Bishop Tobin on Simplicity in Prayer

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island shares his thoughts on simplicity in prayer in his most recent column at the Rhode Island Catholic.  In particular, Bishop Tobin notes the increasing complexity of the Church’s liturgical books, including the Roman Missal:

The Sacramentary that was used at Mass for many years after the Second Vatican Council was 1,099 pages long. The new Roman Missal, just recently introduced, has 1,341 pages and is rife with long sentences, too many dependent clauses, and ineffable words like consubstantial, firstly, abasement and prevenient.

The full text of Bishop Tobin’s article is available here.

63 comments

  1. Oh dear. The new Missal is very simple to use if one makes the slightest attempt to understand it. The larger size is due to two things mainly: 1. clearer layout to avoid the old style of jammed pages (each celebration begins on new page, for example) and 2. there are now prayers for each weekday in Advent, Christmas, Lent and Eastertide and a great selection of prefaces. I’ve never found the Liturgy of the Hours difficult to use and I’ve been doing the full thing every day for eleven years. The rubrics before the 1950s were very complicated, so I don’t know what the author really means by saying it was simpler before. Perhaps there’s a nostalgic element of “it was better before”.

    1. @Fergus Ryan – comment #1:
      The rubrics before the 1950s were very complicated, so I don’t know what the author really means by saying it was simpler before. Perhaps there’s a nostalgic element of “it was better before”.

      The calendar rubrics were complicated (particularly the rules for commemorations), but the Missal itself is by far less complex. Once you know what you are to do it’s much easier to find in the book and to turn to the correct page during the service.

  2. Perhaps he was not talking about the mechanics, which can be mastered. But perhaps the endless importance given to all these small changes, as if getting every little detail right ought to occupy so much time. But I do think that “firstly” sounds funny in a prayer. All I wish for is more appreciation of good English.

  3. Quite apart from whether the liturgy was really more complicated in the 1950s or not, or whether the Sacramentary or Roman Missal is longer, or whether the three-year Sunday cycle of readings is a good or bad idea, the Bishop’s comments about the new Roman Missal translation are rather provocative and well-taken. I, for one, welcome his forthright admission that the long sentences, dependent clauses, and ineffable vocabulary do not help our prayer. Taught by a mentor long ago to listen to the Opening Prayer, I now find my ear cringing and my brain in full-on revision mode, wondering how the mess that I am hearing could be made intelligible.

  4. Good thoughts from Bishop Tobin. One of the (many) flaws of MR3 is that ICEL and Vox Clara have lost a sense of proportion with the prayer of the Mass. “Elevated” language works with a repeated prayer, like the Our Father. It might work with the Eucharistic Prayers, although better grammar would be welcome.

    As for the prayers that come along once a year, MR3 in English is pretty much a fumble. An opportunity to bridge the Introductory Rites and the Scriptures in an intelligible and memorable way. Simple Scriptural allusions. One basic intelligible idea.

    I’d also like to laud Bishop Tobin for his criticism of the Liturgy of the Hours. He’s right. Too many saints and feasts. We get that in daily Mass–that’s enough. Leave saints for the Office of Readings. It would be enough for a simple four-week cycle for Morning and Evening Prayer. Interrupt it on major solemnities only. Like Penance it’s one of the main failures of Vatican II, and for the same reason: it lacked a bolder, more pastoral touch.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #6:

      I’d also like to laud Bishop Tobin for his criticism of the Liturgy of the Hours. He’s right. Too many saints and feasts. We get that in daily Mass–that’s enough. Leave saints for the Office of Readings. It would be enough for a simple four-week cycle for Morning and Evening Prayer. Interrupt it on major solemnities only. Like Penance it’s one of the main failures of Vatican II, and for the same reason: it lacked a bolder, more pastoral touch.

      I agree with this comment. The problem following Vatican II was that the people asked to do the work of revising the Divine Office were the “professional pray-ers” — monastics who were used to finding their way around the breviary — the last people who should have been asked, in one sense. What they produced, doubtless a small improvement on what went before, was still unable to engage the People of God, so Todd’s use of the word “failure” is spot on. The number of people praying the Prayer of the Church is, alas, miniscule in comparison with what is potentially possible.

      Those who are able to play the game of finding their way around the convolutions of antiphons, collects, etc, may disagree with this, but for many people all that the structural complications do, let alone the additional complications of the calendar, is turn them off even trying.

      As for Penance, many of us have in the past witnessed the quantities of people attending celebrations with General Absolution, even though the ruling that these should never be happening apart from really exceptional circumstances has now been reinforced. Some have said that only a completely dysfunctional organization could effectively ban one of the things which was actually bringing people back to church in great numbers.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #9: …many of us have in the past witnessed the quantities of people attending celebrations with General Absolution…

        Outside of exceptional circumstances, though, general absolution is just cheap grace. What else, though, to expect from a degenerate contemporary Western culture that has no interest in effort, requirements or responsibility?

