Brush up your rubrics: the privilege of praying liturgically



One of the questions someone posed in response to my last post in this series was, do these rules apply to me?

It is actually a very good question to ponder, so here is my take on the subject.

The public prayer of the Church


One of the key things you need to understand before opening your Diurnal ore breviary is that the monastic Office, or Divine Office, even when said by one person privately, is part of the formal worship of the Church, just like the Mass and sacraments.   

Priests, for example, are praying liturgically when they say the Office in their homes rather than in a Church, and the same is true of laypeople.

This wasn't always the case when it comes to the laity.  

Between the Council of Trent and Vatican II the Church restricted the delegation to pray the Office on its behalf to priests and religious, in the interest of protecting the integrity of the texts used.  Pope Pisu XII, for example explained the reasons for this as follows:
The Church has further used her right of control over liturgical observance to protect the purity of divine worship against abuse from dangerous and imprudent innovations introduced by private individuals and particular churches. Thus it came about -- during the 16th century, when usages and customs of this sort had become increasingly prevalent and exaggerated, and when private initiative in matters liturgical threatened to compromise the integrity of faith and devotion, to the great advantage of heretics and further spread of their errors -- that in the year 1588, Our predecessor Sixtus V of immortal memory established the Sacred Congregation of Rites, charged with the defense of the legitimate rites of the Church and with the prohibition of any spurious innovation. (Mediator Dei)
Vatican II, though aspired to revive the older custom of lay participation in this form of prayer, and the 1983 Code of Canon Law was to make it clear that laypeople can pray the Office liturgically not only when they are present when it is said by monks, nuns or priests, but also when praying by themselves.

Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, priests and religious are required to say some form of the Divine Office, and laypeople are 'earnestly invited' to participate in the Office as an action of the Church  (take a look also at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras 1174-1175).

Efficacy of the liturgy


This a wonderful privilege.  All forms of prayer can be good and effective.  But liturgical prayer has a higher status than other forms of prayer because:
  • it is not our prayer, but prayer made in through and with Christ our high priest, in effect his action, not ours;
  • it unifies us with each other, the saints and angels.,  Through it we participate in the worship in heaven; and
  • it is more effective than any other form of prayer, even the rosary.
Dom Fernard Cabrol, first abbot of Farnborough, writing in 1915, explains it this way:
Private prayer has a personal value, varying according to the degree of faith, fervour, and holiness of he who prays.  The Church's prayer has always, in itself, and independently of the person praying, an absolute value.  It is a formula composed by the Church, and carrying with it her authority...Liturgical prayer is superior to all others not only because it is the Church's prayer but also because of the elements of which is composed...this prayer holds the first rank on account of its efficacy, or the effects it produces in the soul. (Introduction to Day Hours of the Church, vol 1)
The importance and value St Benedict placed on the Office is still upheld by the Church today, at least on paper. The 1983 Code of Canon Law for example says:
In the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church, hearing God speaking to his people and recalling the mystery of salvation, praises him without ceasing by song and prayer and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world. 

Participating in the liturgy of the hours


The privilege of saying the Office liturgically, though, carries obligations with it.  

We can't just make it up as we go along, and muddle through.  We have to make an effort to do it correctly, lest we be guilty of liturgical abuse.

If you actually attend the Office in a monastery, even if you don't say anything, you are participating it in it just by listening, hopefully reverently and actively.


At the other end of the scale, just watching a video or listening to a podcast doesn't mean that we are praying liturgically. It is really no different to watching Mass at home on television - watching or listening to Mass online is a good thing to do, but it is a devotional activity, not the same thing as actually participating in the liturgy.

But if you actually want to say the Divine Office, you need to keep in mind the seriousness and importance of what you are doing, and that includes learning to say the Office properly, and following the rubrics.


Divini Cultus


Let me leave you with some inspiring words of Pope Pius XI on this subject, from the Apostolic Consitutution Divini Cultus, issued in 1928:
Since the Church has received from Christ her Founder the office of safeguarding the sanctity of divine worship, it is certainly incumbent upon her, while leaving intact the substance of the Sacrifice and the sacraments, to prescribe ceremonies, rites, formulae, prayers and chant for the proper regulation of that august public ministry, whose special name is "Liturgy", as being the eminently sacred action.
For the liturgy is indeed a sacred thing, since by it we are raised to God and united to Him, thereby professing our faith and our deep obligation to Him for the benefits we have received and the help of which we stand in constant need. There is thus a close connection between dogma and the sacred liturgy, and between Christian worship and the sanctification of the faithful. Hence Pope Celestine I saw the standard of faith expressed in the sacred formulae of the liturgy. "The rule of our faith," he says, "is indicated by the law of our worship. When those who are set over the Christian people fulfill the function committed to them, they plead the cause of the human race in the sight of God's clemency, and pray and supplicate in conjunction with the whole Church."
These public prayers, called at first "the work of God" and later "the divine office" or the daily "debt" which man owes to God, used to be offered both day and night in the presence of a great concourse of the faithful. From the earliest times the simple chants which graced the sacred prayers and the liturgy gave a wonderful impulse to the piety of the people. History tells us how in the ancient basilicas, where bishop, clergy and people alternately sang the divine praises, the liturgical chant played no small part in converting many barbarians to Christianity and civilization. It was in the churches that heretics came to understand more fully the meaning of the communion of saints; thus the Emperor Valens, an Arian, being present at Mass celebrated by St. Basil, was overcome by an extraordinary seizure and fainted. At Milan, St. Ambrose was accused by heretics of attracting the crowds by means of liturgical chants. It was due to these that St. Augustine made up his mind to become a Christian. It was in the churches, finally, where practically the whole city formed a great joint choir, that the workers, builders, artists, sculptors and writers gained from the liturgy that deep knowledge of theology which is now so apparent in the monuments of the Middle Ages.
No wonder, then, that the Roman Pontiffs have been so solicitous to safeguard and protect the liturgy. They have used the same care in making laws for the regulation of the liturgy, in preserving it from adulteration, as they have in giving accurate expression to the dogmas of the faith. This is the reason why the Fathers made both spoken and written commentary upon the liturgy or "the law of worship"; for this reason the Council of Trent ordained that the liturgy should be expounded and explained to the faithful.

No comments: