ASK FATHER: “Why do most clergy have almost no interest in the Liturgy of the Hours?”

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Why do most clergy have almost no interest in the Liturgy of the Hours?  [Maybe they are saying the Roman Breviary!]

I know many lay people who have discovered and love the divine office and expend the effort to learn how to pray and even chant it in the vernacular or Latin. But almost all clergy I know, with few exceptions, show no interest in it whatsoever. A few reasons seem to suggest themselves including the following.

1.      Poor liturgical formation which does not enable them to understand or appreciate the Liturgy of the Hours
2.      Their own personal experience of the obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as an oppressive burden
3.      An already busy schedule that doesn’t have much room for yet another obligation/responsibility (I have sympathy for this one. I know how busy most priests are and how much their time is in demand)
4.      A preference to pray it as a private devotion rather than as public liturgy.

But these are just my guesses. I would like to hear a priest’s thoughts on this question.

Firstly, I think you are asking why clergy aren’t interested in public recitation of the hours.

If this is the case, I rather doubt 1) and 4) not sure about 2) (sometimes it is a real pain) and tend to 3).

You will notice that in most hand missals for the Vetus Ordo, the Traditional Latin Mass, there is a section for the prayers of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts.  It was, in fact, a custom in many places to return to church for sung Vespers.  As a matter of fact in my home parish this was and is still done and has been since … well… probably the better part of 40 years, in Latin, usually with Exposition and Benediction.   And it isn’t clergy who are hard to motivate, it’s lay people.

Vatican II strongly urged that there should be public Vespers on Sundays in major churches.  This is been honored more in the breach than the observance.  The blame for that, and there should be BLAME for that rests squarely on the backs of bishops, who have the chief major church of the diocese, the cathedral.  That ought to be the flagship for such a devotion.  I’d like to know at which cathedrals you can find Sunday Vespers, outside of WestminsterBrompton Oratory in London. St. Eugene and St Nicolas in Paris both have Vespers in the Vetus Ordo live streamed.    The SSPX seminary in these USA stream Vespers.  I am not a fan of chant with organ, btw.   On the Benedictine side, there’s the great Abbey of Le Barroux.  Some of the ICK chapels have streams of Vespers.  I would like to see a return to streaming from Gower Abbey.

Sharing the blame are the liturgical vandals who shattered the prayer life – and identity – of the Church by the abrupt imposition of an artificially cobbled up “Roman Rite”, Novus Ordo.  There were no books with musical notation for the Liturgy of the Hours, which is not the same as the Roman Breviary.  There were and are monastic diurnals, and so forth, but nothing for us seculars.  This lead to all manner of cringeworthy nonsense.  It still with pain and horror recall the truly hideous dreck foisted on us seminarians for morning and evening prayer: it had nothing to do with the true office and the music was less worthy than the theme song of Gilligan’s Island and My Little Pony.  Then again, it was the entire project of the faculty there to infantilize and break the masculinity of the men who entered as men… still.

I digress.   The lack of books was a problem.  Solesmes started to produce helpful books, such as the Liber Hymnarius but that didn’t help with the psalter.  I am talking here about Latin, of course.  The situation for the vernacular was dire in the extreme.

So, there are practical issues to consider.  Lack of materials and lack of time and energy.

If you want to have sung Vespers, do all the work to recruit and train and organize.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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28 Comments

  1. Tradster says:

    My SSPX chapel has Sunday Vespers at 5PM every week. It is beautifully chanted without music. Sadly, it is not very well-attended primarily because most people travel long distances to get there for Mass Sunday mornings. They are understandably reluctant to make the same trek a second time a few hours later, especially those with children. So Vespers are attended mostly by those who are fortunate to live close-by the church.

  2. Chiara says:

    There is an effort in the Cleveland Diocese to establish the LOTH among lay people. Fr. Damian Ferrence has been instrumental in arranging for “Nine Nights of Night Prayer”. Nine parishes are selected throughout the Diocese every quarter or so, where the Night Prayer is prayed. Our sister parish, one mile away, was selected during Lent of this year. The Diocese printed booklets with all the prayers for those attending, and our good pastor explained and led the Night Prayers, assisted by altar servers and appropriate hymns from our organist. It was a beautiful series of evenings. On the 9th night, a dairy in the Diocese, operated by a good Catholic family, voluntarily provided a 5-gallon tub of custom-made ice cream for each parish. It was white coconut ice cream with blue stars, which they named “Stella Maris”. It was well-attended and we all enjoyed it very much.

