Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568 - 1961: Part 9.2 - An Assessment of the 1955 Simplified Rubrics

The distinctive feature of this reform is, to put it simply, that for the first time, the Office was substantially changed for the benefit of the rubrics, rather than rubrics for the benefit of the Office. In addition to the removal from the Breviary of a considerable portion of patristic readings, especially from the offices of the temporal cycle, the “simplified” rubrics of 1955 also create a number of rather peculiar anomalies; this, despite the priority given (in theory) to the rubrics over the text.

1. Although all Sundays are raised from semiduplex to duplex, their antiphons are not doubled, and thus they lack what had been hitherto the characteristic feature of double offices.

2. It is very difficult to see the logic behind the choice of which vigils were kept and which suppressed, particularly when one notices that that of St. Lawrence has been kept, and those of Epiphany and All Saints’ abolished.

3. The Octave Day of the Epiphany is renamed “the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. Although this is one of the most ancient aspects of the Epiphany, and indeed, the dominant one in the Byzantine tradition, the feast of the Holy Family, extended to the General Calendar in 1921, is given precedence over it if they coincide on the Sunday after Epiphany. In such case, the Baptism is not even commemorated.

4. Although the octaves of the Ascension, Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart are suppressed, the Sundays within said octaves continue to be celebrated as hitherto, with the office mostly identical to that of the feast.

5. Wholly inexplicable is the suppression of first vespers from all grades of feasts except Doubles of the first and second class. Simple feasts, which only had the first vespers, now have none at all, running from Matins to None, a change absolutely without precedent. The tradition of beginning feasts on the evening of the preceding day is one that the Christian church inherited from the pre-Christian temple and synagogue of the Jewish people, and was known to be so at the time of this reform. This suppression, extended further in the reforms of 1960 and 1970, is now recognized to be a mistake; the reformed Ambrosian Office of 1981 has retained the historical custom by which ALL feasts have first Vespers, and the more important also have second Vespers.

6. In the Vesper hymn of Confessors, the verse, “on this day rejoicing he merited to ascend to the place of blessedness,” was changed if the feast was kept on a day other than the day of the Saint’s death. The modified verse says “on this day rejoicing he merited the highest honors of our praises.” This hymn is now always said in the modified version, even on the feast of St. Martin, for whom it was originally composed, and whose feast is kept on the day of his death.

7. Most peculiar of all, editors and publishers with authorization to print liturgical books are forbidden to incorporate these changes into future editions of the Breviary, although they are plainly too much for anyone to memorize. I have seen editions of both Breviary and Missal from the years 1957-59 which do in fact incorporate the changes into the book in various ways, either by omission, or by printing the deleted texts in italics or smaller type. However, many priests decided to keep track of the new changes by a less costly expedient than the purchase of a whole new breviary.

(photo courtesy of John Sonnen)

The next part of this series will discuss the reform of 1960. To read the most recent parts of this series, click here. For the complete set of links to the earlier parts of this series posted last fall, including a Glossary of terms related to the Divine Office, click here.

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