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 it. If 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 Blessings – delendus 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.