Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 92

Vatican Website translation:

92. As regards the readings, the following shall be observed: a) Readings from sacred scripture shall be arranged so that the riches of God’s word may be easily accessible in more abundant measure.
b) Readings excerpted from the works of the fathers, doctors, and ecclesiastical writers shall be better selected.
c) The accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints are to accord with the facts of history.

Latin text:

92. Ad lectiones quod attinet, haec serventur:
a) lectio sacrae Scripturae ita ordinetur, ut thesauri verbi divini in pleniore amplitudine expedite adiri possint;
b) lectiones de operibus Patrum, Doctorum et Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum depromendae melius seligantur;
c) Passiones seu vitae Sanctorum fidei historicae reddantur.

Slavishly literal translation:

92. Concerning that which pertains to the readings, these things are to be observed:

a) the reading of sacred Scripture is to be so arranged, that the treasures of the divine words could be found without difficulty in fuller amount;
b) readings drawn from the works of the Fathers, Doctors and ecclesiastical Writers are to be better selected;
c) passions or lives of the Saints are to be rendered with historical accuracy.

 

The Council Fathers now turn their attention to the lessons, scriptural and extra-scriptural, proclaimed at the various Hours of the Divine Office.

Echoing SC 35.1, SC 92a calls for a more abundant amount of scriptural material to adorn the Liturgy of the Hours. We have already noted that those constructing the post-Vatican II Divine Office chose to distribute the Psalter over four weeks rather than one. This meant that the fundamental “Ordo” of the four-week psalter now distributed scriptural lessons over a four-week period as well. (Note that this fundamental “Ordo” is fairly often modified by readings from the “strong seasons” and from the celebration of various solemnities and feasts, which likewise increase the number of scriptural and devotional readings available to those who pray the Divine Office.)

SC 92b offers a directive for the non-scriptural readings formerly assigned to Matins and now prescribed for the Office of Readings: they are to be “better selected.” The Council Fathers did not detail the principles by which such an improved selection could be implemented and assessed. The coetus a studiis charged with the development of non-scriptural readings for the Office of Readings reached consensus that the readings: a) should offer genuine spiritual help to those praying the Office; b) had to relate to the liturgical season or feast; c) would provide sound teaching in dogma, doctrine, morals and asceticism without becoming too abstract; d) would be drawn primarily from patristic writers, later Doctors of the Church, more recent papal teaching and even conciliar texts; and e) that texts by non-Catholics or living Catholic authors would not appear. The texts also had to be compatible with vernacular translation.

SC 92c directs that the “legenda” of the Saints (literally “things to be read,” but note how the English “legendary” arises from the same linguistic roots, giving some evidence that these readings were recognized as of dubious historical accuracy) were to be examined so that they would conform to accepted standards of historical writing. (It is this same instinct that led to a re-examination of the existence of some presumed saints, e.g. St. Christopher.)

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss: 1) whether or not the readings provided are of appropriate length and depth for each hour; 2) whether the non-scriptural readings provided for the Office of Readings serve well both as proclaimed when the Hour is celebrated in common or as spiritual reading when celebrated alone; 3) whether excising “legendary” accounts of saints’ lives and passions constricts devotion to these saints.

10 comments

  1. Hi Mike, thanks for the posts.

    Are you aware of any reference that talks about the rationale for the choice of readings for the four-week ordo? (I don’t think I’ve seen one.)

    For reference, this link gives the two-year cycle of Biblical readings for the Office of Readings from Notitiae. Page 19 of the PDF gives the first page of a discussion of the principles behind the “monastic lectionary,” but the file skips the following two pages (390-391) of the original journal.

  2. Does anyone know whatever happened to that fifth volume of the LH mentioned in the French article in Notitiae? Was a decision made to let it drop, or should we still be expecting it? It’s only been fifty years.

    An interesting point was how much labor was put into the actual compilation of the LH. I’ve always appreciated the immense amount of Latinity brought forth from the ancient archives.

    Many thanks for the main article and for the link!

  3. I think the non-scriptural readings of the LOH are a pretty impressive achievement. Of course there are individual choices that I don’t particularly like, and there are some things that aren’t there that I would like to have had included, but I suspect everyone feels that way (though we wouldn’t agree on what we don’t like or what we would want included).

