Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Are we praying liturgically? ***updated

A topic that regularly comes up is, are we - and religious - praying liturgically when we say the Divine Office?

A degree of confusion arises on this, I suspect, because of some uncritical reading of pre-Vaticna II liturgical textbooks that don't take into account either Pius XII's Mediator Dei or the subsequent developments on this front reflected in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Yes, we are praying liturgically!

In my view it is absolutely clear cut that nuns, lay brothers and sisters pray the Office liturgically and always have.  It is also clear, in my view, that laypeople can indeed perform liturgy, whether leading approved services in the absence of a priest, when baptising or when saying the Office.

After all, when we 'assist at mass' (ie attend) we are indeed participating liturgically within our proper sphere of action.

By virtue of our baptism, all Christians can pray liturgically in principle.  As the Catechism of Trent says:
...all the faithful are said to be priests, once they have been washed in the saving waters of baptism. (On Holy Orders)
However, the degree and way we in which we participate in any particular form of the liturgy differs depending on our 'rank, office, and actual participation' (Sacrosanctum Concilium 26).

In the Mass, for example, while the people genuinely participate in the sacrifice by joining their intentions to those of the ministerial priest, they offer it differently to the priest at the altar standing in persona Christi, without whom the true sacrifice of the Mass is not possible.

In some cases, such as the Mass, ordination as a priest is a requirement to lead the liturgy.  In other cases though, the Church can make decisions about who can lead and play active liturgical roles, and these decisions can change over time for pastoral reasons.

In the case of the Divine Office, between the Council of Trent and Vatican II, the laity were not able to participate in the Divine Office unless they attended it when said by a religious or cleric.  The delegation to say the Office was restricted in order to protect the integrity of the liturgy from the danger of heresy.

This changed, however, with Vatican II, and the current Code of Canon Law explicitly extends the previous provisions delegating clerics and religious to say the Office to the laity, but on the basis that it is optional for them, not an obligation.

The Catechism

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“1174 The mystery of Christ, his Incarnation and Passover, which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, “the divine office.” This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to “pray constantly,” is “so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.” In this “public prayer of the Church,” the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. Celebrated in “the form approved” by the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours “is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father.

1175 The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” His members participate according to their own place in the Church and the circumstances of their lives: priests devoted to the pastoral ministry, because they are called to remain diligent in prayer and the service of the word; religious, by the charism of their consecrated lives; all the faithful as much as possible: “Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

It is worth though, looking briefly at what lies behind the Catechism's statements.

What is liturgy

Anyone wishing to understand what is and isn't liturgy, and just why the Church regulates it, should go immediately and read Pius XII's Mediator Dei.

Most of the time of course it is crystal clear what is liturgy and what isn't - because it takes place in a Church, led by a priest, following set forms approved by the Church.

But there are cases where the distinction is not always clear, and the Office in particular has been a somewhat blurred line from the time that private recitation of the Office was permitted for priests in the middle ages.  A wide variety of Offices have sprung up with varying degrees of formal approval.  And the situation is further complicated by the fact that just who the Church has formally delegated to say the Office has changed over history.

Let me make a few key points to help clarify the situation.

Church law on liturgy
The Code of Canon Law (cl 834.1) defines liturgy as "the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ" which brings a complete worship "offered to God by the head and members of the mystical body of Christ." Canon 835 sets out the hierarchy of the sanctifying office of the Church, carried out in a special way through the liturgy, starting with bishops, then covering priests, deacons, and "the other members of Christs faithful...each in his or her own way actively sharing in liturgical celebrations..."

The inclusion of the "members of the mystical body" makes it clear that we are talking here about the priesthood of all the faithful, not just the ordained priesthood.  This is confirmed by Canon 835&6, which explains that Christian worship is exercised by the common priesthood of the faithful.

The sub-paragraph 2 of cl 834 makes it even clearer: "This worship takes place when it is offered in the name of the Church, by persons lawfully deputed and through actions approved by ecclesiastical authority."

That laypeople can be so deputed (subject of course to other theological constraints such as on sacraments requiring ordained clergy to confect them) is confirmed by Cl 230.3 ("Where the needs of the Church require and ministers are not available, lay people can...preside over liturgical prayers...").

So what makes liturgy liturgy is not who says it, but whether or not the Church has deputed them to say it, and whether or not they follow the forms approved by the Church.

So who is deputed by the Church to say the Office?

With the Council of Trent a distinction arose between saying the Office liturgically and devotionally (that hadn't previously been articulated and) that stayed in place until Vatican II.  Between Trent and Vatican II it is reasonably clear that the Church delegated the saying of the Office liturgically to religious (including communities of women alone) and priests.  The laity participated when they attended an official celebration of the Office, but were only saying the Office 'devotionally' if they said it privately, whether alone or in a group.

Vatican II changed that.  In the documents of the Council itself (see for example SC 83-100), and more particularly in a series of subsequent liturgical laws, it effectively abolished the idea of liturgical/devotional distinction based on who was saying the Office by delegating all of Christ's faithful to say it.

The ideal situation of course is to attend the Office at a monastery or Church under the leadership of clerics or religious.

But where this is not possible or practical, as the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours points out, "Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church’s duty, by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours." 

Canon 1174 says much the same thing more plainly.  First it reaffirms the primary delegation, which is based on who is obliged to say the Office (viz religious and priests), not clerical status.

But in the next sub-paragraph it invites all of Christ's faithful to take part in the liturgy of the hours.  The various standard commentaries on the Code all confirm that this means that the faithful are now duly delegated to say the Office even when praying alone.  Beal, Corrigen and Green, A New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 2000, for example says:
The liturgy of the hours is the prayer of the whole Church, and all the faithful are deputed to celebrate this liturgy. (pg 1406)
Similarly, Caparros and Thorn's Code of Canon Law Annotated (2004) says:
Paragraph 2 [of Canon 1174] is addressed to the rest of the faithful and invites them to take part in the liturgy of the hours, since it is an action of the Church as a whole and of each faithful according to their participation in the priesthood of Christ (cf SC 95-100).
In short there is no requirement that a priest or deacon be present in order to make something 'liturgy'.

And the laity are indeed duly deputed to say the Office as part of the official prayer of the Church.

Approved actions

There is however a second necessary component to something being liturgy, viz whether the forms used are approved by the Church.

There are many people who opt for a devotional Office either in order to say an older version of the Office or in order to adopt their own personal preferences as to which parts of it they like.  The former practice, though in my view undesirable, I think can be justified on the basis that what was once approved is unlikely to be dangerous.  I have severe doubts about the latter approach though, in view of Pope Pius XII's warnings on this subject:

"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.[48]"

The Benedictine Office according to the 1962 rubrics clearly has been approved for liturgical use, at least in Latin, as confirmed by the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae.

By contrast, a number of modern Offices, such as the Benedictine Daily Prayer, are explicitly devotional, not liturgical.

Does it really matter whether or not it is liturgical prayer?

Mediator Dei says yes: "Unquestionably, liturgical prayer, being the public supplication of the illustrious Spouse of Jesus Christ, is superior in excellence to private prayers."

Pope Pius XII goes on to say however that "But this superior worth does not at all imply contrast or incompatibility between these two kinds of prayer. For both merge harmoniously in the single spirit which animates them, "Christ is all and in all."[38] Both tend to the same objective: until Christ be formed in us.[39]"

You may also be interested in reading my related post on the liturgical status of the 1962 Office.

Last updated 3.11.17