An acquaintance asked the other day how much of the Divine Office (Chasoslov or Horologion in the East) Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic priests are required to recite each day. My response: None…I think. Although a shell of its former self, the breviary—now commonly referred to as the Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH)—remains the cornerstone of a Latin priest’s prayer life. Failure to recite the office in full each day is a mortal sin, though it seems that some priests aren’t terribly concerned about that. For the Orthodox, the liturgical hours have always been, and remain, a true public work. Although some monastics, clergy, and pious laypersons recite some of the small hours privately as part of their individual prayer rules, the cornerstone offices, such as Matins and Vespers, are almost impossible to recite outside of a proper ecclesial setting. Attempts to make these offices “manageable” for individuals have been made, but not very successfully. Both the old Jordanville Chasoslov, along with the edition published by the Ruthenian Catholics in the 1940s, contain daily votive services that can be “plugged in” to Matins, the small hours, and Vespers each day. The fact that none of these services save one have been translated into English their irrelevancy, at least among Anglophone Orthodox and Greek Catholics.
None of this is to say that Eastern clergy have a “weak” or “lax” prayer life compared to their Latin brethren. The LOTH is not exactly a taxing rule. What the Byzantine Rite has not lost, and the Roman Rite surely needs, is the central importance of public prayer to the life of the Church. For most Catholics, that prayer is the Mass and only the Mass. If there is ever anything “more” it is typically a para-liturgical devotion such as the Rosary or a novena. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but for most of Church history reciting the Divine Office in choir was as natural as serving Mass. Today, unfortunately, that is simply not possible for most parishes to carry out all of the time, but why can’t more Latin churches strive to serve hours like Vespers and Compline at least some of the time? The easy answer is, “Because there’s no demand for it.” But the chances are there will never be a demand unless the clergy, in concert with dedicated members of the laity, create one.