Monday, March 18, 2024

The Office in Passiontide

Just a reminder that from Sunday, we are now in the season of Passiontide.

That means that the 'Ordinary' (antiphons, chapters, versicles, responsories, hymns and so forth) are of the season of Passiontide, not Lent, while the canticle antiphons and collects are of the day of Passiontide.

One of the most distinctive  aspects of the season is the omission of the doxologies in the responsories, and for the invitatory at Matins.Where the Passiontide day is displaced by a feast (such as St Joseph on March 19, and St Benedict, on March 21), a commemoration of the Passiontide day is made at Lauds and Vespers, by saying the  canticle antiphon of the Passiontide day and hour, versicle (of the season) and collect of the day and hour immediately after the collect of the feast.

The hymn below is sung at Matins and Vespers each day.


The Office during Passiontide


Passiontide (the period up to and including Wednesday in Holy Week) has its own ‘Ordinary’ which can be found in the 'of time' section of an office book.

 At Matins, the Ordinary can be found at NM 278-9:

  • The invitatory antiphon each day is for the season (Hodie si vocem Domini audieritis), and is said without the doxology;
  • The hymn is for the season and is the same each day (Pange lingua);
  • The readings during the week are usually patristic sermons, relating to the Gospel of the Mass set for that day;
  • The responsories omit the doxology, instead simply repeating the response; and
  • The chapter verse for Nocturn II is for the season (Jer 11:18-19).

 The Ordinary for the day hours can be found at MD 240* ff.

 At Prime to None:

  • The antiphons, chapters and versicles are of the season of Passiontide, and can be found in the psalter section; and
  • The collect for Terce to None is the same as for Lauds of that day.

 At Lauds and Vespers:

  • Chapters, hymns, responsories and versicles of the season replace those in the psalter section;
  • The responsories (but not the psalms) omit the Gloria Patri, instead repeating the opening verse;
  • The canticle antiphons are proper for each day. They generally reflect the (EF) Gospel for the day; and
  • There is a specific collect for both Lauds and Vespers each day.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

On the observance of Lent

 Today is Ash Wednesday, and traditionally in monasteries, Chapter 49 of the Benedictine Rule, dealing with the observance of Lent is read, so here it is:

The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance. However, since such virtue is that of few, we advise that during these days of Lent he guard his life with all purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times. This will then be worthily done, if we restrain ourselves from all vices. Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence.

During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God "with the joy of the Holy Ghost" (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter.

Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offereth and let it be done with his approval and blessing; because what is done without permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presumption and vain glory, and not to merit. Therefore, let all be done with the approval of the Abbot.

A few other chapters of the Rule also touch on Lent, covering fasting and additional sacred reading.

St Benedict's contemporary Caesarius of Arles gave a sermon (196) directed at the laity that echoes many of the same themes, so is well worth a read:

Caesarius of Arles' Sermon 196, directed at the laity, provides a useful perspective on the practice of Lent in this period:
My dear brothers and sisters, the season of Lent draws near through God’s mercy. And so I ask you, beloved, that with God’s help we may celebrate these days, which are healthful for the body and medicinal for the soul, in such a holy and spiritual way that our observance of this holy Lent may bring us not to judgement but to perfection. If we act negligently, if we become involved in too many activities, if we do not wish to be chaste, if we do not participate in fasting, vigils, and prayer, if we do not read or listen to others reading the holy Scriptures, then what should have been our medicine is turned into our wounds; what should have been our remedy becomes our judgement.
And so I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to rise up at an early hour for the vigils; gather especially for Terce, Sext, and None. May none remove themselves from this holy work unless sickness, public need, or what is clearly a great necessity occupy them. Nor is it enough that you hear the holy readings only in church; read them at home or have them read by others and gladly listen to them. Recall, my brothers and sisters, what our Lord said, “What will it profit them if they gain the whole world but give up their life?” Especially remember and constantly fear what is written: “The world’s burdens have made them miserable.” And so when at home act in such a way that you do not neglect your soul. Should you be incapable of more, at least try to labour as much for your soul as you do for your body.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, it is by fasting, reading, and prayer that we during these days of Lent should store up food for our souls as if for the whole year. For although you frequently and faithfully hear with God’s help the holy lessons throughout the whole year, during these days we should rest from the waters and waves of this world and have recourse to the port of Lent. Silently and quietly we should receive the holy readings into the receptacle of our hearts. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

1963 vs 1953: To go forward or back?

