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

Q: Why is it that different editions of the Liturgy of the Hours in English have different texts for the readings? Specifically, the four-volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours has shorter readings than the single-volume "Christian Prayer" edition. This has caused some confusion among my friends as to which is the normative version. -- C.M., South Bend, Indiana

A: There are probably several reasons.

First of all, various countries use different translations for the texts of the Divine Office. Sometimes this is because of copyright issues and sometimes simply the preference of one version over another. I believe that there are plans to develop a common text of the Liturgy of the Hours just as English speakers have achieved a common missal. However, it would appear that they are still in process and might take a long time.

Other languages spoken by various countries have similar differences, such as between the Liturgy of the Hours in Spain and in most Latin American countries.

Even in single-language countries such differences can occur because of changes to one area of liturgy not fully incorporated into the other rites. For example, in Italy, the bishops' conference has introduced a new official Bible and with it a new lectionary for all Masses using this new Bible. However, although use of the new versions is permissible, most printed editions of the Divine Office continue to use the earlier versions of psalms and readings.

The reasons why it might take longer to adapt the Liturgy of the Hours are many. First, the complexity of the Divine Office means that a new version will take time. Also, since the Liturgy of the Hours is often prayed and sung in common, the chants already prepared for the older version of the psalms will occasionally have to be adjusted and new books for instrumental accompaniment prepared.

Economic questions probably come into play. It must be considered that a new official version of the Divine Office would render the older versions obsolete from its official date of adoption, and no new editions of these would be printed. While it is probable that priests, deacons and laypeople could continue to use their current versions for private recitation, communal recitation would necessarily require the use of the new version. As in other countries, many parishes in Italy pray part of the Divine Office in common before daily Mass, and there is a wide range of inexpensive editions of the daily office to facilitate this practice. Religious communities especially would probably need to acquire the full four-volume set. It is one thing for a parish or religious community to buy a set of new lectionaries, another to buy multiple new copies of the Divine Office all at once.

In spite of these practical difficulties, it is probable that the Liturgy of the Hours will eventually be adjusted to the new texts. The Italian bishops' conference is notably generous in allowing the use of its official texts for free distribution and use by electronic means. This generosity will probably aid the eventual standardization of any new official version.

Regarding the English-speaking world, we could first say that the official version of the Liturgy of the Hours is the multiple-volume set. The three-volume set is the official version used in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries in Asia, Africa and the West Indies. The four-volume set is the official version in the United States and Canada and probably some other countries as well. Recently some African countries have published their own version of the Liturgy of the Hours, which some consider the best version currently available.

The single volume of Christian Prayer is a reduced version of the U.S. edition of the Divine Office. I believe that there are currently two publishers with one-volume versions of the office on the market. These editions cater to individual lay faithful and small groups who wish to pray a part of the office, above all, lauds and vespers. One of these editions contains a condensed version of the Office of Readings for those who may wish to sample this particular office.

Not having a copy of the book available, I can only guess that the reason why some readings might be longer than the four-volume set is that a text spread over two days in the official text is condensed into a single reading in the single volume. Since the publishers probably intended the sample of the Office of Readings for private prayer rather than communal recitation, they did not worry about strict conformity with the official version. These single-volume editions are very worthwhile in helping to introduce a wider range of Catholics to the Church's official prayer in a comparatively economical fashion.

Many have discovered the personal spiritual benefits that derive from this treasure of sprinkling the day with moments of prayer and praise in union with the entire Church. Since this is the Church's official prayer it is also an exercise of the royal priesthood of the faithful and genuine active participation in the Church's liturgy.

* * *

Follow-up: Gestures at the Gospel

An observant reader from Washington, D.C., completed and clarified a point I made in my recent article on gestures at the Gospel.

"In your Zenit article on 8/26/14, you gave a fine discussion regarding the triple sign of the cross made at the time of the Gospel. You went on to say that the addition in the GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] 2002 for the people to make this gesture was a novelty of the third edition of the Roman Missal. This is true insofar as the GIRM is concerned, but the reason why it was included in the GIRM of the third edition of the missal is because it had already been added to the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 74, to wit:

"At the ambo the deacon stands facing the people and, with hands joined, says the greeting; then with his right thumb he makes the sign of the cross, first on the book at the beginning of the gospel passage that he is about to read, then on his forehead, lips, and breast, saying, A reading from the holy gospel. The bishop signs himself in the same way on forehead, lips, and breast, and all present do the same. Then, at least at a stational Mass, the deacon incenses the Book of the Gospels three times, that is, in the center, to the left, and to the right. Then he proclaims the gospel reading to its conclusion."

Another correspondent, from Dublin, Ireland, asked: "In line with gestures at the Gospel, why does the deacon or priest (if there is no deacon) reading the Gospel not extend his hand at the greeting 'The Lord be with you,' as he does at other parts of the Mass? It just seems so natural to do that."

As seen above in the quote from the Ceremonial of Bishop, the rubric is clear that he should not do so. The historical and liturgical reasons are not so clear.

My personal reasoning is the following.

First, in the Latin rite the opening and closing of the hands is strictly a presidential gesture. Consequently, at no time during Mass should the deacon ever open and close his hands -- not at the Gospel, not at the sign of peace and not at the dismissal. He may use this gesture if he presides at a celebration in the absence of a priest.

Second, again in line with the Roman liturgical tradition, the reading of the Gospel has never been reserved to the presiding celebrant. If there is a deacon present, he should proclaim it. In a concelebration it is preferably read by another concelebrant even if the principal celebrant is to preach the homily. Only in the absence of the other ministers should the priest read the Gospel.

Therefore, since proclaiming the Gospel is not a presidential act, the greeting "The Lord be with you" at the Gospel is not a president ial greeting, and the gesture of opening and closing the hands is thus omitted. This is true even in those cases where, by default, the minister of the Gospel coincides with the principal celebrant.

Although this is my personal deduction, and there might be other good explanations as well, I believe that this helps explain the reason behind this rubric.

* * *

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.