Friday, November 4, 2011

Rubrics, Anyone?

"Stand up, sit down, stand up, kneel down. It was like a game of Simon Says. Not my thing for worship."

The nice protestant lady who said this after attending a Catholic mass had not been told that Catholics praise God  not just with their minds and vocal chords, but also with our bodies and the postures we put them in. I wish I'd had the quick wits to tell her this, but at the time I was a shy fifteen-year-old who hadn't ever articulated this idea even  to myself.

But now I'm happy to tell anyone who will listen--we Catholics pray with our arms, legs, knees, spines, and hands. Since Christ became flesh, all flesh can praise him. Furthermore, since Christ entered this world, all of creation--and all that man creates--can help our prayers as well. Hence, candles, statutes, incense, etc.

In the liturgy (mass and the hours) there are instructions for how to use our bodies and our stuff to assist our prayer. These are called rubrics, because they are printed in red and rubrum is Latin for red.

There are rubrics for our bodily actions when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours. But you may not find them in your breviary. Now, keep in mind, these are not required or expected when you are praying by yourself. (Although the sign of the cross at the beginning, end, and gospel canticle are easy enough to do.)  If you pray the hours with a group of people, and especially when you do this in a church, it's a good idea to use the rubrics insofar as it is practical.   Furthermore, you might find that even when praying privately, following the rubrics once in a while  can help you pay attention to what you are doing.   So here they are:

1. Opening.Stand Up.  Make the sign of the cross while saying "O God come to my assistance..." (you already knew this one, right?)
2. Bow, either from the waist or just your head, whenever you say the first half of the "glory Be"
3.Sit down for the psalms, the reading, and the responsory.
4. Stand up for the Gospel canticle and its antiphon.Make the sign of the cross while saying the opening words of the canticle.   Remain standing for the intercessions, the Our Father, and the concluding prayer.
5. Make the sign of the cross while saying the concluding verse: "May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, and bring us to everlasting life."

Remember, you don't have to do this when you pray. Especially if you feel silly doing it  in front of the rest of your family. On the other hand, using the rubrics can give you a better sense of what you are doing--praying liturgically. and if you are lucky enough to have a spouse or child joining you, the rubrics might well make the Divine Office more interesting for all concerned. 


  1. Hi Daria, between your wondersful instructions and the rubrics, I understand why the little cross is placed in various sections of the office (e.g. Lord, + open my lips.). However I just noticed a "larger" cross "rubric" at the end of certain phrases in the Invitatory (Forty years I endured that generation. †) or in Morning Prayer (after first phrase in Psalm 95 - O sing a new song to the Lord, †). If "+" is to cross yourself, what is the "†" instructing you to do? Hope this makes sense. Thanks! Karen

    1. That larger, "dagger" marking is for the sake of those praying in a group (or just two people) who take turns not with each large strophe of the psalm, but instead alternating verse by verse of each psalm. Some of the verses are so long that they take up three lines of type rather than two. The dagger let you know that the line you are chanting is not yet finished, but commpletes on the following line. This is really important because when you chant the psalms, you need these cues so that you can change the note you are singing at the right spot. But if you are just reciting the psalms by yourself, you don't have to worry about any of this.
      Hope that makes sense.

    2. Makes perfect sense! Thanks Daria! Karen

  2. Hello, I discovered this site only recently - while doing research for a current project of mine - and already I am appreciative - grateful, even - especially since I have little experience of the LOTH behind me. So thanks to God for all you do here.

    I have a concern about a dagger, but this one's red and in fact there are two of them. In my case, they are to be found in Psalm 80, the third of the Psalmody for Holy Thursday or Thursday of Week 2 in Lent. Moreover, the words surrounding them are almost the same, so I have a hunch the two - words and daggers - are connected.

    Can you help? I would attempt to find the answer among your pages and links but I have to admit it'd be easier to ask! Thanks already!

    1. Hello, sorry I did not see this question until today. In my breviary, psalm 80 has a dagger after the words "shine forth" (verse 2 of the psalm) and after "visit this vine and protect it" (verse 25) It's purpose is the same as what explained to Karen Louise in the earlier comment above.