ARTICLE VII.-CAUSES WHICH EXCUSE FROM READING THE OFFICE.
Authors generally give six causes which excuse a person from saying the
Hours: lawful dispensation, important work, grave illness, grave fear,
blindness, want of a Breviary. They are recorded in the well-known
"Quem Papa dispenset multus labor opprimit aeger Qui timet aut occulus, officioque caret."
1. The obligation of reading the Office is imposed by the Church and
the Pope can dispense in it even without cause. Bishops can give
2. A grave occupation excuses
from the whole or from a part of the Office. Thus, missioners giving
missions or parish retreats are excused from the whole Office; so, too,
are priest combatants in the battle line; but when in rest camps they
are bound to say the Hours. A priest engaged in saying his Office, if
he receive an urgent call to a dying person may not have time to finish
his Office before midnight. He is exempt from the part of the Office
omitted and does not sin by the omission. The proposition claiming
exemption from the Office for those engaged in great studies was
condemned by Pope Alexander VII. The biographers of Lamennais trace the
beginning of his downfall to his exemption from his daily Office.
A difficulty arises sometimes as regards the full or partial or
non-exemption of those who foresee that serious occupation which cannot
be neglected must arise to prevent the recitation of the Hours. In such
cases priests are bound to recite the Office, or as much of it as
possible, within the limits of the current day. In doing this they may
anticipate the times fixed for the recitation of the small Hours, and
they may anticipate Vespers and Compline by reciting them in the
forenoon. If a priest foresees that he may not be able to recite Matins
for next day he is not bound to anticipate, as there is no obligation
to anticipation; the obligation is "recital between midnight and
midnight." It is becoming to anticipate, if possible, so that the
Office may be full and entire. If before midnight there be a cessation
from necessary professional work (e.g., hearing confessions), a priest
is bound to finish his Office for the day or to say as much of it as
time allows. If, however, there be time merely to take a necessary meal
before midnight (e.g., to prepare for a late Mass on next day, Sunday),
and not time to eat and to recite, the obligation of saying the Hours
A grave illness exempts from the saying of the
canonical Hours. Hence, those seriously ill, those who fear the saying
of the Office may upset them in their weak state, and convalescents
from a serious illness, are excused from saying the Hours. In this
matter the advice of a spiritual or a medical adviser should be
faithfully carried out by patients. St. Alphonsus teaches that invalids
and convalescents may be allowed to say Mass and yet not be bound to
say the Office, as the saying of Mass does not fatigue them so much as
the saying of the Office (St. Alphonsus, n. 155).
grave fear exempts from the saying of the Office. A priest amongst
furious persecutors of the Church should be excused from any recitation
of his Hours which he fears may draw on him cruel or severe punishments.
Blindness makes the recitation of the Office a physical impossibility.
Even very defective sight, although not total blindness, exempts from
the obligation of saying the Office. In all such cases a formal
declaration of exemption should be sought. Some theologians hold that
such priests, if they have committed to memory a notable part of the
psalms, should repeat that part from memory. The new psaltery makes
such memorising an extremely difficult feat and no obligation for such
a repetition from memory can be imposed.
Want of a
Breviary excuses from the recitation of the Office. For example, if a
priest setting out on a long journey forgets to take his Breviary or
leaves it in a railway carriage, and cannot procure another, or cannot
procure another without, great inconvenience, he is exempt from the
obligation of his Office; and the omission being involuntary is
sinless. The wilful casting away of a Breviary, as an excuse for not
being able to read the Office, is gravely sinful; and unless the sinful
desire be retracted there may be question of many mortal sins of wilful
omission to fulfil the obligation, as the omissions are then wilful in
cause. Priests travelling are unable sometimes to recite the proper
Office of the day, as their Breviaries lack something (e.g., the proper
prayer or the lessons of the second nocturn). The Sacred Congregation
of Rites (December, 1854) decided "Sacerdos peregre profectus cui
molesti difficiliorque esset officii recitatio cui et pauca desunt in
libro officii praesentis, nempe oratio et legenda, valet de communi
absque obligatione propria deinde ad supplementum recitandi... atque
ita servari mandavit." The psalms as arranged in the new psalter must always be said for a valid recitation of the Office (v. Divino Afflatu).
What is a priest bound to do, who from a grave cause cannot find time to recite the whole Office but only a part of it?
St. Alphonsus gives the rule, "If you can recite a part equivalent to a
small Hour, you are bound to do so under pain of mortal sin. But if you
cannot read or repeat a part equivalent to a small Hour, you are bound
to nothing, as a part so small—less than a small Hour—taken separately,
is considered inappreciable for the end the Church's law of recitation
has in view."
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Article VI.—Intention And Attentio…