finding the blasted antiphon in the first place!

    I tend to agree with Gerard, that the antiphons act like keys to unlock a particular perspective of the psalms. And lay people can find them, truly.

    Overall, I wonder how a community might think about introducing the office to a parish and providing instruction and formation for those who might wish to take it up, either in private recitation or in groups. And how much a does a parish knows about who in prays the LOH? I suspect there are more people in the pews of your average parish using the LOH in some way than many people suspect.

    I estimate that about 5% of my parish prays the Office in one way or another — and we do pay periodic attention to instruction and formation. We’ve offered short courses (three evenings) on the LOH, taught by a deacon and a lay person; we invite people to pray the LOH with our resident Augustinian community, partnering them with someone who knows their way around the book. We tour different versions, the shorter Christian prayer, the four volume version, etc. We offer the LOH during the Triduum,using

    I’m not sure the book is necessarily the problem, perhaps it is how we approach it. If we begin with “it’s too hard/too complicated” — that’s the message people take away: it’s not for me. Part of the beauty is the complexity, that after 30 years, I’m still finding new treasures in its celebration, privately and with a group.

  16. One alternative for Vespers is to celebrate it in the Extraordinary Form. The psalms and the antiphons are the same every Sunday, with only the Magnificat antiphon changing each week, except during Advent, Lent and Eastertide. At the Birmingham Oratory, we have produced a series of bilingual booklets for each season for those who do not have a Liber Usualis or who find flipping back and forward tiresome. We have Benediction afterwards, in the traditional form, followed by the Sunday Evening Mass. Pastorally, it works very well and we get a congregation of between 30 and 60 people every week.

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