Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Sources and Shape of the Carthusian Liturgy

It was exactly three years ago, October 6, 2008, that I first reprinted two parts of an article that appeared in 1940 and 1941 in the quarterly liturgical journal, Magnificat, on the subject of the Carthusian liturgy. The article was written by an anonymous Carthusian monk of Parkminster in the United Kingdom.

At the time, the piece was already long enough and so I focused on parts two and three which gave the most specific liturgical and ceremonial detail. However, as we come to once again mark the feast day of the founder of that glorious Order, I felt compelled to take the time to finally reprint the first of the three parts so that the original article would be available to our readers in its entirety, and so that this day might bring an opportunity to give consideration to the Carthusian liturgical books.

(Note: none of the photos which appear here are from the original publication, which included no photographs or illustrations.)

The Confiteor and Absolution as per the Carthusian Missal

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The Carthusian Liturgy

by a Monk of Parkminster

[Part One of Three]

In the year 1084, near the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, St. Bruno with six companions entered the desert of the Chartreuse in order to seek God in solitude. Without any idea of founding a Religious Order, but prompted solely by an intense longing for God which could be satisfied only by a complete separation from the world, he formed in that desolate, ragged, mountainous tract of Dauphine, with his companions of like mind, a little group of hermits living in community. Since resigning the chancellorship of Rheims, he had already for about two years experienced Benedictine monastic life at Molesme under St. Robert, the future founder of the Cistercian Order, and, for a little while, had even lived in a hermitage at Seche-Fontaine. But he was unsatisfied, for the voice of God was inviting him into greater solitude.

It was while they were seeking a place sufficiently remote that the seven travellers called upon St. Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, to ask for his blessing. In a dream, St. Hugh had seen seven stars; they fell at his feed, then rose up and lead him over wild, mountainous country, to a place known as the Chartreuse. In the midst of this solitude the stars came to rest and there God raised a temple to His glory. When St. Bruno and his six companions knelt before him and spoke of their longing to seek God in solitude, St. Hugh recognised the seven stars of his dream, and with great joy guided them to the desolate stretch of land which was part of his own diocese, about fifteen miles from Grenoble. The saintly Bishop not only helped them materially in the work of building cells, a church and a cloister linking all together, but became their lasting friend and protector; he consecrated the little church and frequently visited the solitaries, sharing their simple life.

Such an introduction is necessary if a true idea of the Carthusian liturgy is to be obtained, for it embraces at once the causes which brought it into existence, the reasons for its characteristics, and the spirit which has preserved its faithful continuity. St. Bruno and his companions were seeking God by means of a solitary contemplative life lived in community. Their intention was to gather the advantages of the eremitical life and at the same time to lessen its dangers by mitigating with it as much of the coenobitical life as experience would prove to be the best proportion. It followed therefore that the usual monastic routine and life of prayer would need modification and adaptation in order that greater solitude might be obtained.

St. Bruno himself was to spend only six years in his beloved solitude at the Chartreuse, for in 1090 he was summoned to Italy by the Pope, Blessed Urban II, an old pupil, who needed the counsel of his former master. He never returned to Dauphine but died in the year 1101 at La Torre in Calabria, where he had made a second foundation when at length he had been allowed by the Pope to return to solitude on condition of remaining near at hand. As has been said, our holy Father had no intention of founding a Religious Order; he therefore wrote no Rule, but was content to take what he needed from the writings of St. Benedict and those who had treated of the solitary and monastic life. For six years he instructed his little community chiefly by his example. For the Divine Office he continued the manner to which he was now accustomed after his period at Molesme, namely, the monastic psalter and the arrangement of the Office according to the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. And for Mass he followed the books and the manner of the place to which God had led him, that is to say, the diocese of Grenoble, which was that of the ancient See of Lyons, to which it was neighbour. Here, too, modifications were necessary both in Mass and Office, to make them suitable for monks living in solitude. Far from the haunts of men, there was no need for pomp or ceremony to surround the worship of God, which would but defeat the end of such a calling. There is about the Carthusian life a certain element of changelessness which arises from its very nature, and by which its spirit and its purpose have been maintained from the beginning. The reason for its existence does not change, neither does its appeal nor the mean by which it fulfills its end. The call to leave the world in order to live for God alone in solitude is the concern of God and the soul; it is a circumstance detached from time, nor need it suffer alteration therefrom. Similarly, as the Carthusian vocation remains the same in any age, to fulfill its purpose there is never any need to adopt new means or re-fashion old ones in order to lead a changing world to God. We have no contact with the world, nor parochial ministry of any kind, no call for popular devotion, and hence it is that the principles and practices which seemed best to our Fathers have been preserved. For such reasons as these the Carthusian liturgy is the simplest and most austere in the Church.

