Public Prayer II

In several recent posts (e.g., here) I have discussed the absence (or, rather, loss) of the Divine Office, that is, the public prayer of the Church, among Latin Catholics. By comparison, the Eastern Orthodox (and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Catholics) have done a much better job offering services like Matins, Vespers, and the small hours to the faithful. It remains my contention that public prayer outside of Mass will not return to the Latin Church until the clergy takes up the cause. Lay demand for these services is, at best, minimal, mostly due to ignorance or a (false) belief that it is not “their place” to address the matter. This does not mean that the lay faithful have to be shut out of praying liturgically even if they cannot participate in a formal parish setting. Although the vernacular Liturgy of the Hours has been around for decades, traditionally minded Catholics—or those who are simply not thrilled by the U.S. Catholic Church’s official translations—have mostly steered clear of it. Thankfully, a number of liturgical resources, in both Latin and English, have started to become available so as to allow the faithful—and their families—to pray with the Church even if, for now, it must be done in the privacy of the home.

Angelus Press, for example, publishes Latin/English editions of both The Divine Office (DO) and a new edition of The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (LOBVM). The DO, which follows the officially approved 1962 edition of the Breviarum Romanum, contains the texts necessary to daily recite Prime, Sext, and Compline, along with Lauds and Vespers for Sundays. Although it is praiseworthy for families to pray the Rosary in common, why not augment that practice with common recitation of a straightforward office like Compline—the historic night prayer of the Church?

For those wishing to sanctify their days in a fuller manner, the LOBVM contains all of the liturgical hours. Unlike the breviary, the Little Office does not demand knowledge of complicated rubrics nor does it undergo significant changes with the seasons. An additional upside to Angelus Press’s edition of the LOBVM is that it also contains the Office of the Dead, which is a wonderful devotion which can be prayed along with the Little Office on certain days or as a standalone liturgical offering. Once again, for those who pray with families, why not set aside one evening a week to offer Vespers for the dead for friends and family who have parted this life in faith and hope of the resurrection? Or why not dedicate time on Saturdays—or Lady’s day—to saying at least some of the Little Office in common?

This is just a sampling of what is currently available to faithful Latin Catholics wishing to link themselves spiritually to the Church’s age-old liturgical heritage. Most good hand missals, including the Angelus Press 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal, contain Latin/English texts for reciting Vespers and Compline on Sundays and most major feast days. If one is looking for a place to begin, there you go. For those adept at Latin, several newly set editions of the 1962 Breviarium Romanum have appeared in recent years along with St. Michael’s Abbey’s wonderful new pressing of the Monastic Diurnal which follows the Benedictine rule. There is no shortage of resources for those who wish to take advantage of them. Even if the institutional Church wishes to keep denying the public office to the faithful, the faithful need not deny themselves, and their children, of the spiritual riches of liturgical prayer.



  1. Brian M
    November 19, 2015

    There is another edition of the 1963 Monastic Diurnal that may be of interest to your readers who are proficient in Latin and/or French. The Abbey of Saint Mary Magdalene in Le Barroux has published a Diurnale Monastique which features very fine layout and which is far less bulky than the St. Michael’s Abbey edition:

  2. Eric Jobe
    November 19, 2015

    The Western rite of compline is, in my mind, the most perfect order of prayer, considering its brevity, simplicity, and poignancy. It’s so much better than the Byzantine form, which basically comes from a bunch of monks praying that they don’t have a wet dream.

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      November 19, 2015

      “It’s so much better than the Byzantine form, which basically comes from a bunch of monks praying that they don’t have a wet dream.”

      I’m stealing this one and tucking it away for later use.

    2. gzt
      November 19, 2015

      John Cassian spends a lot of time discussing wet dreams, but he’s much more pastoral than that.

      1. alienus dilectus
        November 19, 2015

        Wet dreams? Like:

        Procul recedant somnia,
        et noctium phantasmata:
        hostemque nostrum comprime,
        ne polluantur corpora.

