QUAERITUR: Do laypeople pray “liturgically” when praying the office?

From a reader comes a question worthy of discussion (my emphases and comments):

I was at a conference in the Winter in which the speaker was delivering a lecture on praying the Liturgy of the Hours and its connection to the Sacred Liturgy.  I was always taught that praying the Hours is a liturgical action, and that this was one way that a husband and father could bring the Liturgy into the home with his family. [Considering that the husband is the head of the home, the priestly figure in the family home which is the "domestic Church".]  However, the speaker mentioned that [NB:] the recitation of the Hours is only an act of liturgy is there is a member of the clergy leading itIf a priest [I assume also deacon…] is reciting Vespers with his congregation, then this is liturgical.  Even when a priest is reciting it alone, this is liturgy.  However, if the laity recites one or more of the hours privately, or even with others, then this is merely a devotional act.  The speaker was clear that he in no way intended to take anything away from the laity reciting the Office, and even encouraged them to do so.  He was merely pointing out that properly speaking, an act not in the presence of a representative of the Church (a cleric) cannot be liturgical.  In light of your recent posts about the Hours, I was hoping you would have some comments about this.


This is complicated, to be sure.

I think we can say that doing something "liturgical" is more than just "following the script and directions", saying the black and doing the red properly…. though it is that if it is going to be the Church’s liturgy.

I think we also have to say that Catholic liturgy must involved, at the very least, the baptized.  Does it also have to involve the ordained for it to be true liturgy?

First, all clerics (unless dispensed) are obliged to recite the "divine office" in some official form or other.  There is no question that when a cleric recites the office is doing something liturgical. 

Virtually all consecrated persons who are not also clerics are also obliged.  When they say the office together or by themselves, are they just being devotional in fulfilling their obligation to say the office?

When lay people recite any of the divine office they are certainly praying, but they are not doing so in the name of the Church, in an official act of the Church’s prayer life.  But they are sure associating themselves with it.

Consecrated people such as religious who are not ordained clerics are probably doing something "liturgical" and not just devotional when they recite the liturgy of the hours together. 

I can hear all sorts religious shouting "But Father! But Father!  Of course we are!"  I respond saying, "Great! Fine! Explain that, so that we can understand this more deeply!"

There are a few factors that make this tricky.

First, all the baptized share in their own mode of sharing in Christ’s the High Priest’s priesthood.  By baptism, all Christians are enabled to join their spiritual sacrifices to the Sacrifice of Christ and pray as Christians, adopted sons and daughters, pray.

The priesthood of the ordained is different in quality from the common priesthood of the baptized.  They seem to do things in the name of the Church in a different way than the baptized can do, even deacons, not just because of a different level of permission or jurisdiction, but by the fact of priesthood, the sacrament.  Which leads to the next point.

Another factor is what has happened in liturgy in general since the Second Vatican Council.  There was a very strict regulation once which eliminated the doubt about these questions.  These days liturgical roles has been made so vague that it seems as if anyone can do just about anything "in the name of the Church".  All you have to do is look at that ghastly Book of Blessingsdelendus est – to see that the theology of blessings has been so degraded that anyone can substitute for a priest provided he or she doesn’t make the sign of the Cross in the same way.  There are permissions given for deputized lay people to witness weddings (which is not the same thing as the liturgical act of singing the office).  There are "liturgies" in approved books for these things.

The non-ordained can these days even handle sacred vessels and even the Most Blessed Sacrament with their bare hands!

But deacons, though clerics, are not priests with anointed hands.  Deacons can also distribute the Eucharist and give Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament..  They can now and could before the Council conduct liturgical acts.  Before the Council deacons, who are not priests, could with permission, conduct a liturgy of the sacrament of baptism, for example.  So, this is a case of a non-priest doing something liturgical.  You might object that anyone could baptize.  Yes.  But they couldn’t baptize solemnly and deacons could, with permission.  I am pretty sure I am right about this since the late great Msgr. Schuler had a story about getting permission as a deacon in 1945 to baptize.  Deacons were obliged to recite the office and did so "liturgically".  Or did they?

In any event, I am now rambling.

Either way we go with this, and I hope in the discussion that follows we can either get some clarity or at least find new questions, praying the office is prayer and is to one degree or another associated with the Church’s official prayer, and is therefore spiritually helpful for everyone and praiseworthy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. Oneros says:

    Lots of people are confused, I think.

    The laity cannot celebrate liturgy, because they are not public representatives of the Church, they are not Public Pray-ers, as it were. Clerics are, priest or not. The clerical state is not the same as being ordained, it is a canonical class that deputizes people as official representatives of the Church (hence why the minor orders were clerics, even though not sacraments. And why a priest can be laicized; he’s still a priest, but no longer a cleric).

    However, the laity can certainly “participate in” the public prayers of the clergy. In this sense, I suppose, it is like the difference between attending Mass (or maybe more like shut-ins watching it on TV) and actually CELEBRATING Mass, or more like a communion-service vs actual Mass.

    As for consecrated religious who pray the actual Office (as opposed to some Little Office or something like that), I think it is generally held that (though not ordained) they have a pseudo-clerical status and thus their prayer is generally held to be public properly so-called. Hence the difference between “choir nuns” vs “lay sisters”. Obviously nuns do not receive the sacrament of orders, so for some people the term “lay sister” as contrasted with choir nun is confusing, “arent they all lay because they’re women?” But the fact is, “lay” is not quite the same thing as “unordained”. It is a question of public standing in the Church (hence why priests can be laicized, and why “choir nuns” can pray publicly in contrast with “lay sisters”)

  2. Andrew says:

    If I may tackle this from a completely uneducated point of view:
    I think that a distinction should be explained between “liturgical” and “devotional”. I think of liturgical as something that has a divine guarantee in Christ. Like a sacrament. Devotional, on the other hand, depends on one’s devotion. The Churche’s liturgy has a stamp of divine guarantee – so to speak – kind of like a sacrament. Devotion, on the other hand depends on the individual. It could be very effective, or not effective at all.
    The important fact to keep in mind is what Pope Paul VI wrote in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei: “To be sure, the distinction between the universal priesthood and the hierarchical priesthood is something essential and not just a matter of degree, and it has to be maintained in a proper way.”
    This distinction also bears on the question proposed here. A priest praying the divine office fulfills a role that is distinct not just in degree but essentially distinct from that of non-clergy praying the same office, even if obligated by virtue of membership in a religious order. As I said, that is my personal uneducated opinion offered completely free of charge.

  3. TrueLiturgy says:

    I’d like to give my toughts after reflecting on this post. I believe that liturgical acts are solemn. When you envision a cleric praying the Liturgy of the Hours by himself, you usually see it as solemn and a liturgical act, but at the same time envisioning a lay person praying the Liturgy of the Hours in the pews at Church doesn’t (to me) ring of being liturgical, solemn, maybe, but simply a devotion. But I argue with saying that liturgical actions are only when a cleric is present. Sure, a cleric should always be present, but as Father pointed out, since Vatican II, this is not necessary. Just think of Sunday Celebrations in the Absense of a Priest! But this is something that we all should reflect more on. I see Liturgy of the Hours done by clerics and religious (whether alone or together) as liturgical. When laity do it together, I say it could be liturgical. When we do it alone, it is simply a devotional. Also, a lay person taking Holy Communion to the sick, I really don’t see as liturgical, or really solemn unless done in the right atmosphere and with proper attire (alb). I’ve done this myself and yet see it as somewhat Protestant. I think that when a lay person exposes the Blessed Sacrament, this CAN be done liturgically, but I don’t see when this would be necessary except in emergencies if the priest is doing his job properly.