Apologies for being slow in getting to this final part of my series on the 1953 vs 1963 breviaries, but here it is.  In the last several posts I've pointed out some of the differences between the 1953 and 1963 breviaries, and their relative merits.

So should we go forward, as most of the traditional monasteries are doing, and make judicious amendments to the rubrics and calendar (as would presumably have occurred in the natural course of events, had Vatican II's license to 'experiment' not intervened), or should we, as some are vigorously advocating, revert back to the 1953, or some earlier version of the breviary?

A monastic Office

The first point to make is that when it comes to the Benedictine Office, this is, in the end, a decision for monasteries to make, not laypeople.

While the monastic office is used by many Catholic laypeople, it is, strictly speaking, the form of liturgy approved for the use of member monasteries of the Benedictine Confederation.

Its use by priest oblates was approved in 1948, and, following the publication of successive editions of the Monastic Diurnal from the 1950s onwards, many monasteries now encourage or permit its use by their oblates.

But the 'default' form of the Office for laypeople is the Roman Office, not the Benedictine, so I think a strong case can be made for saying that lay users of the monastic office, whether oblates or not, should accept it as it is set out in the official books, or as modified by the particular monastery to which they are affiliated.

That said, the widespread promotion of the monastic office in recent years by monasteries, in the form of the Monastic Diurnal, podcasts of the Office and more, has introduced many to the Benedictine Office, and so it is inevitable that those who say it will have opinions.

And perhaps it is not altogether inconsistent with the spirit of the Rule for us, as visitors or junior members of the monastic family to offer them, without any particular expectation for how they will be necessarily be accepted.

Monastic considerations vs the secular

A second key point to note is that, in my view at least, the underlying logic of the Roman and Benedictine Offices are fundamentally different.

While it is true that from Trent onwards, the Benedictine Office has largely (been forced to) follow the Roman, this is an aberration, not the norm.

While the two forms of the Office has long interacted and influenced each other, for most of monastic history the two forms have not followed the same rubrics or calendar.

In particular, the Rule has always served as an important reference point for the Benedictine Office, and that has generally been interpreted to mean prioritising the ferial psalm cursus set out in the Rule over the (probably Roman in origin) festal psalms; and the Scriptural cycle over the lives of saints (other than those particular to a monastery or congregation, or location) and other feasts.  

Of course, the extent to which fidelity to the Rule should take precedence over developments in the liturgy and Romanising encroachments has been hotly debated at regular intervals, but the general principle remains.

The deregulation of the liturgy

The third issue concerns the status of the 1963 breviary, and this is something on which I have changed my position.

My previous view was that as the 1963 breviary (based on the1960 calendar and rubrics) is nominally still the normative book for member monasteries of the Benedictine Confederation, we should follow its prescriptions fairly strictly, out of obedience.

In essence, the permission to develop one's own form of the Office granted to monasteries after Vatican II, as made clear by the monastic Thesaurus, was contingent on adoption of the new sanctoral calendar (hence the odd combination, in the traditional Solesmes monasteries, of the 1977 sanctoral calendar and the 1960 temporal).

The use of the liturgy, after all, is regulated by the Church for good reasons, and for Benedictines in particular, obedience is an important virtue!

However, in the last few years quite a few things have changed, and I now think its reasonable to take the view that monasteries using the 1963 breviary as their starting point have the same freedom to make changes to the rubrics that monasteries using the Novus Ordo calendar do.  

My reasoning is as follows.  

First, in the normal course of events, the Benedictine Confederation would surely have made further revisions to fix some of the obvious problems with the 1960 calendar and rubrics.  But because control of the monastic liturgy had effectively been deregulated, leaving control over it to individual monasteries in the expectation that the 1960 books would cease to be used, that never happened.

When the Thesaurus governing the Office for monasteries was published in 1977, after all, the assumption was that monasteries would adopt the new calendar, since the 1960 calendar had been de facto suppressed.  

However, a series of permissions, most particularly the decree Summorum Pontificum (2007) effectively restored the status of the 1960 calendar.  

Accordingly, I think a good case can be made (particularly in the light of later decisions) that monasteries using the 1960 calendar have the same right to design or amend their own Office rubrics (such as restoring 1 Vespers for Class II feasts) as monasteries following the novus ordo calendar in combination with the monastic feasts set out in the Thesaurus (and since supplemented).

Secondly, and perhaps more fundamentally, Cum Sanctissima (2020) effectively unlocked the freeze on the calendar, providing a mechanism for incorporating both newer feasts into the calendar, as well as reviving older ones, at least as Class III feasts, thus granting a lot more flexibility to those starting from the 1960 calendar.

