January 20: SS Fabian (Pope) and Sebastian (Martyrs), Class III

Pope Saint Fabian was a layman when elected pope, a position he held from January 10, 236 until his martyrdom on January 20, 250. 

St Sebastian died in 288 under Diocletian.

From the Roman Breviary:
 
"Fabian was a Roman, and sat as Pope from the reign of the Emperor Maximian till that of Decius. He appointed a deacon to each of the seven districts of Rome to look after the poor. He likewise appointed the same number of subdeacons to collect the acts of the Martyrs from the records kept by the seven district notaries. It was by him that it was ordained that every Maundy Thursday the old Chrism should be burnt and new consecrated. He was crowned with martyrdom upon the 20th of January, in the persecution of Decius, and buried in the cemetery of St. Callistus on the Appian Way, having sat in the throne of Peter fifteen years and four days. He held five Advent ordinations, in which he ordained twenty-two priests, seven deacons, and eleven bishops for divers Sees.

The father of Sebastian was of Narbonne, and his mother a Milanese. He was a great favourite of the Emperor Diocletian, both on account of his noble birth and his personal bravery, and was by him appointed captain of the first company of the Praetorian Guards. He was in secret a Christian, and often supported the others both by good offices and money. When some shewed signs of yielding under persecution, he so successfully exhorted them, that, for Jesus Christ's sake, many offered themselves to the tormentors. Among these were the brothers Mark and Marcellian who were imprisoned at Rome in the house of Nicostratus. The wife of Nicostratus himself, named Zoe, had lost her voice, but it was restored to her at the prayer of Sebastian. These facts becoming known to Diocletian, he sent for Sebastian, and after violently rebuking him, used every means to turn him from his faith in Christ. But as neither promises nor threats availed, he ordered him to be tied to a post and shot to death with arrows.

Sebastian was treated accordingly, and left for dead, but in the night the holy widow Irene sent for the body in order to bury it, and then found that he was still alive, and nursed him in her own house. As soon as his health was restored, he went out to meet Diocletian, and boldly rebuked him for his wickedness. The Emperor was first thunderstruck at the sight of a man whom he believed to been some time dead, but afterwards, frenzied with rage at the reproaches of Sebastian, ordered him to be beaten to death with rods, under which torment the martyr yielded his blessed soul to God. His body was thrown into a sewer, but he appeared in sleep to Lucina, and made known to her where it was, and where he would have it buried. She accordingly found it and laid it in those Catacombs, over which a famous Church hath since been built, called St. Sebastian's-without-the-Walls."

January 17: St Anthony, abbot, Class III


St Anthony (c. 251–356) was not the first monk, but his Life, by St Athanasius, did much to promote the spread of monasticism, particularly in the West.

The Life is an extremely important source for ascetic spirituality.  Here are a few extracts:
"Antony you must know was by descent an Egyptian: his parents were of good family and possessed considerable wealth, and as they were Christians he also was reared in the same Faith. In infancy he was brought up with his parents, knowing nought else but them and his home. But when he was grown and arrived at boyhood, and was advancing in years, he could not endure to learn letters, not caring to associate with other boys; but all his desire was, as it is written of Jacob, to live a plain man at home. With his parents he used to attend the Lord's House, and neither as a child was he idle nor when older did he despise them; but was both obedient to his father and mother and attentive to what was read, keeping in his heart what was profitable in what he heard. And though as a child brought up in moderate affluence, he did not trouble his parents for varied or luxurious fare, nor was this a source of pleasure to him; but was content simply with what he found nor sought anything further.
After the death of his father and mother he was left alone with one little sister: his age was about eighteen or twenty, and on him the care both of home and sister rested. Now it was not six months after the death of his parents, and going according to custom into the Lord's House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles left all and followed the Saviour; and how they in the Acts sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles' feet for distribution to then eedy, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven. Pondering over these things he entered the church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, 'If thou wouldest be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor; and come follow Me and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.' Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers--they were three hundred acres, productive and very fair --that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister. And all the rest that was movable he sold, and having got together much money he gave it to the poor, reserving a little however for his sister's sake.
And again as he went into the church, hearing the Lord say in the Gospel, ' be not anxious for the morrow,' he could stay no longer, but went out and gave those things also to the poor. Having committed his sister to known and faithful virgins, and put her into a convent to be brought up, he henceforth devoted himself outside his house to discipline, taking heed to himself and training himself with patience. For there were not yet so many monasteries in Egypt, and no monk at all knew of the distant desert; but all who wished to give heed to themselves practised the discipline in solitude near their own village. Now there was then in the next village an old man who had lived the life of a hermit from his youth up. Antony, after he had seen this man, imitated him in piety. And at first he began to abide in places out side the village: then if he heard of a good man anywhere, like the prudent bee, he went forth and sought him, nor turned back to his own palace until he had seen him; and he returned, having got from the good man as it were supplies for his journey in the way of virtue. So dwelling there at first, he confirmed his purpose not to return to the abode of his fathers nor to the remembrance of his kinsfolk; but to keep all his desire and energy for perfecting his discipline. He worked, however. with his hands, having heard, 'he who is idle let him not eat,' and part he spent on bread and part he gave to the needy. And he was constant in prayer, knowing that a man ought to pray in secret unceasingly. For he had given such heed to what was read that none of the things that were written fell from him to the ground, but he remembered all, and afterwards his memory served him for books."

