Prayer options for the Stealth Hermitess (and others) - Offices of the religious orders Part II

In my last post in this I talked about the value of the (traditional) Offices of the religious orders.

There is a key question around these Offices though, namely can just anyone say them?

In this post I will go into a bit of the history, and sketch out the competing positions on the answer.

Warning: this is a rather technical post and many may prefer to remain in invincible ignorance on this topic!  I would also add that I am not a canon lawyer or expert on liturgical law, so my opinions on this issue are just that, they have no particular weight.

Offices of religious orders as a devotion vs as liturgy

The first point to note is that anyone clearly can say these Offices as a devotion.

The Offices of religious orders have clearly been approved by the Church at one point or another, so there is absolutely nothing harmful in them; quite the contrary, the prayers and other components of these Offices are a treasure that deserves to be appreciated.

But can laypeople legitimately pray them as the official prayer of the Church?

The answer is not at clear cut as it turns out.

A little history

The problem is that before Vatican II, who had the right to say the Divine Office of a religious order was very tightly regulated indeed, and typically restricted to religious in solemn vows, or on the path to them.

Before Trent

Prior to the Council of Tent, a wide variety of different forms of the Office existed and their were few if any rules on who could say what.  So far as the laity went, the Office they said seems, as far as I can gather, have been largely dictated by where they lived: if your parish church was a monastery or was run by a monastery you probably got some form of the monastic office or office of the religious order in charge; if your parish was secular you probably attended the Roman Office and/or the Little Office of Our Lady.  In addition, there were a wide variety of votive offices in books of hours that appear to have been used.

The seventeenth century and after

After Trent that changed in several fundamental ways.  First, the clergy and religious, but not the laity, were formally delegated to say the Office.  The net result of this was that laypeople saying the Office by themselves were no longer deemed to be praying liturgically. Secondly, instead of the Office universally being sung, like the Mass it became able to be said silently.  Where once priests typically sung a large proportion of their Offices in Church with a congregation, it increasingly became a private affair. Thirdly, much tighter controls over the Office were imposed, with the breviaries of the religious orders now having to receive papal approval rather than essentially being an affair largely dictated by the Order, Congregation or individual monastery.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the controls became even tighter, and many Benedictine nuns running schools and other active apostolates found themselves deemed 'mere oblates', and were forced to choose between abandoning their livelihoods or being deprived of the right to say the full Office.  Oblates and Third Order members (and others) were generally not permitted to use the full Divine Offices of the religious orders; instead they typically said the Little Office of Our Lady of their Order.

From the late nineteenth century onwards, a series of individual indults provided that priest-oblates/third order members could satisfy their obligation to say the Office by using the Office of their Order.  It was a very limited permission though - for private recitation only, rather than with a group, and in the case of the Benedictines, even that was not granted until 1947.

Vatican II and after

All that changed though, with Vatican II and subsequent legislation, which firstly decreed that the various Little Offices (provided they had psalms as their basis) could constitute liturgical prayer; extended the delegation to pray the Office liturgically to the laity; and largely 'deregulated' control over the Office to the Orders themselves.

The 1979 Thesaurus for Benedictines and subsequent Directory and Directive Norms, for example, effectively gave individual monasteries the right to construct their own forms of the Office (albeit within certain limits, providing they adhered to the 1972 calendar approved for the Benedictine Confederation).

And of course, since then, Unversae Ecclesiae has made it clear that the 1962 books can also be used by members of religious orders.

Who can use the traditional Offices of religious orders?

Yet though Universae Ecclesiae made the position clear for professed members of religious orders, it did not actually specifically address the issue of third order/oblates, or the laity more generally, and the situation for these groups is, I think, pretty unclear.

Let me note that private and public associations of the faithful on the path to becoming religious institutes are, I think, in a different position which will depend on their statutes; for the purpose of this post I'm just talking about the laity.

There are, I think, four possible positions on the right to pray the traditional (1962) Office of a religious order liturgically:

Position 1: The narrow view - Only those previously covered by indults (such as priest Oblates) can use them to pray the office liturgically, on the basis of the previous indults;
Position 2:  With the permission of the monastery -  Individual monasteries or orders can give oblates/third order members permission to use their Offices, consonant with their role in forming the spirituality of the members of these associations under the Code of Canon Law;
Position 3 - All oblates - Any oblate or third order member can use the Office of the Order they are associated with; or
Position 4 - Anyone can pray these Offices.

