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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

On the Laity Using the Breviary

Several months ago, Father Z on his famous and excellent blog, ran a poll on how many and what type of the Liturgy of the Hours were said by his readers. I was pleasantly surprised not only at the number of lay people who prayed the Breviary, but how many hours some actually covered in a day.

Now, I must admit, I rarely do more than either Lauds or Vespers, choosing one or the other depending on my schedule. Rarely do I do Sext, Prime and Terce, which are in my Monastic Diurnal, which is from St. Michael's in Farnborough. Now that the Baronius Press has published a three volume set of the Breviary in the Extraordinary Form, I shall be interested in looking at that in detail, although I am partial to my Benedictine Breviary.

What seemed a great blessing and encouragement to me were the numbers of the laity who said two or more of the hours per day. I find that a refreshing obedience to the call of several Popes in the past asking the laity to take part in the Daily Office. What does this trend mean?

I think, ironically, it means two habits among the laity which are distinct. The first is that there are more single lay people, who take time to say the Liturgy of the Hours alone, or possibly, in a group. That younger people have picked up the Daily Office and are using it for prayer exhibits a sign of renewal among the younger adults.

The second trend is that more married couples are praying the Divine Office, or parts of it, together. I am reminded of a humorous story told by an old Irish friend of mine, Paddy. He is in his eighties, and was telling me that his brother in his late sixties was getting married for a third time, being a widower twice. When his brother, Mike, went to the local priest, the priest asked him why he wanted to get married again, seeing that Mike and his wife-to-be were beyond child-bearing age. Mike did not miss a beat and answered, “I want someone to answer the rosary I start up every night.” Mike's point was that for him, praying was easier with someone than without. Several of my married friends pray with their husbands, especially now that some are retired. They find this so rewarding, that they admit they wished they had done this their entire married life instead of waiting until the children were raised and gone.

Here is a lovely painting of St. Dominic reading the Breviary. There is something to be said about praying out loud with others. The interaction between the body and the soul is important to us mortals. Community prayer also keeps us from too much introspection and selfish concerns. However, there are thousands of clergy and lay people who say the Divine Office daily alone.

Those of us single ones may find praying alone easy as we have been doing it for such a long time, but the point of using the Breviary as laity should be considered by all. May I quote St. Benedict, on the Opus Dei, whose Rule I have been revisiting here for a week or so. Please note that eleven of the chapters in the Rule are dedicated to praying, and for the Benedictine, this means praying the Divine Office. Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the work of God.