A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Obligation for Evening Prayer I of Sundays

Questions on the Obligations of Celebrating the Divine Office

By Father Edward McNamara, LC

Rome, August 04, 2015 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: During Holy Week and Christmas, priests who celebrate the vigil Masses are exempt from celebrating the Evening Prayer I of the feast. My question is: I celebrate evening Masses on Saturdays, one at 5 p.m. and another at the mission church at 7 p.m. By the time I get back to the rectory it is about 9 p.m. Am I obligated to celebrate the Evening Prayer I of the Sunday? — G.O., Mobile Archdiocese, Alabama

A: The indications regarding the exemption for those celebrating these vigil Masses is particular to these particular celebrations. If this were a general permission, then the rubrics would have no need to single them out.

One possible solution for our reader is to pray the vespers in the early afternoon. Although respecting the times of the hours is important, it is less important than actually praying them. If a priest foresees that he will have no time to pray an office until it is very late and he will be very tired, then it is better to pray them while he can give all his attention.

At the same time, it is not excluded that our reader might be exempt but for reasons other than the fact of celebrating these evening Masses.

The Congregation for Divine Worship published a response to a doubt regarding the extension of a priest’s obligation to pray the Divine Office (Notitiae 38(2002), 555-568). Here are some excerpts from this reply:

"Question No. 1: What is the mind of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments regarding the extension of the obligation of celebration or reciting daily the Liturgy of the Hours?

"Response: Those who have been ordained are morally bound, in virtue of the same ordination they have received, to the celebration or the entire and daily recitation of the Divine Office such as is canonically established in canon 276, § 2, n. 3 of the CIC, cited previously. This recitation does not have for its part the nature of a private devotion or of a pious exercise realized by the personal will alone of the cleric but rather is an act proper to the sacred ministry and pastoral office.

"Question No. 2: Is the obligation sub gravi extended to the entire recitation of the Divine Office?

"Response: The following must be kept in mind:

"A serious reason, be it of health, or of pastoral service in ministry, or of an act of charity, or of fatigue, not a simple inconvenience, may excuse the partial recitation and even the entire Divine Office, according to the general principal that establishes that a mere ecclesiastical law does not bind when a serious inconvenience is present;

"The total or partial omission of the Office due to laziness alone or due to the performance of activities of unnecessary diversion, is not licit, and even more so, constitutes an underestimation, according to the gravity of the matter, of the ministerial office and of the positive law of the Church;

"To omit the Hours of Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) requires a greater reason still, given that these Hours are the 'double hinge of the daily Office' (SC 89);

"If a priest must celebrate Mass several times on the same day or hear confessions for several hours or preach several times on the same day, and this causes him fatigue, he may consider, with tranquility of conscience, that he has a legitimate excuse for omitting a proportionate part of the Office;

"The proper Ordinary of the priest or deacon can, for a just or serious reason, according to the case, dispense him totally or partially from the recitation of the Divine Office, or commute it to another act of piety (as, for example, the Holy Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, a biblical or spiritual reading, a time of mental prayer reasonably prolonged, etc.)."

Some bishops, based on this document, have specified in more detail the occasions when a priest is dispensed from all or part of the office. These indications, if they exist, are usually provided when the priest receives his faculties for ministry. Insofar as the bishop's indications correspond to the general provisions above, they may be applied universally. Insofar as they are specific to the diocese, for example, when the bishop dispenses from the office whenever a priest concelebrates with the bishop, then they apply only within the diocese.

A priest should always strive to pray the full Office for, as the above document reminds us, this is not just an act of piety but an integral part of his priestly ministry. The above norms, however, will allow him peace of mind if on some occasions he is unable to do all because of the burden of pastoral activity.

* * *

Follow-up: Obligation for Evening Prayer I of Sundays [08-25-2015]

In the wake of our comments on the obligation of the Liturgy of the Hours (Aug. 4), a reader from Texas wrote: "I have never been clear about the priest's obligation regarding praying Daytime Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. I have been told, as a priest of one year, that one need pray at least one of the Daytime Prayers, but not necessarily all three of the Daytime Prayers — obviously, doing all three is preferred — so is there actually a law of the Church as to the Daytime Prayers?"

Yes there is, and the information you received is correct. The introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours explains how it is to be prayed and in what manner. 

"75. Liturgical custom in both East and West has retained midmorning, midday, and midafternoon prayer, mainly because these hours were linked to a commemoration of the events of the Lord's passion and of the first preaching of the Gospel.

"76. Vatican Council II decreed that these lesser hours are to be retained in choir. The liturgical practice of saying these three hours is to be retained, without prejudice to particular law, by those who live the contemplative life. It is recommended also for all, especially those who take part in retreats or pastoral meetings. 

"77. Outside choir, without prejudice to particular law, it is permitted to choose from the three hours the one most appropriate to the time of day, so that the tradition of prayer in the course of the day's work may be maintained.

"78. Daytime prayer is so arranged as to take into account both those who recite only one hour and those who are obliged, or desire, to say all three hours.

"79. The daytime hours begin with the introductory verse, God come to my assistance with the Glory to the Father, As it was in the beginning, and the Alleluia (omitted in Lent). Then a hymn appropriate to the hour is sung. The psalmody is next, then the reading, followed by the verse. The hour concludes with the prayer and, at least in recitation in common, with the acclamation, Let us praise the Lord. R. And give him thanks.

"80. Different hymns and prayers are given for each of the hours so that, in keeping with tradition, they may correspond to the true time of day and thus sanctify it in a more pointed way. Those who recite only one hour should therefore choose the texts that correspond to the true time of day. In addition, the readings and prayers vary in keeping with the character of the day, the season, or the feast.

"81. Two psalmodies are provided: the current psalmody and the complementary psalmody. Those who pray one hour should use the current psalmody. Those who pray more than one hour should use the current psalmody at one hour and the complementary psalmody at the others.

"82. The current psalmody consists of three psalms (or parts in the case of longer psalms) from the psalter, with their antiphons, unless directions are given to the contrary.

"On solemnities, the Easter triduum, and days within the octave of Easter, proper antiphons are said with three psalms chosen from the complementary psalmody, unless special psalms are to be used or the celebration falls on a Sunday, when the psalms are those from the Sunday of Week I of the psalter.

"83. The complementary psalter consists of three sets of three psalms, chosen as a rule from the Gradual Psalms."

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