Perhaps this is not your question, but it is a question I have been asked by Catholics as they discerned what forms of vocal prayer to prioritize in their lives. We have a limited amount of time available to us individually and within the family circle, so the question is not merely theoretical. I hope that my answer will bring illumination for the mind as well as interior peace for the soul in quest of its highest good.

In ancient and medieval times, the laity often participated in the Divine Office. One of the goals of the Liturgical Movement in its better phase was to encourage the singing of Vespers in parishes and to promote the recitation of the office among the lay faithful, usually in translations or adaptations. In this project they were largely successful. At many parishes the singing of Sunday Vespers was simply taken for granted; since the psalms were always the same, the service was soon committed to memory. Then the neutron bomb of “liturgical reform” hit, and, in spite of Vatican II’s explicit endorsement of the parochial chanting of the Office, that laudable custom and progress was mostly wiped out. Slowly, we are seeing some promising signs that the Office may be returning once more to parish life, but it is happening almost exclusively in the traditional form or usus antiquior.

Of the thousands of pages that have been written in praise of the traditional Divine Office,[1] the simplest thing to say is this: from the time of the Apostles to the present, the Church has continually prayed the entire Psalter of David, which is (in the eyes of the Church Fathers) practically a fifth Gospel in its witness to Christ, and she has done this with the regularity of breathing, eating, and sleeping. The psalms have always been on the lips of holy men and women, in every public and private time of worship: every verse of every psalm,[2] recited in full each week, as established in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict—or sometimes each day, as in the hard-core Desert Fathers and some Oriental Orthodox.

Praise the Lord

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