        “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

        The answer to bringing people back to church is not things like general absolution, which the Church heavily and rightly restricts. Rather, it is authentic discipleship, evangelisation, formation, which will bring people in/back.

      2. Matthew Hazell: “Outside of exceptional circumstances, though, general absolution is just cheap grace. What else, though, to expect from a degenerate contemporary Western culture that has no interest in effort, requirements or responsibility?”

        What else to expect from the See of Rome, which in the early years of the twentieth century (i.e., Pope Pius X), required for first communion that a child be able to identify the Eucharist only as “special bread” distinct from the bread on the family table and required for confirmation a knowledge of the Ten Commandments and the three prayers used most often by the laity: Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. Believe it or not, at least until recently, Rome has always tried to moderate and simplify access to the sacraments and their grace, often against those who would tighten regulations and impose greater restrictions.

      3. @Matthew Hazell – comment #10:
        One might say the same thing about form I: anonymity, easy listing of offenses not quite serious enough to cause alarm when repeated.

        I heard from a few pastors who thought that form III might well be a gateway to a deeper experience of form I. If only it had been given a generation to take effect.

        And we might ponder the efficacy of form I in how clergy sex offenders used it to salve their consciences while repeating their sins and searching for a new confessor. Cheap grace can be found in a lot of places, not just in JP2’s bugaboos.

        I agree that evangelization, discipleship, and solid formation are the way to go. I see form III as a lost tool to achieve it.

      4. @Matthew Hazell – comment #10:

        Clearly you have never attended services of Reconciliation with General Absolution which were far from being an easy option, let alone cheap grace. The whole art of “managing” this sort of liturgy is precisely in making it powerful, hitting home hard, arousing genuine repentance in the heart of the penitent, making the service long enough to have a lasting impact, and at the same time eliciting in those penitents who need it a desire to return to have an individual session with a pastor at a date in the near future. I admit that not all services have achieved this, and if you simply do the rite as it appears in the book (“say the black, do the red”) you may well not achieve this either; but with proper preparation and imaginative use of the possibilities provided in the rite itself it can be done. I wonder if your comment is based on experiences of a “quickie” ?

        And talking of the rite itself, why on earth do you think the Church would promulgate three different forms of the sacrament if it thought one of them were “cheap grace” ?

      5. @Paul Inwood – comment #28: The whole art of “managing” this sort of liturgy is precisely in making it powerful, hitting home hard, arousing genuine repentance in the heart of the penitent, making the service long enough to have a lasting impact, and at the same time eliciting in those penitents who need it a desire to return to have an individual session with a pastor at a date in the near future.

        Sounds like a decent homily on confession at Mass would do just as well, and be within the rules the Church has set for the sacrament of confession/general absolution.

        [W]hy on earth do you think the Church would promulgate three different forms of the sacrament if it thought one of them were “cheap grace” ?

        None of them are avenues of “cheap grace” in and of themselves. It is how they are (mis)used that makes them so.

        On a personal level, I appreciate that the Church now has three forms of the rite of Confession, but I don’t think I see the need for form II or III in the West, excepting the obvious exceptional circumstances that form III is really there for.

  5. The question of the practical usability of the liturgical books is an interesting one. Our presiders definitely find it easier to have a parish secretary type up the order of mass for the weekend and clip it into a three ring binder. The liturgical books become, for all practical purposes, a data store of prayer texts and instructions.

  6. Rife with ineffable words?
    Oh Good! The more, the better.
    They carry more colour, more intense meaning and nuance, they are educational (which, I think is a spiritual category), and they are beautiful, gracious, and enrich our minds. It takes a grinch not to like them. It’s high time we had language with some backbone to it… even if it didn’t turn out as well as it should have.

  7. I minister in the diocese of Providence and, quite frankly, I am surprised to see this column from the RI Catholic (“side bar”, my husband writes the Sunday lectionary column for this paper!)
    Bishop Tobin has been vocal in proclaiming the “party line” during the course of the implementation of RM3.
    But, even in the face of the scorn of this forum, I must agree with him and with the complication and convolution of our public prayer life. Since I have gone from ministering at 3 masses a week-end to attending 1 mass per week end, understanding the orations and Eucharistic Prayers has become even more difficult!
    Bishop Tobin, ciao from Rome!!!!

