Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Divine Praises: What They Are and How to Keep Them (part one)

On Obedience to Canon 377

Canon 377 of the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches reads:

All clerics must celebrate the Divine Praises according to the particular law of their own Church sui iuris.1

According to the particular law in force in the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, USA, this particular canon is established to say:

All clerics must celebrate the liturgical hours. The secular priests must recite, whether individually or in common, Vespers, Little Compline, Matins and one of the Little Hours as they are contained in the horologhion (The Book of Hours). They are exhorted to recite all the other parts of the liturgical cycle to the extent that they are able.2

This canon speaks to a cycle of Divine Services both common to all Catholic Churches and individually distinct in each particular Church.

In the West, many consider the Holy Mass (the Divine Liturgy) to be the main or only regular public worship of the Church. However, in truth, the clergy are also required to celebrate the Divine Praises on a daily basis.

The Divine Praises comprise the recitation of the Psalms of David. Early on, the Christian Church understood the Psalms as a central source of example and instruction in the adoration of God. The Psalms became the first hymn book of the Christian people. (Acts 16.25, Eph 5.19)

After the legalization of Christianity, the Psalter formed the basic fabric on which much of public Christian worship was built. Over time, it became normative that the entire series of Pslams were chanted in the course of a week. This practice divided the Psalter into sections (Kathismata) that were chanted at different times during the day corresponding to specific times for prayer were noted in the Scriptures, often associated with specific "hours" of the day.

(For a detailed discussion of the history of the Divine Praises from the Roman Church's perspective -- much of which also applies to the Byzantine Church -- see the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours at the EWTN website. Suffice it here to say that the the recitation of the Psalms came to be related to fixed times of the day and were termed "hours".)

The Traditional Hours, ultimately common to the entire Christian Church in the first millennium were (and are):

Vespers, celebrated around the time of sunset,

Compline celebrated at bedtime,
and, later, the additional celebration of the Nocturn (the midnight office);

Orthros (literally, "the rising") at or before dawn,
later divided into Matins (from the Latin meaning "morning")
and Lauds (in Latin meaning "the praises");

and what came to be called the Little Hours:

The First Hour (in Latin, Prime, around 6:00 am),

The Third Hour (Terce, around 9:00 am),

The Sixth Hour (Sext, around Noon),

and the Ninth Hour (Nones, around 3:00 pm).

The most important celebrations were those of Vespers and Orthros. At these times, the Faithful would gather to offer to the Holy Trinity their prayers for the day, which began at sunset (Gen 1.6), and again before the day's labors began before dawn. Clerics (deacons, priests and bishops) led these celebrations as well as the other hours.

In time, it became normative that all these offices were understood as required for the clergy. They formed a cycle of daily offerings that the clergy celebrated to sanctify the day on their own behalf and on that of the people.

In the Byzantine Tradition, the reforms of the eighth century greatly expanded these services to include hymns that were chanted between verses of the Psalms or after sections of the Psalms. The hymns helped relate the Psalter selections to the particular day of the emerging Liturgical calendar.

The rise of the monastic Typicon, which came to supplant the cathedral Typicon, led to the need for freedom to have literally hours available to devote to their celebration. Consequently, in contemporary Byzantine communities, both Catholic and Orthodox, the average parish celebrates an abbreviated version of the hours, particularly in the case of Orthros (which in its full form can require up to four hours)and Vespers. However, the recitation of the hours remains a source of inspiration and spiritual obligation for the clergy of the Church.

In the West, due to the prevalence of clergy in locations that did not allow for "in choir" celebrations, the obligation evolved into local clergy individually reciting the hours, either at the appropriate times or, until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, often recited in sequence whenever time allowed. Until recently, in the Byzantine Tradition, the celebration of the hours was more or less still offered in a communal, if abbreviated, form.3

Nonetheless, it was a rare situation that the average parish priest and/or deacon could celebrate even the increasingly-common abbreviated form for all of the Hours. With the diaspora of the late 19th and 20th centuries, the recitation of Hours typically became supplanted by the common Byzantine personal prayers that populate most prayer books used by the clergy and the laity.

In the next few posts (or weeks, depending on my other time commitments), I hope to discuss the Hours, and how one can learn to celebrate the Hours using the various volumes now available to the English-speaking Byzantine Catholic Christian. In particular, it will be my goal to assist those Byzantine Catholic laity and clergy who would desire to celebrate the Hours and need an introduction to the basics.

In this, I do not pretend to be an expert (I'm just inordinately pompous and boorish in my prose). Any comments that elaborate, elucidate, or correct my reflections will be welcome. I will be open to correct my posts (including this one) for the purpose of assisting others to become acquainted with this most beautiful and spiritually uplifting discipline.

In the course of all this palaver, I will continue to post current Sunday hymns and readings for the Divine Liturgy. (This will prove useful for anyone seeking to learn the Byzantine Horologion.)

More to follow....

1The Particular law of the Eparchy of Newton and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Revised Approved Text compiled by Gerasimos Murphy, BSO,JCD, Eparchy of Newton, 2006, page 28.

2 Ibid., page 28.

3A very good resource for study of the history of the Divine Praises is The Liturgy of the Hours in the East and West by Robert F. Taft.

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