Which Office “Counts”?

Moderator’s note: Below is a question sent in to me, and my response to it, both edited lightly for publication. I encourage your comments on it. What would you add to or improve upon in my response? awr 

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Fr. Ruff,

I am both a deacon and a Benedictine oblate. I have a question about the Liturgy of the Hours [LOTH] and Benedictine Daily Prayer. I know your name from the Pray Tell blog and thought I would email you.

As a deacon I have the obligation to pray the LOTH daily.  Benedictine monasteries have their own versions that fulfil this duty for their clergy and these are often different in many ways from the official [i.e. Roman] LOTH.

So my question is this: as an oblate can I fulfill my ordination promise to pray the LOTH by using a Benedictine version such as Benedictine Daily Prayer? The way I see it is that this is similar to the monasteries formulating their versions, since Benedictine Daily Prayer comes from a Benedictine publisher as being especially for oblates.

I have been told “no” by some (because it is not an official Office approved by the USCCB) and “yes” by others (who say it’s of the same spirit and style as LOTH). Is there any official word on this kind of situation?

Thank you very much.  God grant you peace!

Deacon N.

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Dear Deacon N.,

Thanks for writing. I can only give you my understanding of this question. My thinking has been formed by an article (attached below) we published in our journal Worship in 1963. It argues, among other things, using the categories of traditional morality at a time when this tradition was being renewed, that a cleric could fulfill the obligation to the Latin office, in particular circumstances, by praying in English. This is because the goal, and the charge from our Lord, is to pray always with mind and heart so as to draw near to God. In my view, the kind of legalism that says ‘this counts’ and ‘this does not count’ based on a supposed external law, without looking at what is in the human heart and what God is really calling us to, is not a helpful viewpoint. It seems at odds with everything Our Lord teaches in the Gospels. The article doesn’t address your specific question, but I think it gives a good, Gospel-based foundation for thinking about questions such as yours.

The constitution of our monastic congregation says that we fulfill the obligation to the Office by praying the Office of the place we’re at. When I’m at another monastery with another psalm distribution, I don’t go to their Morning Prayer, and then go to my room and re-do Morning Prayer using all books from St. John’s which I lugged in my suitcase, to get in our psalms!

I hope you find the attached article helpful. It breathes the spirit of rigorous, faithful commitment to the Office from a Gospel-based perspective. I hope that your prayerful discernment before God leads you to a place of peaceful and heartfelt devotion in prayer.

Pax,

Fr. Anthony, OSB

Attachment: “Bernard Haering, A Closer Look at the Breviary Obligation,” Worship XXXVII (1963), 274-285.

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4 comments

  1. Just two thoughts.
    1)Broadly speaking, part of what makes liturgy, liturgy is lack of freedom of choice. See for example GILH 118. This helps to build unity and to pray in the name of the Church. So that should be considered in making a decision.

    2) However, (even with a legalistic mindset) Paul VI’s Motu Proprio on the LOTR notes that oblates who recite an abridged version are considered legitimately participating in the Office. Considering the interpretive principle that favors are granted liberally and burdens restricted, I would say you are probably good in using the adapted Benedictine office.

    Though in cases of doubt, one should probably consult the bishop as he is the chief source of unity for Diocese, the steward of the liturgy and local interpreter of Church law.

  2. Fr Anthony, I like your response.

    In an ideal Church, a deacon would be close enough to his bishop or spiritual director to have a conversation about this. Presumably an oblate has a personal history of praying the Office, at least in part. The expectation for the deacon is daily prayer, which may already be part of an oblate’s discipline. If it is, I would hesitate to change it.

    If an oblate/deacon has no established pattern of daily prayer, then I don’t see why an individual wouldn’t choose to use the version adopted by the other deacons in his diocese. At minimum, I would think an oblate would observe Benedictine solemnities, feasts, and memorials rather than ordinary weekdays. Likewise the patron and founding date of the abbey or monastery with which he is united.

    Here’s a question for deacons (and priests and bishops) out there: do you observe the name-saints and foundation dates of your parish and diocese? When praying the Office alone, your personal feasts: baptism anniversaries, baptismal and confirmation name-saints? Do “optional” memorials of deacon-saints become obligatory?

    It should be obvious that whenever a deacon is traveling, to a monastery of any type, or some gathering that utilizes the LOTH, the communal observance would take precedence over the book.

  3. I have been asked similar questions on different occasions. My twofold answer is: In a strictly juridical approach, you have to follow the liturgical rite that you belong to – and there is more than one Catholic rite, not only the LoTH; it depends on the circumstances (where you currently are, if you are a religious, etc.).
    But Liturgy cannot be reduced to juridical issued. My understanding from a liturgical-theological viewpoint is: Any office “counts” that covers the meaning of the Office. In order to judge that, you need to identify what “monastic” and “cathedral” elements of the Office are. If the Office you use is either monastic or cathedral or a mixture of both, then it “counts.”

  4. I generally agree with Fr Anthony and the other commenters. Yes, there is a difference between liturgical prayer, paraliturgical services, and individual private devotion, but the desire to draw too clear a line, to the point of identifying very specific “On/Off switches” that suddenly make an Office private as opposed to liturgical, can be unhealthy.

    As a member of the Ordinariate, we (still) don’t have Divine Worship: The Daily Office approved and published yet, to the frustration of virtually everyone. But I know some people use a lay-created online interim version (http://prayer.covert.org/), others who use the now technically abrogated Book of Divine Worship, and yet others (myself included) who just stick to the 1928 American BCP until DWDO is finally released (hopefully sometime this century).

    I don’ t know anyone, though, who is scrupulous about it. The liturgical nature of the Prayer Book Office lies in its essence, history, and makeup, not in some positivistic episcopal or curial fiat. We know the structure and content of the final Daily Office will be close enough to whichever of the three interim options above. The rest is window dressing.

    I should add the same applies to Scripture translations in private recitation of the Office. Our official lectionary is the RSV-2CE, which I occasionally use, but more often than not, I go to the KJV, and I know many others who do the same. Imprimaturs and nihil obstats aside, I think it would be ridiculous to argue that the Ordinariate is all about the “Anglican Patrimony” but the KJV is somehow verboten for it.

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