Tag Archives: Liturgy of the Hours

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

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 XIX: Chapter IV: The Divine Office

Before we can discuss what the Council Fathers said about the Divine Office, I think it would be useful to first discuss what the Divine Office is, since it’s not a Liturgy we often talk about.

Together with Mass, the Divine Office forms the Church’s official public worship; only these two can be properly called Liturgy (with a capital ‘L’); any other liturgical prayer else is rooted in one or the other. Also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Breviary, it is a liturgical prayer of the Church rooted in Scripture, particularly the Psalms. It’s composed of five to seven ‘Offices’ or ‘Hours’ that are linked to different times of the day: Office of Readings or Matins (early morning); Lauds (morning); Terce (mid-morning); Sexte (midday) and None (mid-afternoon); Vespers (evening); and Compline (night). Monastic and contemplative religious communities say the full seven Offices, while diocesan clergy and ‘active’ religious communities usually only pray five Offices.

While clergy and religious are bound by their promises and vows to pray these Offices, the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the whole Church, and lay people are also encouraged to pray this Liturgy, even if only in part. While it’s properly celebrated publicly or ‘in common’ (with other people) and in song, it can be prayed individually, but always in communion with the whole Church and the Communion of Saints. Some of you may remember that each Nothing More Beautiful session began with the praying of Vespers.

This ancient liturgical prayer is rooted in the Jewish practice of singing the Psalms, in St. Paul’s command to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17), and in the Church’s desire to constantly remember God’s presence and grace in our daily lives. It is “a kind of necessary complement to the fullness of divine worship that is contained in the eucharistic sacrifice, by means of which that worship might overflow to reach all the hours of the day” (Pope Paul VI, Laudis canticum, Apostolic Constitution promulgating the revised Divine Office, 1970).

For their part, the Council Fathers described the Office as the “hymn … sung throughout all ages in the halls of heaven” by which Christ the High Priest “attaches to Himself the entire community of mankind” and unites them to Himself “in singing His divine song of praise” to the Father (no. 83). In this way the Church is “ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the entire world”. And “when this wonderful song of praise is correctly celebrated … it is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom” (no. 83).

More information on the history and development of the Divine Office, as well as instructions on how to pray it, can be found on EWTN. And the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, which has a beautiful overview of the purpose and importance of prayer, can be found in the Catholic Liturgical Library. (To be continued…)

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