St Honorius of Fondi, January 16

Image result for sant'onorato
SS Honoratus and Benedict,
1499


The martyrology records the feast of St Honoratus of Fondi 'of whom blessed pope Gregory makes mention' as January 16, but in the town of Fondi, of which he is patron, the feast is celebrated on October 10.

St Gregory's mention of the saint comes in the first chapter of Book I of the Dialogues:
In times past one Venantius, a noble man, had a living in the country of  Samnium; the farmer whereof had a son called Honoratus, who from his very childhood by the virtue of abstinence did thirst after the joys of heaven: and as in other things he led an holy life, and refrained from all idle talk, so did he much, as I said before, subdue his body by means of abstinence. 
His parents, upon a certain day, had invited their neighbours to a banquet which consisted altogether of flesh, whereof because for the love of mortification he refused to eat, his father and mother began to laugh at him, willing him to fall to that which they had: "For can we," quoth they, "get you any fish here in these mountains?" (for in that place they used sometimes to hear of fish, but seldom to see any.) 
But whiles they were thus jesting, and mocking at their son, suddenly they lacked water: whereupon a servant with a wooden bucket (as the manner is there) went to the well to fetch some: into which, as he was a drawing, a fish entered in, which upon his return, together with the water, he poured forth before them all. And the fish was so great, that it served Honoratus very well for all that day. At this strange chance all were stroken in admiration, and his parents abstained now from further scoffing at his virtue, and began to have him in reverence for his abstinence, whom before for that very cause they did mock and scorn: and by this means, the fish, brought miraculously from the well, discharged God's servant from that shame, which he had endured through their uncivil jesting. 
Honoratus, proceeding forward in virtue, at length was made free by the foresaid Lord Venantius: and afterward, in that place which is called Funda, he built an Abbey, wherein he was the father almost of two hundred monks: and he lived in so great holiness that he gave good example to all the country round about. Upon a certain day, it fell so out, that a stone of an huge greatness, which was digged out of the mountain that hung over the top of his Abbey, tumbled down by the side of the hill, threatening both the ruin of the house and the death of all the monks within: which danger the holy man seeing ready to come upon them, called often upon the name of Christ, and, putting forth his right hand, made against it the sign of the cross, and by that means did he stay it, and pin it fast to the side of that steep hill: which thing Lawrence, a religious man, affirmed to be most true. And because it found not there any place upon which it might rest, it hangeth at this time in such sort, that all which now look upon it do verily think that it would continually fall.
PETER. I suppose so notable a man as he was, and who afterward became master to so many scholars, had himself some excellent teacher of whom he was instructed. 
GREGORY. I never heard that he was scholar to any: but the grace of the Holy Ghost is not tied to any law. 
The usual custom of virtuous men is, that none should take upon him to rule, who first hath not learned to obey: nor to command that obedience to his subjects, which before he hath not given to his own superiors. Yet some there be which are so inwardly taught by the doctrine of God's holy spirit, that although they have no man to instruct them outwardly, yet do they not want the direction of an inward teacher: which liberty of life notwithstanding is not to be taken for an example by such as be weak and infirm, lest, whiles each one doth in like manner presume to be full of the Holy Ghost, and contemn to learn of any, they become themselves erroneous masters. 
But that soul which is full of God's holy spirit, hath for proof thereof most evident signs, to wit, the other virtues, and especially humility, both which if they do perfectly meet in one soul, apparent it is that they be testimonies of the presence of heavenly grace. And so we read not that John Baptist had any master, nor yet that Christ, who by his corporal presence taught his Apostles, took him in amongst the number of his other disciples, but vouchsafed to instruct him inwardly, and left him, as it were, in the sight of the world to his own liberty. So Moses, likewise, was taught in the wilderness, and learned by the Angel what God gave him in charge, which by means of any mortal man he knew not: but these things, as before hath been said, are of weaklings to be reverenced, and not by any means to be followed.

