Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568 - 1961: Part 10.2 - The Matins Lessons in the Reform of 1960

By far the most significant change introduced by the 1960 reform is the reduction of all Sundays, and all feasts of the Third class, (the former Major Doubles, Doubles and Semidoubles) to three readings at Matins.

On Sundays, the three scriptural readings from the first nocturn are reduced to two; the first is kept unchanged, the second and third are joined into one. The third reading is that which was formerly the seventh of Matins, the beginning of the homily on the Gospel of the day. The rest of the homily, formerly the eighth and ninth readings, is suppressed, as are all readings of the second nocturn.

On more than one occasion, a question which was posed in the seventh reading of Matins, and answered in the eighth and ninth, is now left unanswered. On the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, the Gospel is that of the prince of Capharnaum, who asks Christ to come to his home and heal his son. (John 4, 46-53) In the homily of Matins, Saint Gregory the Great poses the question:

Why did he that had come to ask for healing for his son hear, "Unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe?" For he that asked for healing for his son, beyond all doubt believed; nor would he have asked him to save his son, if he did not believe him to be the Savior. Why then is it said “Unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe” (to him) who believed before he saw any signs?

The answer which Pope Gregory gives to this question is no longer read. On other occasions, what remains amounts to little more than a Father of the Church clearing his throat. On the fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Saint Jerome tells us:

He performed the fifth sign when, going on board the ship at Capernaum, he commanded the winds and the sea; the sixth when in the region of the Gerasenes he gave the demons power over the swine; the seventh when, entering his own city, when he cured the second paralytic in his bed. For the first paralytic was the Centurion's servant.

Between the revision of 1955 and that of 1960, a total of 55% of the Patristic readings are removed from the Temporal cycle. Of those that remain, just shy of one-third are read in Lent, a season in which the Roman Use traditionally read no scriptural lessons at Matins. The first volume of the 1960 Breviary retains 54% of the readings formerly contained in the Winter and Spring volumes; the second retains 29% of the readings formerly contained in the Summer and Fall volumes.

As noted above, nearly all of the feasts formerly classified as Major Doubles, Doubles and Semidoubles, with nine readings at Matins, are now re-ordered as Third class, and reduced to three readings at Matins. In the vast majority of cases, the only proper reading left in such offices is the “simplified lesson”, the abbreviated form of the Saints’ lives which was formerly used only when the feast was reduced to a commemoration.

A number of feasts which are reduced to only three readings at Matins also had eight responsories proper to that particular feast, among them some of the most ancient feasts of the Roman Rite, such as that of St. Martin of Tours. In the absence of anywhere to put them, six of the eight are also removed from the Breviary. A smaller number of feasts had three proper responsories, of which one must be removed.

Between the revision of 1956 and that of 1960, the corpus of proper non-scriptural readings assigned to the feasts of the Sanctoral cycle is reduced in length by exactly two-thirds. (This statistic does not include the readings taken from the common offices of the Saints, which were formerly repeated quite frequently, but hardly read at all in the new revision.) The first volume of the 1960 Breviary retains slightly more than 38% of the readings formerly contained in the Winter and Spring volumes; the second retains 27% of the readings formerly contained in the Summer and Fall volumes.

The Latin text of the motu proprio Rubricarum instructum by which this reform is promulgated contains a strangely prophetic mistake, or rather, two occurrences of the same mistake. One sentence clearly means to say that “the Divine Office is shortened a little bit”; in another, the Pope exhorts the clergy to frequently read and meditate upon the writings of the Church Fathers, which in the Breviary itself have been “slightly abbreviated here and there”. The words used to mean “a little bit” and “slightly” however, are the strictly temporal adverbs “paulisper” and “aliquantisper”, rather than the quantitative adverbs “paululum” and “aliquantulum”. The sentences therefore really mean “the Divine Office has been shortened for a while” and the readings of the Church Fathers has been abbreviated “ for a little while.” However, the mistake is in point of fact more accurate than what the composer of the Latin text obviously meant to say. The readings of the Church Fathers are abbreviated very much more than “a little bit”; on the other hand, this particular version of the Divine Office was used only “for a little while”, replaced within less than a decade by the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours.

The third part of this article will explain the changes made to the local liturgical calendars shortly after this reform. 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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