    I will add our young pastor and 80-year-old vicar pray the LOTH together every day, in keeping with their ordination promises, as do I, as a Third Order Franciscan. God bless and protect all here!

  3. Archicantator says:

    Lauds and Vespers according to the post-1970 Liturgy of the Hours can be sung simply (but, in my opinion, very effectively and even beautifully) using the “Mundelein Psalter,” which is available for purchase from Liturgy Training Publications.

    The Mundelein Psalter uses recitation tones that were adapted from the traditional Gregorian psalm tones by Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB. These tones succeed admirably in accommodating the stress patterns of the English language, so that the cadential patterns never “fight” with the text (as is often the case when one tries to chant the psalms in English using the traditional Gregorian tones).

    It also provides accurate translations of the Latin Office hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours, together with the notation of their traditional Gregorian melodies.

  4. Gregg the Obscure says:

    in October of 2021 the new rector of the Cathedral in Denver started having this late afternoon routine (about only four months after he arrived):
    1700 – Confessions until all are heard — which can be well into Mass
    1700-1800 – Adoration
    1800 – Vespers and Benediction
    1830 – Mass (NO, but ad orientem and in Latin)

  5. abloomfield says:

    We do Vespers in Cincinnati at Old St Mary’s, an Oratorian parish. We take a break for the summer, but we are starting back up on Sunday. I published a book myself to make it easier to follow after a few years of using printouts. PDFs can be downloaded or copies can be purchased through Amazon at the link below.

    Links to all the PDFs I have created for vespers (and a few other things) are below
    https://asbloomf.github.io/gabc-chants/

  6. Not says:

    The Religious Order that I associate with is set up so that every hour of the day is structured. They get one hour of free time a day. Beautiful life.

  7. ex seaxe says:

    I know from observation in this small parish (160 Sat+Sun) that a couple of elderly ladies can sustain the daily recitation of Morning Prayer before weekday Mass. And they can attract maybe a third of those attending the Mass to come early and join them. I think this started from a former pastor leading Morning Prayer himself before Mass, and when he moved on lay folk just took it on instead.

  8. Mike says:

    Hmmm. I’ve heard some organ with chant and thought it very fine. I guess how it’s done matters.

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  10. Fr. Bolin says:

    This is an answer to the specific question asked, my answer at the parish I serve. Earlier this year, I started public morning and evening prayer – 6:30 am (prior to my 7 am Mass) and 5 pm. I never had more than 4 people there, and often it was just me or me and 1 other person. I was raised on a farm, and am retired from the military, so I still try to take care of my physical well-being by going to the gym early in the morning. The local YMCA opens at 5 am. With MP at 6:30, I never had more than 30 minutes to exercise, which stressed me out to exercise, and then get to the church in time to set everything up for Mass, then lead MP, followed immediately by Mass. After a few months, I turned over leading public MP and EP to the small group of laity that had been joining me, asking them to lead this in the Adoration chapel, freeing up another 30 minutes of the morning for me for exercise and setting up for Mass.

    I do hope at some point to have Sunday sung Vespers, but our parish simply isn’t there yet. In the meantime, I have to choose what I myself am going to lead and do, on top of 10-12 hours a week in the confessional, daily Mass, homily prep, hospital visits, etc. I do hope that this helps to answer the question.

  11. idelsan says:

    Is there a book or webpage where to learn to sing (in a simple mode please) the Liturgy of the Hours (post 1970) in latin? Thanks

  12. Flabellum says:

    Not just Sundays, Westminster Cathedral has daily Sung Vespers as well as daily public Morning Prayer.

  13. I’ll point out that at Saint Stephen’s in Portland Vespers is sung on Sundays (and indeed daily, and Lauds too, Saturdays to Mondays). A rara avis for sure.