  8. Of course everyone knows that I like the new translation and when chanted with the correct breathing pauses it truly sounds and feels like prayer. But apart from that, if one wants simplicity, shouldn’t we find it not only in prayer but catechisis? For example, our bishop recently lamented publicly at our clergy retreat that he felt the preparation of our children for the Sacrament of Confirmation was abysmal and that they knew almost nothing about their faith. If that is the case, then I guess our children won’t know what consubstantial means, or firstly, or ineffable or even incarnation, nativity, resurrection, ascension, parousia, not to mention sacrament, mystery, divinity and the word catechism or Most Holy Trinity, the Christ, true God and true Man, Eucharist or Holy Communion, not to mention genuflect, ablutions, intinction and contemplation, just to name a few hard words.
    But as simple as it was, the Baltimore Catechism in its various editions gave the basics and all the hard words and before 8th grade concluded and in the most simple ways possible. Rather than rehashing the need for a “dumbed down” simplicity of the language of prayer for the Mass, should not we tout the “simplicity of the Baltimore Catechism” if we want to go back in time to what is comfortable and easy, uncomplicated and yes, simplicity in style and language? I would not suggest, though, the 1973 translation of the Mass as the nostalgic apex of “simplicity in prayer.”

  9. For CONTEXT … The Bishop continues:

    “Despite my whining, I recognize the difference between liturgical prayer and private, personal prayer. The liturgy of the Church is meant to be structured and formal. Hence the need for a variety of carefully researched, well-written, and beautifully presented liturgical texts. The Catholic Church has a long tradition of noble, rich, liturgical prayer, a tradition that some say has been lost in recent decades as the liturgy became less vertical and more horizontal, and the language of prayer less inspiring and more pedestrian.

    Personal prayer and liturgical prayer are closely related of course. They nourish and complement each other. Personal prayer without liturgy is incomplete; and liturgy without personal prayer is sterile.”

    SO – he’s really NOT adverse to the new Roman Missal. He’s making an important distinction.

    1. Todd Flowerday :My take would be that if the LH were accessible (which I think is very possible with a sensitive revision) and if it were truly meaningful (which I would affirm because of centuries of lay monastic witness) then more people would embrace it not because they want something more demanding in their lives, but because the LH witness of efficacy was more obvious in the lives of others.

      There are three possibilities that I am aware of for laity that wouldn’t be quite as demanding, but could be worthy of consideration. Each has its benefits and shortcomings:
      1) Shorter Christian Prayer
      2) Little Office of the BVM
      3) EF Breviary booklets intended for the laity which contain only Prime, Sext, and Compline.

      While none of these would be appropriate for priests or religious, any of the three would provide already-extant possibilities for laity.

  10. Bishop Tobin is right. The texts have become so complicated, and the books so massive, that they cannot be managed well. Noble simplicity was a watchword of the reform, and sometimes less is more.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #15:
      Regardless of the content, in terms of the size of the missal it really depends on the publishing house and I’ve seen some monsters. However, Catholic Book Publishing’s Roman Missal is almost identical to what it replaced both for the larger altar size and the smaller chapel version. We use both at our Masses, the larger for the altar, the chapel size for the chair and as I said, it is almost identical in size and weight to what preceded both of these.

      1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #18:
        That’s good to hear, Allan. I am sure you are right and some of the difference in text length is made up by print size, paper weight, binding and the like.

        All our books for the sacraments should feel good in the hand by the way, solid and not flimsy, but not so heavy that they are hard to manage. There’s a balance to be sought after. I was impressed that the bi-lingual LTP edition of the Sacrament of Sick is both solid and handy. On the other hand, the RCIA from LTP is stiff, awkward, and has a strange, overstuffed binding. Lit Press produced a much better version, which I still have decades later. It’s elegant, and easy to handle and carry, for all those occasions when praying in action takes one to different places.

  11. I find the explosion of the lectionary particularly unfortunate. When we were able to have a three year cycle and all the weekdays in one volume, there we should have stopped.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #16:
      Is there any reason our “Lectionary” can’t simply be a Bible with an index that indicates which passages are to be read on which liturgical day? Most editions of the NAB have a three-year cycle index in the back.

      I understand that there are slight amendations to the biblical text when used liturgically, i.e. starting every reading from the epistles with “Brothers and sisters” or “beloved”, and replacing an opening pronoun (“He went”) with the person’s actual name (“Jesus went”). These I think could be handled on-the-fly be competent readers who prepare for the readings.

      There are also verses that we omit (or may omit) during liturgical reading of Scripture. That’s a sticky wicket. Perhaps we could reconsider those selections.

      And then, of course, there are the major amendments, like in Luke 1:28, which in the NAB (though perhaps not the newest edition?) reads “Hail, favored one”, but when read liturgically is “Hail, full of grace”. That’s a stickier wicket.

      I think the lectionary could just be an over-sized Bible with a long index of day-to-reading and a plethora of ribbons (sorely needed at the lengthier vigils). Or, instead of ribbons, there could be easily moveable tabs with “First Reading”, “Second Reading”, etc.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #21:
        Jeffrey, fwiw there were more changes made to conform to the New Vulgate as well. The Lectionary just isn’t the same text as the Bible consistently. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our readers were comfortable enough with the Bible to find their way around as you suggest! I think, alas, too many mistakes would be likely to occur. But as a dream, I like it. I like it.

