Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 100

Vatican website translation:

100. Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.

Latin text:

100. Curent animarum pastores ut Horae praecipuae, praesertim Vesperae, diebus dominicis et festis sollemnioribus, in ecclesia communiter celebrentur. Commendatur ut et ipsi laici recitent Officium divinum, vel cum sacerdotibus, vel inter se congregati, quin immo unusquisque solus.

Slavishly literal translation:

100. Let pastors of souls take care that the primary Hours, especially Vespers, be celebrated communally in church, on Sundays and more solemn feasts. It is also to be commended that the laity themselves recite the Divine Office, whether with priests, or gathered among themselves, or even each one alone.


The Council Fathers encourage pastors in particular churches to celebrate at least some of the Divine Office with their people. They take special note of Vespers, but since Lauds has already been identified as one of the “hinge” Hours, one might expect that its celebration, too, would be explicitly commended. Some Western European churches and ethnic groups had already been celebrating Sunday Vespers at parochial levels. Certainly in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, certain parishes fostered an afternoon/evening service in addition to Mass, usually consisting of the rosary, sung Vespers and a sermon. Perhaps the Council Fathers were here gently suggesting that liturgical (i.e., the Liturgy of the Hours) and para-liturgical (e.g., the rosary) celebrations should be separated in practice.

Most interestingly, the Council Fathers also encourage lay participation in the Liturgy of the Hours whether with their (parish) priests or in gatherings of the laity alone. Notice that among women’s religious communities parts of the Divine Office normally assigned to clerics were already at the time of the Council being recited by their members with appropriate modifications recognizing their lay state. The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours will confirm forms of celebrating the Divine Office with lay verbal leadership.

Pray Tell readers may wish to discuss if the Council’s exhortation to develop the Liturgy of the Hours as parish prayer is much in evidence fifty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium was promulgated. Those who have successfully implemented this conciliar desire might indicate what things are needed to sustain the Liturgy of the Hours in parish practice. Those who have not done so might reflect on the reasons why such implementation has not taken place in particular churches.


  1. The ironic thing is that this is by FAR the most unreceived liturgical teaching of the Council. Once upon a time about 5 years ago, I went back to Catholic University and plowed through 3 Diocesan archives and counted the numbers of parishes that offered Vespers of another Hour weekly in 1958, 1959, and 1960.

    To a diocese, each saw a significant falloff – about 90% – in practice within 10 years.

    Most dioceses have not recovered, and few if any Parishes now offer this.

  2. No other liturgical reform has failed more than the revival of the Liturgy of the Hours for the laity. There were efforts in the 70’s to recover an appropriate reform for parish use. There was Rome’s decision to deep-six a new Psalter translation in the 90’s. And there remain questions about the wisdom of lifting a largely monastic tradition into a 2000-page book for the laity.

    What is missing is a Sunday office for parish use more attuned to the liturgical seasons rather than a 4-week cycle, one that invites music and ritual far more easily. Also missing is a simplified office for the domestic church.

    I’d give the CDWDS a D for sticking too closely to the preconciliar effort and for discouraging dioceses and parishes, pastors likewise for perpetuating the Office as a personal requirement. (I’ve known a handful of guys who prefer to do it themselves rather than pray an “inferior” adaptation in the parish. More simply don’t want the bother.)

    In some quarters, sincere effort on the part of musicians, liturgists, and scholars has been mostly ignored. Or largely unfruitful. Blame tv? Long Sunday hours for pastoral musicians? Word services with Communion?

    Anybody want to call a synod for it?

    1. @Todd Flowerday:
      “What is missing is a Sunday office for parish use more attuned to the liturgical seasons rather than a 4-week cycle, one that invites music and ritual far more easily”

      Since nature (and catholics, it seems!) abhors a vacuum, a former associate at our parish took his experience at the Spencer, MA. monastery and actually did produce a seasonal Vespers Service for use in our parish (Advent and Lent and Marian) We have continued to use this pattern and, even in this simplified form, it has not grown in acceptance and/or popularity in 25 years. We make the Vespers part of our parish mission, incorporate it before Penance services and parish meetings, but still people do not avail them selves to the Hours.

  3. I would suggest it has something to do with the way we conceive of the Mass and Sunday obligation. Most larger parishes have Mass Saturday night and Sunday night. They are open so that more people can meet their obligation conveniently. Fuethermore, more masses means more collections.
    With the advent of Saturday vigils and Sunday evening Mass I struggle to see where this fits in.

    I suggest a more Eastern Orthadox view where the obligation is somewhat relaxed yet attendance at vigils or matins is highly encouraged.

