Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Cure for Breviary Boredom+weekly Q&A

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For those of us living in cold weather regions, winter is really starting to drag. It's been pretty cold, and even those of us who think falling snow is a pretty sight are beginning to fantasize about the first crocus, the first robin, etc. Although our hearts are lifted a bit by the gradual lengthening of days since the solstice, these long cold days bring on a feeling ranging from dullness and boredom to full blown seasonal affective disorder (depression).

This can carry over into one's prayer life. Even the Divine Office, which has plenty of variety, can seem a little boring. Same old, same old. Why bother?  The temptation is to skip it.  And true, it's not big deal to skip it now and then. But if this happens too often, the skipping, rather than the praying, threatens to become your new habit.

We've talked here before about forcing oneself through these dry periods by just going ahead with the prayer, however boring it might seem, until things get better. So there's no need to repeat. But here's another idea: remind yourself of what it is you are doing when you faithfully pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Do this by clicking on the "General Instruction" tab above and reading just the first chapter of the General Instruction. It has 4 sections. These tell you what the Liturgy of the Hours is. If you read them with attention, you can't help but respond "Wow! Is that what the Divine Office is? Is that what the Church is allowing a shlub like me to participate in?"  This should go far in shaking off your mid-winter breviary boredom.

Now, weekly Q&A time. Any questions, concerns, or confusion over the Liturgy of the Hours may be submitted in the comments below.


  1. I could never figure out where to go for today's memorial, or any memorial for that matter. Do I read the commons or do I read the weekday psalms for Morning Prayer? Still confused.

    1. I talked a lot about this issue of commons vs. weekday psalms two posts ago:

      For Paul MIki and companions, you would have done the weekday psalms , and then, as your own choice either continues with the weekday OR gone with the common or martyrs. And in either case, doing the concluding prayer from the proper of Saints.

    2. Okay, I think I got it now, "...the Church has a preference for the four-week psalter and for the yearly cycle of scripture in the Office of Readings." Thanks, again.

  2. Hello from Croatia, again! In January we celebrated memorial of saint Agnes, virgin and martyr. Her memorial has its own antiphons for Morning and Evening prayer. Are we supposed to pray these antiphons with normal psalms from four-week psalter since it is just a memorial? Or special antiphons always require using psalms of Sunday week I for Morning prayer and psalms from proper Common for Evening prayer? I don't know if this is unique case in liturgical year.

    1. Looking up St.Agnes in my breviary, I see that Sunday week I psalms were specified for her. I have no idea why that is, given the usual rules for memorials. Perhaps early Christian martyrs just get more respect! I've noticed the same thing for St.Mary Magdalene. There are probably others besides these. I have no definite reason for why these memorial offices are more elaborate, and why they are celebrated like feasts. I think it still would have been okay to use the antiphons for St. Agnes with the weekday psalms, but when the breviary tells me to use Sunday week I psalms, I do so. So I guess these are exceptions.

    2. This usually occurs for either:

      (a) feasts which had proper antiphons in the breviary before the reforms of the 60s. Some of these antiphons are particularly ancient or have a certain historical or musical heritage. When those antiphons are retained (as for example, with St. Agnes), the Sunday psalms are used for MP and the Proper psalms for EP.

      Proper antiphons usually go with festal texts because often the antiphon is festal or related to a particular festal psalm. It would be somewhat incongruous to have some antiphon like "St. X rejoiced and praised the Lord" and then follow it with something like "Have mercy on me"(the Dominicans however, have introduced an interesting exception in this regard, and allow the use of Proper antiphons with weekday psalms for some of their saints).

      (b) important feasts (usually previously of a high rank in the calendar) for which the Church does not wish to assign the rank of "Feast" so as not to interrupt the reading of Scripture in the Office of Readings, and not to multiply the number of Feasts (which maintains the importance of that rank).

    3. Thanks, R, for this clarification. I'd figured it had to do with retaining older antiphons from what had once been feasts. I actually own an old "short breviary" for laymen from before Vatican II, and mean to get it out to compare the antiphons for St. Agnes and some of these other, privileged saints. Of course this still leaves me wondering by what criteria some saints of old got this special treatment and others, equally ancient, did not, e.g., Agatha, Cecelia. Thank you for sharing your knwowledge.

    4. Daria, my guess is that it is because the antiphons for Lucy and Cecilia are heavily influenced by their hagiography which is not held to be historically reliable. Those for Agnes, while similarly inspired, are more vague and general, and also form the basis for a few texts in the rites of Religious Profession and Consecration of Virgins.

    5. Makes sense. Mary Magdalene has antiphons but everything is reliable since it's from scripture. Now it is all starting to become clear.

  3. Winter blues do indeed get me down, and it's been a looooong winter in my part of Canada. That's why I am SO grateful for the onlne version of LOTH. There's no excuse ("can't find the right page... is it a special feast day? ...can't find my reading glasses...don't remember where I left my breviary...")

    The readings are right there, just waiting for you to click and pray.

  4. I have a question about the Office of Readings; I'm using the one-volume Christian Prayer from Catholic Book Pub Corp. While I understand how to use the psalter for the OOR, I don't understand how to use the Biblical/Non-Biblical Readings and the Two-Year Cycle of Scriptural Readings. Do I combine them, or do I make a selection from them, or what? And what do I do about the responsory for each reading? Note that I prefer to use my book rather than pray from a computer (and I don't have a smart phone).

