Hopes for a Revised English Translation of the Liturgy of the Hours

LOH intercessions
English-language intercessions in the Liturgy of the Hours
Since late July, I have been living at the seminary and school of theology where I work. Being the only woman in residence at the moment, I’ve noticed as presiders make adjustment to their language to recognize my presence. After one or two awkward instances of presiders speaking only to the “brethren,” “brothers and sisters” now has become more standard. I appreciate the effort, and recognize it as a good practice for those ultimately heading to parish work. The language with which we speak to our community is important.

The move has also provided me opportunity to get reacquainted with the 1975 English translation of the breviary. While I am accustomed to our monastic office, which includes settings of antiphons and prayers written by our sisters, the Roman breviary prayers seemingly were not translated with much awareness of how they might be heard by the women of the worshiping community. While we can argue the merits of more or less gendered translations of Scripture texts, my primary concern here is the intercessions.

While Tuesday Week 1 Morning Prayer intercessions open with “Beloved brothers and sisters, we share a heavenly calling,” Tuesday Evening Prayer does not seem so concerned to include the sisters in “You made captive our captivity, -to our brothers who are enduring bodily or spiritual chains, grant the freedom of the sons of God.” Wednesday Morning Prayer the next day does not get much better, with intercessions opening with, “Let us give thanks to Christ and offer him continual praise, for he sanctifies us and calls us his brothers: Lord, help your brothers grow in holiness.” While Thursday Evening Prayer opens with an inclusive call to “Look kindly on your children, Lord,” by the following Sunday Evening Prayer (Week 2), we are praying “As the day draws to a close, Sun of Justice, we invoke your name upon the whole human race, so that all men may enjoy your never failing light.” While at some point historically “all men” might be heard as “all people,” in this day and age, I would venture to guess that most women don’t hear themselves referenced in the phrase. While the Latin for “brothers” or “brethren” may be inclusive, in English it most clearly is not. In a day and age when the Church is trying to reiterate the value of the distinctiveness of both male and female, this bears attention.

Pastorally speaking, these translations matter. If a woman wants to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, what message does she get when tripping over so much masculine language? Even if it was in fact intended to be inclusive, I, for one, am left having to make a disrupted double-take every time, asking myself whether I was supposed to be included or not. Women know only too well that in other instances of Church life, use of masculine language is most clearly meant to refer only to chromosomal men. If the Church has good, non-sexist reasons for reserving ordination to men, then it also has a duty to making sure that women are granted their due dignity in other areas of Church life. The translations of intercessions meant for all would be one.

I understand a new translation of the Liturgy of the Hours is due from ICEL perhaps in 2022. Here is hoping that the committee will consider the presence of women among the worshiping community.

13 comments

  1. The difference is even more pronounced in the UK Divine Office (as well as translations of the lectionary using the Jerusalem Bible). The old Daughters of St. Paul edition of “Christian Prayer” frequently made the change to “brothers and sisters” in several places in the intercessions.

    I am not sure that “brothers” in the intercessions was (originally) meant to be inclusive, however. It seems to me that perhaps one of the subcommittees writing the intercessions had a distinct idea of the breviary as the ‘prayerbook for priests/clerics’ (from the debate on the future of the breviary during the revision). On certain days, the intercessions strike me as aimed at clerics (a similar aspect can be noticed in certain weeks in the selection of Patristic readings). These diverse views of the nature of the breviary do not seem to have been ironed out in the final product (again, possibly because of the haste of the task).

  2. I came to the Psalter by way of the Living Psalmody of the Civil Rights songs of the 60’s.
    How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man.
    How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sands
    Yes, and how many years must those cannon balls fly before they are forever past. The answer my friend is blowing in the wind…
    We shall overcome some day prepared me to Pray by the Rivers of Babylon.

    I came to understand that in ANY giving moment a prayer is speaking to someone’s exact experience in that moment, no matter where they were in the world, we stood in union of prayer, Living Psalmody. Not me today, could be me tomorrow, or you the next. Doesn’t matter. It is God-knowing-Presence that inspires the heart to pray for this need at this very instant, whether it is found here or there. God is in the journey with us.
    So when I came to the Psalter, it was in the awe that these were the very prayers that were on the lips of Jesus Christ, that were on the lips thru 40 years of desert wandering, that were on the lips of millions of people whose names, or faces I would never know — but — my heart knew and understood their prayer as our prayer. Jesus said it. Our Father.