Second Week after the Epiphany (Jan 15-21)



Sunday 15 January - Second Sunday after the Epiphany [**In some places, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Class I]

Matins: All as in the psalter except for the readings, responsories and collect

Lauds: Psalm schema 1 – 50, 117, 62; hymn Aeterne rerum Conditor; collect and canticle antiphon, MD 147*

Prime to None: All as in the psalter for Sunday, collect MD 147*

Vespers: As in the psalter with canticle antiphon, MD 147*

For Our Lady of Prompt Succor, MD 11 ff**

Monday 16 January – Class IV; St Marcellus I, memorial [EF: Class III]

Matins:  All as in the psalter with three readings (for Monday after the Second Sunday of Epiphany)

Lauds, Terce to Vespers: Collect MD 147*; for the commemoration at Lauds, MD [25]

Tuesday 17 January - St Anthony, Class III

Matins: Invitatory and hymn from Common of a Confessor; psalms and antiphons of the day; reading 1&2 of the feria (combine readings 2&3; use responsories 1&3 of the feria), reading and responsory 3 of the feast

Lauds and Vespers: Psalms and antiphons of the day; the rest from the Common of a Confessor not a bishop, MD (78); collect MD [26]

Prime: Antiphon 1 of Lauds from the Common

Terce to None: Antiphons, chapters and versicles from the Common, collect from MD [26]

Wednesday 18 January - Class IV [EF: Commemoration of St Prisca; start of Church Unity Octave, St Peter's Chair]

Three readings at Matins; Collect MD 147*

Thursday 19 January - Class IV; Marius, Martha, Audifax and Abachum, memorial

Three readings at Matins; Collect MD 147*; for the commemoration at Lauds, MD [26]

Friday 20 January - SS Fabian and Sebastian, Class III

Matins: Invitatory and hymn from Common of martyrs; psalms and antiphons of the day; reading 1&2 of the feria (combine readings 2&3; use responsories 1&3 of the feria), reading and responsory 3 of the feast

Lauds and Vespers: Antiphons and psalms of the day; rest from common of many martyrs, MD (43); collect MD [27]

Prime: Antiphon 1 of Lauds from the Common


Terce to None: Antiphon, chapter, versicle and collect of the feast, MD [30] ff 
Vespers: MD [31] ff

Saturday 21 January - St Agnes, Class III (Class II for monasteries of nuns) [**in some places, St Meinrad, Class I]

Matins: Invitatory and hymn from the Common of Virgins, lessons 1&2 of the day (combine readings 2&3), lesson 3 and responsories of the feast

Lauds: Antiphons and proper texts for the feast, MD [27] ff with festal (Sunday) psalms, MD 44.

Prime: Antiphon 1 of Lauds, with psalms of the day

Terce to None: Antiphon, chapter, versicle and collect of the feast, MD [30] ff 

I Vespers of the Third Sunday after Epiphany, MD 147-8* (if St Agnes is Class I, Vespers of the saint with a commemoration of the Sunday)

For St Meinrad, Class I, MD 16**ff

January 14: St Hilary, Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Memorial


Hilary of Poitiers (c310 –368) was Bishop of Poitiers.  He has a particular importance to the Western monastic tradition for his patronage and encouragement of St Martin of Tours. 

From Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience on the saint:

"Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, St Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important Episcopal figures of the fourth century. In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity.

