Dictionary of Oblate Values  vol.: 1  let.: L

LITURGY OF THE HOURS

Background

At the risk of being accused of an anachronism, this article is given the title of "Liturgy of the Hours" in order to conform to post Vatican II usage, although this terminology would be foreign to Saint Eugene de Mazenod and earlier generations of Oblates.

Background

One may wonder whether the fact that his great uncle Charles-Auguste-André de Mazenod and uncle Charles-Fortuné de Mazenod were canons of the Aix-en-Province cathedral chapter influenced Saint Eugene's outlook on the liturgy of the hours and their importance in the life of the Church. It is clear, that de Mazenod grew up at a time in which great emphasis was placed upon the role of the public celebration of the Divine Office as a work of the Church. There is no doubt that his Venetian experience with Don Bartolo Zinelli and his brother, devout and cultured priests, had a notable influence in generating his esteem for the Divine Office.

Many years later he wrote: "From then on, every day for nearly four years (1794-1797), I went after Mass to these unpaid [The translation found in Missions O.M.I. has benevolent teachers; the French text is maîtres bénévoles] teachers, who made me work up to noon. After dinner, Don Bartolo, whose health needed great care, came to take me for an outing with him ending at some church where we stopped to pray. On returning, I sat down again to work, which lasted until evening. Several priests met together about that time to recite the Office in common. We then went down into the salon where friends and family indulged in quiet recreation... Four years passed in this way... I confessed every Saturday, I received Communion every Sunday. Reading good books and prayer were the sole distractions which I accorded to the assiduity of my studies. I heard and served Mass every day, and every day likewise I recited the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin..." [1].

Among the prized relics on display at the General House in Rome is the Officium Beatæ Mariæ Virginis printed in Venice in 1793 and used by de Mazenod as a youth.

Upon his return to Aix as a young priest de Mazenod's personal schedule reflected both his esteem for the breviary by assigning precise times for its recitation, and also the mentality of that time. The day began and ended with vocal prayers other than the Office; a definite time was assigned for the celebration of each of the canonical hours with vespers at 4:30 P.M. compline (night prayer) at 7:00 P.M.; matins and lauds (readings and morning prayer) for the following day were said latter in the evening [2].

Upon his return to Aix after his ordination, de Mazenod founded the Association of Christian Youth (Congrégation de la jeunesse chrétienne) and he revealed his own regard for the liturgy of the hours in the statutes that he composed for this association:

"In the new [law], the recitation of the Office is also an indispensable duty, and one of the most important of the priesthood. The holiest clerics (as the religious) and those who have the highest dignity in each diocese (as the canons) are especially charged by the Church to sing day and night in the name of all the faithful these beautiful canticles [3].

He wrote this as the foundation for requiring the members to recite in common at the meetings the Office of the Blessed Virgin, and to sing vespers on solemn feasts [4]. If a member could not be present at the Sunday and Thursday meetings, he was still to say the Office. On the other days of the week, the members were to say three additional decades of the rosary if they could not say the Office [5].


[1] "Souvenir de famille", in Missions O.M.I. 79 [1952] p. 644-645.
[2] See LEFLON I, p. 406.
[3] "Règlements et status", handwritten Ms. by de Mazenod; printed in Missions O.M.I., 37 [1899] 19-107, c. 12 art. 45.
[4] Ibidem, c 12, art. 39 and 49.
[5] Ibidem, c. 13, art. 4-6.

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