    BTW, I really don’t like the rubrics for taking Holy Communion to the sick, and other things without a priest, calling the laity a “minister.” Especially the way it is written in English, the wording puts us on teh exact same level as the priests.

    Sorry, I guess I have rambled a bit as well.

    What is Liturgy and who has to be present for something to be liturgical? Guess this is another thing for the CDWDS.

  4. Bishops, priests and deacons are bound to the praying of the LOH by canonical precept.
    Religious are bound, according to their Constitution, to certain Hours or the entire LOH (contemplative communities).
    The Laity participate in this prayer, although they are not bound by precept, as a “higher” form of participation in the Sacred Liturgy. The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours encourages the lay faithful to participate, according to their ability, in the LOH.
    Whether by law or by devotion, anyone who prays the LOH is participating in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer before the Heavenly Father.
    If you are able, do so…it brings great fruit, many graces to Holy Church.
    Our Public Association of the Faithful requires the laity to pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline; we encourage any of those who can to pray Office of Readings and the Minor Hours (Terce, Sext, None). It is a great work to participate in these Hours of Prayer for the Church, for the world.

  5. revs96 says:

    If, theoretically, the laity were obligated to say the Hours (or just a part of it) how would that effect this?

  6. Tim Ferguson says:

    I will have to cogitate on this a bit more, but it seems to me like this might be something of a distinction without a difference.

    If a layperson baptizes someone, is that not a liturgical act?

    If a layperson is delegated to officiate at a wedding of two Catholics (c. 1112), is that not a liturgical act?

    If a layperson conducts a Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest, is that not a liturgical act?

    Again, I’m not certain here, and will have to do some cogitating on the matter, and looking into some sources, but I’m not convinced that only the clergy can perform liturgical acts.

  7. TrueLiturgy says:

    Oneros: “public representatives of the Church” I ask you, what definition of Church are we using here? Sure we all know that Church can stand for the teaching authority passed down by the Apostles. But Church also means the community of believers doesn’t it? Am I not a member of the Church? Does not that membership allow me to act liturgically?

    Sorry, just adding more things to think about. These are not necessarily my views.

  8. TrueLiturgy says:

    Tim: Excellent point!

    Can. 1112 §1. Where there is a lack of priests and deacons, the diocesan bishop can delegate lay persons to assist at marriages, with the previous favorable vote of the conference of bishops and after he has obtained the permission of the Holy See.
    §2. A suitable lay person is to be selected, who is capable of giving instruction to those preparing to be married and able to perform the matrimonial liturgy properly.

    The Code of Canon Law seems to still call the Wedding Ceremony, even though officiated by a lay person, to be a liturgy!

  9. Sid says:

    In Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Ordo for the Divine Office — and my memory is doubtless faulty — I can’t seem to recall something that says that the Divine Office is anything other than liturgy, no matter who the baptized Christian praying it. What I do recall is that the Divine Office is the prayer of the the whole Church, and to pray it is to join the whole Church at prayer; and that within the Blessed Trinity it is the prayer of The Son to The Father, in which the one praying joins.

    Yet as I said, my memory may well be faulty.

  10. The Divine Office is also officially called “The Liturgy of the Hours.” This name assigned by the Church tells us something essential about this form of prayer: it is liturgy in the full and proper sense, no matter by whom it is offered. When the “Liturgy of the Hours” is prayed by a layman rather than by a priest, is there an essential difference in the offering? I cannot see how. What is offered is a sacrifice of praise, and such an offering requires only Baptism, not Priestly Ordination. I agree wholeheartedly that the theology of priestly blessing has been tragically diminished since the Council, but I do not see how understanding that a layman praying the Liturgy of the Hours is doing something liturgical rather than devotional is directly connected to that. Moreover, when a priest does something devotional (e.g. praying the Divine Mercy chaplet), the devotion is not changed into a liturgical act simply because the one praying is a priest.

  11. Tim: If the answer to all of your questions is “yes” (and I’m not saying it isn’t); the “Spirit of Vatican II” types who want to do away with role of ordained clergy altogether just received some ammunition to support some of their views

  12. ppb says:

    Some quotes from Sacrosanctum Concilium:

    84. By tradition going back to early Christian times, the divine office is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praises of God. Therefore, when this wonderful song of praise is rightly performed by priests and others who are deputed for this purpose by the Church’s ordinance, or by the faithful praying together with the priest in the approved form, then it is truly the voice of the bride addressed to her bridegroom; lt is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father.

    85. Hence all who render this service are not only fulfilling a duty of the Church, but also are sharing in the greatest honor of Christ’s spouse, for by offering these praises to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of the Church their Mother.


    98. Members of any institute dedicated to acquiring perfection who, according to their constitutions, are to recite any parts of the divine office are thereby performing the public prayer of the Church.

    They too perform the public prayer of the Church who, in virtue of their constitutions, recite any short office, provided this is drawn up after the pattern of the divine office and is duly approved.

  13. david andrew says:

    Excellent points, all.

    If I may put forth another point of view, I would add that while canonically lay people are not bound in obligation to recite the office, and while they do not offer it up on behalf of the Church as Fr. Z explained, it seems to me that by virtue of the Teachings of the Church regarding the Communion of Saints, we as lay people can join our prayers in union with the Whole Church in offering up the official prayers of the Divine Office with great efficacy and receive many graces and spiritual insight by doing so.

    I have set up a “home altar” that features icons, statues, candles and a crucifix; it has been blessed and that corner of the room has been dedicated as holy space where no other activity takes place.

    I’m not sure that the juxtaposition of the terms “liturgical” versus “devotional” really works. It seems to me that all liturgy has a devotional nature, but not all devotions are liturgical. For instance, the Rosary was (unless I’m very much mistaken) intended to be an exercise in private devotion prayed by individuals. While it has a structure and incorporates prayers that can be recited publicly by a group of people together in the form of a liturgical exercise, it doesn’t require the participation of others, which for liturgical celebrations is important. (I’ve always found the praying of the Rosary by a group of people with the various prayers artificially broken up into versicle/response format to be a little jarring. The usual experience is that each person has their own pace and “style” to praying the various prayers, and often times the responses sound like a confused mumble rather than a unified act.) It seems to that Rosary is really a devotion that has been turned into a loosely-defined “liturgical” act. On the other hand, the Divine Office, the “Liturgy of the Hours” was originally intended to be prayed in choir. It’s structure and prayers were designed with the notion of public prayer from the outset. In its revised form, it’s been shortened, simplified, the chants (perhaps the one part that made it necessary to pray the Offices in common) were stripped out, and while the basic structure permits it to be prayed in common, it is just as easy to pray it in private. While it retains the form of a liturgical act, it can also be prayed privately. The Rosary, a devotional when prayed in common seems awkward and clumsy, while the Divine Office, a liturgical prayer of the Church when prayed in private seems awkward.

