QUAERITUR: reciting the Office in the vernacular

From a reader:

Under the provisions of Summorun Pontificum the Clergy are permitted to use the Breviarium Romanum in place of the Liturgy of the Hours, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. However there are those who, whilst finding the idea attractive are more than a little daunted by the idea of praying in Latin, their use of Latin being enough to get through Mass, but perhaps not the full Office. I was wondering, do you think it is possible to recite the extraordinary form in English and still fulfill canonical obligation? Would it be a case of asking their bishop?

I assume it would have to be an approved translation- I posses a copy of the 1964 breviary in English, published by Benzinger Brothers, which has Imprimatur etc.

I hope you can shed some light on this matter.

I am pretty sure that a cleric fulfills his obligation to recite the office using also a translation of the office. 

I believe that at one time, long ago, it was necessary to obtain a dispensation of some sort in order to recite the office in a language other than Latin.  I don’t think that pertains any longer.

You mention an approved translation.   I am moved to wonder if there is an unapproved translation.  I doubt it.


From a priest reader:

Father, my pastor is the Judicial Vicar of my diocese …, and has told me that if the faculty to pray the Office in the traditional (1962) breviary was granted, subsequent concessions (vernacular) apply.
There is a great story about this from the Council days. Cardinal Spellman was absolutely death on the vernacular at Mass, but opined that the faculty to pray the breviary in the vernacular would be good. Whereupon Cardinal Ottaviani exploded, "QUESTI AMERICANI: They want the Priest to pray in English and the people in Latin!!"
The concession to pray the Office in English is a precious, spiritually useful one. Everyone should be looking forward to the forthcoming Lat/Eng breviary of Baronius Press.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr. A.M. says:

    I think that clerics should clearly stick to what ‘Summorum Pontificum’ provides, namely the recitation of the ‘Breviarium Romanum’ (1962). This breviary is in Latin. It might be useful to use an approved vernacular translation as an aid to comprehending the Latin text, but, as far as I am aware, there does not, as yet, exist any permission to pray the ‘Breviarium Romanum’ in the vernacular. Therefore the obligation of reciting the breviary would not be fulfilled if one used a vernacular translation of this particular breviary. One could make the same analogy with the Missale Romanum (1962). No permission exists for priests to offer Mass using a vernacular translation of this missal.

  2. MD says:

    Is there a Latin/English edition of the modern breviary?

  3. Trevor says:

    I agree with Fr. A.M. Summorum Pontificum provides for a wider use of the 1962 Missal, and the priest can only celebrate the liturgy in Latin (although presumably he can celebrate some Holy Week ceremonies and portions of the Ritual in the vernacular as was custom at the time). SP does not give the priest license to use the “1964 Missal” with its English translations of Mass, and thus I suppose the same principle would hold true to the Breviary.

    Since ICEL is charged with making translations for liturgical texts, I suppose their translations would be the only approved ones nowadays (for English speakers, of course).

    Finally, if someone has an obligation to pray the Office, would they want to play games and use a “possibly approved” translation or a “possibly licit” option?

  4. Why were there translations which received approval?

  5. There is a Latin/English breviary in the Benedictine tradition, published by St Michael’s Abbey Press of Farnborough Abbey in the UK.


    The “Monastic Diurnal” is “a republication of the 1963 edition of the Benedictine hours of Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, in Latin and English in parallel columns for all the feasts and seasons in the traditional Benedictine calendar, with an updated table of movable feasts and a Benedictus/Magnificat card. The Latin text is the traditional Vulgate psalter.” As I remember the explanation, it is a “diurnal” breviary, as opposed to “nocturnal,” which renders it for daytime use, as Matins is omitted.

  6. I should add that I am not aware of any approved vernacular of the pre-conciliar office, and that the English text is likely an aid to comprehension.

  7. Emilio III says:

    Baronius Press has been promising a new edition of the breviary, which should have been available last year. I hope will be finished this year: http://www.baroniuspress.com/forthcoming_books.htm

  8. Jon says:

    In this particular case, I believe the initial priest “reader” can probably fulfill his obligation by praying his particular edition of the Office. I have the same edition. It reads in the front:

    “At a plenary meeting of the American Bishops
    in Washington, DC, on April 2, 1964,
    their Excellencies,
    among other actions taken, approved the
    ‘Roman Breviary in English,’
    published by Benziger Brothers, Inc.,
    for the recitation of the Divine Office
    in the vernacular.
    The decrees of the American Bishops
    were confirmed by the postconciliar Commission
    for the
    Execution of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,
    dated at Vatican City, May 1, 1964.”

