The Next Liturgy of the Hours Translation

I stumbled on an interview with Fr. Andrew Menke, who is the executive director of the Office for Divine Worship with the USCCB. For the third wave of English translations of the liturgy, the Hours project is coming to a conclusion. To be clear, the second wave missed the Divine Office, which was finalized in Latin in 1985. The ICEL takeover of the late 90s scuttled and delayed many projects, not only the translation of the MR2. As you remember, a new round of translation and prelate tug-of-war ensued over the Missal in the 00s. Now ICEL is working through the sacraments. Included in that, slowly, translation has continued on the daily prayer of the Church.

When asked about a completion, Fr Menke mused:

The best-case scenario is 2024. We’re more or less on track for that. Right now, the wild card might be the Scripture. ICEL is doing its job well and has been finishing its translations on schedule. But the Scripture is our responsibility, and our bishops decided some time ago to revise the New American Bible. So there is a team of scholars right now working on revising that translation. We’ve tried to coordinate ourselves so that they’ll finish their work at the same time that we’re finishing our work. But if the Scripture project takes longer than anticipated, that could delay the completion of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Once that is completed, Rome’s CDWDS gives a thumbs-up or not:

Vatican approval is another wild card. When the bishops approve something and send it over to Rome for confirmation, that process can sometimes take a little while. But the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, has been very supportive of this project, and so that makes me hopeful that when we’re done, it will see a quick approval.

Pope Francis’ 2017 motu proprio on translation suggests that Rome’s role is to review, assist, and approve. Not nitpick for its own agenda. The interview’s final question and answer–what the practical Catholics want to know:

So when might people be able to actually buy new breviaries?

I’m estimating that 2024 is the best-case scenario for a published edition. The current plan has the bishops’ final vote on translations in June of 2023. So I am optimistic that if we get an approval in six months or less from Rome, that perhaps by Advent of 2024, that new breviaries might actually be available. But that, again, is our best-case scenario, and any number of factors could delay the completion.

Count me skeptical that there will be a big run on Catholic publishers for this new edition. Check the screenshot from divineoffice.org, left.

When I clicked on the “special price” link, the cost for the four-volume set was listed on amazon for $151.05.

To be sure, that’s not an awful price for eight-thousand pages of spiritual reading that very few Catholics conquer in their lifetimes. It’s easily one of the best buys for the spiritual life, if we can think in economic terms.

I’ve gone through one edition of Christian Prayer, imaged above. I don’t use #2 anymore because my wife scored a four-volume set at the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Store for $4. Not every Hours aspirant gets a deal hound like my spouse though.

The problem with the Divine Office is not the translation, but with the way the liturgy is published and presented to the Church. A literal translation in the hands of people who pray is not the ultimate value. More than any other version of formal liturgical rite, the Hours are prayed. Not studied or analyzed by intellects in their studies, chapels, and monasteries. The primary value for a text is lyrical and mystical because the Office is not a study text.

Christian Prayer itself remains daunting for novices trying to pray it on their own. My wife sees those single volumes in thrift stores fairly often. I think I spent $15 on mine at the local Catholic bookstore in the early 80s. Amazon sells it for double that today, more or less. It requires a mentor and probably a few hours to really orient a neophyte. I was fortunate to have a summer course, and I had a feel for liturgy from that and my regular visits to a monastery.

I suspect many people will continue to pray the 1975 publication (mine arrived in nearly pristine condition, many bookmarks still originally creased) or one of the later printings. Eventually the books do fall apart. Cramming two-thousand pages into a handheld volume means ultra-thin paper. The binding isn’t wonderfully made. So the 2024 or whatever edition will gradually replace the old by mid-century.

I think the new translation can be “required” in public celebrations, of course. But privately, people do as they wish.

Will the Church and its associated publishers keep to the 1970s model of a four-volume set, the Advent/Christmas, the Lent/Easter, and two Ordinary Time tomes split at week 17/18? I have a better idea for a multi-volume set which I’ll share in a day or two.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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