Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961: Part 1 - The Basic Structure of the Divine Office

We begin our series on the reforms to the Roman breviary with two introductory parts which focus on the historical structure of the Divine Office itself.

The following is the first of those two parts.

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

by Gregory DiPippo
for publication on the New Liturgical Movement

Part 1: The Basic Structure of the Divine Office

The structure described below is that of the Divine Office as it stood throughout the Middle Ages and, with certain adjustments, the post-Tridentine period, until the reforms promulgated by various Popes in the 20th century. The changes made after Trent and other reforms will be described later in their own articles.

The first hour of the day, Matins, begins with Psalm 94, Venite, exsultemus Domino, followed by a hymn. The psalm is divided into five parts; a verse called the Invitatory is repeated twice before the psalm, once again after each of the five parts, and twice more after the doxology. (On three of the repetitions, only the second half of the Invitatory is said.) The Invitatory verse frequently contains the words ‘venite, adoremus’, e.g. ‘Regem Apostolorum Dominum, venite, adoremus.’ (Come, let us worship the King of the Apostles) for the feasts of Apostles. The text of this psalm used in the Breviary is older than St. Jerome’s last revision of the Psalter, the so-called ‘Gallican Psalter’, which was adopted as the liturgical Psalter of the Western church in the time of Charlemagne.

The second part of Matins is the nocturns, of which there are three on Sundays and the more important feasts, but only one on minor feasts and ferial days. (By a special exception, Easter and Pentecost also have only one nocturn.) The nocturns of Sunday and the ferias run through the psalms in order from 1 to 108, omitting those which are said at other hours. They are as a result very long; the first of Sunday has 12 psalms, as do those of each feria. The remaining nocturns of Sunday have three psalms each, for a total of 18.

On feasts of the Lord and Saints’ days, however, Matins is considerably shorter than on a Sunday or feria, a fact which will have a great impact on the history of the Office generally. There are only nine psalms on feast days; these are divided 3 per nocturn on the greater feasts, but all nine are said together on a feast of one nocturn. The psalms for Saints’ days are generally among the shorter ones in the Psalter; for example, on the feast of a Martyr, they are psalms 1-5, 8, 10, 14 and 20.

Regardless of the number of psalms, each nocturn also has a versicle and a response after the last antiphon, and then the Lord’s Prayer is said silently. There follow three readings from the Sacred Scriptures, the Church Fathers, or the lives of the Saints; each reading is preceded by a blessing of the reader, and followed by a ‘prolix’ responsory, so-called in distinction from the shorter responsories of the minor hours.

(For an excellent example of a Matins responsory, the seventh of the office of the Holy Trinity, see the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcWAOH9krw8)

In the Roman Rite, the last reading is not followed by a responsory, but by the hymn Te Deum laudamus, on any day when Gloria in excelsis is to be said in the Mass (i.e. Sundays outside Advent, Septuagesima and Lent, all feasts and octaves, and all of Eastertide.) This custom is found only in the use of Rome; in all others, the last reading is also followed by a responsory, and the Te Deum, when it is to be said, is added after it.

The hour of Lauds follows immediately upon Matins. The Roman Breviary, like all medieval breviaries, simply assumes that the two hours are said together, and treats them as a unit; the office was thus often regarded as having seven Hours, rather than eight. In chapter 16 of his Rule, Saint Benedict refers this practice to verse 164 of Psalm 118, “Seven times a day I have spoken praise to Thee,” and comments, “And this sacred number of seven will be fulfilled by us, if in the time of our service we perform the offices of Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.”

Lauds begins with 5 psalms and their respective antiphons. The first of these is psalm 50, the penitential psalm par excellence, on every day but Sunday, when the first psalm is the 92nd. (Psalm 50 is also said, however, on the nine Sundays from Septuagesima to Palm Sunday.) The second psalm varies from day to day. The third is actually two psalms, 62 and 66, said together as if they were one, and with only antiphon; these are said every day of the week. The fourth psalm is really a canticle from the Old Testament, which changes each day of the week; the selection of canticles found in the Roman and other Western breviaries is extremely ancient, and most of them are also used in the Ambrosian and Byzantine Rites. The fifth psalm every day is psalms 148, 149 and 150, also said together as if they were one, and with only antiphon. The custom of ending the psalmody of Lauds with these three psalms is generally held to be a pre-Christian custom of the synagogue, and is found in every historical Christian rite.

The psalmody of Sunday Lauds is also used at Lauds of every feast, whether of the Lord or the Saints, and of whatever degree of solemnity. These psalms are clearly more appropriate to the joyful character of feast days, and, it must be noted, are as a group rather shorter than the psalmody of the ferias.

After the fifth antiphon, there follows a short reading from Scripture, called a chapter. In the Roman use, the chapter of Lauds is very often repeated at Terce and both Vespers of the liturgical day; there are, however, many exceptions to this, and many medieval offices had a much greater variety of chapters than does the Roman. The chapter is followed by a hymn, a versicle with its response, and the canticle of Zacharias, the Benedictus, with its antiphon.

On most days, after the Benedictus, the collect of that day’s principal Mass is said, preceded, as at Mass, by ‘Dominus vobiscum’ and ‘Oremus’. On the ferial days of Advent and Lent, however, a litany called the preces, (simply ‘prayers’ in Latin,) is added before the prayer; this consists of a series of invocations and responses, mostly taken from the psalms, and ending with psalm 50. There are also very often commemorations of other offices which occur on the same day, but which yield in precedence to a more important office; these consist of the impeded office’s antiphon at the Benedictus, the versicle, response and prayer of the same office. At Lauds and Vespers, there are also votive commemorations called suffrages; medieval breviaries have a huge variety of these, but they are generally omitted on the more important feast days.

It should also be noted that custom of the Roman use is to have the collect of the Mass as the prayer of Lauds, Terce, Sext, None and both Vespers, while the prayers of Prime and Compline do not vary from day to day. However, some other breviaries have a much greater variety of prayers, and may change the prayers even at Prime and Compline.

Prime begins with the same hymn every day, Jam lucis orto sidere. On ferias and all feast days, there follow the same three psalms every day, the first being psalm 53, Deus in nomine tuo. Psalm 118, Beati immaculati, the longest in the Psalter, is divided by the Roman Office into 11 sections; the first two are said every day at Prime after Deus in nomine tuo, and the other nine are evenly distributed between Terce, Sext and None. There follow a chapter and a short responsory, so-called because it is both shorter and more repetitive than the long (or ‘prolix’) responsory of Matins. Prime also has a series of preces, different from those of Lauds, which are supposed to be said every day except on greater feasts; these prayers are longer if the day is a feria. After these, or immediately after the short responsory, is said a collect, which as mentioned before, is the same every day in the Roman Rite.

In the Office of Sunday, Prime is lengthened considerably by the addition of six psalms (21-25 and 117) and the Athanasian Creed, a total of 171 more verses. The only change made after Trent to the arrangement of psalms was to shorten Sunday Prime by redistributing psalms 21-25 over the days of the week, reducing it to a more manageable length. The ferial psalmody of Prime was also said on every feast day, even if it occurred on Sunday; it should also be noted that in many medieval usages, the Athanasian Creed was said much more frequently than in the Roman.

The hour of Prime is supplemented by the Chapter office, originally an exercise of cathedral chapters or monastic communities before the beginning of the day’s work. This consists of the reading of the Martyrology, a series of versicles and prayers which do not vary from day to day, and a short reading. Originally, this final reading was taken from the rule under which a community lived, as it still the case in the Benedictine use; in the Roman Breviary, it became the custom to simply read the same chapter which would later be read at None.

The hymns of the remaining minor hours, Terce, Sext and None, also do not vary from day to day, although as with all hymns, they might be sung on a variety of melodies. The psalmody is likewise invariable, as stated before, being the various parts of Beati immaculati every day; as at Prime, there follow a chapter, and a short responsory. If the preces have been said at Lauds, they are repeated in the same form also at these hours; at the end of each hour, the collect of Lauds is also repeated.

The order of Vespers is the same as that of Lauds, beginning with five psalms and their antiphons. The psalms of the Sundays and ferias run in order from 109 to 147, omitting those which are said at other hours; those of Sunday are very often said on the feasts of Saints, although the fifth is usually substituted with 116, the shortest of the whole Psalter. There follow a chapter, hymn, versicle and responsory, and the canticle of the Virgin Mary, the Magnificat. The preces are said on the same days as at Lauds; the prayer, commemorations and suffrages follow the same order as well.

Compline begins with a short reading, the same every day, the versicle Adjutorium nostrum, and the Our Father; the Confiteor is then said as at the beginning of Mass. The psalmody is invariable from day to day, being Psalms 4, 30 (the first six verse only), 90 and 133, which are chosen for their reference to the hour of they day, and the traditional medieval association of Compline with the burial of Christ. In the Roman use, the hymn, chapter, short responsory, and the antiphon to the canticle of Simeon Nunc dimittis (in that order) hardly vary at all from day to day, although other medieval uses introduced a very great number of variations. Preces are said on the same days as at Prime, and the collect Visita quaesumus also does not change from day to day. At the end of the day, one of the four major antiphons in honor of the Virgin Mary is said, with a versicle and responsory.

Copyright (C) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

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