  14. Texdon says:

    EWTN has Sunday Vespers with Benediction at 5 pm ET. It is a joy to be able to participate.

  15. dutchessoftexas says:

    My Ordinariate parish has a sung Evensong every Sunday evening. And there was a parish in Austin, Tx we would attend that had a sung Vespers on Sundays- it sounded like heaven on earth.

  16. Imrahil says:

    My comment on this is rather long; here goes:

    is is an interesting, I mean: multi-layered, topic. Though I assume the question is rather “why are there no public Vespers” (and perhaps Lauds), rather than why clergy isn’t interested. For our reverend host is almost certainly right with it isn’t clergy who are hard to motivate, it’s lay people.

    Mind that the following are musings, not suggestions. If I have an idea about what to do, I will say so (it’s still unimportant, but that aside), but at present I’ll just think about the topic.

    1. First things first: The elephant in the room is the Evening Mass.

    There, I said it. I’m not saying that it should be abolished (hence chiefly my insisting I was only musing, not suggesting). Still we do have to note that back in the time we always here that Solemn Vespers were a thing, it was also a thing that there was no Mass in the Evening because it was forbidden.

    (Which made it more difficult, obviously, to get to a Mass on Sunday, which is why they were introduced. What is sometimes not seen is that it was easier then to fulfill one’s Sunday duty or be legitimately dispensed from it. If you had no time in the morning, you needn’t go; moral theologians were debating about the amount of time people could miss it for recreational purposes [twice a year, was it?], and if you slept in by actual accident, that may have well been at least subjectively a venial sin, and even if not you’d repent and mention it in the next confession, rather than having a long way to drive in the afternoon to the one parish that has evening Masses.)

    What we have now in the evening is
    i) trads who have their only Mass in the evening (or had it in the early afternoon), because that’s when the Church is free,
    ii) people who, whether by plan or by their missing Mass in the morning, still have to get to a Mass,
    iii) people who have been to Mass in the morning and, for pious reasons, want to hear another one. (We do have the capacity, I believe, to benefit spiritually from two; three is perhaps too much in ordinary circumstances.) After all, “you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly”, says St. Peter Julian Eymard.

    And that is quite right. Nevertheless, the uneasiness of some Catholics actually on the other side of the spectrum with (as I heard it once called) the “Mass-ifying of all Catholic communal prayer” is perhaps not entirely without basis. After all, there is a place for Eucharistic adoration, for processions, for public rosaries, for (why not) worship&praise sessions (in the musical sense of the term), and so there should be for the Divine Office, which is second to Mass only.

  17. Imrahil says:

    (continutation)

    2. – In its dignity, that is. A layman will perhaps note that practically speaking, our Lady in her recognized appearance requested, and stayed but few steps short from commanding, a daily rosary; while participating in the Divine Office is, for the laity, not requested in a like manner. It is not even particularly indulgenced, unless we count the fact that a Vesper would take half an hour and consists of prayer that typically happens to be said in front of the Blessed Sacrament reposed in the tabernacle (which the praying person would indeed keep in mind) as adoration of the Same.

    3. The clergy apparently sometimes tends to shy away from things that cannot be done with some regularity, and I guess for good reasons, though it’s the “you’re probably right, as usual, even though I’d rather have some fun” sort of good reasons.

    4. In itself as long as the Church is open and public Vespers are not said there, nor explicitly a “time for silent prayer” announced in the bulletin, nothing hinders us to go there and sing or say Vespers ourselves, dutifully crossing out every “Dominus vobiscum” in the text and saying “benedicat nos” rather than “benedicat vos”. However, we Catholics tend to shy away from such things.

  18. The Masked Chicken says:

    Mike wrote:

    “Hmmm. I’ve heard some organ with chant and thought it very fine. I guess how it’s done matters.”

    Historically, monophonic chant, if accompanied by an organ was done with the organ playing only the chant melody for reinforcement. It was never chorded. You do see a form of chording develop starting in the late 1100’s, if memory serves, when the medieval chanson developed, but these were considered novelties and often contained polylingual parts. They were purged from the Church in the Cistercian reform in the 1200’s.

