Divine Office – Divinum Officium

The Divine Office

A Study of the Roman Breviary

Part II.—Rules From Moral and Ascetic Theology for the Recitation of the Breviary.

Chapter I. Moral And Ascetic Theology.

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Q. Who are bound to recite the Divine Office?

R. 1. Religious, that is, all those who have made Religious Profession, in the Canonical sense, and who are bound to Choir recitation (Canon 610, Juris Canonici).

2. Clerics in Holy Orders (Canon 135, Codex).

3. Beneficed Clergy.

Who are Beneficed Clergy?

Beneficed Clergy are those who hold a Canonically erected benefice. Canon 1409 of the Codex Juris Canonici defines an ecclesiastical benefice to be a "Juridical entity constituted or erected by competent ecclesiastical authority, consisting of a sacred office and the right of receiving revenues from endowments attached to the office." Hence under this Canon, as previously three conditions are required for a benefice, first, a sacred office, second, the right of receiving revenues from endowment attached to that office, third, erection by ecclesiastical authority. There never was any doubt in the many discussions on this subject, that the work and care of a parish is a sacred office, and that parish priests hold such an office. But the second condition mentioned above received different interpretations. Some held that it implied a certain amount of ecclesiastical property set aside, from the revenues of which the holder of the benefice would derive his income. Hence the revenues of parish priests in these Kingdoms, arising from certain and voluntary offerings of the faithful, were not fixed revenues, did not fulfil the conditions of "endowment," and parishes must not be regarded as benefices. This opinion is no longer tenable. Canon 1410 says:–"The endowment of a Benefice is constituted either by property, the ownership of which pertains to the Juridical entity itself, or by certain and obligatory payments of any family or moral personality, or by certain and voluntary offerings of the faithful which appertain to the rector of the benefice, or, as they are called stole fees, within the limits of diocesan taxation or legitimate custom, or choral distributions, exclusive of a third part of the same, if all the revenues of the benefice consist of choral distributions."

This Canon seems to make it clear that the second condition is fulfilled in all the parishes of these Kingdoms, since to the sacred office is attached the right of receiving revenue from the certain and voluntary offerings of the faithful or from stole fees or from both.

The third condition, erection by ecclesiastical authority, is qualified by Canon 1418 which prescribes that benefices should be erected by a legitimate document defining the place of the benefice, its endowment and the duties and rights of the person appointed.

This law has not an invalidating clause, hence it is not now necessary nor ever was it necessary to have such a written document. A valid appointment was and can be made without any writing.

Where these three conditions are fulfilled there is a benefice, true, real, and canonical. Normally parishes are benefices. (See Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. XIV., No. 623; and Irish Theological Quarterly, October, 1917, p. 209.)

Every cleric in holy orders is bound under pain of mortal sin to recite daily the Divine Office. No General Council, no Pope, has made such a law, but the old-established custom has grown, until it has the force of a law (Bened. XIV., Instructio Coptharum). Authors are not agreed as to the date of the first traces of this old custom. Billuart quotes the text of the fourth Council of Carthage to prove that it existed in the fourth century, Clericus, qui absque corpusculi sui inequalitate vigiliis deest, stipendiis privatus, excommunicatur. Gavantus can find traces of it only as late as the sixth century. Several decrees of provincial councils regarding this custom are quoted by writers on liturgy. However, the matter is clearly and definitely dealt with by the General Council of Lateran (1213) and by the Bulls, Quod a nobis and Ex proximo, of Pope Pius V. (1571). This Pope expressly states that wilful omission of the Divine Office is a grave sin—"grave peccatum intelligat se commissise."

The obligation of reciting the office binds those in Holy Orders, even though they may be excommunicated, suspended, degraded or imprisoned. The obligation binds for the first time when subdeaconship has been conferred. Subdeacons are bound to recite "the hour" in the office of the day, corresponding to the time of their ordination. If the ordination is finished before nine o'clock, the sub-deacon is bound to begin his recitation with Terce. If the ordination is held between nine o'clock and mid-day the recitation begins with Sext. The question is discussed by theologians if the recitation of Terce or Sext may be lawfully and validly made before the ordination. Some authors deny that it may be justly and lawfully done, while others, with some probability, affirm that before ordination the debt may be paid in advance.

