Prayer options for the stealth hermitess (and others) Pt 2 - Devotional Offices



Liege book of hours associated with Beguines,
National Gallery of Victoria

In my previous post on options for an active prayer life, I pointed to the challenges posed by saying the Divine Office liturgically.

One possible way around this is to use one of the devotional Offices available.

Treasury of the psalter

The psalms and formulas of the Office are a rich spiritual treasury with intrinsic merit in and of themselves, so well worth exploring.  St Athanasius, for example wrote that:
SON, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as it is written; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure.
Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch, for example, tells of the beginning of the world, the doings of the patriarchs, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the ordering of the tabernacle and the priesthood; The Triteuch [Joshua, Judges, and Ruth] describes the division of the inheritance, the acts of the judges, and the ancestry of David; Kings and Chronicles record the doings of the kings, Esdras [Ezra] the deliverance from exile, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city; the Prophets foretell the coming of the Saviour, put us in mind of the commandments, reprove transgressorts, and for the Gentiles also have a special word. Each of these books, you see, is like a garden which grows one special kind of fruit; by contrast, the Psalter is a garden which, besides its special fruit, grows also some those of all the rest. (Letter to Marcellinus)
You don't have to say the Office formally in order to access this garden of delight!

Approval for liturgical use?

There are a lot of books (and online offerings) floating around that look like forms of the Divine Office but strictly speaking (almost certainly) aren't, but can provide an excellent way into exploring the psalms.

The issue is this: in order to be used for the Office, Canon Law requires the book in question to have official approval for liturgical purposes.  Pope Benedict XVI, for example, confirmed that the permission to use the 1962 Roman Office was for the Latin, not any of the English translations floating around.

Now it has to be admitted, that post-Vatican II the question of what exactly constitutes sufficient approval for this purpose is rather fuzzy.  The Benedictines, for example, most embarked on the usual period of wild liturgical experimentation post-Vatican II.  The Congregation of Rites eventually endorsed some pretty broad guidelines (the Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae) on what constituted a valid Office (including use of one of a choice of psalm schemas), but not actual books as such.

The more conservative elements continued to use the old chant books, but adapted them to the modern calendar - they have mostly now migrated to the new Antiphonale Monasticum Solesmes finally got around to producing from 2004 onwards (though they are yet to disgorge a book for the Night Office).  A fair proportion of monasteries, though, even today, don't actually have officially approved books (though I presume they do have to use versions of the psalms that have been approved for liturgical use). 

And there is still a note on the Carthusian Order's website to the effect that they haven't had their reformed Office books agreed by the Vatican as yet.  

I'm pretty sure no one doubts that what these monasteries are are doing is liturgical though (well ok, I'm pretty sure the Carthusians are good at any rate; what some so-called Benedictine monasteries do might be another matter...).

Regardless, it seems to me that there is a big difference between books that and orderings of the office that have received imprimaturs and various forms of official endorsement within religious orders (and that have essentially been used with only minor changes for centuries), and books produced that were never claimed to be liturgical in nature in the first place.

Devotional forms of the Office

Nonetheless, non-liturgical forms of Office can still be very worthwhile forms of prayer, well worth considering, as a way of accessing the psalms and other treasures of the Office.

A lot of early twentieth century 'short breviaries' for example were produced specifically for laypeople (for a wealth of material on this topic, including a listing of most of them, go look at the wonderful work of Theo Keller on this topic).  

One well worth considering just by virtue of its ready availability (ie you can download it for free online) is the Day Hours of the Church, a two volume version of the Roman Office put together by the Nuns of  Stanbrook in the early twentieth century and published by Burns and Oates.  

Another devotional version of the Roman Office available at relatively low cost is the translation by Maquess of Bute (compare its $25  or less per volume to the $360 for the Baronius three volume edition of the Roman Breviary).

There are still modern devotional Offices being produced, including the 'Benedictine Daily Prayer' book produced by the monks of Collegeville (though I have to admit I find it difficult to identify anything specifically Benedictine about it myself).

Anglican books

One sub-category of devotional volumes I should mention are the assorted Anglican versions of the monastic and Roman Offices.

I know they are popular with many (for example for the Night Office).  

But I personally think that is a case of taking ecumenism too far - the principle lex orandi, lex credendi (in effect, the way we pray determines what we believe) dictates that we should be very careful indeed in selecting our books for prayer.

If you want an English translation of Matins, use the Clear Creek booklet.  It doesn't give you all the variants for feasts and so forth, but it is Catholic.

And if you want something more comprehensive, but with a nice traditional sounding translation, consider the new Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, which uses the Coverdale translation of the psalms.  The introduction is a little coy about the extent to which it can be considered liturgical prayer (it says it is "permitted by a simple imprimatur for daily devotional use and worship" in the Ordinariate and that "Those canonically bound to recite the Office will be guided by the appropriate authority as regards the extent to which these texts may be used.").  But for devotional use at least, a good new option.

Liturgical Offices

In the next post in this series I will look at the liturgical forms of the Office around, and some of the issues around their use.

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