For forty-three years there was no written record of the life at the Chartreuse but in 1127 Guigo, the fifth Prior, wrote the "Consuetudines" -- the Customs. (P.L CLIII, col. 631-760.) The circumstances were as follows. At three places near Chartreuse -- Portes, Saint-Sulpice and Meyriat, groups of men had begun to live a similar life. They had written to the Prior asking him what rule of life they were to follow. He was unwilling to fall in with their request because, as he explains in the Prologue to the Consuetudines, there was really no need for him to write their customs since almost everything was contained in the Letters of St. Jerome, the Rule of St. Benedict and writers of such a character. It was only when the Bishop, St. Hugh, ordered him to do so that he committed to writing the things that they were accustomed to do. Actually, of course, he is describing the manner of life instituted by St. Bruno, for Guigo makes it quite clear that he is describing the things of which he is a witness, and is not in any way a lawgiver. In the Consuetudines is contained the basis of the whole of the Carthusian life, both for the Fathers and the Brothers. He begins with what he terms "the section of greater dignity, that, namely, which concerns the Divine Office, in which for the most part, we follow the way of other monks, especially in the ordering of the psalms."

At the same period, and again at the bidding of the holy Bishop, Guigo arranged the Antiphonary to which he wrote a preface setting forth the principles which guided him in his work. This preface, which is found in a few old Antiphonaries is given in full by Le Couteulx, Annales Ord. Cartus. Vol. I, p. 308. It is as follows: "The gravity of the eremitical life does not permit much time to be spent in the study of chant. For according to the Blessed Jerome, any monk, in so far as he is a hermit has not the office of teacher, and much less of a chanter, but rather of one who laments; one who mourns for himself and the world, and in fear awaits the coming of the Lord. Wherefore we have considered that certain things should be removed from the Antiphonary, or shortened. Things, namely, which for the most part, were either superfluous or were unsuitably composed, inserted or added, or had but little or doubtful guarantee for their authenticity, or none at all; or were guilty of levity, awkwardness or falsity. Further, anyone who carefully reads the Sacred Scriptures, namely, the Old and New Testaments cannot but know whether what has been emended or added is correct. We have done this in the presence of our most Reverend and most dear Father, the Lord Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble." In this preface Guigo adopts as his own the principles and sometimes the very words of Agobard, the strenuous reformer of the liturgy of Lyons, who three centuries earlier had been Archbishop of that See. (cf. "Liber de Correctione Antiphonarii" by Agobard, P.L. CIV, col. 329 seq.) Guigo's intention there is quite clear. Since monks leading a hermit life must not devote much time to the study of chant, Guigo's task was to fix the repertory of the Divine Office, both of the words and the music; in that way its integrity would be safeguarded and it could be learnt by heart, and would be known once and for all. Far from any intention of devising something new, which is a temptation in such circumstances, his endeavour was to return, as far as possible, to the text of St. Gregory, and whatever had been added to that was to be excluded. With this end in view he undertook a deliberate simplification by admitting only that which was considered authentically Gregorian. He refused place to all antiphons and responsories which were unscriptural; to all sequences, tropes, proses, hymns, in fact to all those additions which in the 11th century began to encrust the primitive offices. There were sometimes strange novelties. The sources of which is unquestionably Roman in its foundation; compared with a Lyons Antiphonary of the same date there is hardly any similarity. A first necessity would be the adding of four responsories for Matins to the eight of the Roman Office, since the monastic Office has twelve responsories; but nothing was added except what was considered to have been handed down from St. Gregory. The principle of authentic and non-authentic may be illustrated thus: in spite of the general rule of refusing place to all that was not scriptural, our Fathers made an exception in the Gradual for the Introits "Ecce advenit" of the Epiphany, the "Gaudeamus" and the "Salus populi" of the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, and for the Alleluia Verse "Dies sanctificatus" of the 3rd Mass of Christmas; and in the Antiphonary for the "O" antiphons of Advent and the "Te Deum" precisely because, though not scriptural, they were considered as authentic. The spirit of this principle the Order has faithfully maintained, thus preserving for our liturgy a certain fixity and sobriety which distinguishes it, and which harmonises so well with the stability and exigencies of our life. There have, however, been a few departures from Guigo's leading principles. Although there have always been hymns in the "cursus" of St. Benedict, Guigo, following the practice of Lyons, did not admit them, but the first hymns, four in number, were introduced by the General Chapter of 1143: Aeterne Rerum Conditor, Splendor Paternae Gloriae, Deus Creator Omnium and Christe Qui Lux es for Matins, Lauds, Vespers and Compline, respectively, which still remain the only hymns for Sundays, lesser feasts and ferias throughout the greater part of the year. The Masses "Salve Sancta Parens" and "Requiem" were introduced, the latter as companion to the Mass "Respice," which alone until the fourteenth century had been used for the Dead. The Office of the Blessed Trinity, which is partly non-scriptural, was composed and introduced at the end of the same century. The "cursus ferialis," however, has been treasured and guarded, and for feasts, even those of Our Lady, and exceptionally great use is made of the Common. The most striking example of this is surely the case of the feast of our Father, St. Bruno. He was canonised in the year 1514, at a period which gave itself to composition and invention, yet every word and every note of both Office and Mass is from the Common of a Confessor not a Bishop. In brief summary, therefore, we may say regarding our liturgical books, that the various books for Mass were taken from Lyons through Grenoble, with adaptations for the solitary life, that the Psalter and the ordering of the Office was monastic and that the Antiphonary is fundamentally roman. We have at Parkminister a Gradual of the early 12th century in which characteristics proper to the early manuscripts of Lyons are clearly recognised.