Personally I now lean towards position 3, but I can see the arguments for a broader view.

Let's go through the arguments.

1. The narrow view - priest-oblates only

A narrow reading of the Universae Ecclesiae would seem restrict the permission to use the 1962 books strictly to professed religious, since paragraph 34 talks about 'Sodalibus Ordinum Religiosorum'.

Though many oblates, for example, like to claim the title 'OSB Obl.' the reality is that oblates and (secular) third orders are not actually technically 'sodales', or members of the religious order in question.  Rather they are members of public associations of the faithful associated with the religious order (or monastery in the case of Benedictines) in question (1983 Code of Canon Law, 303, 311).

However, pretty much everything I've found on this topic agrees that this is too narrow a reading of the document.

In particular, Universae Ecclesiae makes it clear that although the books are to be used as they stood in 1962 (ie in Latin and according to the pertinent rubrics), it also says that "With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies."  Since the indults for priest-Oblates/Third Order members reflected the fact that before the Vatican II, aside from religious, only priests could pray the Office liturgically; with the extension of that right to all the faithful, the previous restrictions make no sense.

Moreover, in contrast to most Orders, the 1963 Benedictine books were never actually suppressed, and continue to be used in many monasteries, albeit with assorted adaptations, right up to the present, so arguably wasn't covered by Universae Ecclesiae in any case (except by extension).

2.  Up to the individual monastery or Order

A second possibility is that it is up to individual religious orders (or in the case of Benedictines Congregations/monasteries) to decide what Office those affiliated with them should be encouraged to say.

On the face of it this seems like a reasonable position to take, but the possible outcomes would surely be contrary to the spirit, even if not the letter of Universae Ecclesiae.  It would mean that an Order like the Dominicans couldn't at least in theory, stop its professed members from using the traditional Office, but could stop its third order members from doing so.  That would appear to be a perverse outcome indeed.

And while more of a case for this approach could perhaps be made for Benedictines, where Oblates in theory at least seek to share the spirituality of the particular monastery they are associated with, the whole point of Summorum Pontificum and the subsequent clarifications was to reopen access to the Catholic patrimony.  It would surely be contrary to the intention of the legislation to deny oblates the right to enjoy the patrimony of the Order they have chosen to be associated with.

So while individual monasteries/orders certainly can give their oblates/seculars explicit permission to use the traditional Office, presumably using whatever version of the rubrics they use themselves, there is a good case, in my view, for a wider view.

3.  All oblates/third order members

This position is essentially that all third order members and equivalents have the right to say the traditional (1962) Office of their Order privately (but not publicly in the absence of religious).  This is the position that Fr Augustine Thompson OP, for example, has taken in relation to the Dominican Office.

I have to admit that this is the position that I had always assumed applied, and am still fairly attracted to, though I can see the case for a broader view.

The advantage of this position is that it preserves the traditional idea that the liturgy of the religious orders pertains to those orders, while recognising the change in status of third order members when it comes to the liturgy.

It is obviously consonant with the supervisory role of the various orders to provide assistance to third order and equivalent members - for example in the form of websites, podcasts and editions of liturgical books - to assist in this.  But doesn't fundamentally undermine the idea that a rite or use is intended to be used by a specific group of people officially recognised as associated with that particular spirituality.

I find myself quite uncomfortable, for example, with an Australian group that is currently holding a  retreat using (as far as I can gather) the Benedictine Office and a pseudo-monastic horarium, but without, at least as far as I can ascertain, actually having any monks or nuns present to lead the affair (maybe they do though, and are just not advertising the fact; I'm simply using the example to illustrate the point).

In this particular case, the group evidently has some level of ecclesiastical approval, and no doubt a number of those present are Oblates, but does this approach mean a group could, for example, could set up an association dedicated to, say, the Sarum Rite, and lead a revival of its practices?  If so, let's do it!

