Breviaries With a 2-Year Cycle of Patristic Readings

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: One of my classmates and I were discussing the various forms of the Liturgy of the Hours. Both of us pray it daily in Spanish (the version approved by the Spanish conference of bishops) to help us learn more about the language. This breviary utilizes the two-year scriptural lectionary. However, I’ve recently seen, both in English and Spanish a two-year patristic lectionary as well. Would a priest, or anyone bound to recitation of the hours, still fulfill his obligation if he began using the two-year patristic cycle, since from what I’ve been told it has never been approved by any bishops’ conference? — J.G., Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

A: There is no clear answer to this question.

The universal norms for the Divine Office have the following to say regarding alternative readings:

“145. There are two cycles of biblical readings. The first is a one-year cycle and is incorporated into The Liturgy of the Hours; the second, given in the supplement for optional use, is a two-year cycle, like the cycle of readings at weekday Masses in Ordinary Time.

“146. The two-year cycle of readings for the liturgy of the hours is so arranged that each year there are readings from nearly all the books of sacred Scripture as well as longer and more difficult texts that are not suitable for inclusion in the Mass. The New Testament as a whole is read each year, partly in the Mass, partly in the liturgy of the hours; but for the Old Testament books a selection has been made of those parts that are of greater importance for the understanding of the history of salvation and for deepening devotion. […]

“159. In keeping with the tradition of the Roman Church the office of readings has, after the biblical reading, a reading from the Fathers or church writers, with a responsory, unless there is to be a reading relating to a saint (see nos. 228-239).

“160. Texts for this reading are given from the writings of the Fathers and doctors of the Church and from other ecclesiastical writers of the Eastern and Western Church. Pride of place is given to the Fathers because of their distinctive authority in the Church.

“161. In addition to the readings that The Liturgy of the Hours assigns to each day, the optional lectionary supplies a larger collection, in order that the treasures of the Church’s tradition may be more widely available to those who pray the liturgy of the hours. Everyone is free to take the second reading either from The Liturgy of the Hours or from the optional lectionary.

“162. Further the conferences of bishops may prepare additional texts adapted to the traditions and culture of their own region, for inclusion in the optional lectionary as a supplement. These texts are to be taken from the works of Catholic writers, outstanding for their teaching and holiness of life.

“163. The purpose of the second reading is principally to provide for meditation on the word of God as received by the Church in its tradition. The Church has always been convinced of the need to teach the word of God authentically to believers, so that ‘the line of interpretation regarding the prophets and apostles may be guided by an ecclesial and catholic understanding.’

“164. By constant use of the writings handed down by the universal tradition of the Church, those who read them are led to a deeper reflection on sacred Scripture and to a relish and love for it. The writings of the Fathers are an outstanding witness to the contemplation of the word of God over the centuries by the Bride of the incarnate Word: the Church, ‘possessing the counsel and spirit of its Bridegroom and God,’ is always seeking to attain a more profound understanding of the sacred Scriptures.

“165. The reading of the Fathers leads Christians to an understanding also of the liturgical seasons and feasts. In addition, it gives them access to the priceless spiritual treasures that form the unique patrimony of the Church and provide a firm foundation for the spiritual life and a rich source for increasing devotion. Preachers of God’s word also have at hand each day superb examples of sacred preaching. […]

“248. In the office of readings, the current cycle of sacred Scripture must always be respected. The Church’s intent that ‘a more representative portion of the holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years’ applies also to the divine office.

“Therefore the cycle of readings from Scripture that is provided in the office of readings must not be set aside during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. During Ordinary Time, however, on a particular day or for a few days in succession, it is permissible, for a good reason, to choose readings from those provided on other days or even other biblical readings — for example, on the occasion of retreats, pastoral gatherings, prayers for Christian unity, or other such events.

“249. When the continuous reading is interrupted because of a solemnity or feast or special celebration, it is allowed during the same week, taking into account the readings for the whole week, either to combine the parts omitted with others or to decide which of the texts are to be preferred.

“250. The office of readings also offers the option to choose, with a good reason, another reading from the same season, taken from The Liturgy of the Hours or the optional lectionary (no. 161), in preference to the second reading appointed for the day. On weekdays in Ordinary Time and, if it seems opportune, even in the seasons of Advent, , Lent, and Easter, the choice is open for a semi-continuous reading of the work of a Father of the Church, in harmony with the biblical and liturgical context.”

Unfortunately the alternative texts mentioned in Nos. 145, 146 and 161 have yet to be officially published. A list of alternative scriptural texts was provided by the Congregation for Divine Worship, and this forms the basis for the second cycle of scriptural texts found in the Latin American edition of the Office.

With respect to the alternative volume of patristic texts, some years ago, the then secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship gave a report to the bishop-members which was later published, in part, in the official review Notitiae. In substance, he explained that the project had suffered from a high turnover of persons in charge, so that there were several parallel projects, none of them complete. The congregation had managed to establish a single project and a single set of criteria, but the work was inevitably slow due to the lack of available staff. It must be supposed that progress has been made but the project is not yet complete.

Meanwhile, perhaps taking their cue from the options given in No. 250 several individual groups, organizations and even monasteries have proposed alternative cycles of patristic readings. These are not officially approved but could probably be used as a resource, provided they fulfill the conditions of Nos. 160, 163-165 and 250.

In Italy a two-year cycle was published in 1997 as “L’ora dell’Ascolto” (The Listening Hour). This volume was the fruit of an organization called the Monastic Union for the Liturgy. While officially geared to monasteries and convents, it has also been embraced by many clergy and laity. It has the advantage of having received approval from the Holy See for monastic use.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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