Thirdly, a series of official Ordos for the Extraordinary Form have indicated that there is some room to go further when it comes to reviving older feasts, since one mentioned at least the possibility of marking  the Octave of Corpus Christi where appropriate to local conditions.  And if one can revive one octave, why not others?

All of these decisions provide, I think, a basis for modifying the 1960 calendar and rubrics in ways that can address many of the concerns raised by the 'restore the 54 movement', given the canonical principle that permissions should be interpreted broadly, and the normal principles that allow for some liturgical development.

The case for going forward from 1960

But the key question remains, does the 1960 Office provide a reasonable basis for going forward, or are its changes so radical as to warrant being jettisoned altogether?

I have to say that I don't like the approach of saying we dislike those involved in the reform process, and are suspicious of their motives, and so should therefore reject everything that changed.  

Instead, we should assess the changes made on their merits, in the light of experience in using them.

And my own view remains that there are many good things in the 1960 reforms that are worth retaining, and nothing so bad that it cannot be rectified by judicial modifications of the calendar and rubrics.

In particular:

  • I really much prefer singing the antiphons in full both before and after the psalms, rather than just the incipit (opening words) as was done previously for most hours except on major feasts;
  • I like the fact that the original structure of Prime as set out in the Rule was restored, with Chapter separated out;
  • I support the pruning that occurred of prayers before the hours, preces, suffrages and so forth noting that there is nothing stopping one from using these outside the hours; and
  • I think the attempt to reduce the number of grades of feasts was a move in the right direction, even if the current rules around the four main categories of feasts and days need further changes.
But I'm willing to hear to hear the counter-arguments!

The sanctoral calendar

When it comes to the calendar, I also support the reduction of many feasts to two Nocturns over three, as it is far more consistent with the intent of the Rule. 

First, the number of three nocturn feasts added to the calendar was surely driven by the Roman Office's incentive to avoid the ferial Office in favour of the shorter festal one; for Benedictines though, the incentive is reversed, with the three Nocturn Office being much much longer than the ferial office.

My view, for what it is worth, is that the extra time needed to say the festal Office would be better used to sing more of Matins in chant (rather than recto tono as most monasteries currently do) and ideally to revive the practice of chanting the responsories. 

Secondly, three nocturn feasts, at least under the current rubrics, generally means abandoning the ferial psalm cursus in favour of the Commons or specific festal psalms - but the ferial psalm cursus is the element of the Office that is most distinctively Benedictine, spelt out in the Rule.  

For similar reasons, while the culling of octaves went a long way too far, I don't support their wholesale revival - while marking some feasts on their octave day, or through some texts or commemoration might be appropriate in some cases, pushing out the ancient Matins Scriptural cycle in favour of saints lives, papal or patristic commentaries on particular feasts for large chunks of the year seems to me to distort the original focus of the hour.

What changes would one make to 1963 if it was up to you?

Most of the traditional monasteries have already made a number of changes to the 1963 breviary, for practical or other reasons, including:

  • saying 1 Vespers of Class II feasts and the Office of Our Lady on Saturday;
  • ignoring the cuts and changes to division points in the psalms and canticles; and 
  • restoring selected feasts.
My own view, for what it is worth, is there are a couple of small further rubrical steps worth considering.

I think the remaining distinction between Class I and II feasts, namely the transfer/commemoration rules, make no sense and should be abolished so that the rules for Class I feasts also apply to Class II feasts - it is ridiculous to reduce important feasts to a commemoration if they clash on a Sunday, or sometimes to omit them altogether. It may be that monasteries would still want to make some differentiations between these feasts in terms of the ceremonial they use, but that is easily managed.

And if it really is necessary to have two classes of more solemn feasts, maybe the way to do it would be to retain the ferial psalter (in conjunction with the antiphons of the Common or feast) for the first two Nocturns?

Secondly, where a Class III feast would otherwise have no Vespers at all (because it occurs on a Saturday or before a Class I or II feast, where 1 Vespers of the Sunday or feast has precedence) it should have 1 Vespers and/or be commemorated.

Thirdly, the differentiation between Class III feasts with their own antiphons (where the festal psalms are said at Lauds and Vespers) and Class III feasts without their own antiphons (where the ferial psalms and antiphons are used at Lauds and Vespers, but antiphons of the Commons at Prime to None) seems to me an oddity.  Why not use antiphons of the feast (either specific to the feast or from the Common) at all the day hours, but in conjunction with the ferial psalms?