  12. I agree with Bishop Tobin’s critique of the structure of the language used in these translations. I have no doubt that, according to the norms estbalished by LA, the prayers represent a more “literal” translation. But is that the proper goal for translations that are used in public prayer? Personally I find many of the prayers awkward with the numerous dependent clauses losing their impact (if not their entire meaning) as the prayer is prayed out loud.

    Have the new translations made it easier for the faithful to hear and to understand the truths being communicated? Are they structured in such a way as to make it possible for the priest to read/pray them without having to resort to parsing his own breathing or, as many do, editing the prayers either before mass or as prayed?

    One of my seminary classmates told me that, when making his choice for purchasing the new books, he based his decision entirely on which publisher offered the product that weighed the least.

  13. Isn’t the Lectionary (and Book of the Gospels) precisely the solution to the problem Tobin describes: too many ribbons would be needed to hunt down (and edit on the fly) the passages in an actual bible in real time?

  14. “The problem following Vatican II was that the people asked to do the work of revising the Divine Office were the “professional pray-ers” — monastics who were used to finding their way around the breviary — the last people who should have been asked, in one sense. What they produced, doubtless a small improvement on what went before, was still unable to engage the People of God, so Todd’s use of the word “failure” is spot on. The number of people praying the Prayer of the Church is, alas, miniscule in comparison with what is potentially possible.”

    Certainly, it’s not for the faint of heart to try to navigate around a breviary, particularly for a beginner, but the helpful websites that just lay out the text of the day in an easy-to-read format solve that problem.

    In my view, the more fundamental reason that more laity don’t engage the Liturgy of the Hours, is that they find it too demanding. It forces engagement with biblical texts to a far greater extent than the mass does – you don’t just sit and listen to a reading, you *pray* it, possibly aloud. It confronts the pray-er with biblical poetry to an extent that is far, far more than most of us have ever had to digest.

    My take is that most of us today are taught to pray in a very personal way, to bring whatever is on our mind or in our heart to God. The liturgy of the hours can accommodate that, but it is much, much more than that. It forces us to pray laments when we’re feeling good, and to sing songs of praise when we’re in the dumps. It’s demanding.

    I can understand that a lot of people wouldn’t want to take that on (including, I believe, quite a few who are supposed to :-)).

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #24:
      “(T)he more fundamental reason that more laity don’t engage the Liturgy of the Hours, is that they find it too demanding …”

      I’m leery about assigning quasi-blame here, though I suspect that for some people, maybe even many folks, this is true.

      My take would be that if the LH were accessible (which I think is very possible with a sensitive revision) and if it were truly meaningful (which I would affirm because of centuries of lay monastic witness) then more people would embrace it not because they want something more demanding in their lives, but because the LH witness of efficacy was more obvious in the lives of others.

      I would rather approach a “selling” of the LH as a benefit rather than start the conversation with lay people by telling them, “This is really demanding,” and shaking a finger at them. Most lay people I know find their bosses, their teenage kids, their neighbors, their spouses, their elderly parents, their taxes, etc.. demanding enough. Is the Gospel, the “new” evangelization about us making further demands on people? Or do we make it accessible, knowing that the Holy Spirit will make demands on these others as a matter of course?

  15. I think the term cheap grace for reconciliation without confession comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s usage: ” Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

    The third option for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is for extreme situations, for example when a Navy Chaplain is the only priest on a ship with a thousand Catholics about to go to battle and general absolution is offered but the codicil that the person confess any mortal sins at his/her next private confession. Nothing cheap about that approach that the Church demands.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #29:
      The application of Bonhoeffer’s criticism of “cheap grace” may well apply to form I as much as anything else the Church does.

      Form III was not conceived necessarily for military situations. Your citation of “extreme situations” is telling. Would you say the Sacrament of Penance is in such a state that business as usual is merited? Or have we arrived at a situation since, say, the end of WWII where “extreme” measures may be indicated to revive the practice?

      I suspect that the sinking of form III may well be JP2’s turn-tail-and-run moment.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #31: Would you say the Sacrament of Penance is in such a state that business as usual is merited? Or have we arrived at a situation since, say, the end of WWII where “extreme” measures may be indicated to revive the practice?

        There are no more measures necessary than preaching the Gospel, evangelisation, catechesis and priests sitting in the confessional far more often than many do currently.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #31:
        Todd, Matthew Hazell hits the nail on the head. Why not in the name of God just turn the penitential act into sacrament reconciliation with absolution! I write that in no way to imply in an actual way that we should do it during Mass.
        But more importantly, what he says about teaching, teaching, preaching, preaching and then making available at a reasonable time and more than once a week the Sacrament of Penance will help in its recovery. I dare say, if there were enough priests, to offer it prior to Mass on Sunday, although I know how difficult that would be for most priests who are alone or only one one associate, we would have huge numbers of laity going regularly.
        When I came to my current assignment in 2004, only one priest needed to hear confessions on Saturday and for 45 minutes. After preaching and teaching about it and regularly and the need to receive Holy Communion free of any sin and mortal sin through confession to a priest, we extended the Saturday Confession to an hour and now we have to have two priests hearing each Saturday and we go from about 2:50 PM to 4:20 PM and we also offer confession Monday through Friday at 7:30 AM prior to our 8:00 AM daily Mass. I just got back from that Mass and had 10 confessions prior to it.

