October 31: I will please the Lord in the land of the living....


c15th illuminaton of Office of the Dead

Today is the eve of All Saints, aka Halloween, a night when traditionally the veil between heaven, hell, purgatory and earth was thought to thin. 

Medieval sermon collections and other works directed at the laity are full of stories of the dead appearing on this night to beg desperately for prayers to free them, as well as of demons and those in hell acting to scare us back to an awareness of the reality of the supernatural world. 

These days there are endless debates amongst Catholics infected by political correctness as to the appropriateness/catholicity of Halloween celebrations. Personally, I'm with those who think we do need a reminder of the reality of death, demons and the workers of evil....

So how should we respond to this annual reminder?

The Office of the Dead

Well getting ready to say the Office of the Dead regularly through November would be one excellent way.

'I will please the Lord in the land of the living' is the antiphon, taken from Psalm 114, that opens Vespers in the Office of the Dead (the Office of the Dead, remember consists of I Vespers, Matins and Lauds).  In fact Vespers of the Dead consists of Psalms 114, 119, 120, 129, and 137.

The antiphon is a prompt to do good works while we still can, and thus accumulate merit, as well as teaching that praying for the dead is something that pleases God.

If you say the Office regularly using the Diurnal, you will say the psalms and prayers of the Office of the Dead at least twice during November anyway, on All Souls and All Souls of the Benedictine Order.  So why not say one or more hours of it more a few more times, on behalf of your dead family and friends, and the souls in purgatory more generally?  Note that there is a partial indulgence attached to saying either Lauds or Vespers of this Office...

How to say the Office of the Dead

I've previously written about the rules around when the Office of the Dead can or should be said here.  And I've posted on the rubrics for the Office.

For those interested in penetrating the meaning of the psalms, and understanding the Latin of that Office in more depth, over at Psallam Domino I'm currently working through Psalm 22 (The Lord is my shepherd), said at Matins, verse by verse.  I then plan to move onto Vespers, looking at Psalm 114 in particular.

October 30: Feast of Christ the King, Class I



The Feast of Christ the King is in fact a very recent feast, insituted through Quas Primas by Pope Pius XI in 1925. 

Here are some extracts from the Encyclical explaining the basis of it:

"...these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord. We were led in the meantime to indulge the hope of a brighter future at the sight of a more widespread and keener interest evinced in Christ and his Church, the one Source of Salvation, a sign that men who had formerly spurned the rule of our Redeemer and had exiled themselves from his kingdom were preparing, and even hastening, to return to the duty of obedience....

It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of "King," because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign "in the hearts of men," both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his "charity which exceedeth all knowledge." And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ. But if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father "power and glory and a kingdom," since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.

Do we not read throughout the Scriptures that Christ is the King?...Moreover, Christ himself speaks of his own kingly authority: in his last discourse, speaking of the rewards and punishments that will be the eternal lot of the just and the damned; in his reply to the Roman magistrate, who asked him publicly whether he were a king or not; after his resurrection, when giving to his Apostles the mission of teaching and baptizing all nations, he took the opportunity to call himself king, confirming the title publicly, and solemnly proclaimed that all power was given him in heaven and on earth. These words can only be taken to indicate the greatness of his power, the infinite extent of his kingdom...

Let Us explain briefly the nature and meaning of this lordship of Christ. It consists, We need scarcely say, in a threefold power which is essential to lordship. This is sufficiently clear from the scriptural testimony already adduced concerning the universal dominion of our Redeemer, and moreover it is a dogma of faith that Jesus Christ was given to man, not only as our Redeemer, but also as a law-giver, to whom obedience is due. Not only do the gospels tell us that he made laws, but they present him to us in the act of making them. Those who keep them show their love for their Divine Master, and he promises that they shall remain in his love. He claimed judicial power as received from his Father, when the Jews accused him of breaking the Sabbath by the miraculous cure of a sick man. "For neither doth the Father judge any man; but hath given all judgment to the Son."[26] In this power is included the right of rewarding and punishing all men living, for this right is inseparable from that of judging. Executive power, too, belongs to Christ, for all must obey his commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions he has imposed.

This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things..."

If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society....The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences...the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.

We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his rights.

When we pay honor to the princely dignity of Christ, men will doubtless be reminded that the Church, founded by Christ as a perfect society, has a natural and inalienable right to perfect freedom and immunity from the power of the state; and that in fulfilling the task committed to her by God of teaching, ruling, and guiding to eternal bliss those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, she cannot be subject to any external power... Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ."

October 28: SS Simon and Jude, Class II


Today's feast celebrates two of the Apostles, Simon the Zealot (icon at the left left), and St Jude (best known as patron of hopeless causes, pictured below).  Their feast day is the same because they formed an evangelizing team. After evangelizing in Egypt, Simon joined Jude in Persia and they were martyred together in Armenia.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "the name of Simon occurs in all the passages of the Gospel and Acts, in which a list of the Apostles is given. To distinguish him from St. Peter he is called (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18) Kananaios, or Kananites, and Zelotes (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Both surnames have the same signification and are a translation of the Hebrew qana (the Zealous). The name does not signify that he belonged to the party of Zealots, but that he had zeal for the Jewish law, which he practised before his call. Jerome and others wrongly assumed that Kana was his native place; were this so, he should have been called Kanaios."

