Breviary and the New Missal Translation

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Breviary and the New Missal Translation

ROME, 18 OCT. 2011 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: As you know, the English translation of the Roman Missal, third edition, soon to be the norm, has new translations for the texts of the collect (opening prayer) for use at Mass. What will be their status for use at the Liturgy of the Hours, once the third-edition translation is the norm for Mass? Is it (a) forbidden, or (b) mandatory, or (c) permitted, but not mandatory, to use these new translations for the Liturgy of the Hours? Permitting their use seems advantageous, in that these improved translations would improve the celebration of the office and show its unity with the Eucharist. However, mandating their use would seem burdensome, since breviaries are not printed with these texts. Yet the text for the Liturgy of the Hours has its own ecclesiastical approval; this would suggest that use of the current (older) translation be continued. — B.K., Oakland, California

A: Although there are no precise official norms regarding this, I would say that the most probable possibility would be our reader's third option: "permitted, but not mandatory."

In general, the closing prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours at morning and evening prayer is the same as the Mass collect. This is not an absolute rule as, for example, a priest can celebrate a votive Mass or an optional memorial and pray the office of the day. When All Souls' Day falls on a Sunday the office follows the Sunday even though the Mass is of the Commemoration. However, all closing prayers used in the office are also found in the missal.

Since we are dealing with two alternative translations of the same prayer, both of which have received official approval, I see no difficulty in using the new translation if one so wishes. As yet, there is no booklet containing only the new collects. Even if there were one, it could prove somewhat awkward for recitation of the Divine Office. For these reasons it would not be mandatory until the eventual publication of an updated breviary.

Indeed, it is to be hoped that, having finished the missal, the English-language authorities begin to undertake the gargantuan task of preparing a new version of the Liturgy of the Hours. The current edition for English speakers outside of the United States hails from the 1970s and is missing all the additions to the liturgical calendar, such as the new saints.

A single text for the entire English-speaking world would also be most useful in these times of constant travel.

* * *

Follow-up: Breviary and the New Missal Translation [11-2-2011]

Related to recent replies to questions on the Liturgy of the Hours (see Oct. 18) was one regarding the psalm prayer. 

A reader wrote: "In the English-language version of the Liturgy of the Hours used in the United States, there is often a psalm prayer added prior to the repetition of an antiphon. My question is whether the saying of this psalm prayer is obligatory. I've traveled to a number of other countries and do not find these psalm prayers in their editions. My second question regards the opening verse: 'O God come to my assistance.' In a number of our communities in the United States it has become the practice of saying, 'O God come to our assistance.' Can this practice be justified? Does the singular form 'my assistance' pertain only to the individual recitation of the office?"

The question of the psalm prayer is addressed in the Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours under the heading "Antiphons and Other Aids to Praying the Psalms." To wit:

"112. Psalm-prayers for each psalm are given in the supplement to The Liturgy of the Hours as an aid to understanding them in a predominantly Christian way. An ancient tradition provides a model for their use: after the psalm a period of silence is observed, then the prayer gives a resume and resolution of the thoughts and aspirations of those praying the psalms."

The key expression here is "in the supplement." They are thus optional aids that may be used in praying the psalms. As far as I know, the U.S. edition is the only one in any language to print them after each psalm and not as a supplement. The other major English-language edition does not even include them as an appendix within the book itself.

Which approach is better is subject to debate. The fact that they are printed after each psalm can induce people to believe they are obligatory. On the other hand, omitting them entirely deprives the community of any benefits their use might bring.

With respect to the opening verses of the Office, the introduction says: 

"34. The whole office begins as a rule with an invitatory. This consists in the verse, Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise, and Ps 95. This psalm invites the faithful each day to sing God's praise and to listen to his voice and draws them to hope for 'the Lord's rest.'

"41. Morning prayer and evening prayer begin with the introductory verse, God come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. There follows the Glory to the Father, with As it was in the beginning and Alleluia (omitted in Lent). This introduction is omitted at morning prayer when the invitatory immediately precedes it."

Thus, there is no provision for a plural form of these expressions. Indeed, there has never been such a provision even when, in early monastic rules, it was presumed that the office be sung in common.

One reason is because these verses are themselves taken from Scripture. The invocation: "Lord, come to my assistance!" is based on the beginning of Psalm 70. It was in common use since earliest times. The holy monk John Cassian (360-430) praised it highly and said it was in common use among the Egyptian Desert Fathers as a means of fostering the spirit of prayer. St. Benedict (480-547) adopted it as the opening phrase for most offices from whence our present custom derives.

For the office of readings (matins), however, St. Benedict chose the phrase: "Lord, open my lips" from Psalm 51:15. Since matins opened the day, this expression formed a parallel to a verse of Psalm 141:3-4 which at that time closed the office of compline: "Lord, set a guard at my mouth …." With this verse the monk entered into the strict nocturnal silence until once again he appealed to the Lord to open his lips so as to praise God. I believe that this brief historical sketch helps us to understand that even apparently minor details can be significant and why unauthorized changes to the liturgy often lead to the loss of these deeper meanings.

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