Liturgy Lines: Weekday Liturgy

by Elizabeth Harrington.

This post originally appeared at Liturgy Brisbane on July 11th, 2004.

Parishes are increasingly asking for guidance as to what they can do about weekday worship when a priest is no longer available to preside at eucharist during the week.
There are no explicit “rules” for weekday celebrations. However, the documents on the liturgy offer guidance on what might be appropriate:
Bible services should be encouraged, especially on the vigils of the more solemn feasts, on some weekdays in Advent and Lent, and on Sundays and holy days. They are particularly recommended in places where no priest is available. (CSL 35.4).
The scriptures, and above all in their liturgical proclamation, are the source of all life and power. All the faithful without exception must: always be ready to listen gladly to God’s word. (LMI 47)
Hence an option that parishes might consider for weekdays is a Service of the Word. This form of worship is familiar to us from the first part of the Mass. The weekday readings from the Lectionary could be used and a rite of thanksgiving or proclamation of praise included.
There is however another possibility for weekday morning worship. The 1988 Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest recommends celebrating some part of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly morning or evening prayer. What can replace eucharist on Sunday is certainly suitable for weekdays.
This form of worship is less well-known in parishes. Even the title is unfamiliar to many. Some may know it as the ‘Office’ or ‘Prayer of the Church’. The second Vatican Council called for the Liturgy of the Hours, which originated as the prayer of the people but had become the preserve of priests and religious, to be made available again to lay people. It said that morning and evening prayer were to be accorded ‘the highest importance as the prayer of the Christian community’.
Parishes are sometimes reluctant to consider celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours because it seems too complicated for the ordinary person. But there is a simple version based on the ancient, or ‘cathedral’, form of the prayer, which centres on psalms and prayer of intercession. A pattern for morning prayer could be:
Hymn – appropriate for the morning or liturgical seasonPsalms – one fixed, one variable
Reading– a brief passage from scripture
Gospel Canticle – Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus)
Prayer– intercessions, Lord’s Prayer, concluding prayerConcluding Rite – blessing, sign of peace
A parish could prepare its own booklet with the overall format, a small number of suitable hymns and psalms, the fixed psalm and the gospel canticle.
On special occasions the prayer could be made more festive by the addition of candles, incense and singing. Whatever form of worship is used, parishes need to prepare the people by offering some catechises on its value and style. Lay people with the appropriate gifts for liturgical leadership need to be found and trained in the skills required.
Services of the Word or the Liturgy of the Hours should never be considered as “second rate” alternatives, which we resort to only when a priest is unavailable. They have value in their own right and enable us to express and develop our faith in the presence of Christ in the gathered assembly and in the word.

“Liturgy Lines” are short 500-word essays on liturgical topics written by Elizabeth Harrington, Liturgy Brisbane’s education officer. They have been published every week in The Catholic Leader since 1999.

Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Harrington, Archdiocese of Brisbane.



  1. A “Book of Hours” was a popular devotional aid for lay people in medieval times. Some were simple, some were “illuminated” manuscripts. The decorated style was an expression of celebration of faith.
    Do an internet search.
    There’s a Wikipedia article at
    Depending on your location, there may be a sample Book of Hours in a local museum or other such institution.
    Wouldn’t it be great to see a revival of such books today, illuminated or not? With a computer you could produce your own personal Book of Hours!
    The Prayer of the Church is available on a variety of websites. It is not necessary to do the full Hours as presented. Sometimes just one Psalm will be enough to provide food for contemplation. Antiphons may be helpful, but forget them if they are complicated or distracting.

  2. I’ve always preferred Mattins and Evensong to any other service. I suspect I am not alone given the growing popularity of cathedral Evensong of late.

    I do think that the Liturgia Horarum also offers great possibilities.

  3. Now that the Anglican Ordinariate is reality, could a Roman parish hold Prayer Book morning prayer (contemporary English) on mornings when no priest is available to say daily Mass?

    An Anglican priest acquaintance of mine once remarked that the celebration of Roman matins and lauds together is quite long, while the Anglican hour of morning prayer is much more reasonable in length. I have to agree with him. There’s no need for reinvention when the Anglican tradition crafted a more succinct office centuries ago.