    The Chicken

  19. sjoseph371 says:

    I’m just grateful our parish doesn’t have a “bubble mass” much less offer the LOTH. In all seriousness, our parish has been continuously moving towards more reverence. Recently our pastor has instituted a twice weekly exposition of the Eucharist in addition to the First Friday exposition that we’ve had for years. He’s also started the noon Rosary on the 13th of the month, First Saturday Mass, and most recently has made a kneeler / altar rail available at Mass during the Eucharist. So while no LOTH (yet), we’re actually doing pretty well.

  20. InFormationDiakonia says:

    Four years ago, the LotH was something I’d not heard of. Then comes diaconal formation and we are taught, in our first class, about LotH. I pray morning prayer and my wife and I pray evening prayer together. Our c0-pastors are in charge of our diocesan seminary (one as rector and one as spiritual director) – both good and holy men. Before Friday morning mass at 7 AM, the seminarians lead morning prayer. At first we had a handful of laity in attendance. Now we have roughly 70 in attendance for prayer and mass. I plan this summer to lead morning prayer on Fridays when the seminary is not in session – I’ll be a deacon then, Lord willing, and I work just up the hill in the pastoral center. My plan is to encourage the laity to continue coming and to lead it.

    We use the iBreviary app and our laity (all mostly 50 and above in age) have readily taken to it. At home I alternate between using Word on Fire’s LotH for Morning Prayer and iBreviary with my wife for Evening Prayer. At the Archdiocese, we do midmorning prayer with the staff at 9 AM.

  21. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    If we want the clergy to chant the office in choir, we have to have more of them, so they have time: once upon a time this was the province of canons regular and monks.

    We need good bishops. Like bishop Gundulf, who arrived at Canterbury in the train of William the conqueror. Finding his canons asleep in the choir stalls, he picked them up and threw them out the doors of the Cathedral and banished them from his jurisdiction. And good abbots: St. Bede and his abbot had to recite the entire office together when all the monks had the plague… besides taking care of their sick brethren and the whole monastery. And good rulers, like Charlemagne, who once thrashed a monk for mumbling garbled gibberish instead of the Psalms.

    Parish priests, though, have way to much on their plates already.

  22. ex seaxe says:

    Reflecting on Imrahil’s third point, I recall that in the Church of England the Act promulgating Elizabeth I’s Book of Common Prayer lays down not just that all clergy are required to say Morning and Evening Prayer but that those who have a cure of souls must do it in public in a church or chapel in their care. They are not required to do it at set times, but they must have a bell rung before they start so that people can come and participate. This law is still printed in the BCP in a copy I have with revisions in 1968, which contains further authority for the churchwardens to commission laity to the task if necessary.
    I see no reason why our deacons and priests, who are obliged to the Office, should not sit in church and say it out loud.
    [snide aside – that 1559 law was probably about as effective as our law that clergy must say the Office in Latin unless personally, individually and explicitly exempted]

  23. Imrahil says:

    (continuation)

    5. As for the “real”, clergy-led Solemn Vespers with Benediction, they depend on having a choir to sing them. Which depending on the situation may be burdensome. In fact, in may be a “parish politics” issue, such as respecting the “vested interest” (though not money-wise) of a choirmaster: “If she’d throw in the towel, we’d be having no sung Masses on the Sundays, so let’s better not upset her. But she has no time to train for Vespers. Oh and by the way, this bunch of people would actually be there to set up a different choir, and as a matter of fact have dropped of hers anyway because they can’t bear in their leasure-time the amount of not-fun training sessions are (also because they can’t help to think how much training music could be fun). But let’s not let them; they haven’t proven how stable they are and so we might be off with no choir at all.

    6. Even if you have a choir, you have to take in account that it will want to do “fancy stuff”; and it must be allowed to do so, because good bait catches fine fish. Coming to think of it, it may occasionally be easier to get them sing Vesperae sollemnes de Dominica by W. A. Mozart than standard Gregorian Vespers with a psalmody.

