Monday, March 21, 2011

Obligation for the Liturgy, Not Liturgy for the Obligation

By a series of coincidences, I'm actually going to be attending public Vespers several times this week. Twice in the Old Rite, once in the New. I figure I should go to the latter just because public Office is so rare these days, it needs to be supported.

This got me thinking about the butchering of the Breviary during the 20th-century culminating with its Novus Ordo incarnation. Much of the motive behind this seems to have been a notion of lessening the burden on clerics bound to say it, and making the Office more accessible to the laity (in itself a worthy motive, though I see little evidence of widespread success).

However, I am struck by the reversal of priorities here. So there is an Office that developed over millennia of tradition, and clerics are obligated to say it. Modern clerics (and laity, certainly) are thought too busy, or to have too short attention spans to pray it. So, instead of altering the obligation, we alter the Office to suit the obligation! Even though the obligation only exists for the sake of the liturgy in the first place.

I have ways that parts of the Mass and Office could be "bracketed," made optional, for pastoral necessity, in response to claims that the full things are practically unfeasible nowadays in some situations.

There was already some impetus towards this in the years leading up to Vatican II, shown by things such as the permission to anticipate Matins (irrespective of its order with the rest of the hours) as early as 2pm the previous day. One might see in this a precursor to the current "floating" Office of Readings.

In this vein, I will again lay out some proposals for how the obligation to say the Office could be made less burdensome in cases of pastoral necessity, according to the model of the new Liturgy of the Hours, without having had to change the text of the Office itself. Giving less burdensome options without abolishing things completely.

Some of the ideas repeat, but this is an even more extensive concession to human weakness than I gave in the previous post suggesting something like a "Shorter Office" might be helpful for some people. The more detailed suggestions I gave in that post remain valid, but in terms of a generic suggestion that could be easily implemented by anyone:

-Instead of praying all nine psalms at Matins, people could perhaps pray three instead, alternating through the three nocturns week by week so that all the psalms are eventually used. This might require some minor regrouping of the psalm divisi, though, in the case of Matins psalms (namely 9 and 77 in the Pius X psalter) split up over two nocturns (so that the second half is at least prayed the next day rather than the next week!) Matins could also be anticipated, and the "shorter" scheme of Lessons approved by John XXIII could be used (omitting the homilies on all but Sundays and Solemnities, and perhaps using the shortened "Lesson IX" hagiography).

-Lauds, Vespers, and Compline should not be touched, except perhaps for limiting the number of days on which the Preces were said, or the use of the Suffrages at the end (only when there is no other commemoration, I'd think).

-People could choose to pray just one of the three Little Hours, and alternate which they pray (Terce, Sext, None) over the course of three weeks.

-And then there's Prime. That odd little Hour that Vatican II wanted to do away with. Besides just allowing for omission of the Chapter Office as I suggested before, perhaps Prime could in fact be omitted entirely in a "Shorter Office." There would be several ways to deal with this (while still maintaining a full psalter). Either consider Prime one of the Little Hours and alternate Prime-Terce-Sext-None on a four week schedule (though Prime is not of the same format as the other three, I still feel like its prayers should make an at least occasional appearance so that people are familiar with them). Or else take its three psalms and use them at Matins after the three nocturns have been cycled through, as the fourth week of a four week schedule for Matins.

Suggesting all this, I have to add that (if only because of the way psalm 118 is divided up), it might perhaps be best to still expect the entire Office on Sundays, and to have what is said above apply only to the other six days.


Robert said...

Perhaps a modified version of the breviary of Trent would help. All the minor hours are the same every day. If you took time to pray matins, lauds and vespers Monday through Friday, then you would get all the psalms on Sunday when all the hours are prayed. If this breviary were in English it would help too. I don't remember enough about the rubrics of this breviary, but I think some of them would have to be changes since everything over a simplex gets the psalms of Sunday (I think) which defeats the idea of getting all the psalms in a week.

A Sinner said...

That could work too, based on the premise of the repetition of the Little Hours. But, heck, Lauds basically mainly repeats too, and Compline. Would we leave them out? Also, Sunday Matins is 18 psalms long, and I'd think people would want to pray at least one Day Hour during the week. It's a logical time to do so.