    At the same time, does “liturgical” necessarily mean “sacramental”? I understand Fr.’s argument against this pernicious watering down of the importance of the sacramental priesthood. The fact that non-ordained people handle sacred vessels, distribute communion during Mass and even (wrongfully, in my mind) engage in pronouncing “blessings” is a serious cause for concern. Baptisms, Weddings, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, hearing confessions and pronouncing absolution, and even invoking blessings on people and objects are all sacraments in one form or another. But, is the public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours a sacramental action that requires the leadership of a member of the clergy in order for it to be “valid”? I think perhaps this is the key question that the original writer was posing.

  14. The General Instruction seems to view it as liturgy:

    “27. Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church’s duty, [103] by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours. The laity must learn above all how in the liturgy they are adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth; [104] they should bear in mind that through public worship and prayer they reach all humanity and can contribute significantly to the salvation of the whole world. [105]”

  15. david andrew says:

    (My apologies. While I was typing my rather lengthy post, Fr. Newman stated the point I was making, in much clearer and more concise terms!)

  16. bruno says:

    “But the fact is, “lay” is not quite the same thing as “unordained”. It is a question of public standing in the Church (hence why priests can be laicized, and why “choir nuns” can pray publicly in contrast with “lay sisters”)”

    The Carthusian “Choir Nuns” after a period of time can receive Consecration of Virgins and are invested with a deacons stole. If there is no priest present to proclaim the Gospel at vigils, they do.

  17. Tradster says:

    Purely as a theologically uneducated layman, I happen to agree that the DO is liturgical for the clergy but only a devotional for the laity. Actually, I find it more comforting to not consider the DO as liturgical for laity, for several reasons. First, to maintain the distinction between the clergy and laity. Second, to keep obligatory pressures off us lay people as to say it at just the right times and in the right ways.

    My understanding of the Office for laity is that it is a devotional just like the Rosary, that we can pray when, how, and if we want, using whatever approved breviary we wish. It is only “liturgical” in the sense of being the offical prayers of the Church, so it carries more efficacy and blessings than a Rosary because we are theoretically uniting ouselves with the rest of the Church, even when using various breviaries. Much like that same Rosary prayed in public can – assuming all conditions are met – bestow a plenary indulgence while a private one does not. In short, the Divine Office is second on the “prayer pyramid” below the Holy Mass for potential graces, but it in no way elevates our rightful place in the hierarchy of the Church.

  18. dans0622 says:

    A few thoughts. Liturgy is public prayer, basically: public prayer that has been ordered and approved by the Church. I don’t take this to mean that there always must be more than one person praying the public prayer of the Church in order for that act to be called “liturgical.” I would consider anyone, ordained or lay, to be performing a liturgical act whenever he uses the public prayer approved by the Church–in this case, the Litrgy of the Hours. Liturgical acts are different from ministerial acts or acts of orders. The person can be acting “alone” and still be united to the entire Church, Head and members, through the simple fact that the prayer used is used by the whole Church (or at least is used by others in the Church) and has been approved by the Church.

    So, I would disagree with the “speaker” Fr. Z referenced. Who is it, I wonder?

    Some passages I have been contemplating: “Through the liturgy a complete public worship is offered to God by the head and members of the mystical body of Christ” (c. 834.1) “This worship takes place when it is offered in the name of the Church, by persons lawfully deputed and through actions approved by ecclesiastical authority” (c. 834.2).

    “Liturgical actions are not private actions but are celebrations of the Church itself as the ‘sacrament of unity’, that is, the holy people united and ordered under the Bishops. … Since liturgical actions by their very nature call for a community celebration, they are, as far as possible, to be celebrated in the presence of Christ’s faithful and with their active participation” (c. 837.1-2)

    “The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder, and through Him to the heavenly Father. It is, in short, the worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christ in the entirety of its Head and members” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, n. 20).


  19. More Incense Please says:

    I have recently felt called to start praying the office, but ashamedly I have no idea where or how to even start. What a beautiful expression of the catholicisty of the church, as we all pray together united as one body.

    If anyone has a sympathetic heart for me and could get me started or point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated.


  20. Geoffrey says:

    Very interesting discussion!

    I pray the Liturgy of the Hours and often consider that I am praying with the Church, in the Church’s official prayer. I know as a layman, observing the office is different than the way priests and religious are, but I still feel united to them and to all who are praying the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the universal Church. And even though not obligated, I pray as though I was obligated; observing the rubrics, etc.

  21. Henry Edwards says:


    I may qualify as an advanced practitioner — the whole office in Latin daily — but I started at the opposite extreme, and would suggest the same for you.

    I actually started years ago with the monthly “Magnificat” that contains short versions of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in a self explanatory way. Spend maybe $4 at your local Catholic book store today for a copy, and you can start tomorrow. I don’t know or care about the issue of whether this is “liturgy” or “devotion”, nor perhaps do the bishops when they occasionally use the Magnificat for their office at their meetings. (Definitely, pay no attention to the more learned remarks on this issue in some of the preceding posts.)

    After using the Magnificat for morning and evening prayer for a month or two or many, you may feel an urge to invest about $26 at Amazon for a copy of “Christian Prayer” (the 1-volume briefer version of the Liturgy of the Hours), which by then (after Magnificat practice) will also seem almost self-explanatory. But if you need to, you can google something like “how to pray the liturgy of the hours” and learn more than you need or want to know. If you absolutely insist on spending more money, “how to” books on the LOH are usually available (for maybe $15) at some of the google sites, at Amazon, or at your local Catholic bookstore if you ask the sales person — though never in my own trip all the way up the LOH learning curve did I ever find a need for one of these self-help books.

    Seriously, I believe the biggest step is the first one — deciding to just go ahead and start.

  22. Lurker 59 says:

    I think it is simpler than what has been discussed.

    It is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, who prays liturgically. An individual prays liturgically only in so far as he actively participates in the prayers and rituals of the Church according to the role that has been given to him. Liturgical act and prayer must always be seen as springing from the action of Christ, who is the primary actor. In this way Catholic liturgy is always divine in origin and production.

    If we reduce Liturgy to what the individual does, whether he be ordained or not, and stemming from his own motives and aspirations, then liturgy must essentially be liberal and progressive in scope. Even if we say that liturgy is only what the ordained do, that still reduces liturgy to a human act that can be modified and changed in its nature. Liturgy is what Christ does – its His prayers, His action, His sacramental mystery that we as the Mystical Body of Christ are called to co-operate in through a communal fellowship.

    I think it is very very important to stay far away from a Protestant and liberal view of liturgy as a human act and response to God.

    I find that the question asked above really is “how do people participate in the liturgical action of the Church?” or better yet “When exactly are we co-operating in the prayer and liturgical action of Christ himself?” or more frightenly, “when is Christ present praying and ministering to us directly — and how can we get in on that?”

  23. Oneros says:

    “But, is the public recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours a sacramental action that requires the leadership of a member of the clergy in order for it to be “valid”? I think perhaps this is the key question that the original writer was posing.”

