by Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue
The Liturgy of the Hours According to the Roman Rite. Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 2009. 4 volumes, 7,164 pages. $120 (flexible plastic binding).
In November 2012 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ assembly decided to prepare a new edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. ICEL has already started work on the new edition. Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, the executive director of ICEL, has stated that this is “an epic project and will probably take some five years or so before it reaches publication.” This new edition will replace the current translation that was published in 1975 (in 1992 a Supplement was published containing the texts for some new saints days, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and Maximilian Kolbe). It has not been stated yet whether there will be a new edition of the other translation of the Liturgy of the Hours that is in use in much of the English–speaking world, the 1974 three volume Divine Office prepared not by ICEL but by a team of scholars working in the Irish Benedictine abbey of Glenstal on behalf of the episcopal conferences of Australia, England & Wales and Ireland.
In this context, I think that it would be worthwhile to examine a recent revision of the 1975 U.S. Liturgy of the Hours that has recently been published in Africa. In 2009 Pauline Publications Africa in Nairobi Kenya published their own version of The Liturgy of the Hours which was translated by ICEL and approved by the Episcopal Conference of Kenya on behalf of AMECEA (the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa), with a view to the translation being used by all English-speaking Roman Rite Catholics of Africa. This edition was particularly promoted by Cardinal Arinze during his tenure as Prefect of the CDW in Rome. Although it was eventually promulgated under Cardinal Canizares, the bulk of the work was done under Cardinal Arinze. The original web page advertising this set is gone, but some of the contents can be found here.
While it was noted in some Catholic news sources and blogs at the time of its publication, this new edition is relatively unknown and, to my knowledge, has not been properly reviewed in the United States. I believe that a review should be of interest, not simply because the Kenyan edition is based on the 1985 second edition of the Latin editio typica as opposed to the 1971 edition that the current US and Irish translations are based on, but also because I believe that those preparing the new US edition can benefit from examining some of the decisions that the Kenyan editors made.
I purchased the Kenyan set a couple of years ago in a Roman bookstore. I usually pray the Office in the Seminary Chapel where I minister, but when the Seminary is closed or when I am away, I have been using the Kenyan version for my personal recitation of the Office. Having been transfered from a Seminary in New Jersey to one in Ireland, I am familiar with both the ICEL and the Irish editions from the Seminary liturgies.
Regarding the actual translation, the first point that has to be made is that this is an official ICEL translation. In fact, the Kenyan Liturgy of the Hours is a moderate revision of the current US translation. Additionally the first thing most people would notice when they first examine this version are the revisions to the 1985 second typical edition. Following the second typical edition, the Biblical text has the verse numbers in all but the shortest excerpts. And Sundays and Solemnities have a three year cycle of antiphons for the Magnificat and Benedictus canticles. This provides a proper antiphon for each of Year A, B and C, matching the Gospel readings in the Lectionary for Mass and is a marked improvement on the 1971 version where the Antiphon for the Magnificat in Evening Prayer One matches the Gospel of Year A, that of Lauds matches the Gospel of Year B and that of Evening Prayer Two matches the Gospel of Year C. Not surprisingly, texts have been provided for the additions to the liturgical calendar made since 1971 and those feasts that belong to the Kenyan proper calendar have been included. As a liturgical curiosity, it can be noted that the formula of absolution for the penitential rite in Night Prayer, has been taken from one of the draft versions of the new Roman Missal translation (“May almighty God have mercy on us and lead us, with our sins forgiven, to eternal life”).
Most of the non-Biblical material is identical to the US edition, the main difference is that a moderate inclusive language has been introduced into the translation. For example, the Ordinary Time antiphon for Psalm 24 in Tuesday, Week 2 Lauds, has been changed to “The one whose deeds are blameless…” from the 1975 ICEL translation “The man whose deeds are blameless…” (However the translation of the antiphon still doesn’t match the Psalm text, which reads “The clean of hands and pure of heart”). While these texts are an improvement and are more inclusive, they could still use a good copy-editor. A particular challenge facing any edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, is that many texts are dependent on the Bible and a proper translation should ideally use the same translation every time a Biblical passage is used and, where possible, harmonize the Biblical allusions with the actual Biblical translation used. There are also some typos that have crept into the text (for example, the Second Reading of the Office of Readings of Monday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary time is attributed to “Saint Caesarius of Aries”).
