Monday, July 12, 2004

Liturgia Horarum - The Liturgy of the Hours


We had a discussion recently on one of my lists on praying the liturgy of the hours (a.k.a. "the breviary" or "the divine office") in Latin. (A surprisingly non-acrimonious discussion for a list drawn from the full spectrum of Catholic opinion.) Anyone who wishes to pray it in Latin can, of course, cut a cheque to the Vatican bookstore for the full 4 volume set and dive right in.

Or you might find it easier to start with Scepter Press's volume of "Lauds and Vespers" for Ordinary Time. It is an odd little book with some inexplicable idiosyncrasies but some excellent points in its favour which make it a recommendation for anyone just starting out on the daily office in Latin.

It only includes Morning and Evening Prayer for Ordinary Time. But it has the complete Latin text for these prayers along with a very good English translation of them. Unfortunately the translation is not approved for liturgical use. But if your Latin is a bit wobbly it's quite helpful.

On the plus side it is a very well set-up book, nicely bound with quality "bible paper" pages. All of the appropriate breviary hymns are included with some classic translations from Cardinal Newman, John Mason Neale, The English Hymnal, and others. This makes up for a tremendous lack in the CBP breviary, IMHO, where the hymn choices make for a remarkable disconnect between the office and the season or time of day. The translations are very well done. Far more accurate than the ICEL's version of the collects and an improvement on the intercessions as well.

It contains all of the new Magnificat and Benedictus antiphons which the CBP edition does not. (There are three times as many.)

The scripture version is the RSV-CE which can be a plus or a minus depending upon how you look at it. It's a beautiful version in itself. But as it is taken from the massoretic text it is not always really a translation of the nova vulgata which is the Latin version used for the office. This can make for a bit of confusion if you're using it to translate a difficult bit of the Latin.

Some of the drawbacks are obvious: since it contains only “Ordinary Time”, you're out of luck in Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter times. And there are no saints days. So you will still need at least one other book throughout “Ordinary Time”. Oddly enough the Invitatory was not included either. That's easily remedied by typing it out on a card. But still it seems an unnecessary economy.

As noted it does not contain Compline either. Since Compline is complete in only a one week cycle and is unchangeable during “Ordinary Time” it’s difficult to believe it would have broken the bank to include it.. Many third order people have Lauds, Vespers and Compline prescribed in their rule as part of their daily prayer regimen. To leave it out makes this book less likely to be the daily companion it was intended to be.

The psalm titles and headings are missing. They appear in the Latin originals but not in this volume. The "psalm prayers" are also missing but as these do not (yet) exist in the Latin original that's understandable.

The final warning is that it's a bit "spendy" -- about $35 for a relatively small volume.

On the whole, though, I would suggest it as a good beginning for someone who wanted to start praying the Latin office in the Pauline rite. Fr. Stravinskas and Scepter are to be congratulated for a good beginning in opening up the Latin prayers of the Church to everyone.