St Jude (aka Thaddeus) was a son of Mary Clopas, a sister of the Virgin Mary.
The two saints were martyred around 65 AD in Beirut, and their acts and martyrdom were recorded in an Acts of Simon and Jude that was among the collection of passions and legends translated into Latin.  Sometime after his death, Saint Jude's body was brought and placed in a crypt in St. Peter's Basilica.

October 23: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Fourth of October



At Matins this Sunday the Scripture readings are from chapter I of the second book of Maccabees, which starts with a copy of a letter explaining what the book is about. The key verses around that used for the Magnificat antiphon (verse 5) at I Vespers on Saturday runs as follows:

“To the brethren, the Jews that are throughout Egypt; the brethren, the Jews that are in Jerusalem, and in the land of Judea, send health and good peace. May God be gracious to you, and remember his covenant that he made with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, his faithful servants: And give you all a heart to worship him, and to do his will with a great heart, and a willing mind. May he open your heart in his law, and in his commandments, and send you peace. May he hear your prayers, and be reconciled unto you, and never forsake you in the evil time. And now here we are praying for you.”

The Gospel this week, referred to by the canticle antiphons, is Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding feast.

October 16: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Class II /Third Sunday of October

The first nocturn readings at Matins this Sunday are from 1 Maccabees 9:1 – 20, which deals with Judas Maccabeus’ heroic last stand against Bacchides: confronted with the size of the enemy force, many of his men deserted; Judas insisted on taking the field nonetheless. The antiphon for the Magnificat at I Vespers recalls Israel’s mourning for him.

Austrian, 1897

In the Office for this Sunday, the canticle antiphons refer to the Gospel, Matthew Chapter 9:1-8. Jesus first forgives the sins of the paralytic, prompting accusations of blasphemy, and then physically heals him.

St Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church: October 15


Today is the feast day of St Teresa of Avila, founder of the Discalced Carmelites.

Teresian monastic theology always seems to me to be, in many respects diametrically opposed to Benedictine: the choral Office plays a much smaller role in Carmelite life; the love of learning is not a noticeable feature of the spirituality, displaced by a more structured approach to meditation; Carmelites are hermits in community rather than cenobites per se; the Teresian attitude to debate and obedience within the monastery is much more absolutist than the Benedictine; and the approach to enclosure much stricter. 

Others, though, do find ways to combine the two spiritualities, and her doctrine of mystical prayer has been extraordinarily influential, and her Life and major works such as The Interior Castle should be on everyone's essential spiritual reading list.

October 9: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost/Second Sunday of October/28th of Ordinary Time



The first Nocturn readings at Matins are from I Maccabees.

The Gospel this Sunday in the Extraordinary Form (and 1962 Office), to which the canticle antiphons refer, is Matthew 22: 34-46, when the Pharisees ask Our Lord which is the greatest commandment, and he replies with the exhortation to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and goes on to give a short exposition of the Christological meaning of Psalm 110, said at Sunday Vespers.

In the Ordinary Form, the Gospel is St Matthew 22:1-14, the man invited to the wedding who comes without the proper garment.

How do you choose which form of the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours to say? Part I - Introduction


c15th book of hours

Many people become interested at one point or another, in saying some or all of the Divine Office (aka Liturgy of the Hours). 

And rightly so, since it is an important part of the patrimony of our faith, a continuous tradition of prayer that reaches back to the earliest years of Christianity, and provides access to the great prayerbook of the Church, the psalms.

But which one?

When you start looking for books or websites to aid you though, there are a bewildering array of options to choose from. And as learning the Office actually involves quite a lot of effort (and potentially cost in buying books) you don't want to make too many wrong choices!

So how do you decide which one you should be saying?

I want to start a little series here that aims to help you through the process of choosing an appropriate form of the Office for you and thus hopefully minimising the time and cost involved.

And I should start by thanking members of the Trad Ben yahoo group who provided some comments a while back on this subject that I intend to draw on heavily.

But first a few basics....

What is the Divine Office?

The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours as it is known in the Ordinary Form, is, just like the Mass, part of the Church's public prayer, its liturgy.  There are a number of different versions of the Office - the 1970 Liturgy of the Hours and the 1962 Roman Breviary being the main ones.  But there are also many (mainly traditional) versions of the Office associated with individual religious Orders, such as the Benedictine and Dominican, as well as popular forms of it using a much smaller number of psalms (such as the Office of the Dead and the Little Office of Our Lady).

Like the Mass, each officially approved form of the Office has approved texts and associated requirements for it to be said validly (ie as liturgical prayer, the public worship of God) and licitly (according to law).