    No, but the fact that the LOTH cannot be solemnly celebrated (with a celebrant in cope, candles, etc) without a cleric…should tell us something about the status of a group of lay people who get together to pray it without a priest. Group-private recitation is not the same as public celebration. A group of lay people can get together and “recite” the office together, they cannot officiate at a public celebration of the Office.

    And yet, I see the tension in the fact that a priest’s private recitation was considered public prayer strictly so-called. But I think that’s because he’s obligated. What we should really imagine when we talk about Public Prayer and Liturgy…is the full celebration with multiple people, in a Church, with all the ceremony (and chant), etc

  24. Sid says:

    Mark @ 2:20 pm
    Henry Edwards has given good advice @340

    I add: try universalis.com and follow the introduction there.

  25. Sid says:

    1. With respect to LOTH, the official documents make no distinction between “devotional” and “liturgical”.

    2. I agree with Fr. Newman. Liturgical means liturgical, regardless who prays it and with whom.

    3. Ideal would it be for all Offices to be prayed in a group, even more ideal led by clergy. Yet how in the modern world one can pop into Church seven times a day? I wish in my parish a group would gather at least for lauds or vespers. Still, most of the time most of the folk will pray most of the Offices alone and in their circumstance.

  26. Adam W. says:

    I would say there might be some semantic issue here as well-
    Is there a difference between “doing something liturgical” (in the manner of liturgy) and “doing liturgy.”

    Perhaps, also, the “liturgicalness” is also somewhat dependent on format. While I know feelings are not the best guides, I can say: I have participated in a number of lay-lead Morning and Evening Prayer services that felt like liturgy. Conversely, a friend and I pray the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer every morning together, sitting on a couch in his library. It’s very prayerful, and we even chant parts of it, but it doesn’t feel anything at all like a liturgy.

  27. Agree with Dan above…using the definition of Liturgy from the Catholic Encyclopedia (see below) it seems that any of the Church’s official prayers in the liturgical books, when said properly by a person authorized to do so are liturgical. This seems to be quite independent of who is saying them (modulo, of course, the restrictions in the liturgical books themselves!)

    From the good ol’ Catholic Encyclopedia:

    “…liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions. In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms (including the canonical hours, administration of sacraments, etc.), used officially by any local church, as the liturgy of such a church — the Liturgy of Antioch, the Roman Liturgy, and so on. So liturgy means rite; we speak indifferently of the Byzantine Rite or the Byzantine Liturgy. In the same sense we distinguish the official services from others by calling them liturgical; those services are liturgical which are contained in any of the official books (see LITURGICAL BOOKS) of a rite. In the Roman Church, for instance, Compline is a liturgical service, the Rosary is not.”

  28. I guess the upshot of my above comment is that I disagree with Fr. Z’s first assumption:

    “I think we can say that doing something “liturgical” is more than just “following the script and directions”, saying the black and doing the red properly…. though it is that if it is going to be the Church’s liturgy.”

    Liturgy *is* simply Saying the Black and doing the Red (by those duly authorized to do so in the Red itself, of course). I agree that in regard to *proper worship* in the liturgy there is more to it than simply following the script — intention, disposition, etc. all are factors…but liturgy *per se* is simply the keeping of the Church’s rule of prayer as defined by her and laid out in her books.

  29. Henry Edwards says:

    I admittedly don’t know the precise distinction between “private devotion” and “public liturgy”.

    However, I know how I feel. When I get together with a group of laymen and we say the office with as much propriety and careful attention to the 284 numbered paragraphs in the GILOH (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours) as we can muster, it feels like liturgy. (Everybody knows about the GIRM, but the GILOH seems at least as neglected by lay and clerics alike.)

    When I sit in my easy chair with the morning’s first cup of coffee at hand, surrounded with books, using one for the Latin, one for the English, still another for the hymns, pausing occasionally to look up a Latin word in perhaps more than one dictionary — from Stelten to (if absolutely necessary) Father Z’s beloved but ponderous Lewis & Short — perhaps comparing the English translation of a psalm verse in a couple of different bibles and maybe also Alter’s “bible” of The Psalms, interrupting the whole process when I need to go to the kitchen for a coffee refill ….. then it definitely does not feel like liturgy.

    Perhaps the question sometimes may be whether it rises to the level of devotion, though I am definitely very devoted to the whole enterprise.

  30. TNCath says:

    Of course, we aren’t talking about the Mass here. We’re talking about liturgy as “public worship.” That said, if “liturgy” is indeed public worship, then how is the celebration of the “Liturgy of the Hours” not “liturgy” if they are properly following the liturgical calendar and prayers of the Hours? Just because a cleric is not leading them? Hmmmm. Are laypeople prohibited from publicly praying the official prayers of the Church in their parishes without the presence of a cleric? I would think not. Are religious communities of nuns and brothers who pray the office in community not engaged in the liturgical life of the Church? Hardly. Since both of these groups, lay and religious, are engaging in the official public prayer of the Church, I’d think it pretty far-fetched to say they are not praying “liturgically.”

  31. The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (which you can find as the beginning of vol. I in the four-volume set, and I believe also at the begging of “Christian Prayer”) actually says that ANYONE who prays the Office prays in the name of the Church.

    (Cf. the General Instruction, 15. “All therefore who offer this prayer are fulfilling a duty of the Church, and also sharing in the highest honor given to Christ’s bride, because as they render praise to God they are standing before God’s throne in the name of Mother Church.)

    So, if we’re defining “liturgy” as “praying in the name of the Church,” it would seem that even when laypeople (i.e., the non-Ordained who aren’t in a public state of consecrated life) pray the Office, they are engaging in a liturgical action.

    Of course, this is presuming that the laypeople in question are praying the Office properly—while it would be perfectly legitimate for a layperson to adapt his or her recitation of the Office according to whatever they find most helpful (e.g., such as using the “Magnificat” version, using a non-official translation, maybe mediating on just a part of the Office or not following the calendar exactly, ect.), since this is a departure from what the Church has officially decreed to be Her public prayer, then I think this would cross the line from “liturgy” into “private devotion.”

    In any event, here I think the question of whether or not something is liturgical would depend on the nature of the prayer as opposed to the status of those who are paying it.

    However, the General Instruction also suggests that those who have a specific commission to pray the Liturgy of the Hours—which would include bishops, priests, deacons, and some (but believe it or not, I actually don’t think all) persons in public states of consecrated life—might still perhaps have their recitation of the Office carry a different significance than that of a layperson’s praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

    (Cf. the General Instruction, 17. “…This work of prayer belongs especially to all who have been called by a special mandate to pray the Liturgy of the Hours…”)
    Given this, my thought is that it might be most helpful to consider this question as being actually two separate questions:

    1. Is the Divine Office still liturgy when it is prayed by laypeople? (And to me, the answer would seem to be “yes.”)

    2. Presuming that the Divine Office is indeed liturgy no matter which member of the Church is praying it, could we still speak of some special quality inherent in the recitation of one formally deputed to say the Office? (I think this would also be “yes.”)

