The Ordinariate Office and the laity

David Clayton has a lengthy, excellent piece at New Liturgical Movement about the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham (that is, the English Ordinariate’s version of the Divine Office). He argues,

From what I have seen I am excited. I think it provides great possibilities for lay people especially to start praying the Office. The Anglican Office has a proven record not only in enabling laity as well as clergy to pray the Office, but also as a public celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer. I heard recently from Mgr Andrew Burnham in England, who was instrumental in producing this, that this continues to this day. As he told me, the English Anglican cathedrals and choral foundations are in the midst of a golden age, as regards both attendance and music, and clearly meet a very deep need.”

(Emphasis supplied.) He makes several points, and, for that reason, we urge you to read the whole thing at New Liturgical Movement. We have a few observations, though.

First, one of the key drawbacks of the Liturgia Horarum is the four-week psalter. While some may argue that the Roman Breviary of 1960 was essentially a transitional breviary, pointing the way toward the Liturgia Horarum—and, in many respects, they may be right—it must also be said that the 1960 Breviary preserved the one-week psalter, which had been the ancient custom of the Roman Church, going back all the way to St. Benedict’s Regula. The four-week psalter loses through dilution some key dimensions of the psalms, not the least of which is the all-important Christological dimension. It also, in our opinion, reduces the centrality of the psalter in favor of other aspects of the Office, especially the readings in the Office of Readings and the preces at Morning and Evening Prayer. (In fact, the four-week psalter is the primary reason why we do not regularly recite the Liturgia Horarum ourselves, notwithstanding some of its advantages over the 1960 Breviary.)

It appears, unfortunately, from Clayton’s description that the Ordinariate Office preserves a four-week psalter, though one that does not suffer from some of the omissions that the Pauline psalter does:

First, convenience and simplicity: the psalm cycle is designed such that it is possible to sing the whole Office with just two Offices in the day – the hybrid Morning and Evening Prayer which allow us, one might say, to sing four Offices as two, and to sing the whole psalter in the course of the monthly psalm cycle. This means that it really is the Office for those who do not have many hours in each day to devote to singing the psalms. However, for those who do have more time, and wish to add more Offices in the day from time to time, there are simple options to add Prime (yes Prime!), Terce, Sext, None and Compline.

(Emphasis supplied.) We do not know enough about Anglican liturgy to know for certain whether or not the four-week psalter is a part of the Anglican patrimony. Looking, however, at a website devoted to the so-called Book of Common Prayer, it seems that the Anglican psalter, or at least an early version of the Anglican psalter, did indeed use a monthly psalter.  So, on one hand, the four-week psalter may be consistent with the patrimony of the Ordinariate, but it is not especially consistent with the customary use of the Roman Church. And the Ordinariate Office, however good it may be, is still hobbled by a four-week psalter.

Second, it seems to us that Clayton’s argument essentially is that this version of the Office is one that may well get laity interested in the Office. (For the record, we agree with Clayton that a spirituality based upon Mass and the Divine Office has distinct advantages.) However, we do not think that the problem is so easily solved by another version of the Office.

There are plenty of versions of the Office available right now. An American Catholic who wanted to recite or sing the Office according to an approved version could recite the Liturgia Horarum in Latin or English, the 1960 Roman Breviary in Latin, the traditional Benedictine Office in Latin, or some other approved Office. (The Cistercian Office of Heiligenkreuz Abbey has always seemed hugely fascinating, if a little exotic.) Additionally, there are those who say the Roman Breviary or the traditional Benedictine Office in an English translation, though the extent to which those translations were approved is sometimes a matter of debate. Moreover, the English translation of the traditional Benedictine Office contained in the Farnborough Monastic Diurnal is reverent and hieratic. (And that’s before we get into Anglo-Catholic things like the so-called Anglican Breviary or the Lancelot Andrewes Press edition of the Monastic Diurnal.)

The problem is not that there aren’t enough options for Catholics. There are options, as we have noted, to suit almost every liturgical taste. The problem—as a comment at NLM notes—is that the Office has become something (apparently) reserved to clergy. The Liturgia Horarum, which seems designed to be recited all at once and in private, has contributed to that perception. A new option is not going to change it. (We would, of course, be very happy to be proved wrong on this point.)

Finally, we wonder if another comment at NLM doesn’t have a point: the Ordinariate liturgy—both the new (and by all accounts splendid) Divine Worship, or the Pope Francis Missal as Fr. John Hunwicke has called it, and the Office—is the product of a very specific need in the Church. It seems to us that one’s experience of the Ordinariate liturgy may well be richer and more meaningful if one has a deeper understanding of the Anglican patrimony that is part of the life of the Ordinariate. Obviously, such an understanding is not strictly required to recite or chant the Office meaningfully and prayerfully, but the fact is that many Catholics do not have much experience with some Anglican traditions, such as Evensong. (Indeed, as we have noted repeatedly, many Catholics do not have much experience with their own vespers.) How one would go about obtaining that understanding is, of course, a different story.