Are priests bound to follow the Proper in their own diocese?

They are, if it has been approved by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (S.R.C., 4597-4746). But a priest travelling (peregrinus) should recite the office according to the calendar of the church to which he is attached regularly, but the obligation of following the calendar of his home church was not binding by a grave precept. A reply of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (Nov., 1831) arranged (1) that beneficed clergy are always bound to recite the office of their own proper church or diocese; (2) that simple priests may read either the office as arranged for the place they tarry in or travel in, or the office of their own home diocese; (3) for unattached priests (vagi) it is the wiser order to follow the office as laid down in their own diocese.

Must every holder of a benefice read the Divine Office?

Every holder is bound, under pain of mortal sin, to recite the Divine Office daily, if the benefice be an ecclesiastical benefice fulfilling the conditions named above. The omission of the recital of the Divine Office by a beneficed person is a grave sin against the virtue of religion and a grave sin against the virtue of justice. For the Church imposes on the beneficiary the duty of the Office recital, on condition that he may not take the fruits of his benefice if he do not recite the Office.

What sin is committed by the omission of a notable part of the daily office?

He who wilfully omits a notable part of the daily Divine Office commits a mortal sin. A notable part of the Divine Office for any day is held by some theologians to be the omission of one psalm in one of the small hours, or a corresponding quantity of matter in lessons, responses, etc. They hold that such wilful omission is a grave sin. Other theologians hold—and their opinion is the more common and the more probable one—that, although one psalm is a notable part of a small hour, in relation to the whole office it is not a notable part, and its omission is not a grave matter. These theologians hold that the wilful omission of an entire small hour or equivalent matter (e.g., Sext, or the third nocturn of Matins) is an omission of a notable part and cannot be excused from grave sin.

The omission of the entire office of a day, the seven canonical hours, is held by some theologians to carry the guilt of seven mortal sins. Because, there is a different precept for each hour and the omission of each hour violates a precept. The Salamenticenses think this opinion probable. The more common and the more correct opinion is that by such omission only one sin is committed. And the theologians who hold this opinion say that the recitation of the canonical hours is imposed under one precept only, and hence there is only one obligation embracing the seven hours. This is the opinion of St. Alphonsus (n. 148) who quotes several authors (including Lessius, Sanchez and St. Antoninus) in support. If a person in Holy Orders omit several hours with a retractation, or a moral interruption in his sinful intentions, he may commit several mortal sins, because all the omissions, which in themselves are grave matter, may become independent of each other by the interruption and renewal of the intention (St. Alphonsus, n. 148).

What must a person do who has a doubt that he has omitted something in his recitation of the office? Is he bound to make assurance doubly sure by reciting the part of which he doubts?

If the doubt be a positive doubt, that is, if he have good reason to believe that he has recited it, he is not bound to anything further regarding the part in question. For instance, if a priest remembers having started the recitation of a lesson, and in a short time finds himself at the end of it, and cannot be sure if he have recited it, the presumption is in favour of the priest and of the recitation, because it is his custom to recite completely whatever part he commences. He has, thus, moral certainty that he has satisfied the precept, and it is not necessary to repeat it; if the necessity for repetition be admitted in such a case, a fruitful source of scruples is opened up.

On the other hand, if the doubt be negative—that is to say, if a person has no reasonable motive for believing that he has recited the full office or the full hour, he is bound to recite the part omitted, because in such a doubt, the precept of recitation is, as the theologians say, "in possession." (St. Alphonsus, n. 150).

It is not allowed to change anything nor to add anything to the daily office without permission. The Sacred Congregation of Rites (10 June, 1690, n. 3222) replied to a query, that in saints' offices nothing is to be added and nothing is to be changed, and this reply applies to all sorts of offices, old and new.


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