  32. Sorry, but I do not see what’s complicated about it: the prayer is liturgical insofar as it is “public” and “official”. The prayer is public and official when it is recited by someone in orders or otherwise bound to the recitation of the prayer by a vow of religion. The reason for this is that the priestly and religious characters are essentially public characters, for which praying with the Church and in the name of the Church is an “office”, i.e. a public duty.

    It is laudable and extremely salutary for the laity to pray the hours, but when they do, it is only “liturgical” by homonymy.


  33. TNCath says:

    Chris Altieri: “The prayer is public and official when it is recited by someone in orders or otherwise bound to the recitation of the prayer by a vow of religion. The reason for this is that the priestly and religious characters are essentially public characters, for which praying with the Church and in the name of the Church is an “office”, i.e. a public duty.”

    And so, if the laity pray the Hours in a parish together, at a regularly scheduled time, that isn’t really “public” or “official” but only by homonymy. They can “look” like they are praying Hours publicly, but they really aren’t and definitely not “officially” because even though they are engaging in the “official prayer of the Church,” the prayer isn’t “official” because they aren’t clerics?

    I think we might be somehow making “liturgy” (public prayer) analagous with “ceremony” (a formal act or set of acts performed as prescribed by ritual or custom) here.

  34. If you blur the distinction, though, then one is going to run into some difficulties. If laity privately reciting the Liturgy of the Hours is a liturgical act, then logically you would have to hold the same for laity who spiritually assist at Mass (when they can not attend Mass physically). Do you all really think that a layperson who prays some or all of the missal and the propers of the day are doing liturgy? Would anyone seriously consider this to be the case? Of course not.

    The private recitation of the Roman Breviary or the Liturgy of the Hours by the laity is a private devotion that can be laudable. The problem here is that for some reason everyone is convinced that liturgy is better than private devotions. If given the choice between the Rosary or the Roman Breviary, I, as a layman, would choose the Rosary. In fact, I would rather practice lectio divinia for 30 minutes in the morning than pray Matens and Lauds. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there is nothing inferior about that!

    Also a distinction must be made between praying the Breviary or the Liturgy of the Hours and canonical hours, and the speaker in the original post missed this distinction. Anyone who prays the Breviary or the Liturgy of the Hours publicly is taking part in a liturgical act. Liturgy is “the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church” (Catholic Encyclopedia). A canonical hour is the set hours of the Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours that a cleric or religious is obliged to pray. A lay person, whether a priest or deacon is present matters not, never prays a canonical hour because the lay person is not obliged to pray any of the hours.

  35. C. says:

    It is almost indisputable that the modern LOTH includes laity as “celebrants” of the public prayer of the Church. From the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours:

    The liturgy of the hours, like other liturgical services, is not a private matter but belongs to the whole Body of the Church, whose life it both expresses and affects….Wherever possible, other groups of the faithful should celebrate the liturgy of the hours communally in church…

    Lay groups gathering for prayer, apostolic work, or any other reason are encouraged to fulfill the Church’s duty, by celebrating part of the liturgy of the hours. The laity must learn above all how in the liturgy they are adoring God the Father in spirit and in truth; they should bear in mind that through public worship and prayer they reach all humanity and can contribute significantly to the salvation of the whole world.

    Really, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

  36. Consilio et Impetu says:

    Well said C.

    In cases of emergency a lay person may (and should) Baptize a person (who freely asks for it) as well in the event of a newborn who may not live. As long as the lay person pours the water over the head of the person being Baptized while saying the words (I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!) (SAY THE BLACK, DO THE RED). Is not Baptism a liturgical act?
    I remember a priest said to me that “not all emergency Baptisms ‘take’ “, so if the person that was Baptized lives, he “Re-baptizes” them. (Isn’t that Clericalism? Isn’t clericalism both a vice and a sin?)

  37. Dear C.,

    The cited text is assuming the presence of someone in orders.

    Dear C and I: baptism can take place within the context of liturgy, though baptism is itself basically ritual. It is not pertinent to the discussion. Think about it like this: since anyone – even someone who has not himself received baptism – may validly baptize, then it must follow by rigid logical necessity that the Jewish nurse who baptized the newborn in extremis was celebrating a Catholic liturgy.


  38. Daniel says:

    “Lay groups…” is paragraph 27 of the instructions. Paragraph 23 referred to those in Holy Orders “initiating and directing the prayer of the community”. The intervening paragraphs seem to refer mostly to a progression from those in Holy Orders to simple laity (men and women religious, etc.). I don’t see why paragraph 27 would assume the presence of someone in orders, since that would already have been covered by paragraph 23. In fact, paragraph 27 continues on by referring to the family, the “domestic sanctuary of the Church”, and the great advantage to have them “celebrate some parts of the liturgy of the hours as occasion offers, in order to enter more deeply into the life of the Church.” This is assuming the presence of someone in orders?

  39. Dear Daniel,

    I did not have it in front of me, and probably should have checked. In any case, it is one thing to have people engage in a laudable practice, it is quite another to have an official, public act, i.e. a liturgy. If there is no on present with the authority to act officially and publically in the name of the CHurch, i.e. someone in Orders, then there can be on official public act, i.e. no liturgy, punto e basta.

    Don’t get me wrong: I pray lauds and vespers most days – but if I don’t, I am not breaking any vow or failing in a responsibility to the whole Church.


  40. Tim Ferguson says:

    Chris, or anyone holding the position that an act of liturgy requires someone in Orders, I would love if you could produce some official citation from the catechism, the Code or some other authoritative source to support that contention.

    From my point of view it seems that liturgy is the public and official prayer of the Church, offered by those qualified to do so. From the various citations above from the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, it seems that the laity are considered qualified to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, officially, in the name of the Church. Therefore, it would seem to be “liturgy” properly so called, even when the clergy is not present.

    I’m well aware of the problems of clericalizing the laity. However, I don’t think that recognizing the fact that sometimes the laity can act in an official manner in the Church does any harm to the nature of the clergy. The proper sphere of the laity is the evangelization of the world, but there are circumstances where the laity can act, officially, in the Church. Similarly, the proper sphere of the clergy is the sanctification of the Church, but there are certainly circumstances where the clergy can act in the world. Respecting the distinction between the two does not mean there needs to be some sort of exclusionary restriction of the two spheres of activity.

  41. OK: I have seen the English text to which C. linked. So? The laity are encouraged to pray “parts of the Liturgy of the Hours,” etc., and also to “fulfil the Church’s duty”, which is, frankly, not very helpful language, since it leads to the sort of confusion into which you folks have fallen. [“You folks”? And you will now correct “us folks”?]

    Bottom line (and this is coming from a guy whose dozen years and more in Rome have thoroughly purged him of any and all undue deference to the cloth and collar): in order for the recitation of the prayers in the book called the Liturgia Horarum to be properly liturgical, you need someone who is capable of carrying out a liturgical act, i.e., someone in Orders (in the case of someone bound to the office by religion, the matter explains itself). [Does it? I am not so sure.]

    Best to all,

  42. Tim Ferguson says:

    Do you have some official citation that says that only the clergy is capable of carrying out a liturgical act? This does not seem to be a distinction that the Church makes.

