Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: My question concerns the obligation to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours. If a priest, who is bound by his ordination promises to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, recites an hour for the wrong day, must he go back and recite the correct hour? Has he fulfilled his obligation? — R.B., Grants, New Mexico
A: Effectively this is an obligation inherent to orders. The candidate promises as recalled in a 2000 reply to a doubt published by the Congregation for Divine Worship:
“Are you resolved to maintain and deepen a spirit of prayer appropriate to your way of life and, in keeping with what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours for the Church and for the whole world?” (Cf. Roman Pontifical, Rite of the Ordination of Deacons).
“Thus, in the same rite of diaconal ordination, the sacred minister asks for and receives from the Church the mandate of the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, which mandate pertains, therefore, to the orbit of ministerial responsibilities of the ordained, and goes beyond that of his personal piety. Sacred ministers, along with the Bishops, find themselves joined in the ministry of intercession for the People of God who have been entrusted to them, as they were to Moses (Ex 17, 8-16), to the Apostles (1 Tim 2, 1-6) and to the same Jesus Christ ‘who is at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us’ (Rom 8, 34). Similarly, the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, no. 108 states: ‘Those who pray the psalms in the liturgy of the hours do so not so much in their own name as in the name of the entire Body of Christ.’
“In the same manner, number 29 of the same General Instruction states: ‘Hence, bishops, priests and deacons aspiring to the priesthood, who have received from the Church the mandate to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours (see no. 17) are bound by the obligation of reciting the full sequence of the hours each day, observing as far as possible the true time of each day.’
“The Code of Canon Law, for its part, establishes in canon 276, §2.3, that: ‘Priests and deacons aspiring to the presbyterate are obliged to carry out the Liturgy of the Hours daily according to the proper and approved liturgical books; permanent deacons, however, are to carry out the same to the extent defined by the conference of bishops.'”
Regarding the obligation of the office, the above response is fairly clear:
“Question #1: What is the mind of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments regarding the extension of the obligation of celebration or reciting daily the Liturgy of the Hours?
“Response: Those who have been ordained are morally bound, in virtue of the same ordination they have received, to the celebration or the entire and daily recitation of the Divine Office such as is canonically established in canon 276, § 2, n. 3 of the CIC, cited previously. This recitation does not have for its part the nature of a private devotion or of a pious exercise realized by the personal will alone of the cleric but rather is an act proper to the sacred ministry and pastoral office.”
However, while the above document speaks about occasions in which some part of the office may be legitimately omitted, it does not treat the question of errors. For this subject we must go back to earlier writers.
When reciting the Divine Office there are two different orders: (1) the order or arrangement of offices, (2) the order or arrangement of hours.
The order of offices indicates which office is to be said on each day as laid down in the calendar. This can vary from place to place and even from person to person as one follows the local calendar or, if a member of a religious order, the congregation’s approved calendar which may differ from the universal or local calendar.
The order of the hours points out which of the hours should be recited, first, second, etc., readings, lauds, daytime prayer, etc.
It is of obligation to observe both orders, but on some occasions there can be a reasonable cause to change. For instance, if a priest finds himself in a diocese celebrating the solemnity of its patron saint but lacks the proper texts, he can use some other approved office and try to get as close as possible to the feast.
Surprisingly, this can happen more frequently today when traveling priests rely on electronic means to pray the office. For example, a priest recently coming to Europe would find that St. Benedict, as co-patron of the Continent, is celebrated as a feast and not as a memorial. This can be easily resolved by those using the book who go to the common offices, but not all applications have the necessary flexibility.
If someone has recited an incorrect office by mistake — for example, celebrating the wrong day — theologians have traditionally been of the opinion that he has fulfilled his obligation and need not engage in a second recitation.
This is an application of the axiom “Officium pro officio valet.” One office holds for another.
This axiom has a somewhat checkered history in which there is a valid use and an incorrect one. The valid use is that outlined above, in which a person with the obligation to recite the Liturgy of the Hours mistakenly prays an office or substitutes an equivalent office for one he or she is impeded to pray.
While this axiom does not appear in official Church documents, a certain application of the principle is found in the Principles and Norms for the Liturgy of the Hours when referring to participation in a community celebration. To wit:
“242. When clerics or religious who are obliged under any title to pray the divine office join in an office celebrated in common according to a calendar or rite different from their own, they fulfill their obligation in respect to the part of the office at which they are present.”
Summarizing the teachings of some traditional manuals, we can mention the following principles with respect to errors. Not all are equally applicable to the current Liturgy of the Hours:
— If a priest recites by mistake one day’s office for another (e.g., the Tuesday office on a Monday) he is bound to recite Tuesday’s office on Tuesday (this according to St. Alphonsus).
— If, however, after a portion of the office has been read, it is noticed that a mistake has been made in reading the calendar or the Ordo, and that the office partly recited is not the office of the current day … he is not bound to repeat the part already recited (e.g., readings); it is sufficient, valid and lawful to follow the correct office in the following hours. The priest reciting is not bound to repeat even part of an hour, if he finds out his mistake during the recitation of even a small hour. And he may finish the psalm or hymn or prayer which he was reciting when he discovered his mistake, and he may then take up the correct office at the part or hour at which he leaves off, or he may finish the Hour at which he was engaged.
— Which causes justify an inversion of the hours? Any reasonable cause justifies this inversion. Thus, if a friend invite a priest to joint recitation of an hour, and the priest have not the preceding canonical hours recited, he is justified in accepting the invitation and in inverting the order of the hours.
The incorrect application of the axiom was harshly criticized by liturgical manuals and books of moral theology from the 17th century. Certain proponents used the axiom to avoid praying the full office, holding that the substitution of a briefer office could substitute the longer one. This position was condemned by the Church on several occasions, and some moral theologians even regarded it a gravely sinful.
* * *
Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.