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Extra-Liturgical Devotions

Peregrinus Goes Abroad

Part 1: See America First; Chapter 11


“Where’s the Liturgiologist?” asked the Antiquary, as he entered the dining room of the Rectory to find the clergy staff still sitting about the table, with the single exception of his ancient friend. It was a warm evening of late May, and, as the Antiquary was assured by the Pastor, the May Devotions were going on, and the old editorial Priest was taking his turn in conducting them.


“What do you have?” was the next question.


“Oh, the Litany of Loretto, and a hymn, and twice a week a short fervorino[1] and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament,” replied the Pastor.


“And I suppose next month you’ll have Sacred Heart devotions, with the same program, except that the appropriate Litany will be said,” went on the Antiquary.


“Sure,” said the Pastor, serenely, “what else could you have?”


“Well,” mused the Antiquary, “there’s Compline, which I hear has become very popular in England; and the Little Office of Our Lady, to say nothing of Vespers for the Day, which might be said, and—and—”


“There you are,” laughed the Pastor. “For evening services and special devotions, we have not such a rich store of liturgical material.”


“But special devotions aren’t liturgical,” said the Liturgiologist from the doorway, scenting, like the war horse in Scripture, the battle from afar. “Benediction isn’t a liturgical function, nor is the saying of a Litany (except those indicated in the missal) and, certainly, a sermon is anything but liturgical.”


“Very well, then,” said the Antiquary, warming up to the discussion, “If these extra-liturgical functions are extra, why must they always conform to a custom as strict as it is silly, and never vary at all? Nowadays, when Vespers is a forgotten office in our parish churches, we seldom have any sort of an evening service (except Stations in Lent) except this unauthorized and monotonous compilation of Litany and Benediction.”


“Humph!” grunted the Liturgiologist, “what else could you have?”


The dining room roared. “You are quoting the Pastor,” laughed the youngest Assistant. “Let’s get out on the porch,” said the Pastor, when the mirth had somewhat abated. “There’s food for thought in this paucity of ideas regarding ‘devotions’ and extra-liturgical services.”


It was the Antiquary who resumed the catechism, when the cigars were going well once more. “Now, if you must have a Litany, why not sing it in procession, as Litanies are meant to be rendered?


“Why not, indeed?” said the Pastor.


Amen,” said the Liturgiologist.


“But that would mean extra altar boys, children, and so on,” objected the youngest Assistant.


“Not necessarily,” replied the Antiquary. “The congregation could march and make the responses. I judge that here, for example, the crowd is not so large as to need traffic cops to direct such a procession on a week night.”


Solvitur ambulando,”[2] remarked the Liturgiologist, as a sort of aside to no one in particular. “But you’ve only added a few minutes to the running time of your service, and have not changed it essentially. I agree that the processional Litany is good form, thoroughly Catholic practice though unfortunately unfamiliar to most of our parishes. But when your little procession is ended, the Litany has been said, you have your hymn or preach your sermon, and close with Benediction, which is just what you were objecting to.”


“Before you came in,” observed the Antiquary, and repeated what the Pastor had just said, “I had suggested Compline as a suitable evening service,[3] or the Little Office—”[4]


“Neither of which would be a bad idea,” interrupted the Liturgiologist, “if once we could get our good people weaned away from what they are accustomed to. I take it for granted that you mean Compline or Little Office in the vernacular, so that the people could take part, for, it seems to me, the heart of these extra-liturgical devotions is their popular character, more or less informal, with the people participating in a manner which the liturgical language of the Church precludes.”[5]


“But the Liturgical Movement, Pere,” put the Pastor, “is that not an effort to bring the people into closer touch with the Liturgy so that they will take a more active and personal part in what the Church does?”


“Certainly,” smiled the Liturgiologist, “and that is the most admirable aspect of that admirable movement. That the people should ‘pray the Mass’ has long been the ideal of the church, and we all that the ‘answering at Mass’ by the altar boys, or others who may chance to know the Latin prayers and responses, is simply a representation of the part which the congregation as such is supposed to take in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.[6]


“But the Church also officially recognizes that the people may join in her worship without literally following her official actions, as, for example, in the recitation of the Rosary during Holy Mass which is recommended for the October Devotions. Indirectly the Church approves of various popular devotions simultaneously with the liturgical functions, for there is (again for example) the direction to omit the Prayers after Mass on occasions when they would interrupt some proper devotion of the people which did not end simultaneously with the Low Mass which would otherwise be followed by those prayers ordered by the late Holy Father Leo XIII of blessed memory.”[7]


“But the Beads are always an extra-liturgical devotion, are they not?” asked the Antiquary.


“To be sure, to be sure,” replied the Liturgiologist. “And so is Benediction, the Stations, and so on. These have become, in modern times, very popular, so much so that the people regard them (as do, indeed, many of the Clergy) as the regular and stated devotions of the Catholic Church, at certain times and for certain occasions. They are brief, and require but little preparation or ceremony. But, as our friend here has been trying to tell us (only we wouldn’t give him a chance to get many words in edgeways), the Divine Office, at least certain portions of it like Vespers and Compline, are, as the very title indicates, official devotions of the Church, and it is a pity that we have allowed the people to grow increasingly unfamiliar with them.”


“They still have them in England, and they are popular, too,” chirped the Antiquary. “The Domciscans[8] sing their office in their priory churches day after day, and the people assist in greater numbers than you expect. Then there’s congregational singing, which seems to be coming into its own once more, and—”


“Meanwhile, most of us will continue to have Litany, fervorino, and Benediction,” said the Pastor, dryly.



1 A short talk intended to increase the fervor (and thus its Italian name) of those attending certain devotions.


2 A Latin phrase that means “solved by walking”.


3 Angelus Press offers two selections to enable this: Divine Office: The Choral Office and a Compline book.


4 Also see Angelus Press for both the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Living the Little Office.


5 It should be noted that this is not necessarily always so, as shown through successful efforts of the Liturgical Movement to better familiarize the laity with the sacred and Roman tongue of Holy Mother Church.


6 Cf. Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the liturgy, Mediator Dei as well as these articles on the Dialogue Mass.


7 This was written before Pope Pius XII’s directives concerning the so-called Leonine Prayers, and thus the practice spoken of here is no longer permissible.


8 A humorous reference to the Dominican Order.

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