  43. C. says:

    Consilio et Impetu, the unbaptized are also permitted to administer Holy Baptism in case of emergency.

  44. Daniel says:

    I would make a distinction that when I am praying the Liturgy of the Hours (as a layperson) in my home, I am participating in the Liturgy that is going on at the same time all over the world; I am not holding my own separate liturgy.

  45. Daniel says:

    I’d make a further distinction between participating in a liturgy versus attending a liturgy. I believe that the precept of the Church calls for “attending Mass” on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. One might be participating in the Liturgy of the Mass by watching it on television, but you’re not “attending Mass”.

  46. Tim Ferguson says:

    Found what I was looking for. Canon 230, paragraph 3:

    Where the needs of the Church require and ministers are not available, lay people, even though they are not lectors or acolytes, can supply certain of their functions, that is, exercise the ministry of the word, preside over liturgical prayers, confer baptism and distribute Holy Communion, in accordance with the provisions of the law.

  47. Dear Tim,

    Here is the Latin:

    Ubi Ecclesiae necessitas id suadeat, deficientibus ministris, possunt etiam laici, etsi non sint lectores vel acolythi, quaedam eorundem officia supplere, videlicet ministerium verbi exercere, precibus liturgicis praeesse, baptismum conferre atque sacram Communionem distribuere, iuxta iuris praescriptas.

    There seems to be no declaiming against the plain sense of precibus liturgicis praesse.

    I stand corrected.

    I will be eating my entire, and very own hat, very shortly.


  48. Tim Ferguson says:


    As they say in Australia – no worries. Perhaps Fr. Z can provide us with a suitable recipe for hat from Julia Child. If it’s accompanied with a nice Shiraz and some fingerling potatoes, I would happily join you in the enterprise (speaking as someone who’s had to eat his hat before as well).

    Oremus invicem

  49. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    Not my classiest moment, especially in light of the subsequent developments: apologies to all for the “you folks” remark.

    Chalk it up to testiness brought on by lack of sleep.

    In any case, from what has emerged in this discussion it seems that the answer to Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s original quaesitum, i.e., “Do laypeople pray ‘liturgically’ when praying the office?” must be (save nitpicking over what “the office” means as opposed to the Liturgy of the Hours), “possibly”.



  50. Daniel says:

    I think my own distinction covers a different point than Tim’s. The canon he refers to refers to instances where lay persons may be “deputized” to lead liturgical prayers. My own point would be that even when I am not deputized nor in attendance at a liturgy, praying the Liturgy of the Hours would still be a participation in the Liturgy. In a similar manner, there are a number of people participating in this discussion raised by Fr. Z, even if no one other than himself is attending the discussion.

  51. Henry Edwards says:


    It’s still not been made clear to me that — as I would like to believe — I am participating in the liturgy of the Church when I (as a layman) say the LOH alone but properly. Or, if so, under what conditions I am so participating.

    For example, it might be that I am participating liturgically if I say the LOH quite formally, making the prescribed gestures, standing when appropriate, etc. But that I am not participating liturgically if I say it quite informally, in the “study” fashion I indicated 1 June 2010 @ 5:33 pm above. Right?

    Whereas, if I go to the scheduled Morning Prayer in a chapel at my parish church, and lead a small group of laymen myself because no cleric shows up to do so, then we all are indeed participating in the liturgy of the Church. Right?

  52. Chris Altieri: I think we can say “possibly”. But I am still unsatisfied with that.

    I think we all need to keep digging.

  53. Daniel says:


    I myself would look at it as participation to different degrees. I see it that you are following the prescribed prayers and it is your intent to be participating in the liturgy of the Church, then to some degree you are participating. If you are attending a Mass but do not sing along on a hymn, aren’t you still actively participating in the Mass while you otherwise follow along with the prayers of the Mass?

  54. Rob F. says:

    Thanks, Patrick Thornton, for your quote of IGLH#27.

    If I may be so bold as to cite Chapter II of “The Little Office Explained” in the appendix to Baronius Press’s excellent reprint of the 1961 Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the novice master takes pains to point out that the Little Office is a liturgical prayer. The book in turn cites (in a footnote) Pope Paul VI, “Ecclesiae Sanctae”, August 6, 1966, who says that the religious who pray the Little Office “perform the public prayer of the Church”, although he recommends the Divine Office as a more intimate participlation in the liturgy; His Holiness then cited Sacrosanctum Concilium 98.

    In none of these places do the relevent authorities mention a crucial need for clergy to be present in order for the laity to participate in the liturgy. If such a need were real, then the absense of any mention of it in these instructional documents would be truly misleading. Chapter II then goes on to liken the liturgy to a formal message sent by the church via an embassy to God, with the embassy being those tasked with chanting the liturgy.

    In chapter II, as in “Ecclesiae Sanctae”, an emphasis is made on the obligation to recite the office. This is an important point. After all, ambassadors are not self-appointed. Nevertheless, insofar as the Church *encourages* the laity to pray the office, I think that it must be true that such prayer is liturgical in at least small way, so long as such voluntary ambassadors represent the mind of the church in their prayer.

  55. dans0622 says:

    Further “digging” has yielded this remark from Fr. Edward McNamara:

    “…before Vatican II the possibility of realizing a liturgical act depended on having a canonical delegation. For this reason a layperson who prayed the Divine Office technically performed a pious act but not a liturgical one. A nun, who prayed the same text in virtue of a canonical deputation, was deemed as participating in the liturgy.

    After Vatican II the capacity to act liturgically was no longer grounded canonically but rather on the basis of having received the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. Thus, any Catholic who prays the Liturgy of the Hours as the prayer of the Church acts liturgically.”

    Too bad he couldn’t give some sources in support of this comment. [Ditto! Thanks for that. It pertains well to what we are exploring here.] The entire Q&A can be found here: http://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur248.htm


  56. Trevor says:

    I was reading a journal article for my liturgy class, and the author said that all who recite the Office are performing a liturgical action (even if they’re lay-persons not obligated to do so). He notes that the Constitution on the Liturgy contains elements of the pre-Conciliar teaching that only clerics pray “liturgically” and lay persons do not. However, after the Council, the general opinion is that everyone who says the office prays liturgically. The Constitution on the Liturgy of the Hours says it is so. [Where?]

  57. Dear Henry Edwards,

    Tim Ferguson found the pertinent canon, 230.3, which seems unambiguously to say that lay persons may, under certain circumstances, preside over liturgical prayer. The kind of reading you are describing (the kind that I do), i.e., reading the office alone, and correctly, as a layman, strikes me as devotional, rather than liturgical – although it seems that Fr. Zuhlsdorf (who will correct me if I am wrong) is interested, among other things, in tightening up our understanding of the relation that devotional prayer based on the LH has to the properly liturgical prayer.

    In any case, having established that laity may, as a matter of Canon Law, preside over liturgical prayer(s) – 230.3 seems to do this – this strikes me as the matter most in need of clarification.

    Iàll have more to say when it’s morning my time, though.


  58. Daniel says:

    It seems interesting to me that Fr. McNamara’s response quoted by
    Dan on the one hand talks about the “capacity to act liturgically”, while saying that a nun “was deemed as participating in the liturgy.” I don’t think he is trying to say that there is a distinction between the “capacity to act” and “participating”, though I am. Sitting on an airplane praying the liturgical text, I don’t think I am creating a liturgical act. I do think that I am participating in a liturgy that transcends time and space, if that is my intent.

    If a priest is on that same plane, quietly praying from his breviary without following any prescribed gestures (such as “now stand”), is he not still performing a liturgical act?

  59. Daniel says:

    Paragraphs 1174-1178 of the CCC refer to the Liturgy of the Hours. It seems to me that they indicate that even the faithful praying on their own are taking part in the liturgical action of the Church. I find most interesting the in brief paragraph 1196, which says:
    “The faithful who celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours are united to Christ our high priest, by the prayer of the Psalms, meditation on the Word of God, and canticles and blessings, in order to be joined with his unceasing and universal prayer that gives glory to the Father and implores the gift of the Holy Spirit on the whole world. “

  60. kate_rub says:

    ‘Digging deeper’ on this, I think it is quite clear that laypeople are capable of praying the Office liturgically (though whether or not they are actually doing so on any particular occasion depends on a few other critical questions), and that religious (whether or not they are clerics) have always done so.

    Indeed, the suggestion that religious in particular are incapable of performing liturgy in the absence of a cleric smacks to me of clericalism, particularly given the history of the origins and development of the Office. St Benedict’s monks, you might recall, were not, according to the Rule, generally to be clerics, nor were priests to be automatically accorded a leading role in the monastery or in choir.

    Let me lay out what I think the logical sequence of arguments is.

    1. We shouldn’t confuse the capacity to confect particular sacraments (and say particular parts of the liturgy) with the ability to pray liturgically in general.

    Liturgy is the public worship of God. It includes both very short sets of actions and words (such as the case of baptism by a layperson in an emergency), and much longer prayers which offer different roles and degrees of participation depending on the hierarchical capacity of the person, such as the mass.

    It doesn’t however include devotional exercises such as the rosary, or saying the prayers of the mass by yourself at home (or following a mass on tv).

    Mediator Dei is worth reading or rereading if you are not clear about the scope and limits of what is liturgy.

    2. Importantly, liturgy is “offered to God by the head and members of the mystical body of Christ” (Cl 834)and “exercised by the common priesthood of the faithful.” (cl 836). In other words, the Church clearly teaches that our capacity to ‘make’, ‘do’ or ‘pray’ liturgically depends on our membership of the common priesthood, not the reception of orders.

    3. The tests of whether or not someone is praying liturgically according to canon 834.2 are threefold: “This worship takes place when it is offered in the name of the Church, by persons lawfully deputed and through actions approved by ecclesiastical authority.”

    4. It is clear from canon 230 and the canons cited above that laypeople and religious can be lawfully be deputed to lead liturgy even in the absence of a cleric.

    5. Have laypeople been so delegated in the case of the Office? Between Trent and Vatican II the answer was no – Pius XII’s Mediator Dei for example reaffirms that the delegation was restricted to clerics and religious (and yes, that included nuns whether or not a cleric was present) in the interest of protecting the integrity of the liturgy against error.

    But that has changed. Paragraph 100 of Sacrosanctum Concilium is the first statement of the change:

    “And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

    This was subsequently given effect in a series of pieces of legislation, most notably the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours cited earlier in the comments (and on which if you actually read it, a restrictive reading is very hard to sustain).

    It is reiterated in the current code of canon law, para 1174:

    “1. Clerics are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours according to the norm of ? can. 276, §2, n. 3; members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, however, are bound according to the norm of their constitutions.

    §2. Other members of the Christian faithful, according to circumstances, are also earnestly invited to participate in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church.”

    Any of the standard commentaries on the Code (or reputable discussions of the liturgy more generally) will confirm that this means that the delegation to say the Office has been extended to the laity.

    Ideally of course, religious or clerics should lead the Office. But where that isn’t possible or practical, that shouldn’t mean it isn’t liturgical prayer.

    6. What else is necessary for the Office to be liturgical?

    As noted above, it needs to be said ‘in the name of the Church’ and according to the approved forms. That doesn’t necessarily mean using choir rubrics (indeed as noted above, some particular ceremonial can only be used where several people are present, or where clerics and/or religious are present). It does however mean using approved texts (such as the LOH, Little Office or a 1963 breviary).

    As for having the coffee cup alongside and dawdling through it – well surely that’s kind of like the priest sipping a mug of coffee as he says the mass isn’t it? It’s probably an abuse, certainly seems rather disrespectful, but it doesn’t necessarily make it not liturgy.

  61. Tim Ferguson says:

    Kate, your last paragraph reminds me of an old, and perhaps pertinent story. A Dominican and a Jesuit were together and decided to pray their Office together. They pull out their books, and, just as they’re about to begin, the Jesuit lights a cigarette.

    The Dominican looks disgusted and says to the Jesuit, “I once asked my novice master if it was permissible to smoke while praying the Office. He said it was absolutely forbidden.”

    The Jesuit smiles and replies, “You asked the wrong question. I asked my novice master if it was permissible to pray while smoking. He said, ‘By all means, yes!'”

  62. kate_rub says:

    Hmm, yes the Jesuits and the Office…never been an entirely comfortable combination!

    I’ve always preferred this one myself:

    Once, a bishop called for a synod in his diocese where all the clergy, both religious and secular, were in attendence. At it’s closing they had the office of Compline. During the second psalm the lights went out.

    -The Benedictines simply continued to sing without missing a beat,
    -the Jesuits immediatley began to debate as to whether or not this dispensed them
    -the Franciscans began to praise and thank God for His gift of darkness
    -the Dominicans were theorising and discussing just how light is a reflection of God’s nature
    -the Carmelites slipped into silent contemplation of God’s mysteries too deep for man to “see”
    meanwhile . . . . the parish priests went to the fuse-box to fix the lights.

  63. Daniel says:

    kate_rub writes:

    “Mediator Dei is worth reading or rereading if you are not clear about the scope and limits of what is liturgy.”…”Pius XII’s Mediator Dei for example reaffirms that the delegation was restricted to clerics and religious (and yes, that included nuns whether or not a cleric was present) in the interest of protecting the integrity of the liturgy against error.”

    Reading over Mediator Dei, it did not seem that Pius XII felt that he had a “problem” with a number of lay people praying the Office on their own. It seemed he paid little attention to saying that it was a liturgical act when those bound to pray the Office, but that those that were not bound to pray it were not participating in the Liturgy of the Church but only “performed a pious act but not a liturgical one.” (Fr. McNamara).

    Pius XII did spend a good deal of the encyclical talking about the Mass, and that the Sacrifice required an ordained priest but did not require any laity. He also spends a good deal of time talking about how the laity duly participate in that Sacrifice, at times even outside of the context of the Mass itself. I don’t see that anything he said in Mediator Dei should be taken as that the laity, when praying the Office on their own, are not “praying liturgically” or participating in their own way in the Liturgy of the Church.

