Thursday, November 17, 2011

Divine Office "vs." the Rosary -which is "better"?

The other day a reader asked for my thoughts on the Divine Office compared to other devotions, especially the Rosary.   This reader, a convert from Protestantism, noted the heavy promotion of the Rosary by  Catholic publications  and blogs, not to mention devout fellow parishioners. He feels a bit uncertain about what to do, since he loves the Liturgy of the Hours and has no time for additional devotions. Should he give up, say, Morning Prayer and substitute the rosary?   He's been weighing all the statements recent Popes have made about the Divine Office for the Laity, with what has been urged about the Rosary (John Paul II's Apostolic letter on the rosary, requests of Our Lady in approved apparitions, and that huge rosary tradition among faithful Catholics): "... one of the major changes in thinking I've had to overcome from Protestantism is learning to see  things as both/and instead of either/or. However, I have a limited amount of time, and sometime struggle to squeeze in just one of these forms of prayer."

Here's some thoughts. And I'm guessing the reader already knows these things, but just wants a little  clarity.  He really already  has the answer with the "both/and" principle. 

1. Catholics who want to grow close to God have to pray daily.
2. The Church requires no particular prayer or devotion beyond (obviously) participation at mass and the sacraments as per the precepts of the Church.
3. The Church the offers us  a huge array of prayers, devotions, and meditation methods to choose from. And it's our choice. 
4. Objectively considered in and of themselves, some forms of prayer are superior to others. 
5. Liturgical prayer (the Holy Mass and the Divine Office), which constitute the public prayer of the Church, are head and shoulders  above any other prayer, because they are in a class by themselves.  All other prayers, including the Rosary, belong to this lesser class of Private Devotions. 
6. Among Private Devotions, the Rosary probably holds first place. The proof is the above mentioned, long standing acclaim of the faithful, papal exhortations, apparitions, etc. 
7. In deciding what our daily prayer should look like, we should keep #5 and #6 in mind, but pay equal attention to, 
8. Our own tastes, inclinations, and preferences! This is our freedom as children of God. If someone considers #5 and #6 but finds that what really satisfies  his heart and mind are the Divine Mercy chaplet and a daily chapter of the Bible, and he doesn't have time for more, then by all means, he should stick with those. 
So, in conclusion, it looks like Uncertain Reader should stick with Morning Prayer. 
But I have a few more thoughts to share with him. Although he probably knows all this as well.

1.Our Lady's place in the plan of salvation is such that --I think it's right to say this--it's almost a necessity to have some sort of relationship with her beyond intellectual assent to marian doctines. In other words, a good son will want to call his mother fairly often.
2. Although you've heard about the Rosary to the point of overkill, I can't help saying that when properly said, the rosary is, as JPII famously stated, "to gaze with Mary upon the face of Jesus," and personally, the rosary enhances my appreciation of the psalter. For example, it's automatic for me to start visualizing Gethsemane or Calvary every time I start reading a psalm of suffering. That must have come from years of meditating on those mysteries several times a week for so many years.  So try a decade or two while commuting to work. It might surprise you. Or just ask Our Lady to help you find some time to talk to her.
3. The push by the Church for the laity to pray the Divine Office is of very recent origin(circa 1970). It has been perceived for centuries as the almost exclusive occupation of priests and religious. (It is true that in ancient and medieval times the common people would, if convenient, leave their work and head into the local monastery chapel for lauds or vespers, but that fell by the wayside for a variety of reasons, among them the newer customs of public daily mass AND the rosary, whose 150 Hail Marys were seen as a kind of substitute for the psalms. )  So don't be surprised if the faithful you meet praying their rosary after daily mass don't know what you're talking about when you show them your  breviary.  It will be a long time before the word on the Divine Office gets around. But don't worry. Pope Benedict and I are working on it. 
4. Yes, that was kind of a joke. I'm not really that arrogant. The folks who run the online breviaries are the real Divine Office Apostles of our time.
5. Expect to exert charity and patience with all the wonderful, earnest, sweet people  who are sure that Their Favorite Devotion is the One Thing that everyone must do if they hope to [choose one: save their souls, make reparation for sin,end abortion, really please God],or  really do what (choose one: the Pope, Our Lady, Our Lord) wants us to do. 


  1. Thanks for the clarity, Daria. Like you say, I kind of knew this already but it's nice to see it spelled out in black and white. I've often found myself in a similar position to your reader when confronted by the more ardent proponents of the rosary. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that my own tastes and preferences are for almost always using my limited time for saying the divine office rather than the rosary. Not that I never pray a rosary; but it isn't anything near habitual.

    My daily time with Mary is my Angelus bell. My cell phone chimes some lovely bells at noon and six and I pause to say the Angelus (or the Regina Caeli in Easter time.) Plus I make a lot of spontaneous prayers to her throughout the day. My standard practice when someone asks me to pray for an intention is to turn it over to Mary by praying a Hail Mary. So I probably get in at least a decade or two of them at various times throughout the day. It isn't the intensive meditation on the mysteries; but it is a mindfulness. Also, I made a very concerted effort to have an image of Mary in every room in my home to help me be mindful of cultivating my relationship with the Blessed Mother. Also, I sing Immaculate Mary to the children when I tuck them in every night. So those are some ideas of other ways to cultivate a relationship with Mary when you feel pulled by the either/or of the rosary vs divine office.

  2. Regarding #5.....that is one of the things I look forward to so much in retirement soon. To be able to go to Mass every day! As for private devotions...because of the interfaith marriage thing I have not been praying the Rosary so I thank God for leading me to the Divine Office (and this site Btw :)). I keep Mary in my thoughts during the day.

  3. I would like to ask you to share a link to other sources concerning this theme in case you are aware of any.

  4. Thank you for the clarity of your thoughts on this matter
    I have for years now recited daily parts of the Divine Office as time allows. I can get it online all set up for me for the daily ordo in Latin and English which makes it easier for me than to navigate through it from a Breviary. I spent a few months with the Carthusians as a postulant for the lay brotherhood and I am sorry to say that I found the near endless recitation of the rosary in lieu of the Divine Office very tedious. It seemed that every moment of the day that in which one was not occupied in the labours of the day was spent reciting another rosary. At the night Office which would take two to three hours the brothers would say rosary after rosary in near total darkness except for a sanctuary lamp in the middle of the choir. When one returned to ones cell you had to recite another rosary in lieu of the Office of Our Blessed Lady. When a member of the community died the rosaries multiplied. I found it all too repetitious and tedious. I had a limited knowledge of Latin (enough to recite and understand for the Divine Office) and I really wanted to be the other side of the wall that divided the Choir monks from the laybrothers joining in the Night Office. I believe after the Vatican Council the Carthusian laybrothers now have the option of joining the Choir monks in their choir and may be present at the Daily Conventual Holy Mass. Previously they were only allowed to be present on Sundays and Holy Days.

    1. I think I'd find endless rosaries just as tedious as you did. That custom must have started long ago when lay brothers were mostly illiterate. I'm sure modern lay brothers much prefer praying the Office.

  5. I am a Lay Carmelite and have the obligation as a Third Order member of the Order of Carmel to pray LOH (Morning, Evening, Night Prayer). I may occasionally substitute the Rosary but only when praying LOH privately, individually. When gathered in Community, we pray the LOH appropriate to the time of day: "This praying the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the signs of the unity of the Carmelite with the universal Church."

    This obligation of LOH as communal prayer may also exist for lay members of other religious orders.

  6. Just a note, Mary is acknowledged in the Liturgy of the Hours with the Canticle of Mary during evening prayer and with the Marian antiphon during night prayer.

  7. I've learned that the Liturgy of the Hours is the Official prayer of the Catholic church, next to the Holy Mass. Why is it that it is NOT taught to church people by the parish priests? I've seen only a few parishes whose parishioners are praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Why are the priests NOT encouraging the parishioners to pray it?