  4. Many Orthodox tie First Vespers with confession. Perhaps we Romans should adopt this practice, though perhaps permitting confessions to be heard during Vespers. A parish would have to maintain the Saturday anticipatory Mass and sing Vespers afterwards. Many rely on the anticipatory Mass.

    Perhaps certain accommodations could be made for the familiarity of the laity, such as the substitution of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” instead of the Te Deum at the discretion of the pastor. It is also probably best that there be no preacher at Vespers.

  5. I propose that much (though certainly not all) of the utter failure to realize this conciliar desideratum is tied to changes in Catholics’ relation to the parish church. Whereas once the parish anchored communities both geographically and interpersonally, suburban sprawl and parish shopping have so attenuated the geographic link to the parish that it cannot but lose its central place in the social lives of its members. I grew up in a small town where I never lived more than 5-7 min. from the church, and my family was among the more actively engaged. I now live 15-20 minutes from my parish (where I work) and frequently find myself thinking that it would be great to participate in activity X but I can’t justify the drive for the amount of time I’ll be there. Combine this with the overloaded schedules we impose upon our children and it’s no surprise that it is hard to rouse people for a second journey to church on Sunday evening.

    1. @Aaron Sanders:
      I was going to say more or less what Aaron said so well. I suspect the decline of any form of worship in addition to Mass (including not only Vespers but various forms of devotion) has a lot more to do with demographics–decline of ethnic subcultures, the rise of suburbia and car-culture, etc.–than with liturgical changes.

  6. I just find it incredibly ironic that this reform of the Council was almost entirely abandoned before it increased.

    For instance, In one of the diocesan set of records I studied, 14 parishes were offering vespers in 1958 — 0 by 1965 – and it never recovered. Radical decline in a seven year period. Just wild.

    1. @Todd Orbitz:

      I wonder if the transition from latin to vernacular (or just the anticipated transition) had any impact on the drop in the number of parishes celebrating Vespers. There were, at least, two approved English translations in the 1960s and I suspect, but don’t know, that there was very little music available. So, I wonder how much was just determined by practical considerations.

      I doubt that could account for all of the drop, but it could be a factor.

  7. On the other hand, both parishes in my new town offer it: my home parish weekly with adoration, and the other church, monthly with a small choir. I suspect Todd O’s diocese may have lacked leadership in liturgy. At any rate, his research rather shows the tradition was already fading before Vatican II and is another instance of that council coming decades too late to accomplish more of what it had hoped.

  8. I suggest that one consequence of not offering the Office as a service in church is that all our focus in on the Mass. Some things, say certain hymns that might better be offered outside Mass are included in Mass as there is no other public service. Also those unable to take Communion would not feel left out at services of the office.

  9. I think cathedrals can lead the way on this by implementing some part of the Liturgy of the Hours prayed publicly before a weekday Mass. Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago does this on weekdays before the midday Mass and the evening Mass (Daytime Prayer and Evening Prayer, respectively).

    There’s a certain amount of “Let’s just do this” behind Holy Name’s practice: not a lot of emphasis on creativity or worry about numbers, but a well-led, consistent way of praying the offices in the cathedral, in the frontmost set of pews and with a library book trolley filled with copies of the Pauline Sisters’ Christian Prayer available to use. There’s one officiant on each side of the center aisle (one of them a priest), and these leaders guide those participating to the right pages and lead their respective sides as they alternate strophes of the psalms, etc. No music is used. The cathedral ambo is used to read the reading and lead the responsory after it.

    Those coming in while the office is being prayed are free either to go up front and join in or to take a seat in one of the pews farther back and prepare themselves for Mass or just listen to the Office. They get 20-25 people or more for Evening Prayer and perhaps a similar number for Daytime Prayer. Dozens more come in for Mass.

    I’ve seen this approach in a parish as well, and there’s something to be said for just going ahead and doing it pretty much by the book, daily, consistently, and without worrying if there aren’t many participants some days. On other days there will be more. The consistency helps participants get used to how it’s done and more confident, so newcomers can observe and latch on more easily.

  10. Those few parishes that opted for Sunday Vespers using a “Cathedral Office” form (with Lucernarium, Incense Psalm, etc) had greater success.

    The simplifications (no pesky antiphons to keep turning pages to find, smaller number of psalms), invariability (always the same psalms and music) and use of symbol (procession of Christ Candle, all invited to place incense into the brazier during the Incense Psalm) were all helpful, and made the practice as easy as Benediction had been in a previous era. I don’t know of any parishes that are still doing this. In some cases the practice died when a new priest arrived who felt he was not fulfilling his canonical obligation with this form.

  11. What killed off both Sunday benediction and Vespers was the introduction of Sunday evening Masses. ’nuff said……….

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