Like the Mass it is intended to be said (or rather sung in the case of the Office) in a church accompanied by appropriate ritual as befitting the highest form of prayer offered by the Church.

Where it differs from the Mass, however, is that although it is preferable that it be said by a group of people in a Church, led by a cleric (or group of religious in the case of the Office), it can also validly be said (in accordance with a permission granted following Vatican II) by groups of laypeople, or even by individuals alone. 

Indeed, these days, most priests and religious (who are required to say the Office everyday) are far more likely to say it by themselves than 'in choir' or 'in common'. 

And the flexibility this implies makes it a very attractive option for people who want to increase their prayer commitment in a way that links closely to the Mass, and join themselves to the public prayer of the Church.

The Office as a devotion

It is worth noting though, that though the Divine Office is part of the liturgical prayer of the Church, it can also be said devotionally, giving it the same (lesser) status as the rosary and other acts of piety.  And there are a number of 'Offices' which were always intended solely to be said as devotions rather than as part of the official prayer of the Church.

In part this is because of history: prior to the Council of Trent there were few restrictions on the laity saying the Divine Office.  Most priests in parish churches, as well as monasteries, sang the hours publicly everyday.  But many people said them privately as well, the reason why 'Books of Hours' were amongst the most popular books of the Middle Ages.

The need to counter widespread heresy, however, led to the introduction of much tighter controls over liturgical texts, as well as the decision to restrict the 'delegation' to say the Office (the Church can decide who can say its public prayers on behalf of us all) to clerics and religious (monks and nuns).  Laypeople could still say the Office - but only as a devotion.

The result was, particularly in association with the liturgical movement in the early twentieth century, the development of a large number of devotional 'short offices', intended solely for the laity.  An example is the relatively recent Benedictine Daily Prayer A Short Breviary, but there are many others around.

That all changed with Vatican II, with Sacrosanctum Concilium urging a recovery of the Church's longer tradition of the Office as a liturgical prayer involving the laity as well as priests and religious.  The Council (and subsequent law) removed the restriction of the formal delegation to say the Office to clerics and religious, allowing laypeople also to say it liturgically. 

Unfortunately, in my view at least, as with so much else of the positives that can be found in the texts of Vatican II, its laudable  objective of reopening the Office to the laity was largely sabotaged by the botched job of reform represented by the 1970 Liturgy of the Hours.

Yet despite the problems associated with the Liturgy of the Hours, there has been something of a revival of interest in the Office on the part of the laity, not least (perhaps somewhat ironically depending on your attitude to the pastoral decision made at Trent and in its wake) amongst the more traditionally inclined.  As a result, an increasing number of new editions or reprints of various traditional forms of the Office are becoming increasingly available.

A disclaimer

This website is of course dedicated to the traditional form of the Benedictine Office said according to the 1962 rubrics, which is my favourite form of the Divine Office.  So my comments will of course to some extent be biased towards this option!

But I, like most people, only arrived at this preference by a process of experimentation, and I am perfectly well aware that my preference is shaped by a number of particular factors - the amount of time I have to devote to the Office, my preference for the Latin, and my attraction to Benedictine spirituality in particular.  Accordingly, in the course of this series I will try to make it clear why some other options may suit others better.  Just keep in mind my possible biases on this subject...

More soon.

October 3: St Thérèse of Lisieux, Memorial

St Teresa of the Child Jesus, better known today as Therese of Lisieux or the Little Flower was born at Alençon, France, on 2 January, 1873 and died at Lisieux 30 September, 1897.

The ninth child of the family, she was fifteen when she first applied for permission to enter the Carmelite Convent. When initially refused on the ground of age, she went to Rome to seek the consent of Pope Leo XIII. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, and the release of her autobiography led to the rapid spread of her cult. She was declared a doctor of the Church in 1997.

Change of hymn....

Just a reminder that from this Sunday, the Office hymns for Matins and Lauds on Sunday change to Primo Dierum and Aeterne Rerum Conditor respectively.

And don't forget that you can listen to Lauds (as well as Vespers and occasionally Compline) sung by the monks of Norcia by downloading and playing or saving the recordings from their website (if time zone considerations mean it is going to appear too late on the site, save the week before's ready for use, and it will be fine except for the canticle antiphons on Sunday and the collect, provided no feasts intervene!).  Note that they also provide a weekly Ordo with page references to the Graduale (for Mass) and Antiphonale Monasticum...

In the meantime, here is the Carthusian chant version of Aeterne Rerum for your enjoyment.

October 1-2: First Sunday of October/Sixteenth after Pentecost


Alexander the Great,
Mosaic from Pompei
Matins this Sunday moves to 1 Maccabees (the subject of the Magnificat antiphon for I Vespers), which opens with an explanation for the hellenization of the Middle East as a result of the conquests of Alexander the Great.

c10th
 Reichenau-Oberzell
This Sunday's Gospel is St Luke 14:1-11: Jesus heals a man with dropsy (Benedictus antiphon) and tells a parable about taking the lowest seat at a wedding feast (Magnificat antiphon).