4.  Anyone can say the (approved form of the) Office of a religious order

In any case, the group mentioned above are probably not alone in taking a more open view as to who can say these forms of the liturgy.

I have to admit that I have, in the past, assumed, as it turns out quite incorrectly, that those using this site were generally oblates.

Instead, a survey of those who took my recent course on the Benedictine Office, has proven me wrong on this front with many people indicating that they were attracted to the Benedictine Office because of its traditional nature and relatively accessible support resources, rather than being attracted, initially at least, to Benedictine spirituality per se.

Accordingly, I've been prodded to do a bit more digging, and  it has to be said that the current Code of Canon Law, and General Guidelines on the Liturgy of the Hours do seem to imply a much less restrictive view of the subject.

Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, for example, priests were strictly restricted to using their own rite.  Under the 1983 Code, the restriction applies to the celebration of the sacraments only, not other liturgical functions such as the Divine Office.

Similarly, under the current Code Catholics have the right to join in the worship (though not necessarily to formally be enrolled as a member) of any Catholic Church, regardless of what rite it is using.  Indeed, the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours explicitly provides that celebration in common of another use satisfies any obligation to say the Office:
241. The office in choir and in common is to be celebrated according to the proper calendar of the diocese, of the religious family, or of the individual churches. Members of religious institutes join with the community of the local Church in celebrating the dedication of the cathedral and the feasts of the principal patrons of the place and of the wider geographical region in which they live. 
242. When clerics or religious who are obliged under any title to pray the divine office join in an office celebrated in common according to a calendar or rite different from their own, they fulfill their obligation in respect to the part of the office at which they are present.
The key basis for a much broader view, though, is probably Canon 214 of the 1983 Code which provides that:
Christ's faithful have the right to worship God according to the provisions of their own rite (iuxta praescripta proprii ritus) approved by the lawful Pastors of the Church; they also have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life, provided it is in accord with Church teaching.
The Offices of the religious orders are generally considered to be uses of the Roman Rite, rather than different rites per se (regardless of what they are called; one doesn't formally transfer between rites when one becomes a Dominican for example, you just acquire the right to use an alternate use of the Roman Rite), so it can be argued that these books do meet the requirement here.  Moreover the right to follow one's own form of spiritual life is arguably closely bound up in the Office for many people.

Another point in favour of the broadest view is that in the wake of Vatican II, religious Orders were actively encouraged to share their liturgy, and many did so.  If we don't take the broad view, who precisely, for example, are the resources published by the Carthusians, who have no third order or (at least back then) associated lay group, intended for?

The real problem for many is, I think, a practical one: we instinctively find the current Roman Liturgy of the Hours' totally inadequate, even subversive of the faith, for reasons many others have laid out in depth.  The  century old 1962 Roman Office though, is equally unsatisfactory in many ways, and expensive and hard to access to boot.  In the absence of  good alternatives, are we seeing the Sensus Fidelium at work?

Regardless, let me make one last point.  Even if we don't technically have the right to say a particular form of the Office, that doesn't mean we aren't praying it liturgically: if a priest says Mass in a rite not his own, for example, it is still valid, just not 'licit'.  A similar situation may well apply in the case of the Office...


Michael Demers said...

I'm drawn to the 1908 Roman Breviary for its amazing spiritual treasures.

Kate Edwards said...

And as a source of devotional prayer, that is fine.

But in terms of liturgical prayer, I do think the minimum requirement is that it be a currently approved 'books' (I use the term loosely given the ad hoc collection of texts many monasteries use)!

A priest for example, might happen to like blue vestments for Marian feasts, or medieval version of the Mass as particularly beautiful. That doesn't mean he should use it!

Canon 834 of the Code says: "Such worship [liturgical prayer] takes place when it is carried out in the name of the Church by persons legitimately designated and through acts approved by the authority of the Church."

I've argued in this post that 'legitimately designated' should be read broadly rather than narrowly (consistent with this being a privilege), but the requirement for approved acts implies use of currently approved liturgical forms, it seems to me, not ones that have been suppressed.

But not everyone agrees on this, and there are certainly some problems around '1962' on which I might post separately at some point (though this is an even more contentious topic than the one I've discussed above!).