There are other small things that can be done - the seasonal hymn doxologies should be restored, and the alternative chapter for Prime for example.  But these are easily done without needing a wholesale reversion to an earlier from of the Office.

Forward march!

In conclusion, I hope you have enjoyed this series, and found something of interest in it - and I'm happy to hear other perspectives on the points I've made.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

1953 vs 1963 Pt 3: The hours

Continuing my series on the differences between the 1953 and 1963 breviaries, I want to focus today mainly on the psalter section of the breviary.

The main changes were to separate out Prime and the chapter office; make some (unnecessary in my view) simplifications; remove some verses of Psalm 13 and the Saturday ferial canticle; make some changes to the division points in the psalms; and remove some post-Tridentine accretions to the Office.

Prime and the Chapter Office

The first change, I think, concerns the separation of the texts for Prime and Chapter, and is relatively harmless in my view. 

In the Roman Office, chapter has long been, and remains, formally part of Prime. 

In the monastic use, though, its position has always been somewhat different, since it was generally said not in the church, but in the chapter room of the monastery (hence the name) and not counted as one of the formal parts of the Office (since St Benedict does not mention it in the Rule).

Although the post Tridentine breviaries generally did provide a version of chapter integrated into Prime, many monasteries used their own version of it (some of which have been published in the Rituales of the various congregations).  

Accordingly, as far as I can see the 1963 breviary's approach of placing Prime and the chapter office in different places in the book and explicitly noting that monasteries are free to use their own version just codifies existing practice (though it is unfortunate that the monastic Diurnal didn't include the chapter office in full).

Silly simplifications

There are, I have to say, some changes made presumably in the name of 'simplification' that I think are just silly, and can and should easily be restored, namely the abolition of hymn doxologies for the seasons and feasts, and abolition of the ferial Prime short chapter (Love truth and peace, says the Lord) in favour of using the Sunday version (Regi saeculorum) all the time.

Changes to the psalter

One of the least desirable changes between 1953 and 1953, though, in my view, concerns the psalter.

On the face of it changing the division points for Psalms 9 and 106, ostensibly to make them align with the Hebrew Masoretic Text version of these psalms, sounds relatively innocuous.  But I think there is more to it than that, and I've written previously on why I don't like these changes:Psalm 9 pt 1Psalm 9 (pt 2); and Psalm 106.

Similarly a number of verses - admittedly almost certainly not an authentic part of the psalm, but included in the Vulgate translations and so treated as such in the West for centuries - were removed from Psalm 13.

But by far the biggest and most fundamental change was to cut out around half of the Saturday ferial canticle, almost certainly because it offends modern sensibilities with its condemnations of sodomy and other immoral behaviours.  

Prayer pruning

The final group of changes, and one I'm in favour of, essentially shorten the Office by removing assorted prayers that have been added to it at various points in time.

As I've noted before, the fact that the Benedictine Rule spells out the components of each hour and the order in which they are said has long served as an anchor point for this particular form of the Office. St Benedict, moreover, clearly favoured keeping the hours (relatively) short.

It is human nature, though, to keep adding things to the hours - thus the periodic need to prune.

Preparation for the hours

In terms of unnecessary accretions, my personal view is that the previous requirement to say the Creed (before Matins) and/or Our Father and Hail Mary before (or as an extra part of ) each hour is at the top of the list, particularly given the Our Father is included in each hour of the Benedictine office (though not the Roman) anyway.

We do of course need to put ourselves in the right frame of mind before starting an hour (such as the prayer Aperi Domine, that appears in many breviaries), but there is surely no need to regulate this.

Deus in adjutorium at Matins

Similarly, starting the Night Office with Deus in adjutorium is a Romanism imported into the Benedictine Office that in my view makes no sense, and so was rightly removed.

St Benedict, after all, is clear that the first words the monk says each day, ending the great silence of the night, should be O Lord open my lips, that I may announce your praise.

Suffrage of All Saints/Commemoration of the Cross at Lauds and Vespers

One of the things that has regularly been added to the Office at various points is explicit intercessions for assorted causes, or requests for assistance to particular saints (including St Benedict in the pre 1911 monastic breviaries).

The suffrages formerly said at Lauds and Vespers are one example of this, with suffrages added in the Tridentine reforms of 1563 gradually increasing in number, but then replaced by two suffrages, of All Saints and the Cross (depending on the season), in the 1911 Pius X reforms.

