Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Divine Office - the question of its form and reform

Academic reflection upon the reform of the Roman Breviary seems to be a topic which is gaining increasing attention in scholarly liturgical circles. This critical evaluation does not, as one might suspect, simply refer to the post-conciliar breviary reform, but as well extends to the reforms put in place by Pope St. Pius X in the earlier part of the 20th century. Some would even give a critical view of the reforms put in place at the time of St. Pius V in his 1568 revision of the Breviarium Romanum.

The interest in this question can be seen in the work of the likes of Prof. Laszlo Dobszay of Hungary, who emphasized this point at the recent CIEL Conference in Oxford, both in his own paper, and in his commentary during the question and answer period following other papers. He was at pains to point out that the need to re-evaluate the liturgical reform does not just involve the Ordo Missae, but also concerns the Divine Office -- which as well is a part of the liturgy of the Church of course.

Prof. Dobszay also addresses the subject in an article published by the Church Music Association of America website.

One also sees this interest in the breviary in the online synopsis of Western breviary editions and reforms that I mentioned quite recently at Keller Books -- a site with much interesting information on various editions of the breviaries, from times both before and after the Council, Roman and non-Roman.

My own interest in this particular area of liturgical study is not strictly for antiquarian reasons (though I am intellectually interested in it on that level as well), nor is it to be understood as acting upon a principle of distrust of liturgical reform as a principle -- liturgical reform is not only possible, but it can be desireable, provided it is taken in a prudent and organic direction. Present times and scenarios are proof enough of that, let alone in the history of the Church.

Rather, my own interest is particularly rooted in the question of the legitimate liturgical diversity that was historically found in the West. In many regards, we tend to think of this with regard to the most primary of all liturgical books, the Missal. Thus we think of the Ambrosian rite, the Dominican, Mozarabic, and the various uses of the Roman Rite. But the question can extend as well to the Divine Office.

Since Trent we have been labouring under a homogenizing liturgical influence which has driven us more and more away from legitimate liturgical diversity as is found in our tradition (not to mention the Christian East), and more towards liturgical uniformity. It seems to me that this situation has been in particular created by way of the accidents of history, most especially the Protestant Reformation, which found a response in a, perhaps, overly-inflated idea of Romanitas wherein the Roman liturgical books gained a particular primacy and currency in the Latin church.

While it is indeed true that St. Pius V allowed, in his liturgical reform, for liturgical rites and uses in existence for more than 200 years to continue (if they so wished), the seed was planted for a primacy to be given to the liturgy of the See of Rome. Over time this seed has grown, to the extent that after the Second Vatican Council, many religious communities and primatial sees quite willingly (and in some cases, such as Milan and the Ambrosian tradition, were only stopped by the thankful intervention of the Pope) divested themselves of their ritual traditions altogether and adopted the new Roman liturgy. (This centralizing influence is still felt today in some of the concern felt over the potential "liberalization" of the 1962 liturgical books, and concern expressed for liturgical unity. Certainly the baggage of the SSPX is one thing - and an understandable concern -- but the existence of a ritual variation should not be a concern where we retain our awareness and acceptance of the historical liturgical diversity, and why that can in fact be quite desireable and enriching.)

Likewise, I have heard it expressed that under St. Pius X in his own reforms of the breviary, much likewise was lost in this regard, and again, it would seem that a centralizing influence and tendency can be found. Historically, just as there were variations in the liturgical Mass books of the likes of the Dominicans, Carmelites, and so forth so too were there particular breviaries for those Orders and for some of the primatial sees. (Perhaps the clearest example of one such form or variation upon the Divine Office is the Breviarium Monasticum used by the likes of the Benedictines, which is in part represented by the Monastic Diurnal published by St. Michael's Abbey Press.)

Such breviaries continued to exist after Pius X's reform in some form, and thus you will also continue to find (prior to the Second Vatican Council) Dominican Breviaries, Carmelite, Ambrosian and others. In some cases, such as those of the Discalced Carmelites (rather than the O.Carm's), these were essentially the Roman breviary with the addition of the sanctoral of the religious order in question. In other cases, they were more than that -- and again, the Breviarium Monasticum is a good example of this (of which incidentally I should like to find a copy, but I digress.)

The question that arises for me however is this: prior to the breviary reforms of Pius X, how was the Roman breviary structured by comparison, but more than that, how did the breviaries of the likes of the Dominicans and (ancient order of) Carmelites compare to their post-Pius X structuring?

What was modified in this regard, and was the effective result another example of a continuing erosion of our historical and legitimate form of liturgical diversity?

I don't have an answer at this moment, but I find the question interesting and worth pondering.

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