We have no reliable information on most of Hilary's life. Ancient sources say that he was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D. From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings. It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment. He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life. Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353-354. In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St Matthew's Gospel. It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of B├ęziers in the South of France, the "synod of false apostles", as he himself called it since the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. "These false apostles" asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile. Thus, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul.

Banished to Phrygia in present-day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism. Here too, his concern as a Pastor impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end he began to draft his own best-known and most important dogmatic work: De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in many Old Testament passages, in which Christ's mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. To the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of Father and Son, and developed his entire Trinitarian theology based on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

The Father and the Son are of the same nature. And although several passages in the New Testament might make one think that the Son was inferior to the Father, Hilary offers precise rules to avoid misleading interpretations: some Scriptural texts speak of Jesus as God, others highlight instead his humanity. Some refer to him in his pre-existence with the Father; others take into consideration his state of emptying of self (kenosis), his descent to death; others, finally, contemplate him in the glory of the Resurrection. In the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the Book of Synods in which, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, he reproduced confessions of faith and commented on them and on other documents of synods which met in the East in about the middle of the fourth century. Ever adamant in opposing the radical Arians, St Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit to those who agreed to confess that the Son was essentially similar to the Father, seeking of course to lead them to the true faith, according to which there is not only a likeness but a true equality of the Father and of the Son in divinity. This too seems to me to be characteristic: the spirit of reconciliation that seeks to understand those who have not yet arrived and helps them with great theological intelligence to reach full faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church, but the influence of his magisterium extended in fact far beyond its boundaries. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 borrows the language of the Council of Nicea. Several ancient authors believe that this anti-Arian turning point of the Gaul episcopate was largely due to the fortitude and docility of the Bishop of Poitiers. This was precisely his gift: to combine strength in the faith and docility in interpersonal relations. In the last years of his life he also composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on 58 Psalms interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: "There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection" (Instructio Psalmorum, 5). He saw in all the Psalms this transparency of the mystery of Christ and of his Body which is the Church. Hilary met St Martin on various occasions: the future Bishop of Tours founded a monastery right by Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His liturgical Memorial is celebrated on 13 January. In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

To sum up the essentials of his doctrine, I would like to say that Hilary found the starting point for his theological reflection in baptismal faith. In De Trinitate, Hilary writes: Jesus "has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift. The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed. And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8: 6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4: 4), a gift in all.... In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image, joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit" (De Trinitate 2, 1). God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. I find particularly beautiful the following formula of St Hilary: "God knows not how to be anything other than love, he knows not how to be anyone other than the Father. Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in his totality. This name admits no compromise, as if God were father in some aspects and not in others" (ibid., 9, 61).

For this reason the Son is fully God without any gaps or diminishment. "The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because he has all, he has given all" (ibid., 2, 8). Humanity finds salvation in Christ alone, Son of God and Son of man. In assuming our human nature, he has united himself with every man, "he has become the flesh of us all" (Tractatus super Psalmos 54, 9); "he took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life, he has in himself the root of every vine shoot" (ibid., 51, 16). For this very reason the way to Christ is open to all - because he has drawn all into his being as a man -, even if personal conversion is always required: "Through the relationship with his flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph 4: 22), nailing it to the Cross (cf. Col 2: 14); provided we give up our former way of life and convert in order to be buried with him in his baptism, in view of life (cf. Col 1: 12; Rom 6: 4)" (ibid., 91, 9).

Fidelity to God is a gift of his grace. Therefore, St Hilary asks, at the end of his Treatise on the Trinity, to be able to remain ever faithful to the baptismal faith. It is a feature of this book: reflection is transformed into prayer and prayer returns to reflection. The whole book is a dialogue with God.

I would like to end today's Catechesis with one of these prayers, which thus becomes our prayer:

"Obtain, O Lord", St Hilary recites with inspiration, "that I may keep ever faithful to what I have professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. That I may worship you, our Father, and with you, your Son; that I may deserve your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your Only Begotten Son... Amen" (De Trinitate 12, 57). "

January 12: St Benedict Biscop OSB


Today, the Roman Martyrology (and the Ordo of the English Congregation of Benedictines) mentions St Benedict Biscop, a seventh century Anglo-Saxon abbot, and he is really one of those saints who deserve to be better known as one of those responsible for the preservation of Western civilization in the 'dark ages'.