        1. Fr Yousuf Rassam
          November 19, 2015

          I share Eric’s appreciation for Western compline, however, the difference between western and Byzantine compline is not thematic. They are even structurally similar, down to the custom of tacking on a marian hymn at the end. Western compline permits greater musical development. Byzantine compline has more prolix orations, as usual. (And also there is a tendency to pile things into Byzantine compline from elsewhere – canons displaced from matins, or cathedral night vigil to form Great Compline, which things greatly expand the thematic content, musical interest, and length of Byzantine compline).

          AD quotes the second verse of the usual Compline hymn. JM Neale translates it:

          From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
          From nightly fears and fantasies;
          Tread under foot our ghostly foe
          That no pollution we may know.

          The Hymnal 1940 has altered this to:

          From all ill dreams defend our sight,
          From fears and terrors of the night;
          With-hold from us our ghostly foe
          That spot of sin we may not know.

          The Liturgy of the Hours in Latin replaced the second verse with two other verses. I admit my own preference for the less blunt 1940 Hymnal version. But it seems odd to me that the universal Christian sense of praying against solitary absorption in erotic reverie is so distasteful to us today. As if it were only a problem for monks, or was solved by electricity.

          About the compline hymn Te Lucis Ante Terminum

          And I guess I’ll plug another midieval compline hymn of great beauty:

          1. Gabriel Sanchez
            November 19, 2015

            Thanks for this.

            I will admit that I am not a terribly big fan of Compline in the Byzantine Rite and, depending on the jurisdiction, it seems to have become, as you say, a repository for other material. For instance, following Jordanville/ROCOR usage, Compline now includes all of the evening prayers in the Jordanville prayer book along with, as you mentioned, canons displaced from Matins. I recall one year noticing in the ordo published by St. John of Kronstadt Press that since almost every day of the liturgical year had an “Optional” service (usually centered on a Russian Saint), Compline would be regularly freighted with a Matins canon (or two) along with the regularly assigned canon to the Mother of God based on the tone of the week. The end result of this is that Compline becomes longer than Vespers, which to my mind is absurd.

    3. Stephen
      November 30, 2015

      If ever you’ve had to deal with a group of men, you’d know that nocturnal emissions are statistically quiet certain, especially among younger men in general. While you could doubtless make the case that a platoon is not a group of monks, I would argue that the army will tell you that keeping a lid on anything that encourages such occurrences is good in the field for both the overall wellbeing of the men and for their survival under attack or on offense.
      Granted, the army will hold out the benefits of RnR to offset the strictness in the field. That monks would look to offset by extra prayer, as there is no RnR, seems completely reasonable and worthy of their focus. Your cavalier attitude to understanding the passions of men seems ignorant at best and unkind at worst

  3. David
    November 19, 2015

    Do you know whether the 1963 Breviarium Monasticum (not just the Diurnale) is in print anywhere? I haven’t been able to find it, save in very expensive used copies.

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      November 19, 2015

      I have never seen one. However, Loome’s Books often has full sets of the 1933 edition available for less than what I would imagine a newly printed set of 1963 breviaries would run you. I think I paid $150 for my set a couple of years ago. It’s easy to adapt the 1963 rubrics to the 1933 text.

      1. alienus dilectus
        November 19, 2015

        Although it’s not quite the “real” thing, Lancelot Andrewes Press sells the Monastic Breviary Matins. It’s better than spending a fortune trying to find a Nocturnale Monasticum.

  4. jacopo
    November 20, 2015

    As long as there is daily mass in the RCC, why bother?

    1. Paul
      November 21, 2015

      It’s this kind of mentality that causes decline in the RCC. Just Mass, and that’s it? The early and Medieval Christians didn’t think like that. They thought of liturgical prayer as completing Holy Mass, which is a very important part of liturgical prayer, but still only a part!

      1. Dale
        November 23, 2015

        Paul, excellent points. Also, missing is the concept that the offices are preparation for the Mass, now that is lost, there is only the Mass. The same with the complete lack of penance and fasting in preparation for the reception of the Eucharist.

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