ARTICLE VI.—INTENTION AND ATTENTION.
The valid recitation of the Divine Office requires that the priest
should have in his mind an intention of praying, for the Divine Office
is a true and real prayer, not a mere vocal exercise. Hence, a priest
reading his office as a mere study or as a means of remembering the
words of the psalms does not validly recite his office (St. Alph., n.
176). Now, what sort of intention is best and what sort of intention is
necessary? An actual, explicit intention which states expressly when
the Breviary is opened, "I intend to pray," is the best intention. The
devout recital of the prayer "Aperi Domine" expresses well the
best form of the actual, explicit intentions of those reciting the
office. But such an express, actual intention is not necessary; a
virtual intention, which finds expression in the opening of the
Breviary to recite the office, suffices. The mere opening of the book,
the finding out of the office, the arrangement of the book markers, are
ample evidence of the existence of a virtual intention quite sufficient
for the valid recitation of the office. St. Alphonsus writes, "Imo puto semper adesse exercite, intentionem actualem implendi officium"
(n. 176). This question of intention gives great trouble to the timid
and scrupulous, whose doubts and difficulties seem hard to solve. The
common sense and common practice in everyday affairs seem to desert
some people when they prepare to read the canonical hours. For, who has
not seen the nervous, pious, anxious cleric, stupidly labouring to
acquire even a sufficient intention before beginning his hours?
Attention in reading the hours is a much more discussed and much more
difficult mental effort. It means the application of the mind to the
thing in which we are engaged. When we listen to a conversation or when
we write a letter the mind is fixed and attentive to the matter spoken
or written. Intention is an act of the will; attention is an act of the
Attention may be either external or
internal. External attention is attention of such a kind that it
excludes every exterior action physically incompatible with the
recitation of the office—e.g., to write or type a letter, to listen
attentively to those conversing, are acts incompatible with the
simultaneous recitation of the office. But walking, poking a fire,
looking for the lessons, whilst reciting from memory all the time, are
not incompatible with the external attention required in office
recital; because such acts do not require mental effort which could
count as a serious disturbing element. However, in this matter of
external attention no rule can be formulated for all Breviary readers;
for what may lightly disturb and distract one reader may have no effect
on another, and yet may seriously disturb the recitation of another
(St. Alph., n. 176). External attention is necessary for the valid
recitation of the office.
Internal attention is
application or advertence of the mind. Is such internal attention, such
deliberate application or mental advertence necessary for the valid
recitation of the office?
There are two opinions on this
matter, two replies to the question. According to one opinion, and this
is the more common and the more probable one, internal attention is
required for the valid recitation of the Hours. 1. Because the Divine
Office is a prayer, but there can be no true or real prayer without
internal attention, for prayer is defined as an elevation of the soul
to God, but if there be no internal attention, there is no elevation of
the soul to God, and no prayer. 2. Our Lord complained of those who had
external attention at prayer, but lacked internal attention or
advertence, "This people honour me with their lips, but their heart is
far from me" (St. Matt. xv.). 3. The Church appears to demand internal
attention at prayer, for although she has not given any positive
precept dealing with this kind of attention, she does the same thing
when she commands that the recitation of the Divine Office take the
form of prayer for God's honour, and this recitation of words cannot be
true prayer without internal attention. 4. The Council of Trent seems
to exact this attention when it wishes that the Divine Office be said
reverently, distinctly and devoutly, reverenter, distincte, devote. 5.
If no internal attention be required in reciting the Hours, it is
difficult to see how voluntary distractions are forbidden by Divine Law.
This is the opinion held by Cajetan (1496-1534), Sa (1530-1596), Azor
(1539-1603), Sanchez (1550-1610), Roncaglai (1677-1737), Concina
(1687-1756), and St. Alphonsus, the great Doctor of prayer (1696-1787).
According to the other opinion, external attention suffices always and
ever to satisfy substantially the obligation of reading the office and
for the avoidance of mortal sin which invalid recitation entails. For,
(1) To pray is to speak to God, to trust in Him, to manifest to Him the
wishes and wants of the soul; but this can be done by a person who has
voluntary distractions of mind, just as a man can read to his king an
address, setting forth the thanks and requests of his subjects,
although the reader's mind is far from dwelling on the words or the
meaning of the sentences before his eyes. But he is careful to read all
the words in a clear, intelligible manner. Now the theologians who
maintain this opinion say that, a fortiori, this method of
reading the Hours should be valid; for, in the reading the priest acts
principally in the name of the Church, as her minister, and offers up
prayers to God in her name, and they say that the irreverence of the
servant does not render the prayer of the Church unpleasing to Him,
(2) He who makes a vow, and resolves to do a certain act, fulfils his
vow, even when fulfilling it he acts with voluntary distractions; so, a
pari, with the recitation of the office,
administration of the sacraments—even the administration of Extreme
Unction, the form of which is a prayer—with full voluntary distractions
is valid; so, too, should be the recital of Breviary prayers.
