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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What kind of pronunciation is to be attended to in the recitation of the Divine Office? The pronunciation should be vocal—that is, there should be some sound, aliquis sonitus verborum, as St. Alphonsus writes (n. 162). Hence, to read the Breviary merely mentally or with the eyes only, does not satisfy the obligation.[A] Although the reader may not hear the sound produced, he must be careful to form with his lips every syllable. This must be done, not necessarily in a throaty way. The formation of the words clearly with the lips suffices. But writers on this point emphasise the importance of audible recitation as a preventive of slurred, mutilated Latinity, which often leads to careless, or even invalid recitation. They note, too, that the reading with the eye merely, is a habit which readers bring from the reading of other books to their reading of the Breviary. German authors dwell at length on the fact that many priests, very early in their career, contract the habit of faulty vocalisation of liturgy, and that they never seem to notice their fault, or at least never seem to attempt an amendment. These authors attribute the defect to sub-voce recitation and recommend audible recitation, long and frequent audible recitation, to all priests reading their hours.

[Footnote A: The privilege of mental recitation was granted to the Friar Minor by Pope Leo X. and Pius V., but it is probable that the privilege was withdrawn by Pope Gregory XV. in 1622, in his letter Romanus Pontifex; and Urban VIII., 1635, withdrew all privileges granted vivae vocis oraculo. The text of the document granting the privilege is obscurely worded. Still, several theologians of repute maintain that the privilege still exists and extends to the whole office. This is taught by the Salaraenticenses, De hor. can. cap. 3, n. 55; Tamburini, Rodriguez, etc., others opposed this view of the privilege existing after Pope Urban's letter Alias. This privilege extends to secular priests who are Franciscan tertiaries, if it exists at all.]

Can a priest fulfil his obligation by reciting the office with a companion? Yes, he can, for such recitation is the Church's ideal; and the priest who says his part (alternate verses, etc.), as in choir, fulfils his obligation, even when his companion is a layman or an inattentive person. In such recitation a priest should be careful (1) that his recitation be of alternate verses, (2) that the verse recitation be successive and not simultaneous, (3) that the verses, etc., chanted by one companion (or by one choir) be heard by the other companion or choir. There is no necessity for a priest at such recitation to say one verse in a loud voice and to say his companion's verses in a low, inaudible voice. Some priests do this with distressing results. Imperfect vocal recitation often leads to doubts and scruples in old age when remedies either cannot be applied or prove useless.

Those who recite the office in choir are bound by the rubrics concerning kneeling, sitting, standing, etc. Secondly, they are bound to observe the rules of the liturgy, especially the rule as to the stop in each verse at the asterisk mark. Thirdly, they are bound to recite clearly and distinctly; but even if they cannot hear distinctly the alternate choir, or even if they recite in a low voice, they fulfil the obligation of recitation; and canons are bound at Cathedral offices to sing and chant or to lose their manual distributions and the fruits of their prebends. If a person reciting his office with a companion or in a choir does not understand the words recited by his companion or by the choir, he is not bound at the end to repeat the part which he did not understand, because such a person has the intention of offering prayer and praise to God, and that intention suffices. Moreover, the Church's precept of reciting the office should he interpreted benignly, otherwise it must give rise to many scruples; for, companions in recitation, then, always, should be anxious as to the duty of repetition or the non-fulfilled duty of complete recitation.

Pronunciation of the words of the office should be integral. That is, the words and syllables are to be repeated fully without mutilation or abbreviation. Hence, if mutilation of the words occur to such an extent that the sense or meaning of the words is notably changed, mortal sin may be committed. But if the mutilation be small in quantity there is only a venial sin committed, and often no sin at all may be committed, as the mutilation of words or syllables may be quite involuntary, or may be done inadvertently, or may arise from an inveterate habit very difficult to correct, and in the attempt to cure it time and patience may have been spent (St. Alph., 164-165). This bad habit, if it extend over a large portion of the recitation and destroy notably the sense of the words, may bind sub gravi to repetition, as this fault or habit affects the very substance of recitation. Priests seldom are bound to such a repetition, as the mutilation is not destructive to the sense of a notable part of the office and hence does not affect the substance of the obligation to vocal recital. St. Alphonsus holds (n. 165), that the obligation is fulfilled as long as the meaning is not destroyed, quando servatur aliqua significatio verborum.

Pronunciation should be continuous. That is, the recitation of each hour should be continuous, non-interrupted, and every notable stoppage or break in the recitation of a canonical hour is a venial sin, if there be no excusing cause for such an interruption. Any reasonable cause for interruption (e.g., to obey a bell call, to see a parishioner who calls, to hear a confession) excuses from all fault (St. Alph., n. 168).

If the recital of the office for any canonical hour be interrupted, should the whole hour be repeated? Some theologians say that it should be repeated. But the more probable opinion denies that there is any such obligation; it holds that the union of the prayers prescribed by the Church is not broken, as each psalm, each lesson, each prayer, has a complete signification and they are united sufficiently in one round of prayer by the intention formed of continuing the Hour, or even by the actual continuation. Gury states that a priest interrupting the office between the verses of a psalm is not bound to repeat the entire psalm on resuming the recitation, as he says each verse has its own signification.

May Matins be said separately from Lauds without any excusing cause? Yes, for it was the practice of the early Church to say these parts of the liturgy at times separated by intervals. But if Matins be said separately, without Lauds following immediately. Pater Noster with Dominus Vobiscum and the prayer of the day should be said at the end of the Te Deum, If Lauds follow Matins immediately the Pater and Ave should not be said, for the Congregation (same decree) says "Laudes incohandas ut in Psalterio," but in the Psalter the Pater and Ave are not assigned for the beginning of Lauds.

A notable time may elapse between the nocturns of Matins without any excusing cause. In the early Church intervals occurred between each nocturn. Some authors state that an interval of three hours between two nocturns is quite lawful, even when there be no cause for the delay. With a reasonable cause the interval may last as long as the excusing cause requires.


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The Divine Office: A Study of the Roman Breviary