  16. The obvious solution is for the bishop to take a walk from Fenner Street to Westminster to borrow copies of the Book of Common Prayer from the rector of Grace Church. Matins and Evensong should do the job.

    However he should be warned that the visage of the eloquent Russell J. McVinney may very well haunt his dreams.

  17. “I would rather approach a “selling” of the LH as a benefit rather than start the conversation with lay people by telling them, “This is really demanding,” and shaking a finger at them.”

    Hi, Todd, I’m sure you’re right about this. My apologies if my comment came across as too finger-wagging.

    My own conclusion about LH, and this is also in refererence to Paul Inwood’s comment about professional pray-ers, is that when one is able to pray it in a community, it’s easier than when one prays it by oneself. If there is a stable community that gathers to pray it regularly – and it doesn’t need to be monastic; it could be a parish group or a group of students that meets at a regular time – it is possible to jump in and out of it from day to day, depending on one’s daily schedule. Having a group to help carry you along is a wonderful thing.

    All of the deacon candidates and wives are given formation in LH in our archdiocese, and it’s pretty good formation. But I believe that very few of the wives, who don’t have the obligation hanging around their necks, pray it with any regularity. Some of the deacons do – and some don’t (or so I’m given to understand). The great hope of the formation program is that the deacon and his wife will form a little prayer community of their own, but for a million reasons, this is often not feasible. And so most of us end up praying it alone (or not praying it at all).

    When we get together for convocations, everyone joins in, we sing virtually the whole thing, and it’s marvelous. That only happens once in a blue moon, though.

    So the way to “sell” it, I suppose, is to start up a community that prays it in one’s local faith community.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #35:
      In the US, at least, the great practical obstacle to having greater communal celebration of the LOH is the need in many places to schedule multiple Masses over the course of the day (and, of course, also violates the post-war American Catholic Prime Directive that Communal Prayer Should Be Accomplished In As Quick A Time As Possible). Having Morning Prayer precede a single morning Mass as a matter of course (and living with the fact that people will stroll in as it’s going on), or vice versa in the evening might shift that.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #36:
        If someone strolled into our parish church a few minutes before daily morning mass, s/he would stroll into the middle of communal prayer, but it would be the communal praying of the rosary – a form of communal prayer that seems to thrive with very little organizing or encouragement by church officials. (Actually, I think there are at least two sets of rosaries that get prayed on weekday mornings, and there is a Chaplet of Divine Mercy stuck in there somewhere, too).

        We also have a group who gathers to pray still earlier in the morning, in a before-the-commute-to-work time slot … for communal Eucharistic service.

        I don’t know whether it’s right to think of rosary groups and Word-and-Eucharist services as “competition” for Liturgy of the Hours, but it doesn’t seem entirely wrong, either. For whatever historical and/or cultural reason(s), rosaries and Eucharistic services (and of course, morning Mass) are what people who like to pray communally in the morning have glommed onto, at least in my neck of the woods.

      2. @Jim Pauwels – comment #40:
        There’s a parish in my town (formerly pastored by a progressively oriented liturgist) where the Rosary is indeed recited quite loudly right before Mass by a group of parishioners. I don’t have a problem with that except on First Fridays when other people are trying to focus on Sacred Heart devotions, for example.

  18. “It is how they are (mis)used that makes them so.”

    Thank you. Exactly my point.

    “Todd, Matthew Hazell hits the nail on the head.”

    Your metaphor is more appropriate than you realize. When the only tool in your box is a hammer, you start thinking that every challenge can be solved with a hard smack.

    I’ll repeat my long skepticism that the poor stupid laity are to blame. A poor witness of clergy. An unwillingness to see Penance as a moment of evangelization. A lack of trust in the laity. A slowness to locate Penance in a liturgical setting. I’d rather blame John Paul II for it.

    For every priest who think form I will be sufficient with ordained confessors, do some simple math. Figure out how many parishioners you want to go to confession. Figure out how often they “should” confess their sins. Give them a reasonable amount of time per encounter. Five minutes? Maybe three? The students in my parish average about ten. With form II, I routinely see five.

    I challenge you to allot your time accordingly. I dare you to do it, Fr Allan. You will likely find that you lack the resources of time and sacramental options.

    The institutional Church may have done well to blunder form I. Quite frankly, you clergy, from the pope to the country pastor, are woefully underprepared is we laity ever did decide to go back to your Saturday night confessions.

