In hope of less.

Les Brown and Bob Hope in 1951. They have nothing to do with this post.


This is not a rant about the novus ordo but the next few words may sound like it. One of the things that annoy me about the Pre V2-Post v2 argument is the claim that the new lectionary (for mass and the office) has “more scripture” in it. This is usually offered without ever explaining why this might be a good thing. The Mass (and the Daily Office) is not the time for Bible Study. While there is nothing wrong with either the new Lectionary for Mass, nor the Daily Office lectionary, it’s not automatically good simply because there is more of it. Exposure to more scripture only means exposure to more scripture. There are unexplored advantages to the older ways: as in the Orthodox and Jewish traditions, a year’s worth of readings (rather than three years) allows for memorization, familiarity, and meditation. MOAR BIBLE (to use memespeak) is not the solution to anything, really. More (or moar), by itself, is not better: it can really be just meaningless words and, if recent data about the lack of faith among Catholics is any indication, it’s actually made things worse.

However, this “More is Better” thinking is not only an issue on the “new” side of things.

I love the Daily Office: the traditional practice of reciting portions of Psalms, hymns, and scripture passages at several set times each day. The purpose of this is the sanctification of time, a weaving of the heavenly song of praise into all aspects of each day. It began as a monastic practice which was, itself, an extension of Church practice. There are certain psalms that get used all the time in the liturgies of the Church. Monastics extended this by using the entire book of Psalms. This is very visible in the Eastern liturgy where the set times of prayers have set psalms: Matins has 6, Lauds has three, and then each of the other services has three each. However, if you follow the monastic practice, into Matins and Vespers you can weave the entire Psalter or almost all of it. In the West, which adopted the Office from the monastics, this was the same pattern until recently: Lauds and each of the “little hours” through the day had set psalms that could be memorized.

The monastic practice became part of parish practice through various routes in East and West. Read Liturgy of the Hours, East and West by Fr Robert Taft, SJ, for a much deeper exploration of this history.

In the name of simplicity, Pope St Pius X made a major revision to the office and parsed the entire psalter out over 7 days with no repetition. While much of it could still be memorized it was only over a longer period of time. Without daily recitation of some texts, they tend to not be memorized as easily. But they are there. Then, following Vatican 2, a second major revision of the distribution of Psalms happened. This was much more dramatic, some might even say disruptive: the psalter was parsed out over four weeks. There is a complex layout – with some texts repeating every two weeks, some repeating weekly, and a few others only coming up once in the four-week cycle. Some do not come up at all (because they made folks “uncomfortable”) but this is said to be fixed in the new translation rumored to be in the works since the 80s…

There are some issues to raise about this new psalter. Gone is the daily repetition of the Lauds psalms (which St Pius did away with), and the daily repetition of Psalm 50/51 that was present in the P10 psalter, at least in Lent, is entirely absent in the new text, where that Psalm is only said weekly on Fridays. Also, the matins readings are not parsed into digestible chunks: they come at you in walls of paginated text. But it is still the same office in form and function, just as the new Mass – done properly – is the same Mass as the old Mass in form and function. These issues are issues of style and liturgical thinking, though. The Office – the daily prayer of the church – is present in these texts and the Office plus the Mass is the daily grace needed by all the Saints. So, we’re good.

It is with some humor (and not a bit of sly irony) that in reading Trady complaints about the new office, the most common reason for urging a return to the older form is some version of because it is longer. MOAR OFFICE! “But we say more psalms,” said one monastic to me.

More than once since becoming Roman Catholic, your host has fallen into this same trap. Though now obligated to the Office as a Dominican Tertiary, the Office (with more or less regularity) has been a valued part of my growth even as an Episcopalian in the 80s. Even as a neopagan, the sense of need for daily prayer had become so ingrained that I wrote a daily office in a pagan style, complete with a yearly cycle and “canticles” lifted from early Welsh and Irish texts. My first thought, picking up the current Roman office in Liturgy of the Hours, was, “Hmm. This is a little light.” The translation is pedestrian at best, the hymnody is often meaningless, and the distribution of the Psalms, as mentioned, is problematic. So, I constantly find myself wanting to revert back to some older form with more – or moar.

Why? What is the attraction of or the value of more pro se? This is the same thing proffered in comparison of rites, old/new or east/west: ours is longer, as if duration was a mark of holiness or as if God would say, “Whoa! More words is totes better, Bro!” This rant began when the Liturgy of the Hours called the “Liturgy of the Minutes” and as much as I love the breviary, I realized then the internal pride I felt at doing the Office in the Extraordinary Form. If I were an SSPX tertiary, that would be correct, but that’s not the case.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He feeds the homeless and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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