Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 89

Vatican website translation:

89. Therefore, when the office is revised, these norms are to be observed:
a) By the venerable tradition of the universal Church, Lauds as morning prayer and Vespers as evening prayer are the two hinges on which the daily office turns; hence they are to be considered as the chief hours and are to be celebrated as such.
b) Compline is to be drawn up so that it will be a suitable prayer for the end of the day.
c) The hour known as Matins, although it should retain the character of nocturnal praise when celebrated in choir, shall be adapted so that it may be recited at any hour of the day; it shall be made up of fewer psalms and longer readings.
d) The hour of Prime is to be suppressed.
e) In choir the hours of Terce, Sext, and None are to be observed. But outside choir it will be lawful to select any one of these three, according to the respective time of the day.

Latin original:

89. Itaque, in instauratione Officii, hae normae serventur:
a) Laudes, ut preces matutinae, et Vesperae, ut preces vespertinae, ex venerabili universae Ecclesiae traditione duplex cardo Officii cotidiani, Horae praecipuae habendae sunt et ita celebrandae;
b) Completorium ita instruatur, ut fini diei apte conveniat;
c) Hora quae Matutinum vocatur, quamvis in choro indolem nocturnae laudis retineat, ita accommodetur ut qualibet diei hora recitari possit, et e psalmis paucioribus lectionibusque longioribus constet;
d) Hora Prima supprimatur;
e) In choro, Horae minores Tertia, Sexta, Nona serventur. Extra chorum e tribus unam seligere licet, diei tempori magis congruentem.

Slavishly literal translation:

89. And so, in the reformulation of the Office, these norms are to be observed:

a) Lauds, as daybreak prayers, and Vespers, as sunset prayers, the dual hinge of the daily Office according to the venerable tradition of the universal Church, are to be held as the principal hours and celebrated thus;
b) Compline is to be drawn up so that it might serve as the appropriate conclusion of the day;
c) The hour which is called Matins, while in choral celebration should retain the function of nocturnal praise, should be so adapted so that it could be recited at any hour of the day one wishes, and should consist of fewer psalms and longer readings;
d) The hour of Prime is eliminated;
e) In choral celebration, the minor Hours of Terce, Sext, and None are to be preserved. Outside of choral celebration it is lawful to select one of the three more congruent with the time of day.

 

Having presented theological foundations for reform of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Council Fathers now turn to concrete guidelines for that reform. Note that the hours are not considered to be of equal “weight.” If Prime is suppressed, it is clearly the least important among the hours, probably because it repeated so many of the thematics of Lauds. Mid-morning, noon-time and mid-afternoon prayers are specifically described as “minor” hours, and the fact that, outside of celebration in community, one “mid-day” prayer from among the three may be prayed by those not bound to choral celebration, makes it clear that these “pause-in-the-middle-of-work” prayers are of comparatively lesser weight than the other. Compline would seem to be “weightier” than the minor hours since its focus is as “prayer-at-the-end-of-day,” i.e., prayer to accompany going to sleep. Lauds and Vespers hold the greatest weight as prayers marking dawn and dusk, powerfully “mapping” the meaning of these liminal moments in the daily solar cycle onto the action of the creating and sustaining God as well as the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The decision to treat Matins as either a daily middle-of-the-night communal vigil or as a time for spiritual reading prayed whenever the individual might get to it represents an uneasy compromise between sustaining the “truth of the hours” in choral celebration or abandoning the distinctive purpose of the Divine Office as the sanctification of time in favor of guaranteeing some daily spiritual reading in the lives of active clerics and religious.

Pray Tell readers might want to discuss how effectively these wishes of the Council Fathers have been embodied in the reformed Liturgy of the Hours we have received. Are Lauds and Vespers celebrated as genuine daybreak and sunset prayers or (as is more likely in cultures less attuned to the daily solar cycle) as prayer for the beginning and end of the work-day? Is there an advantage to using invariable psalmody in the celebration of the minor hours so that they may be prayed “by heart,” or does this lead to boredom in liturgical celebration for which the minor hour with variable psalmody provide relief? Might the penitential acts optionally prefixed to Compline provide an opportunity for examen before sleep and might a similar possibility be extended to the central “minor hour” prayed daily? Finally how are the diverse functions now assigned to Matins to be reconciled (i.e., might the individualist character of “spiritual reading” be better served by simply indicating an amount of time for the reading with a suggestion of useful sources without the ceremonial and psalmody)?

7 comments

  1. The invariable Psalmody of the minor hours in the monastic tradition is very valuable. They are meant to be short and sweet, recitable anywhere without books. The words become one’s familiar companions.

    On a different head: Lauds, in the great Roman tradition and the various monastic traditions, is always an office of pure praise of God, whereas Prime is a brief office clearly intended to mark and prepare for the start of the work day. Moreover, Prime is extremely ancient, going back to the patristic period (5th century or thereabouts, if memory serves). Hence, both because of its value in the daily rhythm of the spiritual life and its antiquity, the suppression of Prime was a capital mistake.

    Also, the loss of the quiet Pater noster at the end of each office was sad indeed. As one who has grown accustomed to praying the traditional Benedictine office, I have come to value greatly the spiritual discipline of reciting, in that formal context, the Lord’s Prayer throughout the day. The very fact that it is said frequently means either you will rush through it OR you have to challenge yourself to slow down and really internalize each petition. The paradox is that when you say something frequently (like the psalms of the minor hours), you will either botch them by indifference and inattention or you will get them right by dint of concentration.