  19. Quite frankly, I think it’s easier to build a new church than to squeeze more time out of a priest’s schedule.

    We all know that brilliant preaching and music isn’t going to bring back all those Christmas and Easter Catholics on Holy Family and Easter 2. But we should be operating as if it were possible. That’s why we had Vatican II. It’s why we need the next council, and not just a feel-good Fall meeting on “new” evangelization.

    Getting back to Bishop Tobin’s theme on simplicity–his fellow bishops in the Vatican would do well to consider and expand the view of simplicity. Rather than harp on how stupid the rest of us are who are in need of more teaching, teaching, and preaching. Teach yourself, Father.

  20. The problem with the LH is its monastic format. If there is any hope for this liturgy to truly become the prayer of Christ’s faithful, there will need to be a parish form devised that doesn’t require ribbon changes and bouncing around from one part of the book to another. It would also promote a more prayerful private celebration by individuals to devise a format that doesn’t presume the presence of others. Notice that no one even seems to wonder if LH is being prayed regularly by clergy and religious.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #41:
      Those who are offended or threatened by ribbons and page flipping might look at Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of Hours in which Morning and Evening Prayer can be prayed with little or no flipping or flopping. Benedictine Daily Prayer also offers an easy to follow version. And, Give Us This Day offers a short version of Morning and Evening prayer, a story about one of our religious heroes, the propers of the Mass for the day, and a reflection on the scripture readings. And the Universalis and divineoffice.org websites are easily followed, downloaded, and/or printed off. So, what’s really the excuse?

      1. @W. W. O’Bryan – comment #45:
        I’ve experienced two parishes here in the Archdiocese of Chicago where the Liturgy of the Hours is publicly prayed daily: the parish of St. John Cantius, where it’s also the conventual Office of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius; and Holy Name Cathedral, where they pray Daytime Prayer at noon and Evening Prayer at 5 on weekdays.

        At Cantius, the Canons Regular place a set of copies of Shorter Christian Prayer on a table for guests to use. They chant Evening Prayer psalms always to Gregorian tone II and have their own booklet of the proper Latin hymns.

        At Holy Name Cathedral, a library cart is wheeled in with copies of the Daughters of St Paul edition of Christian Prayer. Two officiants stand in front and lead each side of the front part of the church in the back-and-forth of the psalms and responses.

        Ideally, the simplest thing, I think, would be to have a book with all 150 psalms in order from 1 to 150 plus the canticles in back, and people would need to flip only from the order of Morning or Evening Prayer to the psalter (and canticles at Morning Prayer) and back. At Holy Name it does get a bit complicated on Feasts and Solemnities when the antiphons are in one place hundreds of pages removed from the psalms. The leaders do a fine job of guiding, but I’m sure if there’s a newcomer on a feast day, it’s a bit bewildering.

      2. @W. W. O’Bryan – comment #45:
        I think it’s less an “offenses, threats, and excuses” and more the initial obstacle. It’s rather the opposite of the Christian life. Someone approaches the Lord, and is welcomed, has an opportunity to inquire and learn about Jesus. Only later does the seeker find herself of himself confronted with obstacles–the barriers to metanoia and full conversion.

        A daily sheet would seem to suffice, carefully edited, with no need for bookmarks. Until Kindles are available for less expense than Christian Prayer, at which point a downloaded LH would seem to be the best solution of all.

        Ann’s point is well taken: inviting believers to a lifestyle of more leisure.

  21. There are Episcopal parishes with public Daily Offices using the Book of Common Prayer available in every pew…might be worth seeing how that works to get ideas.

  22. There are Episcopal parishes with public Daily Offices using the Book of Common Prayer available in every pew…might be worth seeing how that works to get ideas. Our Evening Prayer requires only one page flip to the Psalter and back. We don’t typically have antiphons and responsories; the officiant can say an antiphon before and after the Magnifiat ut this is optional. A hymn board let’s arriving participants know which psalm(s) to find and mark with an offering envelope or finger.

  23. While the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer offers almost everything needed to pray the Office, you still need to refer to the list of Psalms and Scripture readings, supplement the Prayer Book with a Bible, and flip between the ordinary and the Psalms in the Prayer Book itself. So while most Episcopalians probably have a copy, relatively few ever pray the hours except on rare occasions these days since the Eucharist replaced Morning Prayer as the usual Sunday liturgical celebration in most parishes back in the 1970s.

    St. Bede’s Breviary (http://haligweorc.org/breviary/index.php) offers very user-friendly, customizable versions of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline based on the Prayer Book.

    The Daily Office West (http://dailyoffice.org/#!/cover) also offers Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline, but cannot be customized.

  24. When I first read a comment above about possible prayers before Mass, I asked myself: Why in the world would anyone need added prayer tacked on before the consummate prayer, the Mass?

    A couple of answers suggested themselves. Maybe some people love to pray so much they want a much longer service. Maybe some people need to have a personal segment added to the Mass. Or maybe there is some other need not being met by Mass.

