Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 83

Vatican website translation:
83. Christ Jesus, high priest of the new and eternal covenant, taking human nature, introduced into this earthly exile that hymn which is sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven. He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself, associating it with His own singing of this canticle of divine praise.
For he continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. She does this, not only by celebrating the eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office.

Latin text:
83. Summus Novi atque aeterni Testamenti Sacerdos, Christus Iesus, humanam naturam assumens, terrestri huic exsilio hymnum illum invexit, qui in supernis sedibus per omne aevum canitur. Universam hominum communitatem ipse sibi coagmentat, eandemque in divino hoc concinendo laudis carmine secum consociat.
Illud enim sacerdotale munus per ipsam suam Ecclesiam pergit, quae non tantum Eucharistia celebranda, sed etiam aliis modis, praesertim Officio divino persolvendo, Dominum sine intermissione laudat et pro totius mundi salute interpellat.

Slavishly literal translation:

83. The High Priest of the New and eternal Covenant, Christ Jesus, assuming human nature, brought into this terrestrial exile that hymn which is sung in the celestial habitations through all eternity. He joins the whole community of human beings to himself, and he yokes it with himself in singing this divine canticle of praise.

For he accomplishes that sacerdotal office through his own Church, who, not only through celebrating the Eucharist, but also by other means, above all by rendering the divine Office, praises the Lord without interruption and intercedes for the salvation of the entire world.

Article 83 opens the fourth chapter of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, devoted to the renewal and reform of the Liturgy of the Hours also known as the Divine Office. As we have come to expect, the chapter begins by enunciating some foundational principles before it turns to particular practical decrees. This theological foundation extends from art. 83 through art. 86.

The first sentence of art. 83 applies to the formal daily prayer of the Church the principles earlier enunciated in SC 7 and 8. Thus the Liturgy of the Hours, like all liturgy, is to be understood as “an exercise of the priestly office of Christ” (SC 7) and, like all liturgy, is a means by which “we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims” (SC 8). The second sentence of art. 83 reminds us also that “Christ always truly associates the Church with himself in the great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and the recipients made holy. The Church…through him offers worship to the eternal Father” (SC 7).

The second paragraph of art. 83 relates the Liturgy of the Hours (as well as other unnamed prayer forms) to the Eucharist by which Christ expresses his sacerdotal office through the Church’s worship. The paragraph concludes by articulating two characteristics that particularly mark the Divine Office: 1) that it is a practical means by which to accomplish the Pauline injunction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17); and 2) that the major components of the Office are praise of the divine and supplication for one’s own needs, the needs of the community, and those of the entire world.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss how well the content and structure of the reformed Liturgy of the Hours reflect the praise and supplication thematics articulated in art. 83, especially in the light of the content and structure of the unreformed Roman Rite Divine Office. They may also wish to explore the significance of musical rendition of the various hours in the light of the assertions in the first two sentences of the article.

10 comments

  1. It’s a misstatement to say the Roman Office was unreformed prior to S.C. Matins on Sundays was reformed reluctantly by St. John XXIII, and St. Pius X restored the temporal cycle of the Office. I feel one strong point of the older office is the taking of the antiphons at the Gospel canticle from the Gospel of the day with very few exceptions.

    Ps. 113a & b ought to be restored to Sunday Vespers. The revision of the Psalter was necessary, but why couldn’t they just have cleaned up the Gallican Psalter instead of eliminating the most familiar lines in the Nova Vulgata? I also think that the hymns should have come from the unreformed monastic hymns (the same ones used by the canons of St. Peter’s Basilica).

    We don’t have to get into the weekly vs. monthly Psalter debate…

    That being said, when the choral office is sung with the proper chants and appropriate solemnity, I find that the spirit of the liturgy as envisioned by the Council tends to be present.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #2:

        He joins the entire community of mankind to Himself

        What about a child reciting prayers before going to bed? Is this the same impulse that is behind LoTH?

        What if one recited the Benedictus every morning, the Magnificat every evening? This probably would be inspired by the LoTH, though it is not the same thing by any means. How do such fragmentary practices relate to the
        vision of Christ joining us to himself?

        The vision here, of joining the heavenly hymn, seems so marvelous, I can’t accept that it can be reduced to an orderly repetition of words. Is the spirit really so limited?

        I suppose the real question is about how the Divine Office plays a role in joining the entire communit of humanity with Christ. The struggles and joys of the psalmist, the wisdom of the Church Fathers, the brief stories of saints, etc. how do these things reach beyond the small group that prays with them?

  2. The emphasis on singing the Hours in this paragraph is striking – thanks for highlighting it. True confession, which I may have confessed here before: I generally chant Morning and Evening Prayer, even when I pray them by myself (as is almost always the case). My kids think I’m nuts. But it really does make a difference, somehow.

    When we’ve prayed Hours communally (this would be gatherings of deacons and wives), on occasion we’ve been told to substitute for the appointed texts of psalms or canticles, musical settings of the the psalm or canticle that would be better-known by the group. Typically these would be psalm settings composed for use as responsorial psalms at mass. Not infrequently, these settings contain alterations or paraphrases of the appointed texts, usually include just a subset of the verses in the psalter, and feature a refrain that differs from the antiphon in the psalter. Musically, this approach adds variety to the experience, but overall, I don’t think it succeeds, and our experience is that plainchant to a pointed text is not notably more difficult for a congregation than singing a refrain from a responsorial psalm setting that they might have learned at mass.

  3. I thank Mr. Roth for pointing out that I should not have referred to the Divine Office for the Roman Rite on the eve of Vatican II as “unreformed.” Both Pierre Salmon (_The Breviary through the Centuries_) and especially Pierre Batiffol (_History of the Roman Breviary_) recount in some detail the reform initiatives prior to Trent (e.g., Quinones’ so-called _Breviary of the Holy Cross_), and post-Trent (e.g., Pius V’s 1568 edition, a plethora neo-Gallican breviaries and some German breviaries, Benedict XIV’s projects) leading up to the reforms of Pius X.

    On this topic, however, it might be helpful to consider three categories of “reforms” of the Roman Rite Divine Office proposed prior to Trent enumerated by Robert Taft in his _The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West._ “Christian Latin was little more than doggerel for the Renaissance humanist, churchman or not, and more than one cultured clerical humanist shared this disdain for many of the hymns and other elements of the breviary [what I call a “literary” reform]…. Other sixteenth-century Catholic reformers, more spiritually motivated, wished to expurgate apocryphal and legendary hagiographic material, trim away the excessive votive offices, give more space to Scripture lections, and restore the _proprium de tempore_ to the pristine centrality it had before giving way to the encroachment of an overgrown sanctoral cycle [what I call a “restorationist” reform, i.e., “returning to the pristine norms of the Fathers” as best they could be discovered.]. A third group, more pietist than liturgical, desired a breviary more suitable for private recitation with spiritual profit [what I call a “transformationist” reform, i.e., transforming the Divine Office as the Church’s public sanctification of time into an anthology of sources for private edifying spiritual reading for clerics]”.

    I find the parallels to SC’s reform and our present discussion fascinating.

  4. I’ve always loved the opening line of SC83, and was intrigued to find it in Pius XII’s Mediator Dei, 144: “By assuming human nature, the Divine Word introduced into this earthly exile a hymn which is sung in heaven for all eternity. He unites to Himself the whole human race and with it sings this hymn to the praise of God.”

    Can anyone trace it any further back?

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