Monday, September 07, 2009

New NLM Series: Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

Many of our readers will recall the series which the NLM ran from March until May of this year, the Compendium of the 1955 Holy Week Revisions, which was guest written by Gregory DiPippo, an American who lives in Rome.

The NLM is pleased to announce a new series of guest articles by the same Gregory DiPippo, this time considering the reforms to the Roman Breviary between the 1568 and 1961 -- and as many are likely to ask, this will indeed mean the the reforms to the breviary under Pius X will likewise be considered.

However, rather than belabouring you any further with my own introductions, let me allow Gregory to speak for himself to the series in question:

The purpose of these articles is to examine the changes made to the Breviary of Saint Pius V from the time of its promulgation in 1568, until its last reform before the Second Vatican Council in 1961. I shall begin with an examination of the 1568 Breviary, compared to an example of its immediate predecessor, the “Breviary of the Roman Curia” published in 1529. The second article in the series will describe the revision of the hymns under Pope Urban VIII. The third article will describe the so-called neo-Gallican breviaries of the later 17th and 18th centuries, which would provide a model for subsequent reforms of the Roman Breviary. The fourth article will describe some of the cultural and social changes in the post-Tridentine Church and in the world which had a serious impact on the position of the Divine Office in the Catholic spiritual life. The series will conclude with articles describing the changes to the breviary made in the 20th century by Popes St. Pius X, Pius XII and Bl. John XXIII.

It is beyond the scope of these articles to describe the breviaries of the great medieval cathedrals and religious orders, such as those of the see of Liège or the Dominicans, which continued in use in the Tridentine period. I will make only a few rather cursory references to them, and to pre-Tridentine breviaries such as that of the Use of Sarum. I wish however to define a few terms as part of this introductory article, which will also offer a description, in very general terms, of the pre-Tridentine Roman Breviary. This description has been written specifically as a reference for those who may not be familiar with the historical rite of the Roman Office, and will be linked at the beginning of each article.

The Divine Office of every Western diocese and religious order, except of course that of the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, derives from the ancient rite of the city of Rome. Throughout the Middle Ages, however, there was a tremendous amount of variation in the texts of the Divine Office, and in the ritual accompanying it; so much, in fact, that it has become common to speak of proper usages as ‘rites’, as in, ‘the Dominican Rite’ or ‘the Sarum Rite’. This is a highly misleading way of speaking, and I intend to avoid it, for the sake of precision, in these articles. Despite the many variants, the basic structure and a very large amount of the text of the Office is common to all of the local ‘rites’, which ought properly to be called usages. To express the matter in practical terms, a pilgrim traveling from London to Rome for the Jubilee of 1500 would not have been scandalized or surprised by the liturgical variety he encountered in the various churches along the way, anymore than an American participant in the annual Chartres pilgrimage feels that the French style of dalmatics belong to a different rite from what he is used to at home.

However, it should also be clear that as a result of such variation, much of what is written here about the Roman Office does not apply to such other usages, whether pre- or post-Tridentine. For example, it was a more or less universal custom of the Middle Ages that at the first Vespers of some Sundays and many feasts, a responsory from Matins was sung between the chapter and hymns. This custom was never incorporated in the Roman Rite, and is therefore not mentioned in the description of Vespers given below. Likewise, the changes which I shall describe in the first article to the readings of Matins in the Roman Breviary were not made to the Breviary of the Carthusian Order.

A second point concerns the use of the term ‘medieval’, a word which is in many ways too broad to be very useful in a number of fields. In reference to liturgical books, I shall use it herein as a shorthand way of saying ‘pre-Tridentine, originating in the Middle Ages’, and apply it to works printed in a period which is in nearly all other respects entirely post-medieval, such as the Roman Breviary of 1529, when the Italian Renaissance was already starting to come to an end.

-- Gregory DiPippo

Readers who will anticipate this series will be pleased to know that it will begin almost immediately.

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For more articles, see the NLM archives: