QUAERITUR: Public recitation of Office without a priest or deacon

From a reader:

Is it permissible for the laity to organize and do Vespers in public without a priest or deacon present? I may try to organize something for a weekly vespers from the Monastic Diurnal, and once a month offer it in Latin. But in my parish, well, I’ve offered this before and I won’t get any priestly support. In fact, I may not even be able to get a venue. And I don’t want to leave this to our deacons, to be perfectly honest.

I’m trying to think of long term ideas for parish renewal. I’m a Benedictine Oblate, and offering a Benedictine prayer session might actually have some interest in the parish now.

I’m really casting about to find out how much leeway the laity has in a situation like this.

People don’t need permission to pray.  Lay people don’t need permission to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or hours from the Monastic Diurnal, alone or together. 

That said, lay people should not take roles or parts of the liturgy that pertain to the ordained only (such as give blessings, etc.).

But your question is about public recitation of the hours.

Where would one do this?  In church?   If in church, then you had better talk to the parish priest and get permission.  You shouldn’t just go into a church and start doing things as a group without the permission or – even better – support of the priest.

The very best approach here would be to work something out with the priest of some parish where you would be welcomed to, at the least, do you own thing (provided you follow the books properly).

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  1. revs96 says:

    Depending on the circumstances, it might be a good idea to get together in someone’s home, but a celebration in an actual church would always be better…getting permission is the hard part.

    In terms of roles reserved to clergy in the Office, there are few. In the traditional Breviary it’s just the “Dominus vobiscum” which only clergy can say. Laity instead say “V. Domine exaudi orationem meam. R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.” In the modern Breviary, the “Dominus vobiscum” is omitted by laity and isn’t replaced by anything. Also the blessing at Lauds & Vespers is replaced by the prayer said in recitation alone.

  2. Flambeaux says:

    One of the nice features of the Monastic Diurnal put out by Farnborough Abbey is that it includes rubrical notes in the text for what should be done by monks traveling alone or choirs of nuns. Since nuns are never clerics, it would seem safe to follow this guidance when laymen recite the Office in common.

  3. luiz says:

    We use to go to an ukrainian-catholic chapel… we have always prayed the Divine Office and other prayers (such as the rosary followed by sung litany) without asking permission to the priest. However, the people and the priest know us… he has already seen us praying and never complained.

  4. Mark M says:

    Provided one has has permission, and does not usurp the roles of clerics, what is the problem of doing this publicly in a Church or Cathedral? Luckily it has never happened yet, but where we sing Vespers monthly, we have permission to do this as laity alone if circumstances are such that no clerics are available. Of course, one must simply remember the ‘domine exaudi’ instead of ‘dominus vobiscum’!

  5. Oleksander says:

    The Latin-rite parish near me, the priest dose (ordinary form) matins and vespers publicly every day, makes sense to me – if you have to them anyway might as well do it publicly so laity can be involved with the spiritual benefits. He dose them a couple of hours after morning Mass (6:30am) I was always under the impression that morning prayer should be before Mass, but I guess in the Ordinary Form it dose not have to be.

  6. Antioch_2013 says:

    What about ordained subdeacons? Can they lead a public recitation of the Divine Office in the Extraordinary Form?

  7. revs96 says:

    Subdeacons certainly can, the question is can they say the “Dominus vobiscum”?

  8. Oleksander says:

    i would say no to them reading the priest parts, because subdeacons are not Holy Orders. Matter of fact acolyte I believe is the modern equivalent, if i recall (i could be totally wrong) Paul VI’s letter said that acolyte could be called subdeacon if certain bishops insisted.

  9. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    I “think” we had permission, no one ever told us “no” but rather where to find the Chapel’s extra Breviaries in the sacristy. This was a more common occurrence at a couple of “remote” assignments where we did not have a Catholic Chaplain all the time. We would gather as a group,either before or after normal duty hours. It was while I was stationed remote that I started to “do” more than Sunday Mass attendance. If I am away from my family for up to a year, might as well make that time useful and occupied with worthwhile activities.

    When we did have a Catholic Chaplain on station, they would often send out an email with the times and whom-ever were free would join him.

  10. PilgrimToChrist says:

    I was involved in an Episcopalian community for about three years and we would pray Morning (Lauds-Prime) and Evening prayer (Vespers-Compline) daily as a group in our house and sometimes people would join us for the Evening prayers. I very much loved when we had a steady rhythm going where our days were always book-ended by group prayer, chanting of the psalms and readings. Eventually, we organized to meet at the church once a week* and sing Vespers. The priest was not involved (I think we got him to come a couple times, that’s it) so the guy from our community who led Vespers was issued a key to the church.

    After crossing the Tiber, I didn’t have the readily-available Book of Common Prayer (Missal and Psalter in one slim volume — very handy). I bought a Missal (Angelus Press) but that only had set prayers used every day and didn’t include the psalms. So I decided on the traditional Benedictine Breviary published by St. Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, England. It’s much cheaper and handier than the Roman Breviary and it was useful for when I went to Clear Creek. Sometimes the rubrics are confusing and even after a month following the monks’ Office, I’m probably still not doing it right but that’s not a problem because it’s just between me and God. If I had a group, we would have to agree on how to do things…

    I think having Lauds and Vespers publicly is a good idea. I have seen the Lutheran parish in town advertise their Vespers services and I wish the Catholic parishes would do the same. My TLM parish** does not have its own building (we share with an NO parish), but is growing quite large. When we get our own building, or even before, this is one thing that I would like to see.

    ** Many Episcopalian/Anglican parishes only have daily services once or twice per week. We had ours Wednesday morning, evening, and Thursday morning. The Wednesday evening was the primary one attended, so there would be a short liturgy and then dinner followed by classes. We organized to have Vespers following the classes. We would have it front of the Lady Altar, with the lights turned down low and the candles burning — magnificent building…

    ** Church of the North American Martyrs, Seattle, WA; Fr. Gerard Saguto, FSSP

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    “Depending on the circumstances, it might be a good idea to get together in someone’s home, but a celebration in an actual church would always be better…”


  12. Paul Francis says:

    In the New English translation of the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal,the Acclamations after the Consecration are as follows:

    We proclaim your death, O Lord,
    and profess your Resurrection
    until you come again.
    When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup,
    we proclaim your death, O Lord,
    until you come again.
    Save us, Saviour of the world,
    for by your Cross and Resurrection
    you have set us free.

    ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’ – not included. If the faithful continue using this (most popular) Acclamation (Christ has died…), Will this be considered an abuse and should this be the Pastor’s job to correct the Faithful?

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