Benedictine Office tips 1: The Collect

I thought I'd start an occasional new series for the benefit of those who are learning to say the traditional Benedictine Office, just focusing on those key things that people often get confused about, particularly when starting out.  Today, the collect in the Office.

Which prayer to use?

If you learning to say the Office, working out which collect, or prayer, to use at the conclusion of each hour is important, because it is one of the things that is not set out in the 'psalter' section of most Office books and generally has to be found elsewhere.

Indeed, to know which collect to use, you will generally need to consult an Ordo, or liturgical calendar, such as the one provided on this blog.  Still, there are some simple rules that will help you get it right, or work it out for yourself.

Fixed collects

The easiest collects to get right and those that are pretty much fixed, namely:
  • the collects for Prime and Compline, which are the same every day, with a few notable exceptions (viz, Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday and All Souls Days);
  • the collect for the Office of Our Lady on Saturday, used from Matins to None on every Saturday that is Class IV (ie not a feastday or during Advent or Lent).
Similarly, on saints feast days - that is days labelled Class III, Class II or Class I in the calendar - the collect will be that of the feast at all of the hours except Prime and Compline.  If you keep a ribbon in the 'saints section' of the Diurnal, you should be able to keep track of these (note though that memorials only affect Lauds, so I will deal with them separately).

It is also worth noting that where a feast is first class, it will generally have a  'I Vespers' (just as Sundays do) and the collect at that previous day's Vespers will be for the feast.

Throughout the year - default to Sunday!

On days that aren't feastdays, for most the year (ie in time throughout the year) the normal default is to use the collect of the Sunday. 

During the week, it is the collect of the previous Sunday; at Saturday Vespers (ie I Vespers of Sunday), it is the collect for the next day.

The collects are provided in the Diurnal and breviaries in the front section of the book, listed according to the Sunday of the year.  Indeed, the collect used in the Office is typically the same as the collect used in the Extraordinary Form Mass.   And if you normally attend an OF Mass, you could legitimately substitute in the collect from that Mass in its place (the problem with doing that is that the Sunday Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons should also match up with the OF Gospel.  Official versions of them are available in Latin, in the new Monastic Antiphonale put out by Solesmes).

That means of course, that you need to keep track of what Sunday it is!  If you don't have access to an Ordo of some kind, you can (with some effort) work it out for yourself by using the table of  'moveable feasts' in the front matter of the Diurnal and counting Sundays. 

When things get more complicated....

The exceptions to the 'use Sunday's' collect rule are:
  • as previously suggested, feasts of saints;
  • certain 'moveable feasts' included in the front section of the Diurnal and breviary, such as Corpus Christi, assorted Ember Days and the like; and
  • times of the year when the liturgy becomes more intense, such as Advent and Lent.
Hope this helps rather than confuses!

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