LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Saying the Office

Shawn Tribe of New Liturgical Movement posted a piece a couple of days ago about the Divine Office, which ended with a quote from Fr William Busch which I found interesting :

The Breviary is secondary to the Missal. But though secondary the Breviary is intimately related to and inseparable from the Missal in the ensemble of liturgical prayer. The Breviary prayers encircle those of the Missal; they carry the radiance of the Mass throughout all the hours of the day; and they furnish a guiding norm for all private prayer . . . The growing love of the Missal signifies a trend throughout the Church toward liturgical prayer which may well bring many to use the Breviary, not exactly as the clergy use it, but according to their circumstances and in such way as the Hour Prayers did originally interest the faithful generally . . . We are familiar with the beautiful thought of the Mass as the continual oblation from the rising to the setting of the sun offered up from place to place as the morning light moves around the world. Why not be aware also of the unceasing chorus of the Church's official prayer from hour to hour . . .

I read this with interest, and I agree with almost all of it . . . except for the first sentence : because as far as I can see Fr Busch has this the wrong way round. After all, the Divine Office – as a continuous, daily, activity – came before the Daily Mass; and there are certainly many situations in which the Office continues even where the Mass is simply not practical as a daily exercise.

As a result, I believe that the Divine Office is the primary element of liturgy; even if the Mass is the more important . . . but it is from the Office that the patterns emerge; with the Mass picking them up; if only because the bulk of the Office should have been said by a priest before he says his Mass each day, and provided a thematic basis for it.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage everybody to say some part of the Office; not only because it roots them in the Church’s liturgy even when they can’t manage to get to Mass daily (as I often can’t), but also because it helps (in my humble opinion) to ground the entire Church in the everlasting cycle of prayer that the Divine Office forms . . . exactly the point with which Fr Busch concludes.

S. Dominic, whose Feast day is tomorrow, believed passionately in continuous prayer : it was said of him that he never spoke ‘except of God, or to God’, and I venture to believe that he must have valued the Divine Office as a central plank of prayer. I personally find the Divine Office a great blessing, precisely because it keeps me bedded in the liturgical life of the Church, even when I am (for various reasons) unable to take an active part in it; and I do suggest it enthusiastically to anyone else whose life sometimes keeps them apart from worshipping in Church on a daily basis . . . because then, even when you are alone, perhaps in difficult circumstances, by your participation in the primary element of the Church’s liturgy you can feel certain that you remain very much an active part of God’s ‘Church Militant here in earth’.


  1. As you know, I feel very inadequate in front of other people when even discussing the Office, but I was attracted to it, and when I look back, I have received help for my own level of understanding, not the least from your kind self.

    I know there are lots of people who feel daunted when even attending, for example Lauds but as you said attendance is profitable in itself, to the soul. Had I not received your encouragement to keep continuing, I would have given uo by now. I still don't know my left from my right, by the way but the desire to learn is growing.
    Maybe you should resurrect the beginners blog, maybe re-name it 'For the keen yet totally incompetent.'

    The women I spoke to at Prinknash said she had been learning to pray it properly for eleven years,so there's hope for me yet.

  2. I think I commented on an earlier posting of yours about the Divine Office but it doesn't do any harm to revisit my thoughts.

    I began praying Morning Prayer when we began to say it in public every weekday morning before Mass in our parish. This was many years ago now. I think I have developed a deeper understanding of the Psalms in particular through this practice. They have become like 'old friends' to me, and I doubt if I would have felt this merely by hearing the Responsorial Psalm during Mass.

    I now try and say Morning, Evening and Night Prayer every day, and I quite often achieve it though there are odd times when I miss one or the other of them.

    I'm still struggling with Prayer During the Day.

    Sorry, quite a long comment!

  3. I think you might be missing what he is saying about the breviary and why it is secondary to the Mass: while both the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours makes present the entire Paschal Mystery, it is ONLY in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.

    The Breviary cannot do that, no matter how devoutly it is prayed.

    If we had only the LOH, we would die. But with the Mass, we have eternal life for it is only there we can consume the flesh of the Lamb.

    Historically, of course, the Divine Office came before the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, for our salvation comes from the Jews. Of course it is prep for and flows from the Mass, however we must remember what is the Source and Summit of our Faith; and and that is the Holy Eucharist.

    Therefore, theologically, everything thing else comes second.

    That is the teaching and the official position of the Church.

    I understand your point, but I'm casting my lot with the good Father, who speaks in the voice of the Church in this, and not through the voice of mere opinion.

  4. Adoro:

    It's not strictly the voice of opinion, viz.:

    All clerics and religious are bound to recite the Office each day, in succeeding degrees, until the Priesthood, where they are bound to recite it entire.

    Whereas some clerics cannot yet say Mass. Some religious never will. But all of them must say at least some of the Office.

    A Priest must also say the Office on his day off. This is demanded by canon law; yet, he is not bound to say the Mass, at all, except to fulfill the needs of the faithful.

    Further, whilst Fr Busch is not wrong, it would not be incorrect to turn his statements around. The Divine Office is, itself, an oblation. Whilst its character can never have the same efficacy as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it too is a divine work offered up unto God.

    He talks about the Missal leading into the Breviary. Those in convents or monasteries - for example - could probably view it the other way round, for the reasons Dominic Mary gives. They observe the Breviary leading into the Missal, having said most of it before the conventual Mass. They then find themselves hearing echoes of the Mass right up until their prayers ascend like incense at sundown.

    I think the issue here is that we're viewing this as a straight line, where one has to come before the other, or one has to be better than the other, etc. Fr Busch himself gives a solution to this: he speaks of the Breviary encircling the Missal. This is a beautiful analogy and makes me think of a garland of pears strewn around something, or the petals of a flower.

    An important point to draw from this is still what Dominic Mary says: the Breviary may, from some standpoint, be secondary to the Missal. However, for the vast majority of human beings, not being in Holy Orders, and not being able to click their heels and be instantly in Church, the Breviary represents a truly accessible union in prayer of the whole Church.

  5. It is a dangerous trait to reduce the importance of the Office. The official prayer of the Church is offered every day, even Good Friday, when Mass is not celebrated,