As a monk he had a reputation as being pious, ascetic, learned and holy. He is particularly honoured as the founder of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth whose Church still stands and Jarrow, where he was St Bede the Venerable's first abbot.

But his particular interest is the way his fascinating career illustrates the cross-fertilization of cultural currents at the time, and his work in importing books and skills to England where they were preserved and re-exported back to the Continent a century later.

Some modern historians, have argued that Benedict Biscop and his monastery were not in reality 'true' Benedictines.  Don't believe a word of it!  St Bede's Life of the saint opens by painting him as a true son of St Benedict of Nursia:
THE pious servant of Christ, Biscop, called Benedict, with the assistance of the Divine grace, built a monastery in honour of the most holy of the apostles, St. Peter, near the mouth of the river Were, on the north side. The venerable and devout king of that nation, Egfrid, contributed the land; and Biscop, for the space of sixteen years, amid innumerable perils in journeying and in illness, ruled this monastery with the same piety which stirred him up to build it. 
If I may use the words of the blessed Pope Gregory, in which he glorifies the life of the abbot of the same name, he was a man of a venerable life, blessed (Benedictus) both in grace and in name; having the mind of an adult even from his childhood, surpassing his age by his manners, and with a soul addicted to no false pleasures.... 
Near the end, he exhorts his monks to follow the Rule in electing his successor.  And another contemporary life defends his long absences from the monastery by pointing to St Benedict's Abbot-President type role at Subiaco.

To Rome and Lerins

Biscop (aka Benedict Barducing) was a noble who at the age of 25, in 653, left his promising career as a minister at court and headed off in pilgrimage to Rome, returning filled with fervour for the Church. Twelve years later, he did a second trip to Rome, this time ending up at the famous monastery of Lerins in the south of France (which had adopted the Rule of St Benedict by this time) where he became a monk and stayed for two years to learn what he could.

He returned to England on the instructions of the Pope, in order to act as interpreter and native guide for the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek monk who had been living in Italy as a refugee from the monothelite heresy then raging in the East. St Benedict then spent two years as abbot of the monastery at Canterbury before that role was taken over by Archbishop Theodore's companion Abbot Hadrian.

England at the time was still in the process of healing the breach between the Irish adherents of St Columba and the Anglo-Saxons, and St Benedict Biscop was firmly in the Roman party as a friend of the inimitable St Wilfrid (look him up!). In all, Abbot Benedict made six trips to Rome, each time bringing back many books (which he instructed his monks to carefully protect and retain!), relics, statues, icons, fabulous silks, and skilled workers.

Liturgy and Gregorian chant

On one of last of these trips, around 680 AD, for example he brought back a monk, Abbot John, to teach the chant for the liturgical year as it was done at Rome (and probably also do a bit of politicking on behalf of the Pope), teaching the locals "the theory and practice of singing and reading aloud, and he put into writing all that was necessary for the proper observance of festivals throughout the year."  It is worth noting that Constant Mews of Monash University has found some evidence that St Peter's at that time was essentially using the Benedictine Office.

In any case, chant workshops were as popular then as they are now it seems - 'proficient singers from nearly all the monasteries of the province' came to hear him; he received many invitations to teach elsewhere; and Abbot John's document detailing the proper observances for various feasts was, according to St Bede, copied for many other places.

Books

This St Benedict was keenly aware of the tradition of learning in the Order (possibly encouraged by his time at Lerins, which had always been something of a theological school producing many bishops). The library (and scriptorium) he assembled at Wearmouth was one of the largest then around, with over three hundred books, including many manuscripts rescued from Cassiodorus' fifth century attempt to preserve classical culture at the Vivarium (not least the Bible 'pandect' produced their, which in turn formed the basis for the Codex Amiatinus, probably the earliest surviving complete Bible).

Sacred art and architecture

Similarly, when Abbot Benedict built his own monastery at the invitation of King Egfrith of Northumbria, no effort was spared. St Bede wrote:

"After the interval of a year, Benedict crossed the sea into Gaul, and no sooner asked than he obtained and carried back with him some masons to build him a church in the Roman style, which he had always admired. ...When the work was drawing to completion, he sent messengers to Gaul to fetch makers of glass, (more properly artificers,) who were at this time unknown in Britain, that they might glaze the windows of his church, with the cloisters and dining-rooms. This was done, and they came, and not only finished the work required, but taught the English nation their handicraft, which was well adapted for enclosing the lanterns of the church, and for the vessels required for various uses.