    Unless this permission was rescinded, I would wager it still holds.

    An aside: isn’t it amazing this translation of the ENTIRE 1961 Office was accomplished not even two years into Vatican II, and gained a recognitio from the Holy See only 29 days after episcopal approval?

    Not only that, but it’s an elegant modern translation to boot.

  9. Fr. A.M. says:

    Jon –

    Many thanks for your comment. The permission you mention – in this case solely for America (?) – postdates Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred liturgy, 4 December 1963) and, indeed, is a step towards its implementation :’Execution of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, dated at Vatican City, May 1, 1964.’ The same document(SC) also ‘abolished’ (or ‘gave less importance to’) the office of Prime, allowed the recitation of one of the minor hours outside choir to fulfil the obligation, and proposed other sweeping changes to the Divine Office, even allowing that ‘in individual cases the ordinary (e.g. a diocesan bishop) has the power to grant the use of a vernacular translation to those clerics for whom the use of Latin constitutes a grave obstacle to their praying the office properly’ (SC no. 101,2 : sorry that I don’t have the Latin text handy). This is what we have here with regard to what the American bishops did in 1964 : as time grew on, permission for clerics to use a vernacular office was given to all clerics, beyond what Vatican II actually decreed. It is quite clear that ‘Summorum Pontificum’, in allowing clerics the option of using the Breviarium Romanum (1962), refers to (Latin) liturgical books in use before the conciliar decrees of Vatican II and therefore, as far as the ‘nuts and bolts’ of law are concerned, those decrees from SC are not applicable in this specific instance. Aside from that – and the merits or otherwise of the Holy See allowing all priests to use approved vernacular versions of the 1962 breviary in fulfilling their obligation to pray the office – vernacular versions can certainly be an aid to all clergy who wish to pray the Breviarium Romanum. Laity, and perhaps some religious, can, needless to say, freely choose to pray using vernacular versions of the 1962 breviary, as they are not obliged to fulfil the same obligation as clerics.

  10. Greg Smisek says:

    I just checked my Liturgical Press breviary, The Hours of the Divine Office in English and Latin (3 vols., 1963). Unlike the Benziger edition which Jon quoted, the Liturgical Press edition does not have any official approbation for its English text, unless this was granted after the printing of the breviary.

    It has the usual Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur granted by the local bishop, along with the Apostolic Letter of Pope John XXIII and the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which approved and promulgated, respectively, the new Code of Rubrics.

    The back of the title page states the the book is “in accord with the Editio Typica of the Vatican Polyglot Press,” which at most says that the Latin accords with the Editio Typica.

    So the Liturgical Press edition has ecclesiastical permission to print the English text in the book, but there is no ecclesiastical approbation as such for this English text. And since Sacrosanctum Concilium, 101 §1 requires the use of a vernacular version approved by the competent territorial body of bishops (SC, nn. 36 §4, 22 §2), this Liturgical Press translation is not eligible (unless it received subsequent approval by the U.S. bishops).

    101 §1. In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office. But in individual cases the ordinary has the power of granting the use of a vernacular translation to those clerics for whom the use of Latin constitutes a grave obstacle to their praying the office properly. The vernacular version, however, must be one that is drawn up according to the provision of Art. 36.

    36 §4. Translations from the Latin text into the mother tongue intended for use in the liturgy must be approved by the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned above.

    22 §2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.

    It’s one thing to receive an Imprimatur, and quite another to receive ecclesiastical approval precisely as a liturgical text.

  11. Fr Augustine Thompson OP says:

    Obviously for those who have no Office obligation, one can say any Office one wants as a private devotion. It is a bit ironic that among some who want the Mass in Latin, even though attended by many who have a marginal ability at best in the language, there is often such a desire for clergy to be able to avoid saying their Office in Latin.

    I say this of none here, but I have run into it–and, if I am not mistaken this attitude in an American cardinal at Vat. 2 caused much humor among the Europeans.

