Some thoughts on the Divine Office.

For probably 16 years now, I have tried to make the effort to pray the Divine Office. In college, shortly after being received into the Roman Communion, I began praying the Liturgy of the Hours (hereafter LOTH), first from the single-volume Daughters of St Paul edition of Christian Prayer, later from the 4-volume edition. I stuck with it for a while, and resumed it periodically, usually for a month or two at a time. I recall getting back into it around the time John Paul II died; since becoming Catholic, I have always had a great devotion for the dead, and I felt like I was contributing my own small part to the papal novemdiales by reciting the Office for the Dead.

Eventually I was drawn to what is now called the Extraordinary Form (hereafter EF) of the Office; I acquired a 1943 edition of the Breviarium Romanum (hereafter BR), and stuck with that for quite a while, occasionally vacillating between observing the 1960 rubrics and the rubrics in force in 1943. This vacillation was to become a theme for me over the next few years. I eventually acquired a chunky hard-cover reprint of the 1960 breviary; I think it is Preserving Christian Publications? And so I was off with that.

I eventually acquired an Anglican Breviary (hereafter AB), which I enjoyed very much. Though I can read Latin and indeed teach it, I do not like praying in Latin by myself. It’s fine at Mass (though my views on this have changed a lot), but it seems artificial in solitary prayer. In any event, the AB represented several issues for an incessant quibbler like myself. One, obviously, is that it was not published by Catholics, but rather Anglo-Catholics. It is often asserted that there is nothing against the Catholic faith contained therein, and while that is basically true, it still occasionally didn’t seem right to use a book published outside the Catholic Church for prayer.

Another issue was that it was based on the calendar and rubrics as they stood in 1954, roughly, immediately before Pius XII modified the rubrics. Since the Church has authorized the “1962” Missal for the EF, I quibbled over this fact. This “calendrical” tension rears its head a lot for me personally, and it seems to plague both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy, though in the case of the former, the vast majority of Catholics are probably unaware that more than one calendar exists.

I acquired the Nova et Vetera edition of the BR, a beautiful volume that was a bit pricy, but rivals the breviaries of old in terms of quality. There are few material things I can appreciate more than a quality book, and that edition is terrific.

Of course along the way, I mostly attended the Ordinary Form (hereafter OF) of Mass, though I would occasionally attend the EF – I lived in a fairly EF-friendly diocese, which I have subsequently learned is a blessing I took for granted. Anyway, attending OF Mass and praying the EF Office put the calendar issue in front of my face virtually every day of the year, outside of a few major dominical feasts that were on the same day. So I would occasionally switch back to the LOTH to attempt to harmonize Mass and Office, as the mind of the Church has always had it. Nevertheless, the LOTH seems so impoverished – an assessment I will talk about at length another time – that I was constantly pulled back and forth.

After various attempts at replacing the Office with different self-constructed prayer rules (based on the old English Primer) or using the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in lieu of the great Office, I eventually decided to force myself to use the LOTH.

Well, we moved to another diocese, I was consistently appalled by the state of liturgy in the new diocese, and I have been worshiping in a Byzantine parish for most of the last year. So I have been developing a more Eastern prayer rule, which is basically the following:

Morning Prayers:
A lightly abbreviated version of the Morning Prayers found in the Jordanville prayer book, followed by the First Hour. Fortunately, the Byzantine Catholic Church’s Metropolitan Cantor Institute (MCI) hosts a Menaion that contains the troparia and kontakia for each day; combined with my pew book, which has the troparia and kontakia for the major feasts of the movable cycle, I can say First Hour in full every day. On days I receive Holy Communion, I replace the Morning Prayers with the Service of Preparation for Holy Communion from the pew book.

Evening Prayers:
I have settled on Small Compline, generally omitting the Canon, except on nights before receiving Holy Communion, when I add the Canon of Preparation. At the end of Compline, I add a series of intercessions based on those given in the MCI edition of Small Compline, changing those specific to a monastery and adding family-specific intentions.

So far, this new arrangement is working for me. If I can successfully stay with this for an extended period of time, I might begin working the other hours (Third, Sixth and Ninth) into my day, but from long experience of mucking around with a prayer rule, it’s better to pray twice well than seven times distractedly. The latter always leads to giving up the prayer rule!

Māran etraḥam ‘lay! (Our Lord, have mercy on me!)

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