All other things necessary for the service of the church and the altar, the sacred vessels, and the vestments, because they could not be procured in England, he took especial care to buy and bring home from foreign parts.

Some decorations and muniments there were which could not be procured even in Gaul, and these the pious founder determined to fetch from Rome..."

A holy death

St Benedict Biscop spent the last three years of his life paralysed by an illness:

"..yet he never lost his cheerfulness, nor ceased to praise God and exhort the brethren. He was often troubled by sleepless nights, when, to alleviate his weariness, he would call one of his monks and desire to have read to him the story of the patience of Job, or some other passage of scripture by which a sick man might be comforted, or one bent down by infirmities might be more spiritually raised to heavenly things.

Nor did he neglect the regular hours of prayer, but as he was unable to rise from his bed to prayer and could scarcely raise his voice in praise, he would call some of the brethren to him that they might sing the psalms in two choirs, he himself joining with them to the best of his ability."

He died early on this day in 689, surrounded by his brethren, and was buried in the Church he had founded, surrounded by the treasures that he had collected.

Prayer options for the Stealth Hermitess (and others) - Offices of the religious orders Part II

In my last post in this I talked about the value of the (traditional) Offices of the religious orders.

There is a key question around these Offices though, namely can just anyone say them?

In this post I will go into a bit of the history, and sketch out the competing positions on the answer.

Warning: this is a rather technical post and many may prefer to remain in invincible ignorance on this topic!  I would also add that I am not a canon lawyer or expert on liturgical law, so my opinions on this issue are just that, they have no particular weight.

Offices of religious orders as a devotion vs as liturgy

The first point to note is that anyone clearly can say these Offices as a devotion.

The Offices of religious orders have clearly been approved by the Church at one point or another, so there is absolutely nothing harmful in them; quite the contrary, the prayers and other components of these Offices are a treasure that deserves to be appreciated.

But can laypeople legitimately pray them as the official prayer of the Church?

The answer is not at clear cut as it turns out.

A little history

The problem is that before Vatican II, who had the right to say the Divine Office of a religious order was very tightly regulated indeed, and typically restricted to religious in solemn vows, or on the path to them.

Before Trent

Prior to the Council of Tent, a wide variety of different forms of the Office existed and their were few if any rules on who could say what.  So far as the laity went, the Office they said seems, as far as I can gather, have been largely dictated by where they lived: if your parish church was a monastery or was run by a monastery you probably got some form of the monastic office or office of the religious order in charge; if your parish was secular you probably attended the Roman Office and/or the Little Office of Our Lady.  In addition, there were a wide variety of votive offices in books of hours that appear to have been used.

The seventeenth century and after

After Trent that changed in several fundamental ways.  First, the clergy and religious, but not the laity, were formally delegated to say the Office.  The net result of this was that laypeople saying the Office by themselves were no longer deemed to be praying liturgically. Secondly, instead of the Office universally being sung, like the Mass it became able to be said silently.  Where once priests typically sung a large proportion of their Offices in Church with a congregation, it increasingly became a private affair. Thirdly, much tighter controls over the Office were imposed, with the breviaries of the religious orders now having to receive papal approval rather than essentially being an affair largely dictated by the Order, Congregation or individual monastery.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the controls became even tighter, and many Benedictine nuns running schools and other active apostolates found themselves deemed 'mere oblates', and were forced to choose between abandoning their livelihoods or being deprived of the right to say the full Office.  Oblates and Third Order members (and others) were generally not permitted to use the full Divine Offices of the religious orders; instead they typically said the Little Office of Our Lady of their Order.

From the late nineteenth century onwards, a series of individual indults provided that priest-oblates/third order members could satisfy their obligation to say the Office by using the Office of their Order.  It was a very limited permission though - for private recitation only, rather than with a group, and in the case of the Benedictines, even that was not granted until 1947.

Vatican II and after

All that changed though, with Vatican II and subsequent legislation, which firstly decreed that the various Little Offices (provided they had psalms as their basis) could constitute liturgical prayer; extended the delegation to pray the Office liturgically to the laity; and largely 'deregulated' control over the Office to the Orders themselves.

