Votive Offices in the Liturgy of the Hours

And More on Benediction at Mass

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ROME, SEPT. 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- 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.

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Follow-up: Mass and Benediction

In the wake of our Sept. 4 comments on Mass and Benediction, a Wisconsin reader asked: "At a parish I attended this summer, the pastor would, on some days, expose the Blessed Sacrament at the end of Communion for a Holy Hour that would follow Mass. After returning to his chair, he prayed the post-communion prayer. He then said, 'The Lord be with you,' and the people responded, 'And with your spirit.' He continued, 'May Almighty God bless you …' but then he would stop speaking (that is, he did not pronounce the Trinity), approach the monstrance, and, using his chasuble as a humeral veil, impart Benediction. Returning to his chair, he said, 'Go in peace,' and the people responded, 'Thanks be to God,' and he processed out in silence. He does this because the Holy Hour is concluded with simple reposition by an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and because it allows people to leave with a blessing without staying for the Holy Hour. Could you comment on the propriety of this practice in light of the previous weeks' columns?"

While the priest is surely well-intentioned, this form of blessing does not correspond to any liturgical rite. It is for all practical purposes a Benediction immediately following Mass, which is contrary to liturgical norms.

As a general principle every solemn exposition should eventually end with Benediction. The simple reservation by an authorized extraordinary minister of Holy Communion is considered as an interruption in adoration, not its definitive conclusion.

For example, if some faithful desire to have adoration every day after Mass for a certain period of time, but there is no priest available for reservation, then it can be interpreted as a continuous or prolonged adoration with interruptions (see Eucharisticum Mysterium, No. 65). In this case the priest would expose after communion on the first day, omitting the blessing. The extraordinary minister of Holy Communion would reserve. On other days the priest would expose simply after concluding Mass as normal. Then, once a week or so, a priest or deacon should conclude the adoration with Benediction.

Another reader asked: "I see that you say that no public blessings are given while the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. I know this is the case with the extraordinary form (except in the rare case of Mass coram Sanctissimo), but I have never been able to find this in the current liturgy. In fact, in the renewed Caeremoniale Episcoporum it says to bless the incense at exposition. In our abbey we have compline during adoration each evening, and we go ahead and give the blessing at the end as usual, since we have never found a contrary indication. We wonder about this. Thanks."

As our reader correctly states, the current rubrics for exposition and Benediction indicate that the celebrant "blesses the incense without saying anything" (CB, 1109). This is effectively a novelty and the only case of any blessing before the Blessed Sacrament exposed.

The probable reason for this change was to simplify and unify the rite of infusing incense by eliminating the differences among several ritual situations. In recent years, however, quite a few liturgists have requested that the earlier practice of no blessings during exposition be restored.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.