Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 94

Vatican website translation: 94. That the day may be truly sanctified, and that the hours themselves may be recited with spiritual advantage, it is best that each of them be prayed at a time which most closely corresponds with its true canonical time.

Latin text: 94. Praestat, sive ad diem revera sanctificandum, sive ad ipsas Horas cum fructu spirituali recitandas, ut in Horarum absolutione tempus servetur, quod proxime accedat ad tempus verum uniuscuiusque Horae canonicae.

Slavishly literal translation: 94. Let it be preferable, whether toward the true sanctifying of the day, or toward the reciting of the Hours themselves with spiritual fruit[fulness], that the time be observed in fulfilling the Hours that corresponds most closely to the true time of each canonical Hour.

Recalling SC articles 84 and 88-89, article 94 upholds the “truth of the Hours,” whose celebration should be intimately connected to the sanctification of particular times of day. We have already noted an earlier practice among some active priests who would read all of the hours for a given day toward midnight of that day and immediately follow it by reciting all the hours for the next day immediately after midnight so as “take care” of their obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, an obvious, if understandable, abuse. Pray Tell readers might wish to discuss how the obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours falls differently upon monastic communities bound to choral recitation of the Office (but whose individual members may be dispensed for a good reason), active religious communities (especially those not bound to communal recitation of the Office), active priests and deacons, and the lay faithful.

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8 comments

  1. I try to pray morning and evening prayer when I am at church on the weekends (in my role as a pastoral musician). I believe the LOH is something most of the lay faithful do not know about, which is sad. It gives me great joy to know, that like the Mass, thousands of others are praying the LOH with me although physically during my recitation I am alone. I am reminded that I am truly not alone every time during an antiphon, prayers of intercession, or psalm prayers/closing prayer the plural “we” is used.

    To be totally honest, I find the daytime offices to be somewhat unfulfilling. Although I am not one for drawn out things, I believe it has something to do with the fact that the daytime offices are so short.

    Although I am not a religious, I have always found it strange when religious communities do not pray the office together (at least morning and/or evening prayer). I’m sure the common recitation of the LOH can be impeded by communities who have very active apostolates.

  2. As a deacon of the Chicago archdiocese, my obligation is to pray Morning and Evening Prayers. I almost always pray them alone. I usually have about a two-hour window between rising in the morning and beginning my work day to find a 15-20 minute time slot for Morning Prayer; I fit it in between morning chores, breakfast, getting kids ready and off to school. There are times when the demands of my job and family, coupled with poor planning on my part :-(, force me to interrupt morning prayer midway through, e.g. because a child has to be to school early for a particular reason. It takes some planning to squeeze it in.

    I usually pray evening prayer between the end of my work day and dinner preparation (I do most of the cooking in our household). It’s actually a great break/change of pace after a day of work. If I let evening prayer slide to after dinnertime, I run the risk of getting too busy to do it. On rare occasions, I’ve inadvertantly skipped it :-(.

    Btw, even though I pray alone, I chant aloud. The diction seems to help me focus on the text.

  3. Re: Deacon Pauwels a #1. Thank you so much for sharing your life experience with the Liturgy of the Hours. Back in the 1970s I took “Liturgy of the Hours” at Notre Dame taught by William Storey (of blessed memory). Among his many concerns about the reformed Office was the continuation of individual recitation of the Hours. If you have reviewed his “Morning Praise and Evensong” (1973) where he proposed a one-week engagement with the Psalter or the later project with John Melloh (also of blessed memory) entitled “Praise God in Song” (1979) where he proposed a one-day pattern for a genuinely “cathedral” office, he hoped that those bound to the recitation of the Office would view their obligation not so much toward individual recitation as creating and sustaining a community of those who would regularly prayer the hinge hours of Lauds and Vespers. He also encouraged us to dream about what a Liturgy of the Hours might be in the context of a family household. As a celibate, I really don’t know how parents gather their children for morning prayers, evening prayers, or night (bedtime) prayer. I would be interested to hear from other deacons and lay folk about their experiences with adapting the Office to family life. Finally, I’m delighted to hear that you chant the Office even in individual recitation; I do the same and agree that the chant helps me focus on the text.

  4. My experience is the opposite of Jim’s: morning prayer is easier, because I can just get up earlier, but evening prayer on not-very-rare occasions gets lost in the shuffle. Next year we’ll be empty nesters, so I will be without excuse.

    I do occasionally chant at least the office when alone (I chant the Gospel canticle more often than the psalms). And, for some odd reason (in no way a conscious decision), I find that I almost always pray the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. Go figure.

    It would be nice to have a community to pray the Hours with. Years ago my wife and I used to pray Compline together. Again, maybe the empty nest will revive that.

