Thoughts on singing the Office

Over the last couple days we have sung Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Most of the hours were sung in English, the only exception was  Second Vespers for the Most Holy Sacred Heart, and some Latin in Compline.

It is evident that singing the office has a profound effect on people. Talking to someone last night after Compline he said how moved he was to sing the Nunc Dimittas in Latin. He said it brought it all back, it was what he had grown up with. I, however, did not have that luxury. As the first generation to know nothing but the realities of Vatican II, my generation  have not grown up hearing the psalms of the office chanted.

Yet Sacrosanctum Concilium states

99. …the divine office is the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God…all who pray the divine office, whether in choir or in common, should fulfill the task entrusted to them as perfectly as possible: this refers not only to the internal devotion of their minds but also their external manner of celebration.

And there’s more:

100.  Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in Church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts.  And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.

So what went wrong?

From my experience of collating the texts and music for the last couple of days it seems quite obvious, the resources to sing the office just are not there, particularly in England and Wales. How can priests encourage the laity to collectively recite the divine office if there are such limited resources?

For example, in order to sing the lesser hours, None, Terce and Sext, I had to take the texts from Universalis and then match the psalms with the Grail Psalter translations (Universalis cannot publish the Grail Psalter online for copyright reasons. ) These texts were then kindly notated by Ian Williams, which is not an easy job to do. I had to point some of the psalms copying his template and it takes a long time to do. For Lauds and I Vespers of the Sacred Heart we used Fr Samuel Weber’s settings taken from the Mandelein Psalter (the latter is available online.)  Whilst the Mandelein Psalter with its Gregorian based tones is a tremendous resource and it is simple enough for congregations to pick up, the translation has only been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. If you want to sing the English and Wales approved translation of say the Benedictus at Lauds you will have to point it yourself.

If you want to sing Vespers in Latin there is now the beautiful Antiphonale Romanum which just covers Sundays and feastdays but it is tricky singing from this if you are not accustomed to chanting psalmody to the Gregorian psalm tones.

Compline is much easier thanks to Fr Weber’s brilliant book which was published last year. Read the review on Chant Cafe. Jeffrey Tucker rightly points out though that Ignatius Press have the copyright on this book and there are no free digital downloads available. Whilst this book is good value at £10, few parishes are going to cough up £300 plus just to purchase a small set.

To conclude; if we are going to comply with the intentions of Sacrosanctum Concilium we need help. Bishops of England and Wales we want a fully approved, notated version of the Hours in English set to simple Gregorian or Gregorian based tones. It also needs to be available as a free download so it is affordable for parishes. Surely it cannot be that difficult. The Ordinariate have managed it. (See page 9 in the Portal Magazine for Monsignor Newton’s article on the forthcoming publication of the customary.)


6 thoughts on “Thoughts on singing the Office

  1. Thomas Windsor says:

    There is always the Traditional Rite! All the music is available, most of it for free on the Musica Sacra website.

    Singing the Divine Office is wonderful, Tenebrae is my favourite, we sang Wednesday evening Tenebrae this year. We also sing Vespers regularly, and my Children are learning to sing daily Compline!

  2. Clare says:


    I know Traddie rite is much easier to find the music for but for those not used to singing psalms it is tricky.

    Wonderful idea about Compline. Very useful having your own mini-schola at home.


  3. Sermons on Grace says:

    I have only been to a few Compline services, but they were certainly the moving. As a music person, I connected with it much more than liturgy. I had no idea it could be so difficult to make the music accessible. Hopefully, your services can continue.

  4. Tara Catherine Bernadette Connor says:

    Can you please not send me anymore of you’re e-mails for you’re website as I have become an Athiest and do not wish to read or see them.

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