    But then the question of the Hours came up. How could this essentially monastic form be *practical* in an industrial society in which practically all young people work 8 to 5 and then go home to a servantless abode and have to cook dinner and get the kids to bed? The working middle aged folks might not have the kids to get to bed, but they too have harassing family duties of an evening.

    That leaves mainly us old, retired folks with enough time to go to church to pray in small groups and/or to simply pray with neighbors close by — if we aren’t too frail to gather with them.

    Bottom line: Most Americans, unlike medieval monks, are a money rich but time poor people. Except for the old, most of us don’t have the time or the energy for communal prayer beyond Mass.

    What is the answer? Contemplative prayer such as Centering Prayer can fill a certain kind of void, but it is totally individual. I don’t know what the solution is to the need for small group praying. But for a good number of people there is obviously such a need.

    I guess the only solution is a culture that provides more leisure. Sigh.

    1. @Ann Olivier – comment #47:
      Maybe the Liturgy of Hours serves our culture by inviting us to slow down, to get outside ourselves (to die to self) for a few minutes, to remind us who we are and who we owe for who we are. And, to remind us that we are part of a community – that single, organic unit that is The Body of Christ. Maybe.

      1. @W. W. O’Bryan – comment #50:
        Maybe it would help to admit there are always going to be (a majority?) of folks who aren’t interested in doing any more than absolutely necessary so praying the Liturgy of Hours is not something they’re interested in for any reason. For those who want to grow, to develop their prayer life the Liturgy of Hours is easily accessible through the books, through the free websites already mentioned. There is no law that says the beginner must become instantly accomplished in the flipping and flopping of pages even though the 2 websites offer the opportunity to scroll through the hours without it. Seems to me that those who claim the hours are too complicated for most folks express the arrogance and disdain for the intelligence of the people that was expressed by the institutional bureaucrats of the middle ages who gave the people something else to do while the bureaucrats were saying the “real prayers.” Introducing the Liturgy of Hours might be more successful If one started from the basis of beginning simply and growing into the Liturgy of Hours, rather than telling them it’s too difficult for them, might lead to more success. The hours are an important part of helping folks move from the individualistic, privatized kind of spirituality to a spirituality that recognizes we’re a community, that we’re all in this together. That might even lead to a realization that a sense of community might move us to become more actively involved in the works we read about this Sunday in James 2:14-18. There is a large group of folks already praying the Liturgy of Hours as a part of their commitment as Oblates of St. Benedict. They’ve taken the time and the trouble to learn how. I reckon others could, too. Unless it’s more convenient to pretend they’re too ignorant to learn.

    2. @Ann Olivier – comment #47:
      Ann, you’re certainly right in your lifestyle observations. I would add that, for people who live in large-scale subdivision developments in suburbia, getting to the church is often more than walking a few blocks – it means hopping in a car and driving for several miles.

      On the other hand … people make time for what is important to them. Being tired in an evening doesn’t stop one from praying. Many of these hurried, harried parents manage to carve out blocks of time for fitness activities that are a good deal longer than what is required for morning prayer or evening prayer. And if I’m not mistaken, the amount of time spent in front of the television in America is absurdly long – something on the order of 5-6 hours per day. So it’s not impossible. But parishes need to think creatively and try to find ways to meet people where they are.

      1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #51:
        How about home or neighborhood gathering places where folks in a certain neighborhood or folks who are in the same social group gather to pray one of the hours? How about just one family gathering after supper for the ten or fifteen minutes it takes to pray Evening Prayer? Maybe we need to learn to make church where we’re at, not where its at.

  25. For those who read Italian the monks of Bose offer a very interesting
    Office Book, Preghiera Dei Giorni. It seems very user friendly. The psalter is new while the feasts include ecumenical worthies. Many litanies too.

    Perhaps an English version will appear someday.

  26. As one who loves the Liturgy of the Hours (and almost did my dissertation on this prayer form), Pray Tell readers may be interested in the distinction made by some historical scholars between “cathedral” (popular) and “monastic” forms of the Office. (Paul Bradshaw has offered further distinctions, but for our purposes I’d like to point to the original distinction.) The “cathedral” form was almost invariable, employing psalms appropriate to the time of day (Ps. 63 or 148-150 for the Morning, Ps. 141 for the Evening), ceremony (e.g., the lighting of lamps at Evening Prayer, the burning of incense during the singing of Ps. 141), hymnody (e.g., the Phos hilaron for Evening Prayer) in a service of praise and intercession. In contrast the “monastic” form used psalms as meditative texts prayed in common with a certain number assigned to each “hour” so that all 150 would be represented over the course of a day or a week or some other distribution, ceremony was downplayed in favor of communal meditation, and variability prized. The present official form of the Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours is clearly a monasticized Office, but the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours is remarkable for its openness to variability in particular choices of psalms, etc., when prayed by a community not bound to the canonical form as long as the structure of the hour is maintained. To that end, William Storey and John Melloh produced two fascinating and practical Office books intended for popular (“cathedral”) use — “Morning Praise and Evensong” (I don’t have the volume to hand, but that is my memory of the title) in which Morning and Evening Prayer in sung form is provided for a week and “Praise God in Song” in which Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer were provided in sung form for a single day with a Sunday Vigil of the Gospel provided in an appendix. Notice in its invariability and popular appeal how much the communal recitation of the rosary and the Divine mercy chaplet are like a “cathedral” office…

    1. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #51:
      These excellent resources have been on my shelf for decades.