    1. Please forgive me, I may have misunderstood your concern. Is it the geography – of intercessory prayer? Praying for the “brother” you can see rather than those “brothers” you can not see? Those in the sorrow of Mass Incarceration? Or in detention camps at the border?
      What I am challenged by is the violence in the Psalter. Jesus Christ triumphed over the violence of the agony in the garden. Jesus Christ triumphed over the violence of the scourging at the pillar and the crowning with thorns. Jesus Christ triumphed over the violence of the Crucifixion. He triumphed over the violence of death itself in His Resurrection. How is it then that the Psalter too often seeks to employ violence? Perhaps, there are ponderables in the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours though it may be found elsewhere than in the inclusiveness of nouns in the intercessory prayers. There was a time not so long ago, that calling a man your brother could get you hung along side him. In 1974, people were dying because their hearts were enlarged in the grace to declare someone their brother. Deep in my heart Lord, I do believe, that we shall overcome one day.

      1. My primary concern is that if we are praying for our brothers, we also need to be praying for our sisters. If the “we” of our prayers references only the men among us, that also needs to be amended to reflect the actual people praying, including women.

  3. You all are so antiquated in perpetuating your binary views on God’s people. It’s an affront to all people that you insist on a binary language that we’ve obviously moved beyond. How do you expect to reach out to the youth today? Read the signs of the times already.

  4. In the reading for Morning Prayer in the Common of Holy Women begins, “Brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice …” Perhaps Paul had written that exclusive language into his original letter, rather than it being a translation issue; but that simply intensifies the head-scratching that this passage should be chosen for days celebrating holy women.

    The Intercessions for Evening Prayer II in the same Common is something about which I have mixed feelings. I like the calling out for praise some of the different ways by which women have achieved holiness: women martyrs, married women, widows, mothers. But some of the text seems a little … idealized? I am guessing it was not a woman who composed these, and a woman may have come up with some different slants.

  5. I find a completeness when my sisters are acknowledged out loud in read texts. This isn’t hard. Honestly, all of the quibbles go away if one simply reads texts to include both sexes.

    Would anyone look out at a gathering of their relatives for Christmas and say, “Brothers…let’s have at the turkey!” No. Sisters, wives and daughters are present.

    It’s easy and obvious to say what’s meant in context. No more excuses.

  6. While acknowledging the need for gender-inclusive intercessions in any new Divine Office project (and I wrote about this in the correspondence columns of The Tablet not that long ago), we also need to remember the bigger picture, where there are much larger concerns about a new Liturgy of the Hours.

    Already we have seen in the project that ICEL has been toiling away over for years that it is proposed that every single hymn will be forced into the identical metrical straitjacket, with consequent massaging of language to make that happen. We have also seen errors in the martyrology, and attempts to correct those have been resisted.

    A much larger issue, however, is that any new version of the Office needs to take into account the scripture versions (psalms, canticles and non-psalmic readings) that will be used by different English-speaking countries across the world. To have a new version that is stand-alone and does not correspond to any existing scriptural version will be a nonsense, similar to the sitiuation in the current US lectionary where the ICEL psalm responses have nothing to do with, and indeed often run counter to, the psalms that they are supposed to serve (see https://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2015/04/13/the-scandalous-but-true-story-behind-icels-1969-lectionary-for-mass/). On this basis, there is actually no need for a new version at all.

    ICEL’s track record in recent times is not encouraging, and I fear that a new version of the Liturgy of the Hours from this stable will be nothing more than a white elephant, as well as a very expensive waste of time and money.

    In the meantime, Jeff Armbruster’s commonsense comment about how to deal with the intercessions mirrors what many communities in fact already do.

  7. Words matter.

    If kids cannot see themselves in the Trinity or the Written Word, the spiritual abuse is already planted, and becomes the spiritual foundation for excluding non-cisgendered males in everything, including the full depth of ministries.

    Words matter. It is long past time to include the other 51% of the world’s population in “imago Dei”, in words and deeds.

    Francis is planning to promulgate a new encyclical in Assisi, using “fraternity”. Someone needs to explain that faux pas to him.

    It would also be lovely to stop using the male dominating term Lord; it would be a solid way to punch through “princes of the Church”, and move of out an antiquated royal paradigm that holds little meaning in the 21st century.

    Words matter. Ameen.

    1. I have no desire to rehearse the inclusive language controversies of 30+ years ago, but I need to point out that all the terms being objected to here are metaphorical and not literal.

  8. Antiquated royal paradigm…Little meaning…

    Yet the most admirable ruler who has been on the throne ever since I was born is a brilliant woman who has exhibited not only to her country but also to the entire world a remarkable example of godly governance. Would that the USA had a leader of such rectitude!

    1. Brian — I suspect this comment (about the “royal we”) should have appeared in the thread about invalid baptismal formulae….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *