When the U.S. bishops’ conference meets online next week, the bishops will vote to approve a set of translations connected to the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical texts.
To help make sense of that vote, The Pillar talked with Fr. Andrew Menke, executive director of the USCCB’s office for divine worship, about a project to retranslate the Liturgy of the Hours. We asked how it got started, and when it could be finished.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Father, I want to talk about the process of retranslating the Liturgy of the Hours. But can you explain how people began to pray the Divine Office in the life of the Church?
The Liturgy of the Hours apparently had a sort of a double origin in the early Church. There was monastic prayer, which emphasized prayer at various times in the day and longer vigils at night. But the other origin was in cathedrals — when the Church was smaller, people in some places would come and pray with their bishop to start and finish every day.
Eventually these two trends developed into single books of prayer, with lots of variations in different places. And then eventually it became mainly a clerical and monastic sort of prayer, and stayed that way for a long time. More recently, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council called for the book to be revised and simplified somewhat and put into the vernacular language. And they also encouraged it for the laity as well.
I think some laity have really come to love it and there’s some growth, I think, but overall it hasn’t really caught hold. But I see some hopeful signs. And I am optimistic that we might start to see a renaissance where the Liturgy of the Hours starts to become a more common part of Catholic life, for individuals and parishes.
The Liturgy of the Hours has been in the process of being retranslated for a while. Can you talk about the reason for a new translation, and tell us something about the history of the process?
After Vatican Council II, new editions of the liturgical books were issued — all the liturgical books — and they were issued in Latin. Fairly quickly, and by a pretty impressive effort, they were translated into English, in very short order…