Divine Office / Liturgical Reform / Liturgical Spirituality / Ordinariate

Making the Ordinariate’s Divine Office Better: Simplicity


The three ordinariates established under the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus still await their approved divine offices to supplement the Divine Worship Mass and have a complete liturgical life.

I used to think Rome just needs to get over its bureaucratic inertia, hurry up and approve the drafts currently in front of them.

Having now had a lot of time to review and reflect upon those drafts as they currently stand, especially via the Australasian ordinariate’s interim office approved for public celebration on an experimental basis (and itself based on the North American draft as the primary source text), I have changed my opinion.

Rome should take its time, and the three ordinaries, the Congregation for Divine Worship, as well as anyone else involved in the official drafting process, should seriously consider ironing out some real problems that make the draft as it currently stands, in my opinion, unfit for prime time.

In this and follow-up posts, I will address some major areas I see where change should be at least considered before publication, especially if both the strengths and integrity of the Prayer Book tradition, and the unique benefits of the Roman Rite, are to be taken seriously.

Divine Worship: “The best of all worlds?”

One of the weakest points of the Ordinariate’s draft is that it (understandably) wants to have the best of all worlds — the Anglican Prayer Books, and both classical and modern forms of the Roman Rite — but goes about it in such a clumsy way that it ends up potentially falling short of them all.

The most evident symptom of this in the divine office drafts is the abundance of one powerful little word, “may,” in the rubrics.

Archbishop Cranmer understood that in order for his Prayer Book offices to achieve their goal of being the largely unchanging platter on which substantial daily portions of the Psalms and Scriptures could be served up in a systematic fashion, options at the celebrant’s discretion had to be kept to a minimum.

There are certainly a few flexible things baked into the structure of the traditional Prayer Books (e.g. choosing the Sentence(s) of Scripture, but from a very limited handful given; or choosing between two canticles in-between Scripture lessons), the Prayer Book offices were nonetheless very set and linear affairs to minimize unnecessary complexity.

Divine Worship by contrast has lost the strongest feature and driving purpose behind Cranmer’s project and the whole classical Prayer Book tradition: a mandatory and relatively uniform simplicity.

Here is why: from beginning to end, the draft offices are full of, “The celebrant may” do this, omit that, add the third thing, choose between the following options…

Consider that from the very get-go, at Morning and Evening Prayer, the celebrant may or may not begin with:

  • The Angelus/Regina coeli, or
  • A Sentence of Scripture (selected from multiple pages’ worth of options, instead of just a handful!), or
  • The opening versicles “O Lord, open thou our lips”

In addition, the celebrant may or may not include or omit the penitential rite of the “Fore-Office,” which (confusingly) is its own thing now, instead of being baked into the structure of MP and EP as in the classical Prayer Books.

Then, at Morning Prayer, the celebrant may or may not include an Invitatory Antiphon with Ps. 95. If he does, he may or may not repeat it after each stanza of the psalm, or only before and after the whole psalm.

The celebrant then may opt for Cranmer’s traditional 30-day Psalmody, or he may choose the seven-week scheme provided for in the ordo/lectionary tables.

The celebrant may or may not sing a hymn before the Gospel canticle (Benedictus or Magnificat, respectively), and that hymn may or may not be a proper Office Hymn as opposed to any old ditty from a hymnal.

The entire structure of the draft offices, as they currently stand, is peppered with ad-lib options like this. It suffers from an acute case of “optionitis.”

Cranmer famously complained that the complicated Latin offices of his day often required more time to find out what was to be said than to say it once it was found out.

However, in defense of those venerable old offices, at least there were set prescriptions that one could find out and follow. By contrast, Divine Worship’s problem is even worse, inasmuch as it is not a matter of “finding out,” but of making constant decisions on part of the celebrant or the celebrating community, from beginning to end. It is akin to having an unassembled LEGO set with instructions for dozens of possible builds.

This approach does serious harm to the stated rationale behind the liturgical reforms of Thomas Cranmer, and the very basis of the “Anglican patrimony” and Prayer Book tradition that the Ordinariates were formed to preserve and foster in union with the Catholic Church. It also represents a serious obstacle to widespread adoption of the office among those not already inclined to it.

The First Step: A Normative Office

bcpIn future posts, I will discuss other, more specific problems within the Divine Worship daily office drafts, including confusingly-worded and inconsistent rubrics.