    One more question about gestures and postures during the LOTH. In Fr Weber's Compline, there are detailed instructions about when to bow, stand, sit, kneel and so forth. As I hear more about the LOTH on this site and elsewhere, I've heard that folks pray it while exercising or doing other things. Are gestures and postures optional or even required? Thanks!

    1. Good questions, Chris. The OOR in the one-volume breviary is strange and kind of pointless since there is supposed to be a second (patristic or saints') reading for each day of the year plus saint's memorials. And, as you noted, the correct resopnsory would be lacking after the readings. Your choices, if you are serious about doing the OOR, is to either go online for the missing elements, or to invest in a four-volume breviary. Another idea for those who don't have fancy phones: one of the cheaper tablets or even some models of amazon Kindle have wi-fi, so you could get ibreviary that way. My 2011 post on How to get ibreviary on Kindle still gets lots of pageviews, so that seems to be a very popular option for those without smartphones. As to the 4-volume,one economy measure is to purchase one volume II for Lent/Easter. If you're lucky you can find these used.
      As to bowing/standing, etc, I don't think these are required for someone praying alone. The General Instruction does not specify, but I've often seen priests praying their breviary privately without doing these things. I'v even read descriptions in old novels of priests reading their breviaries while walking in the garden, or sitting on a train, etc. This leads me to believe that most of the postures are meant for group recitation. Obviously you can do the sign of the cross at the beginning, end, and gospel canticle in almost any situation, and to bow one's head slightly during the Glory Be is also usually doable. As to standing/sitting, I don't think these are required of individuals by themselves.

  5. Thank you for your reply, Daria.

    I know about iPads, Kindles, etc, but I'd rather invest in the books for use in my prayer life. As I just purchased CP, and I'd like to use it for at least one year till purchasing something else, as I did with Shorter CP, I'd like to get a feel for how to use it, warts and all.

    So, any suggestions on how to use to what is supplied in Christian Prayer when one isn't connected and doesn't have the four volume set? Currently, I follow the recommended readings in the Two-Year (today was Romans and Genesis), and then I read one of the Non-Biblical Readings.

    Thanks for the clarification on gestures and postures for the individual. What about in groups? I typically pray Compline with my wife each night, and we usually pray Morning and Evening Prayers on weekends. Assuming that two is group, though in our case a private one and not a public one, for we pray it in our home, what are the proper gestures and postures for MP and EP?

  6. If you plan on continuing for a while with the OOR as presented in Christian Prayer, then what you are doing sounds fine. I'm not quite sure what to make of that two year cycle of readings: there is only one year of OOR scripture readings available in the four-volume breviary, and,stranger still, neither cycle of scripture readings in Christian Prayer corresponds to what we have in the four-volume breviary! For example, this week we've had Thessalonians, the two previous weeks we had Deuteronomy, and the week before that it was Sirach! It really makes me wonder where these selections in Christian Prayer came from. But hey! It's scripture, and thus always worth reading, and the daily psalter they give you matches what the rest of us have. I appreciate your desire to get some use out of Christian prayer before going on to the 4-volume. There used to be a stand alone volume of the Office of Readings published by the Daughters of St. Paul. I used it for years, and then gave it to someone else after I received a four-volume breviary.

    As to postures and groups. The honest answer is I don't know. When I pray with my husband at home, we usually remain seated throughout. When I pray it with him in Church, we do the standing/sitting/bowing, etc. I'm not saying my practice is that standard. It's just what we happen to do and feels right by instinct. But others may disagree. The General Instruction does not specify about this, and I'd be happy to learn what others have to say about it. Although the Church revised the Divine Office/LOTH partly with the desire to make it more accessible to the laity, the actual documents don't often address themselves to the situation of those praying at home and in private. I would love it if Rome would issue clarification on any number of is,sues related to the LOTH, especially as it pertains to us lay folk.
    Here are your basic gestures:
    Stand at the beginning. Make the sign of the cross while saying "O God come to my assistance, etc."
    Remain standing for the hymn if you use it.
    Sit for the psalmody, reading, and responsory.Bow whenever you say the first half of the Glory Be
    Stand for the Gospel canticle (because it's the gospel!)Make the sign of the cross as you say the first words of the canticle (blessed be the Lord/My sould magnifies the Lord//Lord now you may let your servant go in peace)
    Continue standing for the rest intercessions and the final prayer. Make the sign of the cross as you say "May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil, etc."
    That's it.

  7. When I pray it alone, I usually just sit and do the gestures. When my wife and I pray it at home, we do all the sitting and standing and bowing, though we've been bowing all the way through the Glory Be -- I think we'll just bow through half, which will make it much easier when chanting.

    Interesting info about OOR. This week, as per Christian Prayer, I'm reading Romans and Genesis, and I just select something from the Non-Biblical Readings for Ordinary Time.

    In my parish, there isn't a regular LOTH service, except during Lent on Fridays after Stations, but I'm not sure if it is really LOTH Vespers or just some kind of OCP/GIA "Vespers" concoction. At a local Orthodox Church (OCA), there is a weekly Great Vespers on Sat evenings, which is completely sung and quite beautiful.