Voting by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council indicated some substantial changes in the breviary, the book containing the Divine Office, which priests are obliged to recite every day.
Of 13 proposed amendments to the breviary section of the council’s document on public worship, the first two were passed Oct. 21 and the next six on Oct. 22. The amendments proposed for the text — Chapter IV of the liturgy schema — were:
1. Emphasis on the fact that Christ continues His priestly activities through the Church not only in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, but in other ways as well, especially in the Divine Office, which offers to the Father both praise and intercession for the salvation of the world.
2. Addition of exhortation to those who recite the Divine Office to do so with great fervor and devotion.
3. A statement that priests engaged in the pastoral ministry have a special need to recite the Office prayerfully, that the Lord will make their labors effective.
4. Provides that the hour of Matins (originally the night Office — which consists largely of psalms and readings from the Bible and the Fathers of the Church) should have fewer psalms and longer readings.
5. Proposes the suppression of the hour of Prime, which is a second form of morning prayer and somewhat of a duplication of the principal morning prayer, which is Lauds.
6. Provides that an individual who is obliged to pray the Office should be bound to recite only one of the three remaining shorter hours of the day. (The “little hours” traditionally have been Prime, Terce, Sext and None. This amendment and the preceding one would considerably shorten the total length of the Office.)
7. A new article urging priests and all who take part in the Church’s public prayer to make it a source of holiness and personal spiritual growth.
8. Decrees that the revision of the Latin translation of the Book of Psalms should take into account the nature of Church Latin, the fact that the psalms are chanted, and the traditions of the Latin Rite Church. (The point here is that a translation, which might be technically and literally satisfactory, might not be the best for public worship.)
9. Proposes that some specific but minor details in the original schema relative to the revision of the Office be suppressed. (The point here is that specifics be left to a postconciliar commission and that the council concern itself only with general directives and statement of principles.)
10 and 11. According to these amendments, which are really additions to the schema, provision would be made (a) to excuse from the recitation of some parts of the Office those clerics or Religious who participate on a given occasion in some other liturgical function, and (b) to allow bishops and other Ordinaries to dispense from the obligation to recite the Office for good cause.
12. While insisting that the traditional Latin Office be maintained by the clergy of the Latin Rite, the amendment concedes a faculty to bishops and other Ordinaries to permit the clergy in individual cases to recite the Office in an approved text of the vernacular.
13. Recommends that the Office be prayed in common when possible, especially in the case of priests who live together.
Amendment 12, due to be voted on Oct. 23, came in for lengthy discussion at the U.S. bishops’ press panel.
It was noted that the bishops might be allowed by law to give permission in individual cases to priests to read the breviary in the vernacular. Various reporters interpreted this as being restrictive rather than as being in favor of increased use of the vernacular.
Father Georges Tavard, A.A., a council expert, pointed out that, although some bishops have given such permissions already, there is no basis in Church law for this and they are taking on themselves something that might not be theirs to do. Father Diekmann added that, in practice, the amendment if approved would be “an opening of the door” for wider use of the vernacular.