First things first, however: Structurally speaking, how can we address the “optionitis” and the resultant complexity and decision fatigue, baked into the Divine Worship drafts?

How do we make the drafts immediately usable “out of the box” for all people, without requiring prior familiarity with (and a nerdy interest in) the liturgical minutiae of the Anglican and Roman traditions?

I appreciate the effort to create a daily office with enough flexibility to work for different communities and their diverse Anglican experiences prior to entering the Catholic Church. Consequently, simply swinging the pendulum the other way — eliminating all options and creating a one-size-fits-all Procrustean bed of an office — is not an appropriate or pastorally sensible solution.

What would be appropriate and necessary, however, is the creation of a baseline normative ordinary for the office, as straightforward as the 1662 English Prayer Book’s offices, with as few ad-lib options as possible. Beyond this, we should treat any further options, adaptations or additions to this skeleton as a separate appendix, and as approved departures from the usual norm.

This would likely include making mandatory certain elements that are currently optional for simplicity’s sake; a reduction in the vast number of “mays” in the rubrics.

It would also mean any approved alternatives (e.g., there are currently three forms of suffrages to choose from after the Our Father and before the collect of the day) should be relegated to the appendix of options, rather than kept in the main ordinary of the offices.

In choosing which is to be the norm vs. “alternative” uses, the guidance of the 1662 English Prayer Book (and to a lesser extent, of the 1928 American book) would be of greatest use, as these are generally the sources for the oldest, most venerable, and most authoritative uses in the Anglican tradition.

Lastly, there are certain seemingly arbitrary obligatory rubrics that stick out like a sore thumb among all the options.

The one that most readily comes to mind is the inexplicable obligation to replace the invitatory Psalm 95 (Venite) with Psalm 100 (Jubilate) at Morning Prayer on Feasts, Solemnities, and Sundays of Eastertide. In both old and new forms of the Roman Rite, Psalm 95 is always an option — even in the ordinary form, where additional invitatory psalms are made available for use as alternatives. Likewise, in the Prayer Books of old, except for a very few days like Easter when a proper Anthem is appointed, Psalm 95 is the norm.

More practical issues and suggestions will be outlined and proposed in future posts, but the first step toward making the Divine Worship offices better is: create a straightforward, mandatory normative office, with simpler rubrics and much fewer options, modeled on the classical Prayer Books. Then go from there, and treat any alternative uses, options or additions as separate deviations (albeit acceptable ones) from the norm.

This will be a necessary first step in order to safeguard the original strengths and driving force behind the Prayer Book tradition, and to make the new Divine Worship offices accessible for widespread lay adoption and public recitation, as Cranmer had so laudably intended.

7 thoughts on “Making the Ordinariate’s Divine Office Better: Simplicity

  1. Reblogged this on Erick Ybarra and commented:
    “This approach does serious harm to the stated rationale behind the liturgical reforms of Thomas Cranmer, and the very basis of the “Anglican patrimony” and Prayer Book tradition that the Ordinariates were formed to preserve and foster in union with the Catholic Church. It also represents a serious obstacle to widespread adoption of the office among those not already inclined to it.”

  2. Pingback: TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  3. Surely, as we are now Catholics, individuals should not be making their own choices within the liturgy. It would be better to choose between offices (Prayer Book or Monastic) rather than within them. For those who prefer the monastic office it would be good to see Winfred Douglas’ Monastic Diurnal updated to conform to the Ordinariate calendar and lectionary.

    • LOL. One wishes. “Optionitis” has been baked into the cake of Catholic liturgy for a long time. I agree with you on MD, which makes it all the sadder that such will almost certainly never be done.

      • I could be wrong, but I believe the good padre is referring to a book actually titled The English Office. It’s a companion to the English Missal and the English Ritual, all published in the mid-1950s if I remember correctly. I’ve never been able to find a PDF online, so I can’t confirm my suspicion that it’s simply a 1662 office dolled up with Roman ornamentation…not yet, anyway. I may or may not have just lucked into a cheapish modern copy of the English Office. I hear it’s been updated to conform with the rubrics of the 1962 Missal (rather than being a reprint of the original edition), but we’ll see. When I have any money, I buy books, and if I have any money left over, I buy more books.

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