Votive Offices in the Liturgy of the Hours

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Votive Offices in the Liturgy of the Hours

ROME, 18 SEPT. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum University.

Q: I am a seminarian and I just started praying the Liturgy of the Hours. My question is: Are there "votive" Liturgy of the Hours akin to votive Masses? Would it be acceptable, for instance, to pray the office of the Sacred Heart on liturgically free first Fridays? I don't remember anything in the instruction, and the book only seems to have an office of the Blessed Mother for Saturday as far as anything resembling a "votive" office in the back. I asked three priests at the seminary and got three different answers. — M.S., Rome

A: This topic is dealt with in the Introduction to the Divine Office, especially in Nos. 245-252. This text says:

"245. For a public cause or out of devotion, except on solemnities, the Sundays of the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, the octave of Easter, and 2 November, a votive office may be celebrated, in whole or in part: for example, on the occasion of a pilgrimage, a local feast, or the external solemnity of a saint.

"246. In certain particular cases there is an option to choose texts different from those given for the day, provided there is no distortion of the general arrangement of each hour and the rules that follow are respected.

"247. In the office for Sundays, solemnities, feasts of the Lord listed in the General Calendar, the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week, the days within the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and the weekdays from 17 to 24 December inclusive, it is never permissible to change the formularies that are proper or adapted to the celebration, such as antiphons, hymns, readings, responsories, prayers, and very often also the psalms.

"In place of the Sunday psalms of the current week, there is an option to substitute the Sunday psalms of a different week, and, in the case of an office celebrated with a congregation, even other psalms especially chosen to lead the people step by step to an understanding of the psalms.

"248. In the office of readings, the current cycle of sacred Scripture must always be respected. The Church's intent that 'a more representative portion of the holy Scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years' applies also to the divine office.

"Therefore the cycle of readings from Scripture that is provided in the office of readings must not be set aside during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. During Ordinary Time, however, on a particular day or for a few days in succession, it is permissible, for a good reason, to choose readings from those provided on other days or even other biblical readings — for example, on the occasion of retreats, pastoral gatherings, prayers for Christian unity, or other such events.

"249. When the continuous reading is interrupted because of a solemnity or feast or special celebration, it is allowed during the same week, taking into account the readings for the whole week, either to combine the parts omitted with others or to decide which of the texts are to be preferred.

"250. The office of readings also offers the option to choose, with a good reason, another reading from the same season, taken from The Liturgy of the Hours or the optional lectionary (no. 161), in preference to the second reading appointed for the day. On weekdays in Ordinary Time and, if it seems opportune, even in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, the choice is open for a semicontinuous reading of the work of a Father of the Church, in harmony with the biblical and liturgical context.

"251. The readings, prayers, songs, and intercessions appointed for the weekdays of a particular season may be used on other weekdays of the same season.

"252. Everyone should be concerned to respect the complete cycle of the four-week psalter. Still, for spiritual or pastoral advantage, the psalms appointed for a particular day may be replaced with others from the same hour of a different day. There are also circumstances occasionally arising when it is permissible to choose suitable psalms and other texts in the way done for a votive office."

Therefore, while these norms allow for wide latitude in adapting the office to special circumstances, their application would require a certain familiarity with the intricacies of the book and a certain level of theological and liturgical formation.

There are also fewer options for votive offices in the Liturgy of the Hours than there are for votive Masses in the Roman Missal.

One reason for this is the general preference for maintaining the full four-week cycle of psalms as far as possible. Therefore the above norms would suggest that votive offices be used above all for pastoral reasons and less so for motives of personal devotion such as on first Fridays.

Another probable reason is the historical development of the Divine Office with respect to the Mass. Participation in the Liturgy of the Hours rapidly became the almost exclusive province of clergy and religious. Mass, by its very nature, is destined for all Catholics.

It was therefore quite natural that, over time, people would be more likely to request a specific Mass according to their devotion than a particular office. Indeed, the very concept of a votive Mass is one which does not correspond to the canonical office of the day but is offered for a "votum," or special intention. Ritual Masses and funerals would also be considered votive masses in a broad sense.

There are already some traces of Masses celebrated for such special intentions in the writings of St. Augustine, although the term votive Mass first appears in liturgical books around the middle of the fifth century.

Votive offices first appear several centuries later, usually corresponding to the devotion of religious orders. These were briefer supplementary offices to be prayed outside of the canonical hours in honor of the Trinity, Mary, the saints, the Holy Cross, for the dead, etc.

It was these supplementary votive offices, rather than the Divine Office itself, which became popular with the educated laity in medieval times. Thus were formed the illustrated manuscripts called Books of the Hours, if in Latin, and prymers, if in English. A particular form of votive office, the "Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary," was particularly diffused and was even an obligatory addition to the Divine Office for some religious orders. These prayer books were among the most popular of the Middle Ages, and many manuscripts are still extant.

Over the course of several reforms of the Roman breviary a few votive offices, above all those dedicated to Mary, the saints and the dead, entered into the official text. Logically however, these were far less than those of the missal.

The present missal distinguishes between "Masses for various needs and occasions" and "votive Masses." The first class refers to formulas that implore graces for a wide range of ecclesial or civil circumstances, whereas votive Masses are celebrated in honor of the Divine Persons, of Mary, and of the saints.

It would appear that only the latter form would be subject to a votive office alongside the office for the dead. There are no specific offices in the breviary that correspond to the missal's Masses for various needs and occasions.

* * *

Follow-up: Votive Offices in the Liturgy of the Hours [10-2-2012]

With respect to our piece on the Liturgy of the Hours (see Sept. 18) there was a related question on file from a reader: "I am trying to find some liturgical basis, if any, for encouraging the use of 'Liturgy of the Hours' daily intercessions to be used as the intercessions at Mass. The Liturgy of the Hours is called the universal prayer of the Church. It would seem most fitting therefore that the intercessions from the liturgy be used at Mass, of course with adaptations when necessary. However, I cannot find where any author on liturgical norms even suggests doing this. Please advise."

The principles and norms of the Liturgy of the Hours do foresee the possibility of substituting the intercessions for the Prayer of the Faithful but only when morning prayer is united to Mass. Thus, No. 94 says in part:

"The general intercessions are made in the place and form customary at Mass. But on weekdays, at Mass in the morning, the intercessions of morning prayer may replace the daily form of the general intercessions at Mass."

This is a fairly restricted use and is not recommended for a Sunday. The liturgical norms suggest a proper order for the intercessions of the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass but no obligatory texts. Thus, there is no reason why the intercessions from the Divine Office could not be used as a source of inspiration in composing the Prayer of the Faithful, but these should be carried out in the manner that is habitual at Mass.

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