In 1142, under St. Anthelme the 7th Prior, there was instituted the General Chapter, on which occasion other communities in the neighbourhood of the Chartreuse leading a similar life were united under the authority of the Prior of the Chartreuse and the General Chapter. The first act was to bring about uniformity in the liturgy. (P.L. CLIII, col. 1126.) Then, in 1259 were promulgated what are known as the Statuta Antiqua, and the evolution of the liturgical texts and rites was now fixed. It had been the custom to mingle directions concerning the liturgy and discipline with each other in the Statutes, but in 1582 all liturgical matter was removed and made into a separate book known as the Ordinarium Finally in 1603 the Missal was corrected in conformity to the revision ordered by the Council of Trent; and in 1687 a revision of all liturgical books was ordered by the Sacred Congregation of Rites. These revisions were concerned merely with producing conformity with the Vulgate, and affected only words.

Before treating of the actual procedure of the Mass and Office it will be necessary to give a brief description of the life in a Charterhouse and how the liturgy and that life interact. The Carthusian life, as it has been said, is a blending of solitary and community life. Reasons have already been given why the solitude of the community as a whole has left an impress on the liturgy; we shall now see the influence upon it of the solitude of the individual in the community. The Carthusian monk lives alone in a cell which consists of a little house and garden. The cells are quite separate, and there is complete privacy. A certain spaciousness is essential in a Charterhouse to ensure that sense of being alone which a room on a corridor does not provide. The ground-floor of the cell is a workshop; the upper floor consists of two rooms in the larger of which the monk passes most of his life. In a corner is the oratory which is furnished like a choir stall; his bed is in an alcove; there is a bookcase, a table for study and a place near the window where he takes his food. The silence is intense.

