Ministers at the Liturgy of the Hours

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Ministers at the Liturgy of the Hours

By Staff Reporter

Rome, 26 May 2015 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q1: I went to visit a seminary, and during the Divine Office the priest led the opening prayer — e.g., "O Lord, open my lips" or "O God come to my assistance" — and concluded the office by giving a blessing. It was only the seminarians who led the recitations of the psalms and their antiphons. In another religious community, the seminarians led the prayer until the conclusion, while the priest did not give the blessing. Shouldn't the priest lead the prayers give the blessing, since he is higher in the hierarchy? — R.A., Quezon City, Philippines.

Q2: When reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, are lay individuals required to recite the daytime (midmorning, midday and midafternoon) prayers? — L.M.

A: There are actually many ways of combining the direction of the Liturgy of the Hours. The introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours gives fairly precise indications regarding the minimum intervention of the ordained minister and other ministers: "253. In the celebration of the liturgy of the hours, as in all other liturgical services, 'each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.'

"254. When a bishop presides, especially in the cathedral, he should be attended by his college of priests and by ministers and the people should take a full and active part. A priest or deacon should normally preside at every celebration with a congregation and ministers should also be present.

"255. The priest or deacon who presides at a celebration may wear a stole over the alb or surplice; a priest may also wear a cope. On greater solemnities the wearing of the cope by many priests or of the dalmatic by many deacons is permitted.

"256. It belongs to the presiding priest or deacon, at the chair, to open the celebration with the introductory verse, begin the Lord's Prayer, say the concluding prayer, greet the people, bless them, and dismiss them.

"257. Either the priest or a minister may lead the intercessions.

"258. In the absence of a priest or deacon, the one who presides at the office is only one among equals and does not enter the sanctuary or greet and bless the people.

"259. Those who act as readers, standing in a convenient place, read either the long readings or the short readings.

"260. A cantor or cantors should intone the antiphons, psalms, and other chants. With regard to the psalmody, the directions of nos. 121-125 should be followed."

Nos. 121-125 say the following:

"121. Different psalms may be sung in different ways for a fuller grasp of their spiritual meaning and beauty. The choice of ways is dictated by the literary genre or length of each psalm, by the language used, whether Latin or the vernacular, and especially by the kind of celebration, whether individual, with a group, or with a congregation. The reason for using psalms is not the establishment of a fixed amount of prayer but their own variety and the character proper to each.

"122. The psalms are sung or said in one of three ways, according to the different usages established in tradition or experience: directly (in directum), that is, all sing the entire psalm, or antiphonally, that is, two choirs or sections of the congregation sing alternate verses or strophes, or responsorially.

"123. At the beginning of each psalm its own antiphon is always to be recited, as noted in nos. 113-120. At the end of the psalm the practice of concluding with the Glory to the Father and As it was in the beginning is retained. This is the fitting conclusion endorsed by tradition and it gives to Old Testament prayer a note of praise and a Christological and Trinitarian sense. The antiphon may be repeated at the end of the psalm.

"124. When longer psalms occur, sections are marked in the psalter that divide the parts in such a way as to keep the threefold structure of the hour; but great care has been taken not to distort the meaning of the psalm.

"It is useful to observe this division, especially in a choral celebration in Latin; the Glory to the Father is added at the end of each section.

"It is permissible, however, either to keep this traditional way or to pause between the different sections of the same psalm or to recite the whole psalm and its antiphon as a single unit without a break.

"125. In addition, when the literary genre of a psalm suggests it, the divisions into strophes are marked in order that, especially when the psalm is sung in the vernacular, the antiphons may be repeated after each strophe; in this case the Glory to the Father need be said only at the end of the psalm."

Therefore, the answer to the first question is that ordinarily the presiding priest or deacon should give the final blessing and dismissal.

However, above all in a seminary, it could happen that there is a good reason to omit the final blessing and dismissal while using instead the alternative conclusion. Seminary schedules often begin with lauds, after which the seminarians stay on in the chapel for personal prayer until Mass. In such cases it could appear incongruous that the priest blesses and dismisses an assembly, which in fact remains and will be again blessed and dismissed at the end of Mass.

It is true that the possibility exists for Mass to be united to lauds and vespers, but this is foreseen as something to be done occasionally and not on a daily or regular basis.

With respect to the second question we can answer that since for a layperson, praying any office of the Liturgy of the Hours is an option and not an obligation, then it follows that he or she can choose to omit midday prayer, select to pray any one of the midday offices or even pray all of them.

If a layperson makes a private vow or some other form of personal commitment, such as entering a third order or a spiritual movement, then he follows the spiritual obligations freely undertaken according to the customs of the association.

* * *

Follow-up: Ministers at the Liturgy of the Hours [6-9-2015]

In the wake of our May 26 reply on the Liturgy of the Hours, we received the following query: "In a seminary setting, if the one presiding is a seminarian but a priest is present, would the opening and closing prayer be said by the presiding seminarian or by the priest? Likewise with compline during the 'May almighty God have mercy...'?"

As we saw in our previous response, if a priest is present, and actually taking part in the common recitation of the office, he should normally preside over the office even in a seminary setting. In this case the opening invocation and the closing prayer and dismissal would always be said by a priest or, in his absence, a deacon.

However, if the priest just happened to be present, and the office in the seminary is organized by the seminarians taking turns at leading (not presiding as, strictly speaking, only an ordained minister presides), then I believe there would be no obligation to interrupt the usual practices, although it would be a good thing to invite the priest to preside.

Likewise, if the priest is habitually present but could be considered as legitimately impeded (for example, he is there to be available for confessions), then the office could also be led by a seminarian.

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