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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 14 May 2002

The canonical obligation for priests to pray the Divine Office QUESTION from Father Taurasi February 7, 2000 Does the canonical obligation for priests to pray the Divine Office each day still bind under pain of Mortal Sin?
Thank you, Fr.Taurasi
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on February 12, 2000 Dear Father:
At one time, it was considered a grave sin for clergy to miss reciting even on Hour. It was generally held that unless a priest as busy in ministry without break for 10 whole hours of the day, then the missing of the Hours was grave.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law (Canon 276), however, and the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, as revised by Pope Paul VI, is less quick to call it a grave sin if a priest misses part of the Office. This is because built-in to the current legislation is some flexibility. Not all the Hours are considered equally important and the recognition of acute circumstances that may keep a priest from even saying the hinge Hours (Lauds and Vespers) is recognized.
We may not conclude, however, that this flexibility is a loophole that essentially makes the Office optional for priests. The Office is not just recommended or commended, it is canonically and juridically imposed. In similar manner, the hinge Hours of Lauds and Vesper are required unless for serious reason the priest cannot do it. Serious reason means a truly exceptional reason.
Thus, it is not possible to say in a flat formula way that not saying the Office is grave sin. It depends. It depends on the circumstances and the disposition of the priest’s heart
Certainly, a priest making a deliberate choice never to recite the office would be grave I believe. But, when a priest wants to say it, but constantly finds himself not saying it because of his busy workload, it is harder to say. Merely having a busy workload is not enough, of course. And even if the workload is that busy a person may be sinning because of misplaced priorities that got them in that situation in the first place.
There is also the testimony of thousands who say that when they set aside time for God to pray, even in the midst of the most busiest of days, they somehow find that the time-out in prayer did not interrupt their busy day after all.
In any event, the current legislation accounts for acute situations that may hinder reciting the Office, even the hinge Hours.
Priests need to be reminded, however, that the hinge Hours are not something to flippantly dismiss. A priest MUST make time for the hinge Hours unless there is exceptional reasons that make it impossible to recite the hinge Hours, that he must indeed recite them. It should also be said that exceptional reasons would usually be acute, not chronic. If there is somehow a chronic situation that prevents reciting the hinge Hours I would certainly discuss it with my bishop concerning a possible dispensation, rather than making such a decision on one’s own discernment.
I hope this helps a little to clarify this a little.
In closing I am reminded of the teaching of the great saint, Alphonsus Ligouri. He was speaking to Abbots, but it applies to all people clergy, religious, or laity who have responsibilities to perform.
St. Ligouri said the God is aware of the responsibilities that He has given you. He knows they tax you time and often cause you to not have the time in prayer that you want to have. He understands. After all He gave you those responsibilities.
Thus God promises that if we can make some prayer, even 15 minutes, that He will give us the grace as if we had prayer for 15 hours.
BUT, do not try to tell God you haven't 15 minutes!
This is good advice for all to remember. But in the case of the canonical requirement for priests, of course, I wouldn't cite this advice from St. Ligouri as a loophole to not bother to recite but one Hour (which is usually around 15 minutes) of the Office :-)
God Bless you for being faithful in prayer and sensitive and obedient to the Church's authority given to her by Christ.
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