Dear Friends,

I have been away from Pray Tell for some months now, partially due to other responsibilities and partially due to being under the weather. Today at the beginning of a new month I return with my article-by-article reflection on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I hope that I will more faithfully continue this series through to the end.

Vatican website translation:

99. Since the divine office is the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God, those clerics who are not obliged to office in choir, especially priests who live together or who assemble for any purpose, are urged to pray at least some part of the divine office in common.
All who pray the divine office, whether in choir or in common, should fulfill the task entrusted to them as perfectly as possible: this refers not only to the internal devotion of their minds but also to their external manner of celebration.
It is, moreover, fitting that the office, both in choir and in common, be sung when possible.

Latin translation:

99. Cum Officium divinum sit vox Ecclesiae seu totius Corporis mystici Deum publice laudantis, suadetur ut clerici choro haud obligati, ac praesertim sacerdotes conviventes vel in unum convenientes, aliquam saltem divini Officii partem in communi persolvant.
Omnes autem sive in choro sive in communi Officium persolventes munus sibi concreditum quam perfectissime, tam interna animi devotione quam externa agendi ratione, peragant.
Praestat insuper ut Officium in choro et in communi, pro opportunitate, cantetur.

Slavishly literal translation:

99. Because the Divine Office is the voice of the Church, that is of the entire Mystical Body, publically praising God, it would be worthy of encouragement that clerics not obligated [to recite the Office] in choir, and above all priests living together or coming together into one, should pray at least a certain part of the Divine Office in common.
Moreover, let all praying the Office, whether in choir or in common, fulfill the duty [munus] entrusted to them as perfectly as possibly, as much with internal devotion of soul as external manner of acting.
Indeed it is proper that the Office, [both] in choir and in common, be sung as opportunity suggests.


This article combines a liturgical principle with particular guidelines. The liturgical principle, as has been asserted rather consistently through Chapter IV, is that the Liturgy of the Hours is the “voice of the church,” Head and members publically praising God. The rest of the article, however, focuses on exhorting clerics who are not bound to choral or communal recitation of the Hours to nonetheless enact the Church’s preference for communal over individual celebration of the liturgy. Not only does the article evince a preference for communal celebration of the Hours, but it recognizes the sung form of the Office as preferable.

It would be interesting to discover how many secular bishops, priests and deacons regularly celebrate a communal form of the Office. My observations suggest that communal recitation of (at least the “hinge”) Hours does take place at priests’ convocations, retreats and funerals (here reciting at least part of the Office of the Dead); otherwise most priests recite the Hours (if they do so at all) individually, fitting the obligation around their other ministerial tasks. I have heard of situations where deacons gather their families or with their spouse in dyads to pray at least part of the Office, but again most deacons seem to pray the Office individually. Some individual clerics may chant portions of the Office in individual recitation, but they would also be in the minority. Insofar as these are the practices followed by most clerics, one could question whether the restoration of the Divine Office as a liturgy rather than a private devotion envisioned by Vatican II has been accomplished.

Pray Tell readers may wish to reflect on two quotations from articles the late William Storey wrote in the 1970s. My impression is that not much has changed since he presented these insights: “By and large the office is not regarded as liturgy in any normal sense of the word. It has not been experienced as such . . . . Little is expected of the Liturgy of the Hours because it is still unknown as a public, cultic, ecclesial event . . . . The Liturgy of the Hours as a cathedral or parish celebration is a non-entity” (William G. Storey, “Parish Worship: The Liturgy of the Hours,” Worship (49) 3) and “the liturgical library provided for us contradicts the principles set forth in the General Instruction, because the new set of books is still essentially a monastic breviary while the Instruction itself has as its primary demand the restoration of a cathedral Office” (William Storey, “The Liturgy of the Hours: Cathedral versus Monastery,” Christians at Prayer [ed. John Gallen, SJ, University of Notre Dame Press, 1977] pp. 74-75).

Send to Kindle