    Certainly clerics would want to learn Latin to say their Office.

  12. Fra Alban says:

    The edition quoted by Jon is the one I have (and use, daily- it is in modern English, but very, very well done). I am though, under no obligation to recite the Office though, as yet.
    This was the point I was making in asking the question; yes Fr. A-M is right, Summorum Pontificum covers liturgical boks in use in ’62; however, these are not just in Latin, there was some venacular, such as the “manual of prayers” in this country (UK), as well as the Ritus Servandus, which again contains prayers in the venac. for public use. Also, in ’62, a bishop had authority to allow a priest bound to recitation of the office to say it in the venac. if he was unable, for whatever reason to say it in Latin. Theoretically, therefore, a Bishop can grant the same permission, surely?
    As to study of Latin, I have been trying to learn latin for years, by myself, but have made little progress, and there really is no one around who can teach me either. I would imagine, and in fact I know, because I had this very conversation with a priest earlier this week, that he would love to use the Extraordinary form breviary, but is unable to undertake any serious study of Latin to the point where he could say the breviary properly. This was why I posed the question.

  13. Fr. A.M. says:

    Dear Fra Alban,

    Your question was an interesting one. However ‘Summorum Pontificum’ does not mention other (Latin) liturgical books beyond the missal, breviary, ritual and pontifical. That is not to say that in certain circumstances – especially if older customs prevail (Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a good example)- that there was, and is, scope for the use of the vernacular, within certain limits, and in certain places, certain elements from the ritual could be carried out in the vernacular. You mention that, ”in ‘62, a bishop had authority to allow a priest bound to recitation of the office to say it in the venac. if he was unable, for whatever reason to say it in Latin.” I would be interested to see your source for this. Many thanks.

  14. Fr. A.M. says:

    ps. vernacular hymns can be sung during Low Mass etc.,

    Please note : my comments on Benediction refer to the older format familiar to many of us. It was, I think, technically not regarded as ‘liturgy’, though it was certainly regulated. The ‘Manual of Prayers’ you mention, is an excellent book.

    God bless.

  15. Tradster says:

    Baronius Press has been promising a new edition of the breviary, which should have been available last year. I hope will be finished this year: http://www.baroniuspress.com/forthcoming_books.htm

    Comment by Emilio III — 1 August 2009 @ 12:50 pm


    I’ve seen a significant portion of the Baronius breviary in its final stages, and in my opinion it will be well worth the long wait.

  16. Fra Alban says:

    Fr. A-M,
    I notice you backet Latin, when referring to S.P. does the word acctually occur in the text, or is it assumed? Also Benediction is liturgical, I’d have thought, in that it is a public action taking place in a Church; I know that in the UK it was mandated that the prayer for England (O Blessed Virgin…) was mandated for use on certain days – most Sundays I think- and the Ritus Servandus does not, to my knowledge, contain a Latin translation, which implies for para-liturgical acts the Venac. was used fairly regularly; I know the custom has always been for te Rosary to be said in English, for example. Also, I think, by this time, the administration of certain Sacraments, ie baptism and marriage could include a substantial part in the venacular for the greater understanding of the faithful, though I would have to look up dats for this.
    Now you mention it, I can’t remember where I read that dispensation, though I know it occurs in Sacrosanctum Concilium, so I may be a little bit late on that! Though, I see no reason why a Bishop could not grant the permission.
    I’m sorry I cannot be more precise, but at present I am away from home without my books to hand!

  17. Fr. A.M. says:

    Hello Fra Alban,

    Concerning Sacrosanctum Concliulium and Summorum Pontificum, I refer you to my earlier comments. Personally I have no objections to the use of the vernacular where this was and is sanctioned, so I agree with you on that score.I am given to understand that while benediction was regulated, and certain prayers mandated – e.g. ‘O Blessed Virgin Mary’, for instance – that benediction was technically regarded as a non-liturgical service, ad it is not explicitly mentioned in Summorum Pontificum. But this has now changed, and I would have to agree that we should regard it as a liturgical service. It is good that the custom of using the older format for Benediction – with the use of the vernacular – is indeed a good thing. I, too, am frequently away from home at the moment, so I cannot lay my hands on references. perhaps other WDPRS’s fans might be able to help.

    Best wishes.

Comments are closed.