Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961: Part 6.1 - The Divine Office in the Tridentine Church

We continue with the sixth part of our series looking at the reforms to the Roman Breviary which is set to look at changes in attitude toward the Divine Office. This article will be set into two parts.

For terms and their definitions, please see the associated Glossary which accompanies this compendium.

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

by Gregory DiPippo
for publication on the New Liturgical Movement

Part 6.1 - The Divine Office in the Tridentine Church

Several years ago, a Jesuit friend of mine moved into a house of his order for priests who are studying, teaching or working in Rome , at the same time as two young Polish Jesuits, also new to the Eternal City. The custom of this house was daily concelebration at one principal Mass for all of the residents. After living there for a few months, the two Poles proposed to the rest of the community that they get together on occasion to read (not to sing) Vespers, perhaps one or two Sundays a month. The proposal was immediately rejected by the consensus of the community; as one of the older Italian Jesuits put it, “We do not do that,” referring not to that house specifically, but to the Society of Jesus as a whole.

It is of course a well-known fact that the Jesuits have never had choral singing or recitation of the Office as part of their order’s way of life. Their two great Roman churches, the Gesù (1584) and Sant’ Ignazio (1650), have enormous sanctuaries, designed to be clearly visible from the entire nave; unlike the churches of older religious orders, neither one has any choir stalls. When the order was very new, shortly after Saint Ignatius’ death, they were temporarily forced by Pope Paul IV, who never liked either Ignatius or his order, to accept the obligation to choral Office. Diego Laynez, one of the Saint’s first companions and his successor as Superior General, protested, but to no effect. In the true spirit of Ignatian obedience, the Jesuits began celebrating the Divine Office in choir; and in the true spirit of Ignatian independence, dropped it three years later, with the permission of Paul’s successor Pius IV, a Pope much more sympathetic to the Society and Ignatius’ vision for it.

Sanctuary, Gesù, Rome

In releasing his order from the communal celebration of the Office, Saint Ignatius was not motivated by disdain for or lack of interest in the public prayer of the Church. As Fr. Robert Taft, himself a Jesuit, points out, “(t)he evidence for Ignatius’ personal devotion to the public hours and his daily attendance at them…is beyond challenge.” (The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, p. 301) His purpose was rather to keep the members of the Society from being tied down to any obligation which might impede the apostolic works in which they would be engaged. A Jesuit would never have to break off his studies, his teaching, his spiritual direction or time in the confessional to run off to Vespers at the church of his order. The idea was not that he was free to ignore the Divine Office, but rather, freer to participate in it, if he so desired, with those who retained the traditional choir obligations of the secular and religious clergy. The site which St. Ignatius chose for the Gesu’, the first church of his order in Rome, is a just few minutes walking distance from the parish of San Marco, the Pantheon, (one of the most important basilicas in Rome at the time,) the Silvestrine monastery at Santo Stefano, the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and the Franciscans at Santa Maria in Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill. A member of the community at the Gesù could therefore chose to attend the celebration of the Office at any one of these quite easily, while retaining all the freedom necessary to do the specific work assigned him by his superiors.

Furthermore, the Society of Jesus was by no means unique in choosing to leave the public singing of the Divine Office to other members of the secular or religious clergy. Several of the new orders founded in the 16th century either did not have choir obligations, or celebrated the Office in the much simplified form called ‘recto tono’ or ‘monotone’, singing everything on a single note. Such was the custom of the Theatines, Barnabites, and Somaschi, all orders of Clerks Regular founded before the Jesuits, and of the other Clerks Regular founded after them. (Taft, p. 302) The recto tono office was also adopted as the norm by the Discalced Carmelite reform of St. Teresa of Avila.

That so many orders of the 16th century should chose not to adopt the choral Office as a regular part of their life shows what a change had taken place within the liturgy of the Catholic Church since the High Middle Ages, when friars such as the Dominicans and Franciscans were the new orders. More than three-hundred years before the formal approval of the Society of Jesus’ constitutions, St. Dominic, like St. Ignatius, was driven to found a religious order by a momentous crisis within the Church, the success of the Albigensian heresy. Saint Dominic himself had been a canon of the Cathedral of Osma in Spain , before devoting himself to combatting the bizarre ideas of the Cathars; and, like all of the religious orders and foundations of the time, his Order of Friars Preachers continued the tradition of choral Office and Mass as an unquestionably necessary part of the religious life. It would never have crossed St. Dominic’s mind to dismiss his order from choral Office in order to be freer to combat heresy; had he attempted to do so, he likely would have been as ill-regarded as were the Cathars. (I do not say this in any way as critique of Saint Ignatius or of the Jesuits, but simply as an example of a change in attitude.)

The Society of Jesus was not, of course, the only great success of the Counter-Reformation, but among the new religious orders of that era, it was by far the largest and most influential. By the end of the 16th century, less than fifty years after St. Ignatius’ death, it had 8000 members spread throughout the world, and was expanding rapidly. The Jesuits won back to the Catholic Church huge tracts of Protestant Europe, and were at the forefront of the evangelization of the New World . As the Society continued to go from strength to strength, its approach to the Divine Office became more and more widely known and imitated in the religious life of the Catholic Church. Jesuit churches throughout the world were built on the model of the Gesù in Rome , with wide, clearly visible sanctuaries, and without liturgical choirs.

St. Philip Neri founded the Congregation of the Oratory in Rome in the same years that saw the emergence of the Society of Jesus; he was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, at the same ceremony as his close friend Ignatius. Although St. Philip was a great admirer of the Dominicans, choral singing of the Divine Office has always been the exception, rather than the norm, among the Oratorians. Instead, it was the common practice of the first Oratorians in Rome, including their holy founder, to attend the Office at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where they very often joined the Dominican friars in choir for Vespers, Compline and Matins.

St. Ignatius’ approach to the liturgy must therefore be seen as part and parcel of a larger Catholic world, in which the older institutions of the medieval Church were renewed and strengthened by the success of more recent ones. Just as the great reforms of the 11th and 12th centuries had led to the creation of orders like the Dominicans, whose success in turn advanced even further the cause of ecclesiastical reform, so also the new Society was instrumental in the great revival of the Catholic Church in 16th century Europe. To give just one example, the Capuchins, founded in 1525 as a reform movement within the Observant Franciscan order, increased their numbers tenfold in only fifty years, and assumed a place alongside the Jesuits as “the most effective preachers and missionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” (Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Capuchins.) In such a world, there was no need for the Society of Jesus or other new foundations to assume liturgical responsibilities which were amply fulfilled by others.

[To be continued in 6.2]

-- Copyright (c) Gregory DiPippo, 2009

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To read previous installments in this series, see: Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568-1961

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