      A curious experience. On last month’s retreat for new undergrad peer ministers, I knew about half of them were LH geeks who regularly pray Christian Prayer, and the others were mostly introduced to the form. I opted to use the monastic office, but with different psalm styles, everything from plainchant to Gather Comp.

      It was so interesting that in spite of a faithful adherence to the assigned psalms, readings, and feasts, one or two pm’s maintained their regular practice of praying individually from Christian Prayer. One of my staff colleagues asked me, in light of that, why I just didn’t utilize the cathedral office. I’ve known clergy who would excuse themselves from parish celebrations of the cathedral office for the reason that “it didn’t count.”

      I don’t have the solution to those concerns.

    2. @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #51:
      Like Todd, I have these wonderful resources and have used this “cathedral” form of Morning and Evening Prayer for years in my parish. Those who come find it a beautiful and “very-easy-to-follow-” form of prayer, making the psalms an integral part of their prayer lives! We are not a canonically bound community, so it “counts” for us 🙂

  27. Now that we have DivineOffice.org, for everyone who has a computer the Office is very simple.

    Not only is the entire text of the office there, the office is also spoken and on some occasions, usually Sunday from 1st Vespers, it is chanted. There is a recorded hymn for each hour.

    They also have all the page numbers each day for people who want to learn to use the liturgical books.

    Over the past couple of years that I have used the site, they have modeled a remarkable variety of ways of saying the office in a small community, e.g. a family or small group. One really gets the sense of being in a small prayer community.

    The times when the Office is chanted also gives a good idea of how a small community of rather modest musical talents might provide such a sung liturgy for a parish.

    They also have the Office available on a variety of apps.

    As for having time, I often use the DivineOffice.org site when I do my daily hour of exercise on the treadmill. I have a computer in front of my treadmill. Going down there three times daily for the Divine Office is a good way of getting energized but not exhausted physically (while getting relaxed mentally).

    The Office is also good accompaniment to meals if you eat some or all of them alone. Remember the monks often have reading at meal time.

    The computer pause button is also very helpful. They have a built in moment of silence after the reading. I have often used this when I want to substitute some other reading (e.g. when I am reading a particular book of the Bible).

    Many studies have indicated that small amounts of time, e.g. three 20 minute periods are far more efficient and effective for study, etc. than one hour long period.

    Personally before DivineOffice.org I was not a great fan of the current Roman LOH. I often used the Monastic Office in Latin, the EF Divine Office in English, or the Byzantine Office or some combination thereof.

    However I very much like the “sense of community” provided by this internet site, the quality of what they are doing, and the ease of its use. For most of the time since I discovered it, it has become my default Office.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #55:

      See my post on Television and Time Use. In the USA and other Western Countries, formal and informal work time has gone down, leisure time is up (but most of that is being used up by watching TV more).

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2011/03/28/television-time-use-lent-and-the-divine-office/

      See my comment on Benediction and the Divine Office

      http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2012/09/12/eucharistic-adoration-and-liturgical-reform/#comment-353734

  28. I came across this comment a few years ago which I think
    is a valuable insight:

    The only solution
    is a prayer schedule
    that you will never break.
    Time has to be set aside
    for regular prayer,
    time made so that life revolves
    and evolves round our time
    with the Lord.
    Set a time that is reasonable,
    and once it is set,
    stick to it all costs.
    Make it your most important task.
    Let everyone know
    that this is the only thing
    you will not change,
    and pray at that time.

    -John Eudes Bamberger OCSO
    in conversation with Henri Nouwen

  29. I love LoH and have used it in my private devotions for a long time. As others have noted, it opens private prayer to community prayer, and gives me the confidence of praying with the whole Church. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the ribbons and the flippings back and forth is the tactile pleasure derived from these manipulations. Add a candle or two, a little incense, sacred music, a cup of coffee in the morning and a sip of brandy at compline, and the entire sensorium is engaged. Yes, the Mass remains “the center of the Church’s life”, but LoH is her heart and soul, suffused with radiance, longing, introspection, praise, petition and penance. -Besides, I always thought that wrangling with big liturgical books is part of what being Catholic is all about…

  30. Since monasticism seems to be somehow relevant to this discussion, here’s an NRC article about the “new monasticism” and the young adult “monks in the world”.

    What are these young people trying to tell us about the official prayers of the Church?

    ://ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/two-young-adults-offer-new-take-new-monasticism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *