Friday, May 7, 2010

Breviary Ideas

The Liturgy of the Hours is a joke. A 4-week psalter (that removes the "offensive" bits) is ridiculous, and the rest of the alterations (like the addition of Prayers of the Faithful and the Our Father, etc) make it even more "Novus Ordo" feeling (ie, tacky) than even the New Mass.

Of course, it has been pointed out that even most priests who prefer the Old Mass...don't necessarily miss the heavy obligation of the Old Office. Certainly I can see that, especially in Latin, the traditional Breviary could become tedious. Especially if one is not fluent in Latin, it could become just basically a repetition of nonsense syllables for hours at a time. It's one reason I definitely support using (hieratic) vernacular in the liturgy. Once again I think people get turned off by the language barrier more than the Form of the old liturgy itself.

Of course, the "burden" of the traditional Divine Office, even in Latin, isn't so terrible for someone working full time as a priest. I mean, that is his job. If a priest working as such full-time isn't putting in at least a few hours of liturgy each day, then what is he? The heaviest chunk is in the morning. Matins, Lauds, Prime and then Mass could take over two hours all combined (especially with preparation before Mass), though I think Latin would tend to slow it while the vernacular would tend to speed it up. But after that initial chunk of time in the morning, the Little Hours are practically nothing (maybe 5-7 minutes each spread throughout the day) and Vespers is the only moderately involved thing left in the day taking maybe 15 minutes privately before dinner, though priests should also be trying to have Vespers publicly more often.

Contrary to an image they've tried to foster, priests really aren't all that busy. From what I can tell, they work, on average, about as much as a grade school teacher. Which isn't to denigrate grade school teachers; I myself am getting my secondary education certification (though exactly because it isn't all that grueling a schedule). But priests certainly aren't going out at all hours of the night to visit the dying as some people apparently imagine; as my pastor once said to me, "People simply aren't dropping dead in the middle of the night all that often, and certainly not in circumstances where there would be the time or foresight to call a priest." He said he has to make an "emergency" call like that...less than once a month.

If one generation could handle the burden of the Old Office...any generation can. It's not like a "collective exhaustion" develops over the course of generations. If one generation could do it, any could. Especially since they seem like they do a lot less in general these days (except perhaps on Sundays, where the shortage has forced stuff like priests saying three Masses a day). Or is it just a concession that priests have gotten increasingly lazy with each passing generation?

Still, as I said, I think the vernacular would help make it a lot less tedious, and I could see the argument that some sort of "Shorter Office" could be approved for certain circumstances. There were varieties of this in the past, and it might be worth investigating those. I think that the full-time, salaried, celibate clergy should definitely pray the whole Office, but for the volunteer married priests I imagine, as well as deacons and the laity...perhaps there could be a shorter version of the Office, or rather a way to abridge the obligation even while using the same book. In the United States deacons are only required to say Lauds and Vespers I believe, but rather than simply binding people to only a few of the hours (which means they never get all the psalms), I'd rather see something like the following as part of the Re-Attempt at Reform:

Most of the office would stay the same, especially the Little Hours (which are very easy), and the hinge hours Lauds and Vespers which have traditional solemn forms. But Matins could have its psalms spread out over 3 weeks in this shorter version of the Office. The full-time clergy would pray all three Nocturns of psalms each week, whereas those doing the shorter version would say only one of the nocturns each week, rotating them (the only hard part would be remembering whether it was Week 1, 2, or 3).

Also, in terms of the Lessons, I would be inclined to have the longer version of Matins maintain the pre-1960 fullness (where 9 lessons were very common), whereas the shorter version could maintain the post-1960 practice of most days being only 3 lessons (with the abridged hagiography, and the homilies confined to Sundays and major feasts only).

Prime, that odd hour, could also probably be reduced in length, formatted as another Little Hour or more like Compline. Most of the unchanging prayers technically proper to the Chapter Meeting (basically everything after the first Collect) could be removed from the shorter and kept only in the longer version of the Office.

The number 0f kneeling days where the Preces are prayed would also be reduced in the shorter office to very few (probably just the Ember Days, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday, or something like that), and likewise the number of days where the Sunday or Ferial Preces are prayed at Prime would be greatly reduced. Whereas in the longer they would be maintained in their pre-1960 fullness.

It could also be investigated whether in the shorter version there should be some simplification and paring back, ala 1960, of the occurrence of the Suffrages at Lauds and Vespers; maybe they would only be used in the shorter version on empty ferias. And the pre-1960 principle of using the Final Marian Antiphon after every hour could be cut back, though not as much as in 1960 (where it occurs at Compline only). But I think that, at the very least, it might not be needed after Prime, Terce, Sext, and None (and it already doesn't occur after Matins because Lauds immediately follows). It should be maintained after Lauds, Vespers, and Compline.

I think these few strategic abridgments, targeting the parts of the Old Office that I bet most people find the most difficult to slog through repetitively, would greatly help reduce the "burden" and tedium for those too busy for the full traditional form. I'd hope ideally the full-time clerics would still do the fuller version, but if the Vatican were to reinstate the old breviary in this shorter form (even for full-time clerics) this would still be a great improvement on the current situation. It should be noted that the short and long versions I have proposed would not require two separate books. Rather, people using the shorter version would merely omit certain things from the full version. Public celebrations of the Office (which is different than mere group-private recitation) should, however, always be taken from the longer version.


sortacatholic said...

I say the 1960 Breviarium in Latin. A reprint of the 1960 Diurnal is available for those who don't mind being without Matins. I only recite Lauds, Vespers, and Compline anyway, but I like havign the full Office for reference. With time the Office recitation goes faster. The one-week psalter encourages memorization.

In the 1950's and 1960's priests could get a dispensation to say the Breviary in an approved vernacular translation. I've heard that many bishops were very generous with dispensations. A fair number of vernacular and bilingual Offices were produced. Also, I'm almost certain that starting in the 1960's secular priests could choose to say only one of the three little offices daily and say Matins at any time during the day. Also, the rubrics of the 1962 Missal no longer presume that a priest has said Lauds before offering his first Mass of the day. In other words, Rome permitted a lot of flexibility even before the Council.

The Breviary is fairly straightforward Latin. Someone with four semesters of classes could tackle it with a dictionary and make sense of it. I have absolutely no problem with encouraging the use of vernacular Offices, especially among the laity. Still, I encourage those who have bilingual Missals to learn Latin through the Vulgate psalms. The Vulgate psalms are a very rich part of the Catholic tradition. They've formed the backbone of Western psalmody for millenia.

A Sinner said...

Very interesting. Would that Pope Benedict had mentioned dispensation for approved vernacular translations in Summorum Pontificum!

Some of those "flexibility" options you mention from the 60's are the sorts of things my proposal is designed to avoid, however.

Only saying one of the Little Hours has always struck me as an odd choice when it comes to ways to make the Office less burdensome, as I don't think anyone felt that the "burden" lay with the Little Hours, which are so easy anyway and are spread out. I don't think they were ever the problem, I think the sense of tedium mainly surrounded the areas I identified (the long psalmody at Matins, the Chapter Meeting at Prime, etc)

I feel like, whereas Matins, Lauds, and Prime got sort of jammed up together in the morning (to allow for unbroken sleep) having several Little Hours are especially important because they really do force prayer every few hours, just a little bit. Also, skipping hours means some psalms are never read...

Nevertheless, I agree with you mainly about priests (and people) becoming familiar with the Vulgate Psalms. As I said in my article on the language barrier and the vernacular...I think the Ordinary parts should be kept in Latin. For the Mass this is easy enough. For the Office, it is a little harder to identify just what is "Ordinary" because changing seasonal and weekly parts are printed int he Ordinary too. Certainly, the Gospel Canticles, the Te Deum and Athanasian Creed, the opening and closing versicles, etc...would be Ordinary. Things like the Lessons, proper Antiphons, Collects, proper Hymns...would not. But what about things like the Psalms themselves (which do change day to day), the unchanging Hymns at the Little Hours, the versicles and little chapters and short responsories which only change sometimes, etc?

I think that familiarity with the Vulgate Psalms especially the Sunday Vespers psalms in Latin is a good thing to try to work up to, but I would make the vernacular optional for them definitely, I think the Psalms are where people tend to think the tedium of the Office is found, and yet they are also the Essence of the Office...

Anonymous said...

There is quite an interesting assortment of transitional books from the mid and later 1960's. Looking back (and hindsight being 20/20) one wishes they just stopped screwing with things circa 1965 and at least left it at what it was at the time-not perfect, but a whole lot better than now. However, one is left with the odd sense of having a rather neo-Gallican type breviary, rather than what was recognized as the proper Roman Office.

I like the idea of a vernacular option, especially considering the lack of any real Latin education today. To get a feel for the older Office and to make up for my mediocre Latin skills, I used the Collegeville Latin/English breviary (unfortunately it has the Bea/Pius XII psalter) for awhile, and got the hang of it rather quickly. I would usually do the psalms and lessons for Matins in English (because of the psalter and the more difficult Latin of the Lessons) and the rest in Latin. I've also done the (basically) '62 breviary in all English (the later 1966 Benzinger 1 volume) and the '62 in all Latin (both Pius XII and Vulgate). The Latin is not that hard and one must keep in mind that the Breviary isn't private Lectio time, which is an error a lot of folks fall into with their LOTH.

Your observation about length is correct, at least in my experience-in English even Matins goes pretty quickly though oddly enough the vernacular has its own hangups. The Latin, now that I've gotten used to it, goes by pretty quickly owing to the more "melodic" nature of the language, which English doesn't really have.

The '62 Office itself is pretty cut down from the older Office, to me, it is an adequate "short breviary". It is not that much of a burden, especially if you don't try to make it a lengthy private meditation. One can anticipate Matins, and then the next longest Offices are not really that long. The morning crunch of Matins, Lauds and Prime can be kind of daunting, but usually on account of one's own fault (i.e. rolling out of bed late).

The older Office properly and solemnly chanted is quite beautiful. I've done Prime, Vespers, Compline, and various minor hours in choir along with Tenebrae. Each have their pluses and minuses, more pluses though. When done right, the Office is a beautiful liturgy. I've never seen anything even approaching this with the LOTH, its always kind of a letdown.

sortacatholic said...

I like the idea of a vernacular option, especially considering the lack of any real Latin education today.

Anonymous, what's the Latin training program where you are?

The lack of Latin at today's seminaries (excluding the traditional orders) is appalling. The FSSP requires six years, which is excellent. The local seminaries here only require two, which is depressing and inadequate. I've been trying to get a job doing seminary instruction in Latin and Greek. Latin and Greek just doesn't appear to be a high priority.

The mark of proficiency could be this: the ability to sight read a shorter Vulgate parable (at random) and a collect or two (at random). I doubt that many priests today could meet that mark. North American seminaries should ensure that every ordinand has a solid working knowledge of Latin before the first Mass.

I don't know, however, if it would be appropriate to not ordain a seminarian that has great difficulty with Latin if he is otherwise capable of priestly service. I suspect that a great many preconciliar priests were not very talented in Latin. Perhaps I'm fantasizing and not looking at the reality of the great need for solid vocations vs. academic aptitude.

A Sinner said...

I don't think Greek is really necessary at all. Maybe they should learn the letters of the Greek alphabet and how to pronounce it, which could be simply a unit in their Latin class, but otherwise I don't really see the point of Greek for Latin Rite seminarians. If they want to become Scripture Scholars, they can do that later. For your average pastor? Not terribly useful.

Even with Latin...I think what you say about being able to sight read a collect or two makes sense and it would certainly be ideal if priests had at least a working knowledge of the Latin of the Missal and Breviary (and perhaps simply the whole Vulgate).

But especially if we are going to be adding more vernacular to the liturgy, pronunciation is the only "essential" thing. There are certainly bigger fish to fry than trying to a create a class of Latin-Literate bureaucrats in a world where that isn't really necessary anymore, where most Church things exist in translation, etc.

Not to dumb things down, but the model of all priests being trained as little part of the Crisis of Leadership we have today, with all these ivory tower types being promoted based on academic skills rather than practical ones.

Latin should definitely be an option for priests who are going to go on to be Scholars, but not all priests need to be Latin-fluent by any means. A "Latin for Priests" (like "Latin for Lawyers," or "Latin for Doctors") semester or even whole year should be enough to familiarize them with Latin phrases and prayers essential to the culture (that I'd hope many would ALREADY know). Beyond that, I don't really care.

Anonymous said...

Latin is a handy language to have, and it goes beyond its actual usage. Learning Latin has taught my about the English language as well. As to my own requirements, we do not really have any for Latin itself. I've taken two years worth and done some independent study. I have a "working" knowledge of Latin and can usually have a pretty good idea of the "Church" Latin phrases, collects, etc.

As to Greek, yes, knowing the alphabet and some very basics is enough, unless your going into scripture. This is pretty much all I have and I don't really have much interest in getting any more.

Actually, there are many things that are not in translation, so I do think its important to teach Latin, at least to a good number of people. One cannot simply rely on translation, at least not corporately.

As to training priests as theologians, that's not the problem, the problem is when they just learn crap and come out as "little theologians". We do not need theologically ignorant priests, we just need them with the proper theological background. We need more theological crack troops, and less dopes with a good familiarity with theology of the body and the "new theology" that know enough just to be a PITA.

A Sinner said...

"Actually, there are many things that are not in translation, so I do think its important to teach Latin, at least to a good number of people. One cannot simply rely on translation, at least not corporately."

And there are a good many things not in translation in Greek, Syriac, Aramaic, Ethiopic/Ge'ez, etc etc, that are frankly probably more relevant to modern Catholic theology (in terms of Resourcement of patristic-era stuff and Ecumenism with the East) than obscure medieval Latin texts.

But that doesn't mean all our priests need to be able to read those, because most priests will NOT go on to become academic theologians.

If a text isn't in translation by now, it probably isn't essential or all that important for your average lay person. And if it isn't important for your average lay person, it isnt important for the average parish priest either.

"We do not need theologically ignorant priests, we just need them with the proper theological background."

Meh. The "proper theological background" can be the Baltimore Catechism or maybe a crash course through the Summa (which I'm pretty familiar with just as an amateur who references it sometimes when I have a question).

Priests do not need to be academics. Which is all intensive Latin would really be important for anymore. However, you may argue (I myself would probably argue) that the conception of Theology as an "academic" discipline with "research" and "journals" along the lines of literary criticism or philology is a bad development...

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog this afternoon. I'm sincerely curious as to why you adopt the name "Renegade" Traditionalist. Devising yet another way to change the traditional Breviary (for instance), the use of the term "ressourcement" (a' la Danielou et al.), the promotion of condom use in certain circumstances, and so forth: it doesn't sound very "renegade" to me, I'm afraid. It all seems only too reminiscent of the so-called Nouvelle Theologie. My honest question is simply: hasn't all that already been "done" (to say the least)?
--Humble Inquirer