  2. Could someone explain to me why Prime, was suppressed?

    As to the loss of the Pater noster at the end of each office, I cannot find anything in the rubrics which forbid me doing so if I so wish.

    I do agree with Dr. Peter, that speed is a serious concern, especially in individual recitation.

  3. For me, Lauds is whenever-I-can-squeeze-it-in (I work almost from the moment I rise, so it’s a take-a-break-from-the-work-day activity for me). Vespers is both convenient and fruitful for me as an activity immediately following the end the work day.

    As it would be rare for me to pray the Hours in community, I do it when it makes sense for me.

    1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #3:
      I have the opposite problem: I can do Lauds if I get to it before anything else, whereas Vespers is a challenge, squeezed between the end of work and arrival home to duties of cooking dinner, etc.

      On the question of the detaching of the Office of Readings from any particular time of day—it is something that has been taken advantage of not only by busy secular priests who recite the Hours privately, but also by religious communities. I know that both the Carmelites here in Baltimore and the Dominicans at the studium in DC typically do it in the evening.

  4. Quiñones’ breviary capitulated to reality on the ground by acknowledging that the office was little more than the cleric’s personal daily devotional reading/study. The reform concluded by Pius V repudiated that notion and insisted upon the public nature of the Office even when prayed in solitary. It seems to me that the LotH opted for the Quiñones model in detaching Matins from any fixed ‘hour’ and treating it, as the original post aptly puts it, “spiritual reading.” Spiritual reading scheduled as I feel like it doesn’t sound like much of a liturgical action to me. Granted, it is possible to *(ab/)use* traditional Matins in precisely this way (think of the priest sitting down after ‘work’ to pray the day’s whole office at once), but it seems that *designing* the revised hour to serve in this fashion was a wretched compromise, achieving little more than to compromise its character as liturgical prayer.

  5. Wonderful questions.
    A heartfelt wish list for the Liturgy of the Hours revision, in order of importance. Some requests address substance, some (I hope) only publication style.
    Substance
    1) Psalm translation. There are those who like the Grail translation. I do not. By Yoda it seems to have been done. Word-order inversions (almost always stylistically unpleasant in English) should reflect faithfully the Hebrew. I am constantly driven to substitute the astute Douai, or the (N)RSV.
    2) Glory Be. Nobody says “Glory [uh] to the Father…and will be for ever, Aey-men” unless constrained to recite the Office in common. Even there, after 40 years, most still miss the beat. Restore “Glory be to the Father…and ever shall be, world without end, Ah-men.” In saecula saeculorum, out with ‘dynamic equivalence’!
    3) Psalm repetition. An interruption to encounter an Invitatory or Gradual Psalm elsewhere in the sequence, and have to ‘thumble’ for a substitute.
    4) Lord’s Prayer Priestly introductions cluttering the Ordinary. Two will do!
    5) Psalm-prayers. Some Orders omit. Especially for the all-too-prevalent ‘woe is me’ and ‘pulverize mine enemies’ Psalms, however, I consider the Psalm-prayer rationale valid; comforting to see them there.
    Publication Style
    1) Commons. Consolidate the later Commons. Accept the inevitable repetition. Supremely annoying when celebrating e.g. a Doctor of the Church, to have to refer back to Pastors (needs rethinking now anyway) or a Religious, etc., back to Holy Men or Holy Women.
    Encountering constantly “Psalms an Canticle from Sunday, Week I” when what one is reading is a Memorial, defeats the purpose. Spell it out!
    2) Hymns. The very best move in Christian Prayer was the creation of a hymn section with music. Re-create in the 4-volume. Include music for the Latin modicum. Note also Hymnal for the Hours (GIA) which has saved my musicological sanity. Include “Like Burning Incense” by Michael Joncas.
    3) Psalms. Include in the…

    1. @Barbara Maxwell:
      For completeness, here is the full “Publication Style” request:

      Publication Style
      1) Commons. Consolidate the later Commons. Accept the inevitable repetition. Supremely annoying when celebrating e.g. a Doctor of the Church, to have to refer back to Pastors (needs rethinking now anyway) or from a Religious, etc., back to Holy Men or Holy Women.
      Encountering constantly “Psalms and Canticle from Sunday, Week I” when what one is reading is a Memorial, defeats a number of purposes. Spell it out! Not much extra space would be required.
      2) Hymns. The very best move in Christian Prayer was the creation of a hymn section with music. Please do the same in each of the 4-volume. Include music for the Latin modicum. Note also Hymnal for the Hours (GIA) which has saved my musicological sanity. Include “Like Burning Incense” by Michael Joncas.
      3) Psalms: Include in the Ordinary, in full, all the Invitatory Psalm options.
      4) Calendar. A brief explanatory Ordo (the near-incomprehensible charts in my books cover 1974-1999) would be appreciated. Main question to answer: Which week are we in?
      5) Constants. Retain printing the Antiphon before and after. Always include tag for the ‘Glory be’.
      6) Readings. The slightly-expanded texts in Christian Prayer for the major Hours Readings have proven well worthwhile. Incorporate also into the 4-volume.
      7) Ordinary on more durable paper.
      Thanks!

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