Thursday, June 25, 2009

More on the Divine Office: Private Recitation by the Laity

Whenever the NLM writes on the subject of the Divine Office, I note there is often a swell of interest, usually manifest by questions about how to pursue praying the Divine Office either in the parish or in the home. This is very encouraging. In terms of the various forms of prayer that people might undertake as part of their personal and private life of prayer, the Divine Office should rank high as a primary consideration, being that it forms a part of the corpus of the Church's liturgical prayer.

This said, over the years I have heard it said on a few occasions that the breviary is simply too time-consuming for non-clergy and non-religious to possibly take on. I find this to be something of a myth; popular to say, but not generally true.

One must note, first of all, that praying the Office needn't mean praying all of the hours. It would be ideal if one could at least pray Lauds (Morning Prayer), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer) it is true, but if one cannot, even doing one or two of these would be of great merit, helping to sanctify our day, tying us to the Church's liturgical year and embedding the Psalms of David and elements of Sacred Scripture and Christian poetry into our day to day prayer life.

As regards the issue of time, a single hour of the Office can be prayed, prayerfully I might add, within 10 minutes or so -- hardly an impossible or unreasonable time investment. If one considers that a devotional praying of a set of mysteries of the Holy Rosary takes about a similar period of time, I think this alone is demonstrative of the problem with the objection that the laity, especially those in family situations, cannot possibly pray the Divine Office. (Now, evidently, there may be some instances where the Divine Office may simply not be feasible, for reason of some particular and unique set of circumstances, but I would suggest that this is by no means the majority of cases.) It is worth remembering as well that the Church herself has encouraged the laity in the praying of the Divine Office: "...the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually." (Sacrosanctum Concilum, para. 100) Evidently then, the Church does not see this as an impossible task, but actually encourages it.

Establishing the Habit and Routine of Prayer

The most difficult part of praying the Office is, like all forms of prayer, establishing the habit of it. Speaking from personal experience, one might be most successful in this matter by establishing a routine around it -- and this applies whether we are speaking of the Divine Office or the Holy Rosary. For example, it might be a time, or it might be a sequence of events, such as praying Lauds first thing after getting ready each morning or praying Vespers first thing after supper each evening. Whatever the routine might be tied to, a time or a sequence of events, the pursuit of this "habituation" (as Aristotle or Aquinas might term it) can be most helpful, even critical, in successfully establishing and maintaining a particular discipline of prayer.

One suggestion which I believe is particularly useful for those establishing the habit of praying the Divine Office, however, is to acquire a liturgical wall or desk calendar. This will quickly provide you with an overview of liturgical time and seasons, which will be very helpful in this pursuit. (The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, TAN Books and others sell calendars as these.)

Which Breviary?

With all this said, the question is likely to follow, "I am interested, but which breviary should I use?"

There is no easy answer to that question, and one must note that in certain instances, the consideration of liturgical laws apply. But for our purposes today, we will consider these matters from the perspective of our target audience, namely the laity who wish to privately recite the breviary. Here, we have a great deal of freedom and many options we can consider. I shall present you with a few.

Which Form of the Breviary?

One will first need to determine which form of the breviary (e.g. usus antiquior, usus recentior) one wishes to use, which will likely be tied to various personal considerations. (For my own part, I prefer the breviary either of the Roman usus antiquior, or the Monastic breviary for two reasons: the use of ancient liturgical calendar with its corresponding liturgical seasons, as well as the fact of the structure of these forms of the Hours which include more psalms than the breviary of the usus recentior.)

Second, one will need to determine if they wish to pray the Office in Latin, in English or in both Latin and English. I should imagine most laity will want to pray the Divine Office in English, or at least in English for the proper antiphons, psalms and reading/chapter, and Latin for the ordinary parts of the Office, such as the Deus in adjutorium, the Gloria Patri, the Benedictus, Magnificat, Pater Noster, and so forth.

Evidently, both of these considerations will dictate what your options are.

Modern Roman Breviary

For those who would prefer to use the modern Roman breviary, there are various editions that are published.

The official Latin edition is Liturgia Horarum which can be purchased in a four volume edition from Paxbook.

Official English editions are as follows:

Liturgy of the Hours comes in a four volume edition published by the Catholic Book Publishing Co. There are also single volume editions such as Shorter Christian Prayer (which only contains Lauds and Vespers) or Christian Prayer which includes more of the hours, but in a more inexpensive, single volume edition -- another similar variant is this edition of Christian Prayer (published by Paulist Press) which is better laid out for recitation in my estimation.

Another edition is The Divine Office which comes in a three volume edition. A shorter one volume edition titled Daily Prayer is also published, as well as Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer which only contains Lauds and Vespers.

If I were to pick of these two vernacular editions of the modern Roman breviary, I would choose The Divine Office or one of the abbreviated books that come from it for reason of the translations used.

1962 Roman Breviary

For those who would prefer the breviary of the usus antiquior, the full Latin edition of the 1962 Breviarium Romanum was republished recently by Nova et Vetera.

As for English editions, or parallel Latin-English editions, one of the most anticipated editions of the Latin-English breviary of 1962 is that due to be published by Baronius Press. But of course, this is not yet available.

Until then, if one is willing to consider looking for a used copy of a translated 1962 Roman Breviary, one could consider the following:

The Roman Breviary, translated by Christine Mohrmann; a single volume, English only translation.

The Hours of the Divine Office in Latin and English was published in 1964. This is a three volume set, in full Latin and English, of the 1962 Breviarium Romanum.

Lauds, Vespers and Compline is an abbreviated, single volume edition in English only of the aforementioned title, and presents a more readily available and affordable form of the latter. It is likely one's best option in the present circumstances with regard to the Roman breviary.

Other Options

If you are not particularly attached to the idea of using the Roman breviary specifically, but would prefer to use a traditional form of breviary, the Monastic Diurnal (or "Day Hours of the Monastic Breviary) presents a nice option -- and a favourite of mine. It is a single volume, parallel Latin-English edition of the Benedictine Office of 1963, and includes the hours of Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. This title is readily available, being in print.

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