The Current Office in the Roman Church

I recently came across a fascinating article from Musica Sacra by a Roman traditionalist* that answered some of my questions about the state of the Daily Office in the Roman Church. For instance, I knew about the changes of Vatican II–the introduction of the Office of Readings, etc. But I knew that *something else* had happened as well and was not sure when or how that had come about… That is, I know the early medieval Office patterns from my research on monastic liturgies. I also know the Anglican Breviary–and that it is a translation of the pre-Vatican II Offices. …But the medieval monastic Offices and the Anglican Breviary have quite a number of differences–some of them major. I thought the answer might lie in that the AB was a secular use rather than a monastic one, but I had my doubts…

This article cleared them up for me. There was a reform at the beginning of the 20th century that changed things.

This author explains the old system and doesn’t just describe elements, rather, he speaks of the spiritual trajectory of the Office through the day, then explains how the early 20th century reform damaged this trajectory, then how the Vatican II one squashed it. Many of his points resonate strongly with some things I’ve been feeling especially as he emphasizes both singing and memorization–something I’ve been experimenting with recently.

I especially like how he ends it–so well so that I’ll quote it here. He apologizes by stating that he knows that he is writing for “insiders,” but I love the way he defines that term:

To my mind, the “insider” is not the scholar of liturgy, though when a decision is required, some knowledge of liturgical matters is undoubtedly called for. By “insider” I mean one who lived and lives in the liturgy, who is rooted and implanted into the permanency of the Church’s worship, who has learned in his own case how much the Office — its shape, the conscious and unconscious experiences gathered from the Office — can contribute to spirituality: how profoundly he was formed and educated day by day when taking part in the Office. Let us recall : Chorus facit monachum [ed: The Office-experience makes the monk]– and not only monachum! The “insider” may experience how the words spoken in the Office convey the great tradition of the faith itself; he observes that the “how” of the Office, the radiation of its actual order, may influence our approach to faith and salvation. He feels the difference between the two: when we turn spontaneously to God, and when we join with the ecciesia orans, the praying Church. Such a Christian desires to know that he is not following the new ideas of some persons, solely by reason of obedience, but he desires assurance that the mature experience of the praying Church comes to him from the anonymity of the Great Times, in jib tempore, and that it is a great honour and privilege to follow this current of prayerful praise, to adapt his heart and mind to the words placed upon his lips, following St Benedict’s rule so frequently forgotten today: ut mens concordet voci, that the mind should follow what is expressed by the voice.

* Warning: As a traditionalist, he uses the Vulgate numbering for the Psalms. That is, if it’s over 10, add 1 to the number until you get to 145 or so… So whenever he talks about Ps 118, for instance, it’s the BCP/KJV/NRSV Ps 119.

5 thoughts on “The Current Office in the Roman Church

  1. The young fogey

    Many thanks for posting this! I’ve been meaning to read it and have just started.

    I see the writer’s point about setting bad precedent with innovations – like the contrast of Blessed Pius IX’s correct reverence for tradition (contrary to legend he did not see himself as above it) not adding St Joseph to the Canon of the Mass (‘I can’t – I’m only the Pope!’) compared to Blessed John XXIII’s well-meant devotion regarding this – but based on what I know so far I like variety in the daily psalms so I like St Pius X’s breviary.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    It’s a great piece…

    As for the variety issue, I am committed to the Prayer Book’s monthly round which obviously does different ones every day but my core preference is to have some static psalmody in addition. The static ones help focus on the heart of the psalter which is why I particularly like the selections of the old form of Lauds.

  3. dcs

    The pre-Pius X breviary does have variety — just not in the Little Hours or Compline.

    I like this idea personally as it allows one to pray during the day and before going to bed without lugging out a book!

  4. Derek the Ænglican

    Absolutely, dcs. And memorization speeds the internalization process as well…

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