Friday, 12 September 2014

On the Divine Office

I recently acquired a copy of the Monastic Diurnal from Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma. The Diurnal is essentially a book containing all the day hours - hence the name - of the Office, which means everything except Matins. I have been doing my best to make use of this handy book on a regular basis, daily. I try to pray Lauds and Vespers every day (there are days when my schedule prevents Lauds at the normal hour), and usually am able to do the other minor hours as well. After only a few days, the Office is proving to be a very rich source for my devotional life, although I think it will take some time to genuinely and personally appreciate its depth and beauty. One has to become fully immersed in it, and I have not had that experience quite yet. Nonetheless, I do sense it is the ideal context wherein to meditate upon the Psalms. It would of course be even better were I to be able to sing the Office in choir, but alas that opportunity does not exist for me... It do try, when I can, to sing certain parts that are more familiar to me.

It seems to me that a very significant but often overlooked part of the current liturgical crisis is the loss of regular praying - or singing, rather - of the Divine Office. Probably the vast majority of Catholics do not even know what it is, and that includes traditional Catholics. This latter fact is particularly saddening for me. I know many traditional Catholic people, but hardly ever have I sensed among them any substantial appreciation for this important part of their liturgical heritage; often they appear to be largely ignorant of its existence.

Historically, this is due to the decline over the last few centuries of the appreciation of the liturgy and its spirit. Especially after the Council of Trent, in the Counter-Reformation era, Catholics in the Church ceased to fully understand the liturgy and appreciate the depth of its traditions. A kind of minimalism crept into the Church, according to which it was necessary simply to attend Sunday Mass - which, at some point, was no longer sung - and pray any private devotions which suited one's fancy, out of the plethora of such devotions which arose at that time. The Divine Office was no longer sung in public, but was reduced to a book of private devotional reading for priests, or something sung by cloistered religious. In large part, this was due to the immense influence of the otherwise praiseworthy Society of Jesus, which was the first order not bound by the obligatory praying of the Office.

Again, I say that this is a serious problem. The Divine Office is an immensely important part of the liturgical heritage and tradition of Catholics. Its development in history is closely interwoven with that of the Mass, and their respective liturgies mutually complement each other and together present a spirituality that is ideal for the life of every Christian, and not just for the priest in his private sphere, or the monk in the cloister. The liturgy is the prayer of the whole Church, not just of priests, even if priests have a leading and special role to play in the carrying out of liturgical functions. To live fully as a Catholic means much more than going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and praying the rosary and Sacred Heart devotions in one's spare time. It also means - traditionally at least - immersing oneself in the prayer of the Church, to participate in the universal work of salvation that Christ carries out through the Church and her liturgy. The Divine Office forms a very large bulk of this liturgy, and hence not one easily negotiable.

In practice, these principles should be applied by the regular, sung celebration of the Office within the parish, and the encouraged attendance of the laity (as far as their situations allow). It used to be the case that liturgical celebrations were principally centered in the Cathedrals, which had the means, facilities, and singers to celebrate the Office publicly on a daily basis. In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for the laity to be present at such celebrations, to absorb the spiritual effect of the Psalmody sung throughout the day, and to be fed nourished by the spiritual atmosphere created by the celebration of the liturgy within the beautiful spaces of the great Churches of that era. It was the richness of the liturgical tradition carried out in practice. The liturgy thus served as the fount and primary context of the spiritual lives of the faithful, and their worship of God in faith. This sense of the liturgy was lost after the Council of Trent.

It is my belief that the liturgy in all of its parts is crucial for determining and guiding the formation of faith in the souls of Catholics. The Divine Office is hardly less important in this respect than the Mass. I will be doing my part, for the time being, to structure my spiritual life around the Office. But it is my hope and prayer that the Church as a whole will do likewise.


  1. Excellent Article.

    It would be wonderful if the Churches were to offer The Divine Office on a daily basis.

    However, with the declining numbers of Priests and the total antipathy of modern-day Priests and Bishops to Traditional Liturgy, it is unlikely.

    Of course, it is possible for the Faithful to say The Divine Office, themselves (whenever circumstances allow). At present, there is no Bishop or Parish Priest saying that this should not be done.

    Deo Gratias for The Divine Office and The Divine Mass. They do go together.

  2. Wonderful news.

    Fr Finigan, the new Parish Priest at Saint Austin and Saint Gregory, Margate, Kent, England (and former Parish Priest at Our Lady of The Rosary, Blackfen), has introduced Lauds, every Tuesday morning, at 0840 hrs, before Mass.

    The Parish Website is at

    Deo Gratias.

  3. I love the Monastic Diurnal and find it heartening that I stumbled upon another Catholic that has a budding appreciation for it. I see you have Saints Shall Arise bookmarked which will help you learn the basics of navigating it but if you want to learn to sing it I suggest following along each day with the monks of Norcia and or La Barroux. Both have MP3 files of their office and since both are traditional Benedictines they both use essentially the same psalter Schema, antiphons as well as follow the same feast days. and

    This practice of praying the Office and trying to chant along with the monks has enriched my devotional life immensely.