Understanding the sacraments: Revising the Liturgy of the Hours

Also known as the Divine Office, it is the official prayer of the Catholic Church

By Father Randy Stice

In recent columns we have looked at several revised liturgical books: the Order of Celebrating Marriage, the Order of Confirmation, and the third edition of the Misal Romano, the Spanish Missal. In this column I would like to introduce the revision of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office, is the official prayer of the Church. The Second Vatican Council taught that Christ continues his priestly work through his Church, “which is unceasingly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world. The Church does this not only by celebrating the Eucharist, but also in other ways, especially by praying the divine office” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 83).

The Liturgy of the Hours “is distinguished from other liturgical actions by the fact that it consecrates to God the whole cycle of day and night, as it has done from early Christian times” (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, GILH, n. 10). It does this through five “offices”: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, “which form a double hinge of the daily Office and are therefore to be considered the principal Hours” (GILH, 37), as well as the Office of Readings, Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer. Each office consists of psalms, “then a long or short reading of Sacred Scripture, and finally intercessions” (GILH, 33).

The work is proceeding in stages. In March 2010, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments approved a revised translation of the Grail Psalms used in the Liturgy of the Hours. Here is one example from Psalm 63.

■ 1963: “On my bed I remember you. On you I muse through the night.”

■ Revised 2010: “When I remember you upon my bed, I muse on you through the watches of the night.” The expression “the watches of the night” in the revised translation of verse 7 is a reference to the division of the night that marked the different guard duties of the city or temp, when the night hours were heralded. The Psalmist “remains awake reflecting on the wondrous ways in which God has protected and cared for him” (Newsletter, Committee on Divine Worship, January 2011).

In November 2014 the American bishops approved additional revisions to the Revised Grail Psalms in response both to revisions suggested by the Holy See to the Revised Grail Psalms and also “in response to experience gained by several religious communities who have been using these Psalms in their regular prayer” (Newsletter, Committee on Divine Worship, November 2015). The goal is a translation that will facilitate both spoken and sung celebrations of the Liturgy of the Hours.

In June 2014 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the new translations of the Old and New Testament Canticles, which are poetic, hymn-like texts. Examples of Old Testament Canticles used in Morning

Prayer include 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 12:1-6, and Daniel 3:52-57. Examples of New Testament Canticles, which are part of Evening Prayer, include Ephesians 1:3-10, Philippians 2:6-11, and Colossians 1:12-20. The Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79, is always said at Morning Prayer, the Canticle of Mary, Luke 1:46-55, is always said at Evening Prayer, and the Canticle of Simeon, Luke 2:29-32, is always said at Night Prayer. These revised translations still require the recognitio (approval) of the Holy See.

The GILH also refers to a two-year cycle of biblical readings, with the second cycle located in a “supplement for optional use” (GILH, 145-146). However, no Latin typical edition for this was ever produced, although proposed scriptural passages for a second cycle were published in 1976. The USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship is looking at how other national bishops’ conferences, such as Italy, Germany, and Mexico, as well as religious communities have implemented a second cycle of the biblical and patristic/ecclesiastical readings.

Although steady progress is being made, the project “is still years from completion” (Newsletter, Committee for Divine Worship, November 2015). The Church warmly recommends the Liturgy of the Hours to all of the faithful, for “those taking part in the Liturgy of the Hours have access to holiness of the richest kind through the lifegiving word of God” (GILH, 14). Finally, through the Liturgy of the Hours “man’s sanctification is accomplished, and worship offered to God…in an exchange or dialogue between God and man in which ‘God speaks to his people…and his people reply to him in song and prayer’” (GILH, 14). ■

Father Stice is pastor of St. Mary Church in Athens and directs the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at frrandy@dioknox.org.

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