  5. I’ve been praying Morning and Evening Prayer for almost 30 years now as a single lay woman. I’m not a morning person so Morning Prayer is done between my shower and breakfast and I’m still feeling half asleep. Yet, when the words of a psalm spontaneously come to mind, its almost always a psalm from the morning office. Evening Prayer is usually done before my half hour of mental prayer as a way to helping me transition from the busy-ness of the day into a more quiet frame. Perhaps its because I have some background in liturgy but I do have a sense of joining the larger Church at prayer. Since I’m more alert during EP, the intercessions become my time to particularly remember others. I’ve always enjoyed times when I’ve had a house guest who’ll join me or even a few times when I’ve prayed the Office with fellow Secular Carmelites as we carpool to some event. On the flip side, I’ve also cringed on occasion at not well done LOH in a communal context but we’ve all experienced examples of well done and not so well done liturgies of various kinds.

  6. Fr. Mike, thanks for that wonderful reply. I assume your professor, William Storey, is the same who translated the Phos Hilaron lyrics, “O Radiant Light, O Sun Divine”? We frequently use that text for our hymn for evening prayer when the deacons and wives of our archdiocese gather at our biannual convocation, although we sing it to OLD HUNDREDTH, as I don’t believe the chant tune to which it’s often paired is well-known.

    Our parish has actually begun praying Morning Prayer communally on Fridays, and it was organized by one of our deacon couples. The driver for this was that our parish no longer has a sufficient number of priests to sustain a daily mass schedule for every day of the week, so on Fridays we now offer morning prayer as well as a communion service. I’m not able to participate because it conflicts with my work schedule. But as described, it may be at least somewhat along the lines of what Storey proposed in the books you’ve mentioned (which I haven’t read).

    Regarding the community of the family praying LotH: I know there are families that do so, but it doesn’t work for us. My kids aren’t interested and it’s a battle I’ve chosen not to fight. My wife went through diaconal formation with me; but it doesn’t really work for us to pray them together. Part of the issue, to be frank, is that she doesn’t really care for that form of prayer. And of course she hasn’t the obligation, so she’s free to choose :-).

    I do think that an obligation to pray the hours presumes a certain regularity and stability of schedule and daily rhythm, and I think that, increasingly, the pace and unpredictability of modern life works against that. For example: I’ve mentioned here before the many persons I work with who live in Asian countries but whose work hours must conform to US work schedules because it’s an American-based company. And there are many people who work 2-3 jobs with irregularly-scheduled shifts in order to make ends meet. Sanctifying time becomes very difficult for such folks.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #6:

      I assume your professor, William Storey, is the same who translated the Phos Hilaron lyrics, “O Radiant Light, O Sun Divine”? We frequently use that text for our hymn for evening prayer when the deacons and wives of our archdiocese gather at our biannual convocation, although we sing it to OLD HUNDREDTH, as I don’t believe the chant tune to which it’s often paired is well-known.

      Jim, yes, it is the same person.

      While I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead, and while Bill Storey did the Church a great service in his work on the Liturgy of the Hours, his translation of the Phōs Hilaron did not. Bill seems not to have realized that this 2nd-century hymn is so old that at the time it was written the tradition of concluding a hymn with a doxology had not yet solidified. In the Phōs Hilaron the doxology occurs in the second verse of the three, but Bill placed it at the end of verse 3 instead. In fact his version is more of a paraphrase than a translation.

      It was this that prompted me to produce my own translation of this hymn, closer to the original Greek, beginning “Light of gladness, shining radiance”. For many years mine was the version used for Evening Prayer in OCP’s Music Issue though in recent times they have reverted to the Storey text.

      While on the subject, it’s worth pointing out that many people mispronounce the Greek word for “light” (phōs) as if it rhymed with “boss”, whereas the ‘o’ is long (omega rather than omicron) and so the word should rhyme with “those”.

  7. My current parish has a faithful band of daily mass attendees who arrive early and pray Morning Prayer together, out of the Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer.

    I prayed the LoH as a single lay woman for about 15 years. I loved it, and still do. However, my experiencer of the Hours has changed considerably. I was on the staff of a monastic House of Prayer for about a year, and I have also been a monastic volunteer for about a year. I was privileged to be part of choral office twice a day in both places. In addition, I have lived at different times (including my current residence) within relatively close proximity to a Benedictine house that allowed guests in the choir for the “opus Dei.”
    I can now sing just about any of the St Meinrad psalm tones in my sleep — on cue, all six lines, and sometimes even with only the number of the tone supplied!

    All of those experiences made such a deep impression on me that I have found it difficult to recite or sing the psalms by myself. There are just “too many words” — that’s the best way I can describe it. It leaves me just wanting to get through it.

    I have never found prayer books put together for lay people very nourishing — they confirm my belief that the laity are generally thought to be either naive or undeveloped in their faith. However, I have pleasantly surprised by Give Us This Day. Having one psalm allows for a genuinely contemplative lectura divina.

    But however I have prayed the psalms, they have become the infrastructure of my prayer life. Reading/praying them is more like breathing them, inhaling them. They touch all the emotions of human life — especially when prayed with Benedictines, who continue to use the parts considered unsavory and not suitable for the Roman breviary. (Who hasn’t wanted to bash somebody’s head against a rock at some time or other?)

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