    Whether or not the laity praying the LOH on their own constitutes a “Liturgy” in and of itself seems to be a different issue to me. The original question and the point that had been made in the talk that raised the question seemed less about whether it was a liturgy, and more about that it can’t be liturgical in any sense. I am likely merely reiterating what Fr. Z had himself said:
    “When lay people recite any of the divine office they are certainly praying, but they are not doing so in the name of the Church, in an official act of the Church’s prayer life. But they are sure associating themselves with it.”

  64. kate_rub says:


    One of the reasons I suggested reading Mediator Dei is that it does draw out the distinction I think between the sacrifice offered in the Mass (which can only be offered through an ordained priest) and liturgy more generally which need not necessarily. We shouldn’t conflate the sacraments (and particularly the matter and form requirements of them) with liturgy. There is a lot more to the liturgy – including of the mass for example – than the sacrifice, notwithstanding its supreme importance.

    But other key points to draw from MD are that it talks about those bound to the Office – which in 1947 included religious (whether or not clerics) and clerics. My point was in part that even before VII, clerical status was not necessary in order for it to be considered liturgical prayer – religious clearly prayed liturgically.

    I also clearly set out how the situation changed after MD by virtue of changes in church law. It is up to the Church to delegate who can pray officially in its name, and it can and has delegated laypeople to so pray in a variety of circumstances (that it didn’t previously), including in the Office.

    There are different levels of solemnity in liturgy that often depend on the status of the person performing it – the difference between a pontifical mass and a parish priest for example, or between a layperson baptising and a priest. But those differences don’t make something less liturgical.

    To come back to the reverence/abuses question raised by Tim, more seriously, my view is that just as a ‘private’ mass should be conducted no less reverently than a public one, for the Office the benchmark is the Office in choir. Think back to that wonderful film about the Carthusians, Into Great Silence, and the parts of the Office said silently in the cell. That is what we should aspire to I think!

  65. Henry Edwards says:

    Tim, I believe you mentioned the Dominican and Jesuit previously, perhaps a year or two ago, and that after careful analysis, the general consensus here was that it is reprehensible to drink while praying, but laudable to pray while drinking.

  66. lampada says:

    It is my understanding per my Theology of Religious Law professor that when one of the following individuals prays the DO/LOTH, it is the public prayer of the Church:

    Secular Institute Members, if they are obliged by their statutes*
    Society of Apostolic Life Members, if they are obliged by their statutes*

    * when the constitutions/statutes prescribe at least Lauds or Vespers

    It is my understanding that those in the consecrated state who do not pray in the name of the Church are:
    Diocesan hermits (because Sacram Liturgiam was promulgated before the 1983 Code which canonically recognized hermits)
    Consecrated virgins (because they are exhorted but not obliged to recite the LOTH; only when obligation is present does a person pray in the name of the Church)

    Sources: Sacrosanctum Concilium, General Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours, and Sacram Liturgiam

  67. Pardon me for my “lame” comments after all this discussion; it is, from what I understand, most simple: Clerics (bishops, priests, deacons) are obligated under canon law and liturgical law to pray the five hours assigned (Of of Rdgs; MPr; Daytime (one of them); EvPr; Compline); religious are obligated according to their particular law (Constituions); contemplative religious are bound to all seven hours (unless this is mitigated acc’d to their Constitutions because of some other religious practice, viz., Perpetual adoration). Hermits and Consecrated Virgins according to the norms that the diocesan bishop approves or legislates. Laity in ecclesial communities/third orders/secular orders/new communities, according to their Constitutions/Statutes (they make profession according to the norms of their particular association, which may include certain parts of the LOH).
    But any laity, because of their baptism, participate in the Prayer of the Church, when they pray the Liturgy of the Hours, because it is the Prayer of the Church.

  68. kate_rub says:

    I think the distinction Fr Z was originally trying to make was between praying the Office devotionally and praying it liturgically. So without wanting to put words in his mouth, it might theoretically be possible for someone to be obliged to say the Office yet not saying it liturgically (ie as part of the official public prayer of the Church) – the Church can after all make a devotion obligatory in certain cirucumstances (like the old Leonine prayers after the mass).

    But for the reasons I’ve set out in an earlier post, I don’t actually think that is the case in respect of religious and laypeople. I think religious (and hermits etc) have certainly always prayed devotionally, and by virtue of liturgical law since VII, so now do laypeople.

    Lampada – Could you please cite the relevant provisions your professor was relying on explicitly? I can’t see anything in Sacram Liturgiam for example that goes to this issue (except yet another injunction to urge all of the faithful to study the liturgy so they can engage in it).

  69. robtbrown says:

    A few comments:

    1. The distinction between devotion and liturgy is an important one, but I disagree with the definition given above because it is subjective (according to the one who prays) rather than objective (according to the prayer).

    2. Ditto for the distinction according to obligation and canonical deputation, which are also subjective. A religious institute can obligate priests to say a certain prayer every day (e.g., Angelus), but that doesn’t make it liturgical. Lay Tertiaries can also be obligated to certain prayers.

    3. The concept of the Church as Mystical Body is very important in understanding the concept of liturgy. Thus:

    4. Fr McNamara’s comments reference the strong tendency in the Counter Reformation Church (NOT the Medieval Church) to rely too much on juridical definition. Although we can say that clerics have been deputed to pray liturgically, that deputation is inadequate to describe the nature of liturgy.

    4. Liturgy is not merely the public worship of God. When people say the Rosary at a wake, that is not liturgy.

    5. Further, a priest who says mass or the Office privately is still praying liturgically because the universal nature of liturgy means that all members of the Mystical Body, living or dead, are in some way present. Further, he is uniting himself to someone somewhere else who is also saying mass or that particular Hour.

    NB: The use of the dry mass (missa sicca) by Carthusians, in which a priest, having already said mass, recites all the prayers except the Consecration, uniting himself to a mass being said somewhere at that same time.

    6. The laity can pray the liturgy, but obviously it is not the same as a priest or religious. For the priest, whose ordination has given him an ontologically different status within the Mystical Body, the Divine Office is an extension and preparation for him offering the Holy Sacrifice. For the religious (non priest), whose entire life has been consecrated to God, the liturgy is prayed with one’s entire life.

  70. kate_rub says:

    There is perhaps one other citation missing from the consideration of the authorities above, namely the Catecism of the Catholic Church. Paras 1174 – 1178 deal with the Liturgy of the Hours and state, inter alia:

    “1174 The mystery of Christ, his Incarnation and Passover, which we celebrate in the Eucharist especially at the Sunday assembly, permeates and transfigures the time of each day, through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, “the divine office.”46 This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to “pray constantly,” is “so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God.”47 In this “public prayer of the Church,”48 the faithful (clergy, religious, and lay people) exercise the royal priesthood of the baptized. Celebrated in “the form approved” by the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours “is truly the voice of the Bride herself addressed to her Bridegroom. It is the very prayer which Christ himself together with his Body addresses to the Father.49

    1175 The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.”50 His members participate according to their own place in the Church and the circumstances of their lives: priests devoted to the pastoral ministry, because they are called to remain diligent in prayer and the service of the word; religious, by the charism of their consecrated lives; all the faithful as much as possible: “Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”51

Comments are closed.