    In some ways, it might be the most enduring legacy of ressourcement theologians like Henri de Lubac and Jean Danielou. They desired a theology that was more thoroughly saturated by the writings of the first Christian centuries, and in the readings of the LOH we have a rich archive of texts that each cleric (in theory) works through every year.

    That being said, I am often struck by the fact that these texts seem to have little impact on preaching, which is often moralistic or therapeutic, rather than richly symbolic and imaginative, the way the reading in the LOH often are. Perhaps the readings in the LOH are simply too alien to our culture and mindset. I personally would be loath to replace Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa with Thomas Merton and Oscar Romero (as much as I like them and look forward some day to reading something by Romero as the second reading on the memorial of St. Oscar of San Salvador), but I sometimes wonder if they would not speak more effectively to people today.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #3:
      I agree entirely with Fritz. I affirm the great aim of recovering patristic theology and spirituality, and I appreciate these readings in the reformed office.

      But I observe that these readings get mixed reviews from monks when they’re read aloud in our office. (We aren’t Roman rite for office here, of course, but mutatis mutandis the same issues apply to our reformed monastic office.) At times the Fathers are a bit hard to follow and hard to relate to. Sometimes they are rather abstract and highly rational, even in their way of speaking about the spiritual life and the personal/emotional and relational/interpersonal aspects of it. Other times they meander in non-linear fashion and the ‘argument’ is rather challenging to grasp.

      I have argued for retaining the Fathers and I have argued against an increase in non-patristic contemporary readings in our Office. But these contemporary readings sometimes make the point that the Fathers make in a way that gets a better hearing and has a more positive impact on other monks. And on me, if I’m honest.

      I wish the Conciliar vision of reinvigorating Catholic theology and spirituality with the spirit of the first millennium could work, also in the liturgical readings. But I wonder whether it isn’t a bit formalistic and maybe legalistic to keep insisting on ancient sources when the spiritual benefit would be greater by another path. It is spiritual benefit that is our ultimate aim, and the teachings of Our Lord throughout the Gospels suggest that we shouldn’t insist on traditional forms for their own sake.

      awr

  4. I think that the selection of patristic readings in the 1970 Office certainly represents an improvement on the 1962 Breviary, where Mattins has been butchered out of all recognition and where one can go for weeks without reading the Fathers at all except for the vestigial fragment that is offered on Sundays.

    The weakness lies in the sanctoral cycle where one meditates on the spiritual significance of a saint without learning much about his/her life, with rare exceptions. That is the great advantage of the pre-1962 Office where one combines a semi-continuous reading of Scripture, a life of the saint, and a patristic pericope on the gospel of the day.

    Having three readings at the Office of Readings would seem to me to be the solution. It would take an extra 5-10 mins, which is not too great a burden, especially in view of the dividends to be gained.

    1. @Fr Richard Duncan CO – comment #4:

      Interestingly, some religious orders (the Servites come to mind) deviated from that principle, and do offer for their own saints a hagiographical reading as an alternative for the Second Reading.

  5. I’m grateful in particular for the selections of readings from Peter, Paul, James and John in Morning and Evening Prayer. Contemplating these selections from Epistles has enriched my biblical spirituality; I find that, at mass, the Epistle readings are usually ignored by homilists.

  6. I’m curious about that phrase fidei historicae reddantur. Is there a sense of ‘restore’ here with that dative, i.e. “restored to historical credibility”? Or is fides historica a simple narrative, contrasted with fides spiritualis?

    And is fides historica to be taken in a contemporary and critical sense, wie es eigentlich gewesen, “what really happened”? If so, according to some historians, miracles attributed to the saints would have to be discarded, not because of some presupposition against miracle, but because a miracle is too large and powerful a hypothesis; it could explain almost any set of facts. Van Harvey wrote about this in The Historian and The Believer.

    The question I’m raising is, simply, what kind of “historicality” are the Council fathers referring to?

  7. I’m always (pleasantly) intrigued by the amount of Origen in the OoR. I’m curious if anyone knows anything about the history of his ‘rehabilitation,’ having gone from being conciliarly condemned to now forming part of the Church’s liturgy.

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