Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 99

Dear Friends,

I have been away from Pray Tell for some months now, partially due to other responsibilities and partially due to being under the weather. Today at the beginning of a new month I return with my article-by-article reflection on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I hope that I will more faithfully continue this series through to the end.

Vatican website translation:

99. Since the divine office is the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God, those clerics who are not obliged to office in choir, especially priests who live together or who assemble for any purpose, are urged to pray at least some part of the divine office in common.
All who pray the divine office, whether in choir or in common, should fulfill the task entrusted to them as perfectly as possible: this refers not only to the internal devotion of their minds but also to their external manner of celebration.
It is, moreover, fitting that the office, both in choir and in common, be sung when possible.

Latin translation:

99. Cum Officium divinum sit vox Ecclesiae seu totius Corporis mystici Deum publice laudantis, suadetur ut clerici choro haud obligati, ac praesertim sacerdotes conviventes vel in unum convenientes, aliquam saltem divini Officii partem in communi persolvant.
Omnes autem sive in choro sive in communi Officium persolventes munus sibi concreditum quam perfectissime, tam interna animi devotione quam externa agendi ratione, peragant.
Praestat insuper ut Officium in choro et in communi, pro opportunitate, cantetur.

Slavishly literal translation:

99. Because the Divine Office is the voice of the Church, that is of the entire Mystical Body, publically praising God, it would be worthy of encouragement that clerics not obligated [to recite the Office] in choir, and above all priests living together or coming together into one, should pray at least a certain part of the Divine Office in common.
Moreover, let all praying the Office, whether in choir or in common, fulfill the duty [munus] entrusted to them as perfectly as possibly, as much with internal devotion of soul as external manner of acting.
Indeed it is proper that the Office, [both] in choir and in common, be sung as opportunity suggests.


This article combines a liturgical principle with particular guidelines. The liturgical principle, as has been asserted rather consistently through Chapter IV, is that the Liturgy of the Hours is the “voice of the church,” Head and members publically praising God. The rest of the article, however, focuses on exhorting clerics who are not bound to choral or communal recitation of the Hours to nonetheless enact the Church’s preference for communal over individual celebration of the liturgy. Not only does the article evince a preference for communal celebration of the Hours, but it recognizes the sung form of the Office as preferable.

It would be interesting to discover how many secular bishops, priests and deacons regularly celebrate a communal form of the Office. My observations suggest that communal recitation of (at least the “hinge”) Hours does take place at priests’ convocations, retreats and funerals (here reciting at least part of the Office of the Dead); otherwise most priests recite the Hours (if they do so at all) individually, fitting the obligation around their other ministerial tasks. I have heard of situations where deacons gather their families or with their spouse in dyads to pray at least part of the Office, but again most deacons seem to pray the Office individually. Some individual clerics may chant portions of the Office in individual recitation, but they would also be in the minority. Insofar as these are the practices followed by most clerics, one could question whether the restoration of the Divine Office as a liturgy rather than a private devotion envisioned by Vatican II has been accomplished.

Pray Tell readers may wish to reflect on two quotations from articles the late William Storey wrote in the 1970s. My impression is that not much has changed since he presented these insights: “By and large the office is not regarded as liturgy in any normal sense of the word. It has not been experienced as such . . . . Little is expected of the Liturgy of the Hours because it is still unknown as a public, cultic, ecclesial event . . . . The Liturgy of the Hours as a cathedral or parish celebration is a non-entity” (William G. Storey, “Parish Worship: The Liturgy of the Hours,” Worship (49) 3) and “the liturgical library provided for us contradicts the principles set forth in the General Instruction, because the new set of books is still essentially a monastic breviary while the Instruction itself has as its primary demand the restoration of a cathedral Office” (William Storey, “The Liturgy of the Hours: Cathedral versus Monastery,” Christians at Prayer [ed. John Gallen, SJ, University of Notre Dame Press, 1977] pp. 74-75).


  1. My parish offers evening prayer on Tuesdays in our adoration chapel, recited with one hymn sung. It’s a lovely gathering and those who attend are very dedicated. It is led by a dedicated lay person and attended by 5 or 6 people on a typical week. That number may climb to 10 in Advent or Lent if we promote it. Yet that is 10 people out of 3000 souls in our parish. So I agree with the statement that “the Liturgy of the Hours as a cathedral or parish celebration is [nearly] a non-entity.”

    1. @Scott Pluff:
      My experience has been similar to Scott’s. We have been doing evening prayer during Advent and Lent for at least 25 years. It has not caught on as a devotion. We have a devoted “faithful remnant” that knows the hymns and chants VERY well, but the liturgy of the hours has not increased in number in all this time. Our pastor and deacon and I love evening and continue to celebrate it ( sometimes, it is only with us and spouses). I also agree with the “nearly non-entity” statement. (Sigh)

  2. Our local Merton society used to pray Vespers and Compline in common on Tuesday evenings, with a one half hour period of silent prayer between the two. We stopped the practice when attendance fell off.
    I still.pray the Office daily at home. It remains an essential part of my spirituality, but I have given up trying to get others to join in.

  3. At the school in London where I am Head Master the Chaplain and I sing Lauds, Daytime Prayer and Vespers every day. We use very simple music because we have very many visitors who join us. It is a total joy to pray as part of this ‘little community’ and to immerse the school, and the children in our care, in this prayer.
    We have made a few changes to the structure of the LOTH, having the Gospel of the day at Lauds, and the first reading from Mass at Vespers so we hear these Scriptures twice each day. Daytime Prayer is the most altered using Psalm 118 spread over a week, a non Scriptural reading and intercessions which somehow seems right in the middle of the day.
    We use incense at every Office and I use a tenor recorder to give a note or play over a melody.

    The music and structure we use is available on my blog here:

    On my blog:

  4. Although the Office in common is good, no 99 is a pie in the sky recommendation.

    1. There is an entire group of religious institutes, incl the Jesuits, who have no tradition of Common Office (or Mass). In fact, such a situation has been considered intrinsic to their vocation because it gives them flexibility for their apostolate.

    2. The same is true for diocesan priests. Further, the simple truth is that now in the West they generally live alone. In fact, some priests have told me that it has been difficult to adjust to life in a rectory after the years of common liturgy in seminary.

    3. The availability of Common Office is very important and produces much good in the Church. The tradition of Cathedral canons provided this in cities. Unfortunately, this practice never existed in the US, and is withering in Europe.

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