Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Psalm Prayers, again, and weekly Q&A

Here's an old post about psalm prayers. Next to questions about options for saint's offices, I probably get asked about psalm prayers more than anything else. So I thought the newcomers might appreciate this.

Other than that--any other questions or comments about the Liturgy of the Hours are welcome in the comments box below. I'm here to help.

Psalm prayers are those short prayers that follow each of the psalms in your breviary. They are meant to be aids to understanding the preceding psalm. Beginners often find them very helpful in explaining how the Church interprets or uses a particular theme or image from the psalm. More experienced people, who have gotten pretty good at applying the psalms to Christ or to the Church, find the psalm prayers at times to be a bit  redundant.

It gets more disconcerting when one has the opportunity to pray the hours in community while visiting, say, a monastery or a seminary, and see that this group might not even  use the psalm prayers. A layman, praying the hours privately, has no obligation to do everything Exactly Right. But aren't these religious and clergy, who are bound to pray the hours, committing some sort of liturgical abuse by skipping the psalm prayers. Isn't this kind of like a priest deciding to skip some part of the mass?

Or, on the other hand, you get a look at a the breviary that is used in England.  No Psalm Prayers in sight.  Or you meet a priest from a foreign country and ask what's in his breviary. Chances are, he won't  have any psalm prayers either.

What's going on here?

I've been looking for ages for someone who knows the historical details on this issue of how only the American breviary seems to have these psalm prayers. Lacking that, here is what I do know:
--a careful reading of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH)  indicates that psalm prayers were  apparently were not even meant to appear in the main body of the psalter. Here's what it says:

112. Psalm-prayers for each psalm are given in the supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours, to help in understanding them in a predominantly Christian way. They may  be used in the ancient traditional way: after the psalm a period of silence is observed, then the prayer gathers up and rounds off the thoughts and inspirations of those taking part. 

This indicates to me that psalm prayers are not an obligatory part of the breviary. My feeling is further bolstered by this from another section on how to sing/recite the psalms:

123. The antiphon for each psalm should always be recited at the beginning...At the end of the psalm the custom in maintained of concluding with the Glory to the Father and As it was in the beginning...the antiphon may be repeated at the end of the psalm. 

Since nothing is mentioned here about the psalm-prayers, one can only conclude that these are not essential elements of the psalter.

The question then remains, why do the psalm prayers in American breviaries  appear in the body of the psalter, and right after the psalm, with the antiphon (apparently) not being repeated until after the psalm prayer.Was this a decision of the American bishops, or of some English translation committee, or of American publishers?  Also--do the breviaries of other language groups have some sort of "supplement" with psalm prayers in a separate volume, or an appendix to the breviary?  I have no idea. If anyone out there has some light to throw on these subjects, let me know.

But I think we can safely conclude that the  psalm-prayers are clearly optional. Use them if you like them, skip them if they do nothing for you. Or if you are pressed for time. And when you participate in a religious community's liturgical hours, be aware that there are several valid options on this, and assent to the custom of that community, even if it is not your personal custom.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why Do Some Memorials get Their Own Antiphons?

Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. 

Even though this is not a feast, you will notice that it has it's own antiphons, readings, and responsories.

Well, good for her. But why do you suppose that is?

The answer lies in the changes in the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours that occurred following Vatican II. In the older form of the breviary, there were many more saints' days that were ranked as feasts. Many of these feasts were "downgraded" into memorials or even optional memorials (also called commemorations). The was due to the desire of the Church that we focus more on 1. the repeating cycle of the monthly psalter and 2. the cycle of the liturgical seasons.

There are ongoing arguments on the part of liturgy geeks over whether this change was a good thing or not. Since people who prefer the older Divine Office are free to use it, I see no reason for either "side" to criticize the other about how/why the newer version came about and it's relative worthiness. And happily, we don't get into those kinds of polemics here, except in occasional, friendly, and charitable comments.

But back to St. Mary Magdalene.   She is one of those whose feast was placed in "memorial" status. However, a number of saints who are both ancient and beloved, have kept elements from  their formerly "feastday" offices in their current "memorial" offices.   Other examples we have coming up shortly include Sts. Anne and Joachim*  on July 26th and St. Lawrence on August 10th. There are others, but right now I"m at McDonald's and don't have my breviary with me.

So now you know why St. Mary Magdalene has such a fancy--and lovely--memorial office.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A mainline Protestant meets the Liturgy of the Hours

Checking some search results today, I came across this piece written by a non-Catholic making an informal retreat at a monastery guesthouse. He joins the monks for each of the liturgical hours, and has some interesting reactions to it all.

I disagree with him that the Liturgy of the Hours marks "chronos" rather than "kairos" time. Clearly it can do both. (But this gentleman couldn't know that at this point in his acquaintance with it.) But he was spot on when he said this:

While we were there, one of the brothers passed away on the premises. He was old and sick; still, it happened rather suddenly. The monks heard the news at church a half hour later. Then they did what they always do: they prayed the psalms. I suspect that if some Job-like tragedy wiped out all but one of them, he’d still show up for the Divine Office that day, singing antiphonally with the cloud of witnesses.
So I began to appreciate that I was not a second-class participant in a worship event some hierarchically-minded person planned. I was an observer of a holy practice of marking the passage of time, a practice as reliable as time itself.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Should we be appalled or just Amused?

Or just amused? 

I vote for amused, because this is just too silly.

The link for this French perfume was sent to me by the same  nun whom I mentioned a couple of posts ago. She came across it while doing research on the Liturgy of the Hours for an article. Having first found Coffee&Canticles, she said, "I presume this is what you wear all the time."   I guess if  Sister is amused, it's okay for me to be. 

La Liturgie des Heures Jovoy Paris for women and men

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Weekly Q&A, in the Fullness of Time

Just one of those little things that jump out at you when you read the Liturgy of the Hours. Something you've seen a million times suddenly hits you with new meaning.

Yesterday evening, it was that phrase , "in the fullness of time" in the canticle from Ephesians 1: 3-10. It's literal meaning: in the plan of salvation, God does everything at just the right moment, when the time is ripe, when the world is ready. This applies to the Incarnation, the Birth of Jesus, His death for our salvation. It also applies to the ongoing work of salvation, and the culmination of all things, when He returns and this present world is brought to an end. In the fullness of time. Not at the time when I think it should happen, not at the time when televangelists poring over the book of Revelation say it will happen. It will happen in God's good time, and that will be the perfect time.  

We should find that immensely consoling. No need to fret about whether we are in the Last Days, and whether this or that prophecy from this or that apparition applies to our lifetime or ten lifetimes from now.

By extension to the moral sense, that is, how this applies to me personally: all the workings of grace in our own little lives will also occur in the fullness of time. As God wills, when God wills. Also immensely consoling.

That's what jumped out at me yesterday. Has anything in your daily liturgical prayer jumped out at you lately?  Feel free to share that, AND/OR to ask any questions about the Liturgy of the Hours: how to say it properly, why to do it at all, etc.   Whatever is on your mind about the breviary is a fitting subject for the comments below.

Welcome, new blog follower Ted.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Help Cistercian Nun with Breviary Research

I recently received this email from Sister Eleanor. Read it and see if any of you can help her out. 

Greetings from Rome!  I'm a Irish Cistercian (Trappistine) nun - my community is in Ireland, but at the moment I'm working at our Generalate in Rome.
Like you, I'm passionate about the Liturgy of the Hours.  Right now I'm drafting an article which I'm hoping will be accepted by an Irish liturgical/pastoral monthly magazine.  I'm talking about internet resources, and one of the things I thought I'd include is to encourage people to follow blogs about the Liturgy of the Hours. 

I want to name a few blogs.  So, there's yours, and... ???  Is that all?  I must be missing something, surely?  I mean blogs that are exclusively, or at least primarily, about the Liturgy of the Hours, that others might learn something from. 
I've even checked all the blogs in your sidebar, but none of them fits the bill for what I'm interested in.  Can you point me to any others, please?   I'd be grateful!

I made Sister aware of the Breviary Hymns blog, and also the newer Musical Breviary (see my previous post).
And Sister knows all about the several online breviaries.

Is there anything else we're missing? Let me know and I"ll tell Sister Eleanor.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Help for the Chanting-Impaired...

and a delight for the rest of us.  It's the Musical Breviary Blog! This is a wonerful project, all managed by one guy with a good voice. Subscribe to Musical Breviary, and any day you want to hear the day's office being chanted, the link (Morning and  Evening Prayer only) will appear in your mailbox.

From what I've sampled so far, bloggger/singer Theodore Forrence uses pretty simple chant tones, so it's easy to follow along once you've listened to a few verses. For copyright reasons, the version of the psalms used is a public domain version, but all the other texts  are straight out of the breviary. The hymns are the traditional Roman hymns--these are often one of the choices on ibreviary, and we are supposed to get these as the default hymns when the new English breviary comes out in....some years from now.

Check it out.

And welcome, new blog followers, Mark and  Tara.