(4) In the other opinion it is hard to see how, if voluntary
distractions destroy the substance of prayer, involuntary distractions
do not produce similar effect, and hence, there can be no prayer if
there be distraction of any kind.
This opinion was held
by Lugo (1583-1660), Gobat (1600-1679), Sporer (1609-1683), St.
Antonnius (1389-1459), and other eminent men. It is quoted by St.
Alphonsus, as satis probabilis. Of it, Lehmkuhl writes, "Quae
ad substantiam divini officii dicamus satis probabiliter sufficere cum
intentione orandi observasse attentionem externam" (II. 635).
What are the divisions or kinds of internal attention?
I. Objectively they are (1) spiritual attention, (2) literal attention,
(3) superficial or material attention. Spiritual attention is that
advertence of soul which tends towards God, the Term of all prayer,
when the soul meditates on the power, wisdom, goodness of God, on the
Passion, on the Mother of God, on God's saints. Literal attention is
that which strives to lay hold of the meaning of the words said in the
office. Superficial attention is that advertence of soul which applies
itself to the correct recitation of the words, avoiding errors of
pronunciation, mutilation, transposition, etc., etc.
Subjectively, virtual attention suffices; habitual is divided into
actual and interpretative. Actual attention is that which exists at the
moment—e.g., the attention paid by a pupil to a question put by a
teacher. Virtual attention is attention which was once actual, but is
not such at the time spoken of, but which lives virtually. Habitual is
attention which once was actual, which does not remain in act, but
which was not retracted. Interpretative attention is that which never
existed at all, but which would have existed if the agent had adverted.
Which kind of internal attention is required in the reading of the
Office? I. Objectively, material, or superficial attention is
necessary, since the Breviary is a vocal prayer, and therefore it is
necessary to pronounce distinctly all the words of the day's office and
to observe the rubrics. But this suffices; it is not necessary that a
priest reciting his Hours should carefully notice each word, it is
sufficient to have general and moral attention to recite every part
well, and with the intention of praying, "Sed sufficere moralem et
generalem qua quis curet bene omnia dicere cum intentione orandi" (St.
Hence, objectively, neither attention, which
is called spiritual, because it is not easy to attain, nor the literal
attention, which religious who do not understand Latin strive after, is
needed for valid recitation. By this, it is not meant to convey that
spiritual attention is not very excellent and very commendable and
Subjectively, virtual attention suffices;
habitual does not suffice, neither does interpretative. Best of all is
actual attention, but it is not necessary, because it is not always
within the power of mortals.
This want of internal
attention is called mental distraction. Theologians distinguish two
kinds of distractions, voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary
distractions are thoughts which the mind freely and directly embraces
to the exclusion of pious thoughts which should occupy it in prayer, of
which the office is a high form; or they may be thoughts which arise
from previous laziness, thoughtlessness, pre-occupation or some
engrossing worldly affair. Involuntary distractions are those which
come unbidden and unsought to the mind, are neither placed directly,
nor by their causes, by the person at prayer.
Does a person reciting the Hours sin if he have distractions?
If the distractions be involuntary there is no sin. But if the
distractions be voluntary there is sin, But, unless the mind be
altogether filled with distractions, not thinking of God, of prayer, of
the words or of the meaning, and unless the distractions are fully voluntary and reflective during a notable part of the office, there is no mortal sin. Hence, St. Alphonsus, the great Doctor of Prayer, wrote, "ut
dicatur aliquis officio non satisfacere, non solum requiritur ut
voluntarie se distrahat, sed etiam ut plene advertat se distrahi, nam
alias iste, licet sponte se divertat non tamen sponte se divertit a
recitatione" (St. Alphonsus, n. 177). Therefore, before a person
accuse himself of not satisfying the precept of recitation, on account
of inattention or distractions, he must be able to affirm positively
(1)that he was wilfully distracted, (2)he must have noticed not only
his distraction and mental occupation by vain thoughts, but he must
have noticed also that he was distracted in his recitation;
(3)he must be able to state positively that the intention, resolution
or desire to recite piously, which he made at the beginning of his
prayer, was revoked with full advertence and that it did not exist
either actually or virtually during the time of distraction in his
recitation. Seldom, indeed, are these conditions fulfilled, and seldom
are there gravely sinful distractions.
This subject of
attention in prayer, in the official prayer of the Church, is
important. Long and learned disputes about its nature and requirements
occupied great thinkers in times long gone by. To-day theologians argue
on different sides; and anxiety, serious, painful and life-long, reigns
in the souls of many who struggle to recite the office, digne, attente ac devote.
SECTION: Article VII.-Causes Which Excuse F…
Article V.—Pronunciation Of The Wo…