  4. Just remembered — Liturgy of the word and holy communion were available right before lunch in my high school. From what I recall, sign of the cross, then the Gospel from the day’s Mass. The presider (teacher or brother usually) then recited the Agnus Dei and response with us. At this point the students communed and departed the chapel without a dismissal. This service had been held daily for decades. The order placed a high value on daily communion and endeavored to offer as many chances as possible for students and teachers to receive the Eucharist daily.

    For some reason, after I had graduated, the diocesan bishop ordered the lunchtime services canceled. I don’t know the bishop’s motivations, and they’re probably irrelevant. Still, I found the services to be a time for calm reflection during the school-day.

    1. @Jordan Zarembo:

      Probably because the bishop had read Redemptionis Sacramentum 166, which said this about Services of the Word:

      Likewise, especially if Holy Communion is distributed during such celebrations, the diocesan Bishop, to whose exclusive competence this matter pertains, must not easily grant permission for such celebrations to be held on weekdays, especially in places where it was possible or would be possible to have the celebration of Mass on the preceding or the following Sunday.

      This is in the context of para 165:

      It is necessary to avoid any sort of confusion between this type of gathering and the celebration of the Eucharist. The diocesan Bishops, therefore, should prudently discern whether Holy Communion ought to be distributed in these gatherings. […]

      1. @Paul Inwood:

        Thank you Paul for the relevant quotations. Roma locuta, and no one can fault the bishop for adhering to guidelines. He was though, in my opinion, a bit heavy-handed. ¶165 of Redemptionis Sacramentum, as you have noted, allows for some episcopal discretion. The communion service had been celebrated from even before the Council. I am certain that the boys of the hyper-competitive school knew the difference between Mass and the communion service. I am convinced that even the non-observant baptized could tell the difference. In fact, the admissions board limited enrollment to those baptized in a Roman Catholic church, with a few Orthodox as exceptions.

        Often it has passed my mind, in mere opinion and with no validity, that the province sometimes took liturgical laws onto their own hands. A province of a religious order is not a diocese. A provincial can’t act unilaterally as a pseudo-bishop, even in cases where no scandal would occur. Causa finita. finis.

  5. A few years ago, Loyola Press published A Catholic Book of Hours and Other Devotions assembled and edited by William G. Storey. It actually contains two (not illuminated) books of hours. It’s for under-equipped laity. I use it mostly for Adoration as we have weekday Masses.

    Oh, duh: “A few years ago” was 2007, as I saw when I thought of the copyright.

  6. A Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion is structured as follows:
    Gathering Song
    Sign of the Cross
    An Opening Prayer
    First Lesson
    Gospel Acclamation
    The Lord’s Prayer
    (Presider goes to tabernacle for the consecrated hosts)
    Behold the Lamb of God and response
    Distribution of HC
    Closing Prayer

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      What you outline is more or less the order specified in Holy Communion and the Worship of theEucharist Outside of Mass, except that includes a penitential rite, the prayer of the faithful, and the sign of peace. It (oddly) seems to omit the opening prayer, and it places the Our Father after the sacrament is retrieved from the tabernacle and before sign of peace and “Behold the Lamb of God.”

      It is interesting that Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest gives very different arrangements, including one option that uses the Liturgy of the Hours, somewhat adapted.

    1. @Agman Austerhauser:
      Or as is stated in the rubrics for Good Friday:
      The rubric is specific that either the deacon or priest bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the altar puts on a humeral veil. Rather than indicate there is no procession, the rubric says the deacon or priest brings the Blessed Sacrament back from the place of reposition “by a shorter route.” All stand in silence. The rubric for the priest has been shortened, indicating that “the Priest goes to the altar and genuflects” (GF, no. 22).

      The priest communicates after Behold the Lamb of God. There is a new rubric that notes the priest is to say privately, May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life. (GF, no. 27).

      There is no fractioning… there is no Agnus Dei.

  7. The “agnus dei” is the chant that accompanies the rite of breaking the bread. There is no breaking of bread in a HC Rite, thus no agnus dei.

  8. Doesn’t the Agnus Dei in various forms appear in litanies like those of the Saints and of S. Mary The Virgin? This suggests that its use is not limited to the breaking of the bread.

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