And in the Church's hierarchy of prayer, liturgical prayer takes precedence, so I'd like to encourage my readers to consider saying the Office of the Dead for their family, friends and others, either in substitution for or in addition to their normal Office or other prayers. Indeed, by doing so you can also gain a partial indulgence for yourself (or apply it to the souls in purgatory).
The nature of the Office of the Dead
The traditional Office of the Dead is a votive liturgical Office consisting of I Vespers, Matins and Lauds. The texts can be found in the Monastic Diurnal or online here (the monastic and Roman versions are essentially identical).
The Office has a stark beauty: all of the usual opening and closing prayers are stripped out; each psalm ends with 'Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis' instead of the normal Gloria Patri; and the readings at Matins are from the Book of Job.
Instead of the standard Office?
Traditionally in a monastery the Office of the Dead was said at least once a month, but it was in addition to, not in substitution for the normal Office. I've seen it claimed elsewhere that the traditional Office for the Dead can't be said by itself, but I would strongly dispute that view (save possibly for those bound to say the Office, but see below on that):
- on at least two occasions a year, namely All Souls and All Souls of the Benedictine Order the Office of the Dead is said instead of the normal Office under the traditional rubrics, so it clearly can be said separately to the standard Office;
- the other common votive liturgical Office, the Little Office of Our Lady, was similarly often said by priests and religious in the past. Like the Office of the Dead, saying it did not displace the obligation of those bound to say the normal Roman or Benedictine Office, but was said in addition to it. But those not bound to say the Office, such as laymen and women, could and did say the Little Office of Our Lady separately from the standard Office. So why not the Office of the Dead?
- under modern liturgical law, the relevant hours of the Office of the Dead can be substituted for the standard Office. Arguably, just as those bound to say the modern Office could in theory use the traditional Office but say fewer hours of it in line with modern church law, so too can we apply this provision to the traditional Office of the Dead.