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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In reciting the Divine Office two points of order are to be noted: (1) the order or arrangement of offices, (2) the order or arrangement of Hours. The order of offices indicates which office is to be said on each day as laid down in the calendar. The order of the Hours points out which of the seven hours should be recited, firstly, secondly, etc., Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, etc. It is of obligation to observe both orders. But is it a sin to change wilfully the order of the office? It is not, if there be a reasonable cause for the change. For instance, if a priest cannot say the office proper to his diocese on a certain day, but says some other approved office, the change is not a sin. But if a priest, ex industria, substitute one office for another, it is per se a venial sin; but if an office be said which is very much shorter than the calendar office, or if this changing or substituting be so frequent as to disturb gravely the good order of the year's offices, the sin may be (and, according to some authors, is) a mortal sin.

It is asked whether a person fulfils his debt to the Church if he has recited by mistake an office other than the one assigned in the calendar of the day. Theologians teach that such a recitation fulfils the debt. The Church does not wish to impose a second recitation, and her axiom "officium pro officio valet" holds, provided always that the order of the psalms as laid down in the new psaltery is followed. This order is necessary always for validity. However, if the substituted office be very much shorter than the omitted office, it is advised to equalise them by reciting the psalms of Matins, This is a counsel and was not laid down by theologians as an obligation.

An office thus omitted is not to be transferred to another day (S.C.R., June 17th, 1673). The office may be omitted altogether for that year. If there be leisure the omitted office should be recited. This practice is in conformity with the spirit of the liturgy and with the right order of the calendar. The Sacred Congregation of Rites, questioned on this matter, replied sic debere fieri, such should be done. If a priest recites by mistake one day's office for another (e.g., the Tuesday office on a Monday) he is bound to recite Tuesday's office on Tuesday (St. Alphonsus). If, however, after a portion of the office has been read, it is noticed that a mistake has been made in reading the calendar or the Ordo, and that the office partly recited is not the office of the current day, what is to be done? If the priest has without fault made the mistake of reciting some office not ascribed to the current day, he is not bound to repeat the part already recited (e.g., Matins); it is sufficient, valid and lawful to follow the correct office in the following Hours. The priest reciting is not bound to repeat even part of an hour, if he finds out his mistake during the recitation of even a small hour. And he may finish the psalm or hymn or prayer which he was reciting when he discovered his mistake, and he may then take up the correct office at the part or hour at which he leaves off, or he may finish the Hour at which he was engaged. The former solution of the difficulty seems the better, as it more accurately agrees with the maxim, error corrigatur ubi apprehenditur. If the error in the selecting of the office has been wilful, say, through gross carelessness, and is the fault of the priest who changes a notable part of a canonical Hour, he is obliged—the more probable opinion teaches—to repeat the full Hour, and this obligation binds under pain of venial sin–i.e., the obligation to recite the office in the prescribed manner.

What is a person bound to do who forgets part of an Hour—is he obliged to repeat the full Hour?

He is bound to recite the part forgotten only, unless the mistake be made through gross carelessness, and unless it be a considerable part (e.g., two nocturns); in that case he is bound under pain of venial sin to repeat the full Hour. If a person say the same Hour (e.g., Terce) twice, may he compensate for extra labour by the omission of an equivalent part (e.g., None)? Such omission is unlawful; he must recite all the Hours without omission (Scavini, 391).

Is there an obligation to repeat the Hours in the order fixed in the Breviary? Yes, there is such an obligation. And a person may sin venially by the inversion of the Hours, The obligation binds sub veniali only. The inversion does not mean any grave breach of order, which is fixed by a secondary precept and as a circumstance of light importance. If the whole office be recited, the substance of the office—which is the main and primary matter—is safeguarded. Several authors argued that any inversion of the Canonical Hours, if frequent, is a mortal sin, but the opinion which says that the inversion of the Hours is only a venial sin is the more probable (St. Alph. 169; Gury, 77; Lehmkuhl II., 621).

Which causes justify an inversion of the Hours? Any reasonable cause justifies this inversion. Thus, if a friend invite a priest to joint recitation of an Hour, and the priest have not the preceding canonical Hours recited, he is justified in accepting the invitation and in inverting the order of the Hours. Or if a person have a Diurnal only at hand, he may read the day Hours, although he have not Matins for the day read. Again, a priest may not have the lessons for Matins at hand, but he may recite the psalms for Matins, Lauds, and add the lessons at Matins when they are to hand (Gury, n. 78; St. Alph., n. 170).

Is it a sin to say Matins for following day before finishing office of current day? Some theologians answer affirmatively, because the office of the current day should be complete before another office is begun. Others hold that such recitation is both valid and licit, as the office of one day and its obligation have no bond with the office of another day, and that any reasonable cause exempts from all sin or fault (Gury, n. 79). Not to recite the commemorations in the prescribed order set out in the Ordo is held by some theologians to be a venial sin, as they hold that the rubric is preceptive; others hold that it is not any sin, as they say that the rubric is directive.


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