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When Laypeople Pray the Breviarium Romanum

Joining in the Official Prayer of the Church

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: If a layman prays the Divine Office according to the extraordinary form, is he joining in with the official prayer of the Church? We have some conflicting rules going on here. On one hand, we have the Catechism which states, “The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.” Further, Canon 834 states, “This worship takes place when it is offered in the name of the Church, by persons lawfully deputed and through actions approved by ecclesiastical authority.” Yet, Universae Ecclesiae states the following: “27. With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies. 28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.” So with all this in mind, when I, as a layperson, pray a portion of the Divine Office (meaning only some of the hours rather than all of the hours) in Latin and according to the rubrics, am I praying the prayer of the Church? I suppose the question ultimately comes down to whether having a layperson pray the Divine Office is incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962. — J.Z., Lincoln, Nebraska

A: My answer to this very interesting question by a reader who has obviously done his homework, is, put simply, an unequivocal yes. A layman who prays the Divine Office according to the extraordinary form joins in with the official prayer of the Church.

The reasons behind this are not so much canonical and much less rubrical but theological. However, to prove this, Canon 834 must be correctly interpreted. When Canon 834 says, “This worship takes place when it is offered in the name of the Church, by persons lawfully deputed and through actions approved by ecclesiastical authority” it must be seen in the light of the canons immediately following:

“Canon 835 §1. The bishops in the first place exercise the sanctifying function; they are the high priests, the principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, and the directors, promoters, and guardians of the entire liturgical life in the church entrusted to them.

Ҥ2. Presbyters also exercise this function; sharing in the priesthood of Christ and as his ministers under the authority of the bishop, they are consecrated to celebrate divine worship and to sanctify the people.

Ҥ3. Deacons have a part in the celebration of divine worship according to the norm of the prescripts of the law.

Ҥ4. The other members of the Christian faithful also have their own part in the function of sanctifying by participating actively in their own way in liturgical celebrations, especially the Eucharist. Parents share in a particular way in this function by leading a conjugal life in a Christian spirit and by seeing to the Christian education of their children.

“Canon 836. Since Christian worship, in which the common priesthood of the Christian faithful is carried out, is a work which proceeds from faith and is based on it, sacred ministers are to take care to arouse and enlighten this faith diligently, especially through the ministry of the word, which gives birth to and nourishes the faith.

“Canon 837 §1. Liturgical actions are not private actions but celebrations of the Church itself which is the sacrament of unity, that is, a holy people gathered and ordered under the bishops. Liturgical actions, therefore, belong to the whole body of the Church and manifest and affect it; they touch its individual members in different ways, however, according to the diversity of orders, functions, and actual participation.

“§2. Inasmuch as liturgical actions by their nature entail a common celebration, they are to be celebrated with the presence and active participation of the Christian faithful where possible.”

Therefore, and especially in the light of Canon 836, the deputation to celebrate and act liturgically comes to the individual member of the faithful through the sacrament of baptism which confers the common priesthood of the faithful.

This constituted a change with respect to previous law which, rooted in a different theological perspective, was reflected in the previous code which saw the possibility of acting liturgically as stemming from a canonical deputation from Church authority and not from baptism. Thus, a religious sister who prayed the office in fulfillment of her religious rule was seen as having received a deputation to act liturgically while a layperson was not so deputized even if he used the Latin breviary.

The possibility of laypeople being able to participate in the Liturgy of the Hours was effectively decided by the Second Vatican Council when in Sacrosanctum Concilium the bishops said:

“100. Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

This decision was the culmination of about 60 years of theological and magisterial reflection on the implications of the royal or common priesthood of the faithful. Starting with Pope St. Pius X in 1903, passing through the teaching of Pope Pius XI with the encyclical: Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928) and the apostolic constitution Divini Cultus (1929), and continuing with Pope Pius XII and his seminal encyclicals Mystici Corporis (1943) and Mediator Dei (1947).

Among theologians who wrote influential works on the subject from the 1920s to the time of Vatican II were Lambert Beauduin, Gustave Thils, Paul Dabin, Emil Mersch, Bernard Capelle, Bernard Botte, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar and, from the biblical point of view, Lucien Cerfaux.

The conciliar decision was formally incorporated into the General Instruction to the revised Liturgy of the Hours, especially in articles 20-32.

It is further mentioned in the Code of Canon Law on the liturgy of the hours:

“Canon 1173. Fulfilling the priestly function of Christ, the Church celebrates the liturgy of the hours. In the liturgy of the hours, the Church, hearing God speaking to his people and recalling the mystery of salvation, praises him without ceasing by song and prayer and intercedes for the salvation of the whole world.

“Canon 1174 §1. Clerics are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours according to the norm of can. 276, §2, n. 3; members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, however, are bound according to the norm of their constitutions.

Ҥ2. Other members of the Christian faithful, according to circumstances, are also earnestly invited to participate in the liturgy of the hours as an action of the Church.

“Canon 1175. In carrying out the liturgy of the hours, the true time for each hour is to be observed insofar as possible.”

Since, as seen above, in Universae Ecclesiae 27: “With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies,” any rubric in the extraordinary form breviary which might be based on the opinion that laypeople could not act liturgically is superseded by subsequent doctrinal and canonical development. Thus, the layperson using the extraordinary form breviary is praying with and within the universal Church.

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 Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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.

About Fr. Edward McNamara

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