Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XX

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XX: Chapter IV: The Divine Office, continued

Having described the history, beauty and intent of the Divine Office, the Council Fathers proceeded to call for some changes that would make the Office that would make it easier for the clergy who don’t live in community, or for those who were more active in an apostolate (cf. no. 89). This was also to ensure that the various Hours would be said at their proper time (no. 94).

The Liturgy of the Hours is divided into four tomes, often called a 'Breviary'.

The Liturgy of the Hours is divided into four tomes, often called a ‘Breviary’.

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” (no. 89a). Night prayer, or Compline, was to be recomposed to reflect it’s proper place at the end of the day (no. 89c).

While it is a duty for clergy and religious to pray the Divine Office, it is important that they remember that it “is a source of piety, and nourishment for personal prayer”, therefore those who pray the Offices are “earnestly exhorted in the Lord to attune their minds to their voices when praying it” (no. 90; cf. no. 99). In other words, the Divine Office isn’t a book to be read, but a proper Liturgy that is prayed with heart and mind.

Flowing from this, the Fathers also asked that the books be recomposed according to a longer cycle of Psalms (instead of the one-week cycle then used), so that more Psalms could be prayed (no. 91). The current Divine Office contains all 150 Psalms, using each of them at least once over a four-week cycle. With this, the Fathers also asked that the Scripture readings for each Hour be expanded to include longer texts and a greater selection (no. 92a).

Readings excerpted from the works of the fathers, doctors, and ecclesiastical writers shall be better selected” for use in the Office of Readings, again to have a greater selection of texts that nourish the prayer and faith of those who pray (no. 92b). And the “accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints are to accord with the facts of history” (no. 92c). Likewise, the hymns are also to be changed so that “whatever smacks of mythology” or doesn’t agree with true Christian piety is to be removed (no. 93).

Furthermore, “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” (no. 100). And “[i]n accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the Divine Office” (no. 100.1), unless the appropriate Bishop or Superior gives permission to use the vernacular. This concludes Chapter IV. (To be continued…)

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