The 1979 Thesaurus for Benedictines and subsequent Directory and Directive Norms, for example, effectively gave individual monasteries the right to construct their own forms of the Office (albeit within certain limits, providing they adhered to the 1972 calendar approved for the Benedictine Confederation).

And of course, since then, Unversae Ecclesiae has made it clear that the 1962 books can also be used by members of religious orders.

Who can use the traditional Offices of religious orders?

Yet though Universae Ecclesiae made the position clear for professed members of religious orders, it did not actually specifically address the issue of third order/oblates, or the laity more generally, and the situation for these groups is, I think, pretty unclear.

Let me note that private and public associations of the faithful on the path to becoming religious institutes are, I think, in a different position which will depend on their statutes; for the purpose of this post I'm just talking about the laity.

There are, I think, four possible positions on the right to pray the traditional (1962) Office of a religious order liturgically:

Position 1: The narrow view - Only those previously covered by indults (such as priest Oblates) can use them to pray the office liturgically, on the basis of the previous indults;
Position 2:  With the permission of the monastery -  Individual monasteries or orders can give oblates/third order members permission to use their Offices, consonant with their role in forming the spirituality of the members of these associations under the Code of Canon Law;
Position 3 - All oblates - Any oblate or third order member can use the Office of the Order they are associated with; or
Position 4 - Anyone can pray these Offices.

Personally I now lean towards position 3, but I can see the arguments for a broader view.

Let's go through the arguments.

1. The narrow view - priest-oblates only

A narrow reading of the Universae Ecclesiae would seem restrict the permission to use the 1962 books strictly to professed religious, since paragraph 34 talks about 'Sodalibus Ordinum Religiosorum'.

Though many oblates, for example, like to claim the title 'OSB Obl.' the reality is that oblates and (secular) third orders are not actually technically 'sodales', or members of the religious order in question.  Rather they are members of public associations of the faithful associated with the religious order (or monastery in the case of Benedictines) in question (1983 Code of Canon Law, 303, 311).

However, pretty much everything I've found on this topic agrees that this is too narrow a reading of the document.

In particular, Universae Ecclesiae makes it clear that although the books are to be used as they stood in 1962 (ie in Latin and according to the pertinent rubrics), it also says that "With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies."  Since the indults for priest-Oblates/Third Order members reflected the fact that before the Vatican II, aside from religious, only priests could pray the Office liturgically; with the extension of that right to all the faithful, the previous restrictions make no sense.

Moreover, in contrast to most Orders, the 1963 Benedictine books were never actually suppressed, and continue to be used in many monasteries, albeit with assorted adaptations, right up to the present, so arguably wasn't covered by Universae Ecclesiae in any case (except by extension).

2.  Up to the individual monastery or Order

A second possibility is that it is up to individual religious orders (or in the case of Benedictines Congregations/monasteries) to decide what Office those affiliated with them should be encouraged to say.

On the face of it this seems like a reasonable position to take, but the possible outcomes would surely be contrary to the spirit, even if not the letter of Universae Ecclesiae.  It would mean that an Order like the Dominicans couldn't at least in theory, stop its professed members from using the traditional Office, but could stop its third order members from doing so.  That would appear to be a perverse outcome indeed.

And while more of a case for this approach could perhaps be made for Benedictines, where Oblates in theory at least seek to share the spirituality of the particular monastery they are associated with, the whole point of Summorum Pontificum and the subsequent clarifications was to reopen access to the Catholic patrimony.  It would surely be contrary to the intention of the legislation to deny oblates the right to enjoy the patrimony of the Order they have chosen to be associated with.

So while individual monasteries/orders certainly can give their oblates/seculars explicit permission to use the traditional Office, presumably using whatever version of the rubrics they use themselves, there is a good case, in my view, for a wider view.

3.  All oblates/third order members

This position is essentially that all third order members and equivalents have the right to say the traditional (1962) Office of their Order privately (but not publicly in the absence of religious).  This is the position that Fr Augustine Thompson OP, for example, has taken in relation to the Dominican Office.

I have to admit that this is the position that I had always assumed applied, and am still fairly attracted to, though I can see the case for a broader view.