The monk leaves his cell to go to church for the Night Office, that is Matins and Lauds, for Mass in the morning and once again in the afternoon for Vespers. He is free to visit the Prior, his confessor and, at stated times, the library; but for the rest he lives in the silence and solitude of his cell, not even making visits to the Blessed Sacrament. He occupies himself with the traditional concerns of a monk -- prayer, study and manual labour. The Hours of the Divine Office apportion the times of the day allotted to these: spiritual exercises until Sext, study and manual labour until Vespers, followed again by spiritual exercises. His time for taking food depends upon the hour of Sext or None; his time for rising is fixed by the time of Matins and Prime. The changes in time of the various Hours of the Divine Office for Feasts and Fasts effect the external order of his life. He recites the Little Hours and Compline in his oratory, using the same ceremonies as in choir. Before each Hour of the Divine Office he says the corresponding Hour of the Office of Our Lady, with the exception of Compline of Our Lady, which is said last of all. Thus at the sound of the great bell, each monk goes to his oratory and there is formed one vast choir, although each in his cell. The most frequent horarium is as follows: 6:00am Prime; 7:15 Conventual Mass, followed by Terce and Private Masses in the chapels; 10:00 Sext; 11:00 None; 2:45 Vespers; 5:45 or 6:00 Compline; about 11:30 Night Office. Such is the day of solitude.

But there are certain days, namely Sundays, Chapter Feasts and Solemnities, when the Carthusian leads more of a community life. On such days all the Divine Office is sung in choir, except Compline which is always said in the cell; the monk attends Chapter, takes his food in the refectory, and he may, if he wishes, take recreation or colloquium with his brethren after None. Such days are an integral part of Carthusian life and have been observed from the earliest days of the Order. They are reminiscent of the custom of the ancient solitaries of the desert who on Sundays and Feasts met their brethren for the celebration of the sacred Mysteries which was followed by a meal taken in common.

It will be readily observed that if the number of such Feasts be allowed to grow unchecked, the chief purpose of our vocation would be greatly impeded; hence the swing of increase and reduction in their numbers as the centuries pass. The earlier calendar that we possess belongs to the year 1134 -- just seven years after the "Consuetudines." It is practically the early Roman calendar from the beginning of the ninth to twelfth century. In the following numbers no account is is taken of Sundays, nor of the possibility of such feasts falling on a Sunday, which would add complication -- though it should be noticed that as no feasts were transferred in the early days of the Order while some now are, there would be a slight difference in favour of the earlier numbers. In 1134 there were 33 Chapters Feasts and Solemnities; by the end of the century, 38; the numbers for the next three centuries are 39, 51 and 54 respectively. By the end of the 16th century the maximum is reached -- 69; then begins the reduction: in 1603 the number has already fallen to 63, and thus it continues to decrease until in 1914, as also today, there are only 40 such days -- about the same number as at the beginning.

Actually there can never be the same amount of solitude as there has been in the early days of the Order, for a reason which surely turns such a loss into the greatest gain. Guigo wrote: "Roro quippe hic missa canitur," and gave the reason: there was no daily Conventual Mass in order that solitude might be preserved. Mass was sung on all Sundays, Chapters Feasts and Solemnities, each day from Ash Wednesday until Holy Saturday inclusively, except the Saturdays before the First Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday, for which days there is no ferial Mass in the Carthusian Missal, on the Ember Saturdays, eight Vigils and the first three days of the Octaves of Easter and Pentecost; there were various Masses for the Dead. Private Masses were a thing unknown, and there was only on altar in the church. By the year 1259, after a gradual increase in number, daily Conventual Mass was already established, and when a few years earlier a second altar had been erected the saying of Private Masses began; it became more frequent, and thus led to the need for more altars, until by the end of the 14th century the custom of Private Masses is firmly established.

Originally published in Magnificat: A Liturgical Quarterly, Ascensiontide, 1940, vol. II, no. 12, pp. 5-11

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To continue readings parts two and three of "The Carthusian Liturgy" which will more specifically focus on the details of the Carthusian Missal and liturgy, see here: The Carthusian Liturgy by a Carthusian Monk (Originally Published in 1940-1, in Magnificat: A Liturgical Quarterly), October 6, 2008.

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