A few days ago, Kevin Di Camillo posted “Why the Devil Hates Latin” at the Register. It’s essentially a brief narrative of his journey from the English Liturgy of the Hours to the Roman Breviary of 1960. The thing that surprises us, however, is that Di Camillo seems not to have considered the Liturgia Horarum in Latin. Certainly the paucity of editions cannot help—there’s only the cheaply made Vatican edition and the sturdy and expensive Midwest Theological Forum edition, as far as we know—but it is not as though there are options upon options upon options for the 1960 Breviary. Furthermore, the MTF Liturgia Horarum, while expensive, is not leaps and bounds more expensive than either the Baronius or Nova et Vetera editions of the 1960 Breviary. However, Di Camillo does not seem to write from the perspective of one who found it easier or cheaper to obtain a 1960 Breviary than a Liturgia Horarum. He seems to write from the perspective of one who never considered the Latin Liturgia Horarum.
We note that the Holy Father is a priest who has apparently long prayed the Liturgia Horarum in Latin. We recall especially this passage from the long 2013 interview with Fr. Antonio Spadaro in America:
At this point the pope stands up and takes the breviary from his desk. It is in Latin, and is worn down by continued use. He opens it to the Office of the Readings of the Feria Sexta, that is Friday, of the 27th week. He reads a passage to me taken from the Commonitórium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: “ita étiam christiánae religiónis dogma sequátur has decet proféctuum leges, ut annis scílect consolidétur, dilatétur témpore, sublimétur aetáte” (“Thus even the dogma of the Christian religion must proceed from these laws. It progresses, solidifying with years, growing over time, deepening with age.”)
(Emphasis supplied.) Others have noted that the interview with Spadaro took place in August 2013, but the 27th Week of Ordinary Time in 2013 didn’t begin until October 6. In other words, the Holy Father knows the Liturgia Horarum well enough to remember a particular passage from the Office of Readings without having just read it. One would think, as folks respond so favorably to the Holy Father’s example, that the Latin Liturgia Horarum would be experiencing a revival. However, we suspect that the Holy Father remains one of only a small minority of clerics and laity so intimately familiar with the Liturgia Horarum.
The Liturgy of the Hours was intended, more or less, to lighten the burden of the Office for priests engaged in active work. Now, whether or not the Office was actually a great burden on the majority of priests is an open question. (We have been told that Archbishop Lefebvre, a tireless missionary in his day, argued for some modifications, since some missionaries found it burdensome in the context of their work.) That aside, it makes some degree of sense that most priests say their Offices in the vernacular. Certainly, vernacular recitation is in keeping with the spirit that motivated the design of the Liturgy of the Hours, if not the intent of the fathers who voted for Sacrosanctum Concilium.
However, as Di Camillo noted, there is something to be said for praying the public prayer of the Church in the Church’s own language. More than that, there is something to be said for praying the public prayer of the Church using, by and large, language that would be as familiar to Pope St. Gregory the Great and Pope St. Pius V as it would be to us. (The Nova Vulgata resembles fairly strongly the Gallican Psalter, though it follows the Bea psalter into some Hebraisms.) Yet, when Di Camillo went to pray in Latin, he went, first, to the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and then, after Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae, to the 1960 Breviary. And he is far from alone: many people turn to the 1960 Breviary and the traditional Benedictine Office when they want pray an Office in Latin. In other words, Di Camillo’s perspective—one who seems not to have considered the Liturgia Horarum—is not unique.
As we discussed a little while back, we—the Church, that is—seem to have lost a sense that the Divine Office ought to be sung or recited publicly. And it seems that we seem to have forgotten that the Liturgia Horarum is out there as an option even for private recitation.