Another guest post by Jim McCauley on the 20th century history of the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office, especially as it relates to lay participation.
Mediator Dei, Pius XII and the Divine Office, 1947
When we have liturgical arguments, invariably people turn to Sacrosanctum Concilium (December 4, 1963). Progressives, liberals, conservatives, charismatics, and reform of the reform invariably use this document to back up whatever point they wish to make. However, in the corner is the traditionalist who keeps up the mantra “what about Mediator Dei?” That is a good question. This is the only papal Encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy and all too often it is ignored, as if it was entirely supplanted or made irrelevant by Sacrosanctum Concilium. However, as Aidan Nichols, O.P. sagely points out in his book A Pope and A Council on the Sacred Liturgy (2002), we should interpret or view Sacrosanctum Concilum in light or in view of Mediator Dei. And, no discussion on the Divine Office can be properly undertaken without reference to this document, signed by Pope Pius XII on November 20, 1947.
However, for our purposes, it is only in regards to the Divine Office that this document interests us. Here are some choice quotes:
“The Divine Office is the prayer of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ . . .”
“The Psalms, as we know, form the chief part of the Divine Office.”
“The Laity have no obligation in this matter. Still, it is greatly to be desired that they participate in reciting or chanting vespers sung in their own parish on feast days. We earnestly exhort you, Venerable Bretheren, to see that this pious practice is kept up, and that wherever it has ceased, you restore it if possible. This, without a doubt, will produce salutary results when vespers are conducted in a worthy and fitting manner and with such helps as foster the piety of the faithful.”
Hmmm. Sounds like we need the League of the Divine Office to help implement what Pius XII requested!