    7. The texts of Vespers are long. Now with a good choirmaster, that wouldn’t be so much of a problem, because statistically most of it is just psalmody, and we all can do psalmody, right? Let’s just get a hint of what tone it is, sing it one time through, right? Well, yes. That’s how it would be in a group of willing people not entirely lacking singing talent (and an entirely lacking singing talent is a rare thing) if only people would agree on the matter. But if they don’t, you can really out-exercise the thing: It really is, of course, the ideal that all tones are correct, all singers sing the same syllable at the same time, and no voice stands out. It really is the ideal; but if you insist on it from the get-go, you can really torment your initially willing volutaries into quitting, and even if they reach the status before quitting, chances are that the natural flow will have been driven out.

    So, here’s my first actual suggestion: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We have to avoid sin at all cost; but an unevenness in a pious attempt to pray to God is not a sin.

    My second is in the same vein and would take this a step farther (but I guess clergy won’t like it): train on the job. It’s not Mass, it’s meant to symbolize what it actually is, the prayer of this congregation and the Church: it may be deficient just as that is. Make sure people don’t have to put noise-cancelling earphones in because they can’t stand it, but apart from that…

    (And my third: please don’t confuse slowness-in-singing with piety, except perhaps for Good Friday, All Souls, and the Tract in Masses that call for one. And especially don’t confuse it in Litanies.)

  24. Imrahil says:

    I see no reason why our deacons and priests, who are obliged to the Office, should not sit in church and say it out loud.

    Well, there’s the reason that praying it aloud will take (I have not checked, but I guess, and anyway something like) round-about double the time it takes to pray it “quickly murmuring but reverently”, and thrice the time it takes to pray it in rushing-through style. And that is not counting the additional time you need for chant, and to get to and from the Church.

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    “ Like bishop Gundulf, who arrived at Canterbury in the train of William the conqueror. Finding his canons asleep in the choir stalls, he picked them up and threw them out the doors of the Cathedral and banished them from his jurisdiction.”

    St. Terese of Lisieux had a different take on falling asleep in the choir stall. Her comment was, “A surgeon often puts a patient to sleep before forming surgery.” In the psalms, it says that, “God pours gifts on his beloved while they sleep.”

    I am not saying that chronically falling asleep in choir is a good thing, but the good bishop’s actions might have been over-the-top.

    “ I recall that in the Church of England the Act promulgating Elizabeth I’s Book of Common Prayer lays down not just that all clergy are required to say Morning and Evening Prayer but that those who have a cure of souls must do it in public in a church or chapel in their care.”

    Interesting point: the Anglican Divine Office only has three psalms per hour, whereas the Breviarium Romanum had five. A Catholic three psalm model was proposed by Quinonez in 1535, but, although enjoying favor among the secular clergy (who less time to say the Office), it was rejected by Trent. The post-Vatican II LotH was modeled on the Anglican Divine Office and now has three. From what I gather, there is a sentiment in England to go back to Latin and five psalms.

    The Chicken

  26. Imrahil says:

    From what I gather, there is a sentiment in England to go back to Latin and five psalms.

    In fact, I’ve been at Vespers-with-Benediction in England which was officially Novus Ordo, on the Sunday of Sexagesima.

    There was exactly one element that was different from Vetus Ordo, which were the green copes, because in the Novus Ordo the color is still green. All the rest, not excluding the very characteristic prayer mentioning St. Paul, was the Vespers of Vetus-Ordo Sexagesima.

  27. bobmounger says:

    @Flabellum
    https://stutler.cc/russ/sing_psalms.html

    The way I do it:
    https://moungerblog.wordpress.com/

    I am slowly switching to Latin & the Psalterium Monasticum. As far as I can tell there is little interest in any kind of common praying of the office @ my home parish. Some people look @ Laudate or Universalis. Our music director has introduced a Vespers for All Souls which people do show up for.

  28. Chiara says:

    BTW – for those who are interested in starting to pray the LOTH, there is a really excellent site with *all* the hours, updated daily, including really beautiful accompanying music: http://www.divineoffice.org I highly recommend it. When I was working, I would often listen when I was hung up in traffic.

    Personally, I think the LOTH is meant to be prayed in community. If you are alone and pray along with this website, at least there is the feeling of praying in community.

    LOTH is truly God speaking to us. Give it a try!

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