The advantage of this position is that it preserves the traditional idea that the liturgy of the religious orders pertains to those orders, while recognising the change in status of third order members when it comes to the liturgy.

It is obviously consonant with the supervisory role of the various orders to provide assistance to third order and equivalent members - for example in the form of websites, podcasts and editions of liturgical books - to assist in this.  But doesn't fundamentally undermine the idea that a rite or use is intended to be used by a specific group of people officially recognised as associated with that particular spirituality.

I find myself quite uncomfortable, for example, with an Australian group that is currently holding a  retreat using (as far as I can gather) the Benedictine Office and a pseudo-monastic horarium, but without, at least as far as I can ascertain, actually having any monks or nuns present to lead the affair (maybe they do though, and are just not advertising the fact; I'm simply using the example to illustrate the point).

In this particular case, the group evidently has some level of ecclesiastical approval, and no doubt a number of those present are Oblates, but does this approach mean a group could, for example, could set up an association dedicated to, say, the Sarum Rite, and lead a revival of its practices?  If so, let's do it!

4.  Anyone can say the (approved form of the) Office of a religious order

In any case, the group mentioned above are probably not alone in taking a more open view as to who can say these forms of the liturgy.

I have to admit that I have, in the past, assumed, as it turns out quite incorrectly, that those using this site were generally oblates.

Instead, a survey of those who took my recent course on the Benedictine Office, has proven me wrong on this front with many people indicating that they were attracted to the Benedictine Office because of its traditional nature and relatively accessible support resources, rather than being attracted, initially at least, to Benedictine spirituality per se.

Accordingly, I've been prodded to do a bit more digging, and  it has to be said that the current Code of Canon Law, and General Guidelines on the Liturgy of the Hours do seem to imply a much less restrictive view of the subject.

Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, for example, priests were strictly restricted to using their own rite.  Under the 1983 Code, the restriction applies to the celebration of the sacraments only, not other liturgical functions such as the Divine Office.

Similarly, under the current Code Catholics have the right to join in the worship (though not necessarily to formally be enrolled as a member) of any Catholic Church, regardless of what rite it is using.  Indeed, the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours explicitly provides that celebration in common of another use satisfies any obligation to say the Office:
241. The office in choir and in common is to be celebrated according to the proper calendar of the diocese, of the religious family, or of the individual churches. Members of religious institutes join with the community of the local Church in celebrating the dedication of the cathedral and the feasts of the principal patrons of the place and of the wider geographical region in which they live. 
242. When clerics or religious who are obliged under any title to pray the divine office join in an office celebrated in common according to a calendar or rite different from their own, they fulfill their obligation in respect to the part of the office at which they are present.
The key basis for a much broader view, though, is probably Canon 214 of the 1983 Code which provides that:
Christ's faithful have the right to worship God according to the provisions of their own rite (iuxta praescripta proprii ritus) approved by the lawful Pastors of the Church; they also have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life, provided it is in accord with Church teaching.
The Offices of the religious orders are generally considered to be uses of the Roman Rite, rather than different rites per se (regardless of what they are called; one doesn't formally transfer between rites when one becomes a Dominican for example, you just acquire the right to use an alternate use of the Roman Rite), so it can be argued that these books do meet the requirement here.  Moreover the right to follow one's own form of spiritual life is arguably closely bound up in the Office for many people.

Another point in favour of the broadest view is that in the wake of Vatican II, religious Orders were actively encouraged to share their liturgy, and many did so.  If we don't take the broad view, who precisely, for example, are the resources published by the Carthusians, who have no third order or (at least back then) associated lay group, intended for?

The real problem for many is, I think, a practical one: we instinctively find the current Roman Liturgy of the Hours' totally inadequate, even subversive of the faith, for reasons many others have laid out in depth.  The  century old 1962 Roman Office though, is equally unsatisfactory in many ways, and expensive and hard to access to boot.  In the absence of  good alternatives, are we seeing the Sensus Fidelium at work?

Regardless, let me make one last point.  Even if we don't technically have the right to say a particular form of the Office, that doesn't mean we aren't praying it liturgically: if a priest says Mass in a rite not his own, for example, it is still valid, just not 'licit'.  A similar situation may well apply in the case of the Office...