The biblical texts are different to the 1975 ICEL edition (an earlier post on Pray Tell has dealt with the inconsistencies in the approval of the different Scriptural versions for different liturgical conferences), the Psalms are taken from the New Grail Psalter from Conception Abbey, MO. Personally I was a little hesitant in dealing with the new translation of the Psalter, given that I was so used to the original Grail translation. However I was very happy to encounter a new translation of the Psalms that was familiar and yet much clearer. The rest of the Biblical readings are taken from The New American Bible in the 1999 incarnation as The African Bible. I am not a card-carrying member of the New American Bible fan club, but in general this is an improvement to the earlier edition that is in use in the current American Liturgy of the Hours (and beats the hodge-podge of biblical versions in the Irish Divine Office edition). Another minor detail is that the Gospel canticles are given in the original Grail translation, which is currently used in the Irish and not the US version (so that the Magnificat ends with the line: “The mercy promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his sons for ever”), which is a little out of keeping with the rest of the translation in the volume.
Regarding the hymns, this version of the Liturgy of the Hours has followed the practice of both the ICEL and the Irish editions, and has provided English hymns instead of translating the Latin hymns found in the editio typica. While not the same as either of the other editions, these hymns are generally the same selection as can be found in the 1975 ICEL edition (no newer hymns are used, but while fundamentally the same hymns are used in the Kenyan edition, the hymn provided for any given hour is not necessarily the same as the 1975 edition). While it is nice to have the option of singing some hymns in the Liturgy of the Hours, it would also be good to have the official hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours provided in English. (For those interested many of the hymns can be found here and a full academic translation is available here).
Final Considerations and Lessons for Those Preparing the New US Version
I would hope that the Kenyan edition can provide a good starting point for those preparing the new U.S. version. The translation of the new texts can provide a very good first draft translation for the new version. Hopefully the editors will learn the lesson that a good copy-editor is needed for the new version.
Before the other English-speaking bishops’ conferences can revise the 1974 Irish edition of the Divine Office, they will have to make the important decision of choosing National scriptural translations. At the moment, aside from use of the Grail Psalms, the Irish version uses the Jerusalem Bible, the Revised Standard Version and the Good News for Modern Man for its scriptural readings. I would imagine that the Congregation for Divine Worship would not approve a revision of this edition, unless a single Scripture translation was used (which could also be used for a new edition of the Lectionary for Mass in these countries). This would be in keeping with the provisions of Liturgiam authenticam §36’s mandate that “it is of the greatest importance that the translation of the Sacred Scriptures intended for liturgical use be characterized by a certain uniformity and stability, such that in every territory there should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books.”
I would also recommend some rearrangement of the rubrics in any new edition, given that two of the most important rubrical prescriptions for public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours are not printed in any current edition of the book. The provision of §275 of the GIRM would be better moved to the Liturgy of the Hours: “A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together.” This is presumably a reference to the minor doxology (Glory be) rather than to the sign of the Cross. However, while the minor doxology was present in the Tridentine Missal, it does not appear anywhere in the current Roman Missal. It would make sense therefore, to move this rubric to the relevant liturgical book.
The Ceremonial of Bishops §203 mentions the sign of the cross during the Magnificat: “When the choir begins the canticle, the bishop wearing the miter, rises and all rise with him. Making the sign of the cross from forehead to breast, the bishop goes to the altar…” If it is a good tradition to make the Sign of the Cross at the start of the Gospel canticles, it should also be included in the rubrics provided in the Liturgy of the Hours itself.
I have avoided commenting on the actual structure of the Liturgy of the Hours of the Roman Rite. Personally I have a number of ideas on this matter, but here we are dealing with the preparation of a serviceable new edition of the Liturgy of the Hours. Also regarding any potential changes or improvements, I must bow to the wisdom of the great Fr. Taft:
But perhaps so radical a departure from the official Liturgy of the Hours is not necessary. The desire for a truly public celebration of this liturgy and what is more important, its underlying theology, find pride of place in the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours of February 2, 1971. All one needs is a little imagination. Taking a page from the new U.S. Lutheran Book of Worship, or Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, some communities have found that that a lucernarium can easily be used to open “official” vespers, and this is certainly in accord with the spirit of the General Instruction. Furthermore, that the same document provides for such a variety of hymnody and types of psalmody that the real problem is not so much the limitations of the office itself, as the incompetence of those unable to celebrate it properly and the indifference of those who fail to celebrate it at all. 
An example from the Kenyan edition of The Liturgy of the Hours can be found here. It is the text for tomorrow’s Feast of the Transfiguration.
Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. He currently serves as Vice Rector of Redemptoris Mater House of Formation in Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland and as a curate in Holy Redeemer parish.
 Robert Taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: the Origins of the Divine Office and its Meaning for Today. 2nd Ed. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press: 1993), 316.