Today's section of the Rule looks at the structure and content of Lauds on ferial days, or days throughout the week.
Caput XIII: Privatis diebus qualiter agantur matutini
Diebus autem privatis Matutinorum sollemnitas ita agatur: id est, ut sexagesimus sextus psalmus dicatur sine antiphona, subtrahendo modice sicut Dominica, ut omnes occurrant ad quinquagesimum, qui cum antiphona dicatur. Post quem alii duo psalmi dicantur secundum consuetudinem: id est, secunda feria quintus et trigesimus quintus, tertia feria quadragesimus secundus et quinquagesimus sextus, quarta feria sexagesimus tertius et sexagesimus quartus, quinta feria octogesimus septi-mus et octogesimus nonus, sexta feria septuagesimus quintus et nonagesimus primus, sabbato autem centesimus quadragesimus secundus et canticum Deuteronomium, quod dividatur in duas Glorias. Nam ceteris diebus canticum unumquodque die suo ex prophetis, sicut psallit Ecclesia Romana, dicantur. Post haec sequantur Laudes; deinde lectio una apostoli memoriter recitanda, respon-sorium, ambrosianum, versu, canticum de 'Evangelia', litania, et completum est.
Chapter 13: How Lauds shall be said on ordinary days
On ordinary days Lauds shall be celebrated in the following manner: let the sixty-sixth psalm be said without an antiphon and somewhat slowly, as on Sunday, in order that all may assemble in time for the fiftieth, which should be said with an antiphon.
After this let two other psalms be said according to custom: that is, on Monday the fifth and thirty-fifth; on Tuesday the forty-second and fifty-sixth; on Wednesday the sixty-third and sixty-fourth; on Thursday the eighty-seventh and eighty-ninth; on Friday the seventy-fifth and ninety-first; and on Saturday the hundred and forty-second and the canticle from Deuteronomy, which must be divided into two parts.
But on the other days let there be a canticle from the prophets, each on its own day, according to the custom of the Roman church. After that let the Laudate psalms follow; then a lesson from the apostle to be said by heart, the responsory, the hymn, the versicle, the canticle from the Gospels, the Kyrie eleison, and so the end.
The hour of Lauds is absolutely central to St Benedict's construction of the Office, reflecting two key principles, namely repetition each day of certain key psalms, and secondly (more controversially) the progression of the week according to a thematic program.
The value of repetition
These days we tend to shy away from repetition, preferring instead novelty! Yet repetition of key messages is a central feature of St Benedict's Office. Indeed, the fixed psalms and canticle of Lauds make up well over half of the verses said at this hour each day.
The twentieth century saw a rejection of the value of repetition in the liturgy, reflected in the reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X, and then in the reforms of the Mass of Vatican II. But modern liturgists, following the work of people such as Dom Gerard Calvet of Le Barroux and theologian Catherine Pitstock, are starting to rediscover the importance of repetition in the process of building up and reinforcing those spiritual walls that protect us from the enemy. The new English translation of the Mass has even seen the reintroduction of some of those much despised repetitions.
In the case of the Benedictine Office, the fixed psalms I think, very much reflect St Benedict's core spirituality and are meant to be memorized and internalized, and repeated over and over so that they truly become automatic to our thinking.
The hour starts each day by asking for God’s blessing and grace (Psalm 66), echoing that call in the first section of the Prologue of the Rule that before undertaking any good work, we ask God to perfect it.
In Psalm 50 we express our repentance and dependence on God, again reflecting that call to return to him from whom we have strayed from by the sloth of disobedience.
And the hour ends in the Laudate psalms (148-150).
Abbot Lawrence of Christ in the Desert argues for the importance of this repetition:
"It is important that we notice the repetitions that occur in the Divine Office. If we follow the Divine Office exactly as it is outline in the Rule of Benedict, we will end up with praying about 279 Psalms in a week because of the repetitions…Saint Benedict knows that the Divine Office is longer because of repetitions but he still seems to like them because certain Psalms add a distinctive flavor, at least to some of the Divine Offices. Is there any value in repetition? Certainly! It is the principal element of the Divine Office because every week we repeat the same Psalms. Over many years of monastic life, we can come to know most of the Psalms by heart. Saint Benedict would have presumed that every monk would know the entire Book of Psalms by heart and probably also all of the New Testament."
St Benedict also sets out, in this chapter, the variable content of the hour, in the canticles, imported from the Roman Office, and the two variable psalms.
It is often suggested that the Benedictine Office does not have any thematic unity or underlying program. I don't agree. My thesis is that St Benedict has shaped the variable psalm cursus quite carefully in order to provide thematic links that flow largely from the program set up by the canticles, a view I might add, that I'm finding some support for in the medieval literature. Note here that I am talking about the 'ferial' canticles - the festal ones are a much later addition to the Office.
I'll say more on the programmatic dimension of the Benedictine Office later in this series in the context of the rest of St Benedict's psalm cursus. Still, I do want to suggest that St Benedict sets out these provisions for Lauds here rather than later in order to stress their centrality, their role as a key to the whole Office. So do take a close look at those ferial canticles, and keep an ear our for the connections to (some of ) the psalms of the day for yourself!
The Saturday ferial canticle
There is one other point worth noting in relation to the 1962 Office in particular, relating to the Saturday canticle.
St Benedict specifies it should be divided, and in the 1962 breviary, but not for some reason, the Diurnal, it is. But even in the Monastic Breviary, the canticle as it appears in the 1962 Office has been drastically cut, the victim, it would appear, of revisionist liturgical butchery: in its full form it amounts to some 65 verses. By contrast, the 27 verses included in the 1962 version don’t even take us up to the divisio point in the older version of the Office!
Reading it one can see why modernists might bulk at it, since it falls into that Old Testament of hard – but important – sayings. After chronicling the infidelity of the people, it promises judgment.
Yet the full version of the canticle has been retained (at least for some times of the year) in the traditional Roman Office, and is worth a good read or two!
The next part of this series can be found here.