These (in their twentieth century versions) consisted of an antiphon, versicle and collect, so look like a commemoration, and like commemorations, they were said after the collect of the day, generally on days that were not feasts.  

The two new suffrage (of All Saints) apparently did not get positive reviews at the time of its introduction though its not obvious at first glance why - both of the 1911 suffrages are nice prayers of medieval origin that were often included in books of hours. 

But I don't personally have a problem with trimming them out of the office proper.

Marion antiphon after Lauds and Vespers

Lauds and Vespers also added the Marian antiphons to the end of the hours.  The 1960 revisions retained it for Compline only.

The preces at Prime and Compline

On ferial days, Prime and Compline previously had a set of additional prayers inserted into it, namely the Creed  (that makes three times!), an extra Confiteor (confession and absolution formulas) at Prime, and a versicle.

Given that the Confiteor is said in the daily conventual Mass (as well as any private masses), I can see why this was thought to be an unnecessary duplication.

Working forward or reverting back?

In this quick comparison between of the 1953 and 1963 monastic breviaries, the issue I've touched only lightly on concerns the rubrics, particularly when clashes of feasts occur.

It is, I think, an important topic, so I will cover it briefly in my next and last post on this series, where I will look again at the question of whether it is better to start from the 1963 breviary, and make some amendments to its rubrics and calendar (as most of the traditional monasteries are doing), or revert back altogether to some earlier date.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

1953 vs 1963 breviary comparions Pt 2 - the temporal cycle

As I mentioned in a previous post, through Advent I used a 1953 breviary, adapting it to the 1960 rubrics - a task made easier I should note by the inclusion in the volume I bought, of a 1960 supplement, coupled with a few pencil deletions done by a previous owner of the books!

I've previously posted on the differences to the sanctoral cycle; so today I thought I'd continue on, and take a look at the differences to Advent itself.

Advent and Christmas

When it comes to Advent, the readings and texts in the Benedictine Office (in contrast to the Roman) have not, as far as I can see, changed over the course of the twentieth century.

There are only two differences that I could see.

The first is to extend the use of the special antiphons for the day hours between December 17 and 23 to Vespers in 1960, a change I quite like - it seems odd to me (no matter how traditional it might be) to use a set of special antiphons at Lauds to None then revert to the throughout the year set at Vespers on Class II days.

The second is that under the previous rubrics, the set of special antiphons not used on December 21 because of the feast of St Thomas were used on Saturday.  

In the 1960 office a specific set of antiphons for Saturday are included, so one day's worth of antiphons are not used each year.  The Saturday antiphons are not new inventions however, but rather apparently a relic of Solesmes' own in-house practice, the change brought the Benedictine office into line with practice in the Roman Office following the 1911 reforms.

I assume the main argument for these changes was simplicity, and there is something to be said for that - juggling the multiple moving parts during these days is hard enough as it is.

The temporal cycle

In Advent, then, there are a few minor differences of no great consequence (indeed arguably even improvements).  

And indeed, for most of the year, there are no differences at all in the temporal cycle between the two editions of the monastic breviary.


Even during the former octaves of the temporale cycle, for example, one of the worst of the wreckovations in my view, the key texts (such as for the Gospels for the relevant Sunday within the Octave) have been retained, with many of the Office texts have been transformed into the 'Ordinary' of the season.

In the former Octave of the Epiphany, for example, the canticle antiphons of the octave are retained, except where another feast or a Saturday of Our Lady intervenes.  

What a shame, though, that they didn't just make these days Class III, and thus allow us to enjoy a full de facto octave every year.  That said, I suspect the provisions of Cum sanctissima arguably would now authorise this approach.

Holy Week

Apart from January, the other contender for worst wreckovation, as a commenter on another post has noted, is Holy Week.

And when it comes to the Mass and other ceremonies outside the Office, that's certainly true (though mitigated for many these days by the permissions to use the earlier version of Holy Week)..

When it comes to the Office there are, it has to be said, the admittedly peculiar instructions to omit certain Offices if one attends some of the main ceremonies.

But there is surely nothing stopping one from saying these hours if one wishes - outside a monastery these are rarely said publicly in any case, and in a monastery they are mostly all said regardless of the rubrics as far as I can gather!

When it comes to the texts of the Office itself, though, there has been much less tinkering - it is perfectly possible to use the 1928 Triduum book for the office for example (I've done it) - the main difference being a few additional repetitions of Psalm 50 and the times at which certain hours are (supposed to be) said.

The structure of the Office

The case for 'restoring the 54', then, as far as I can see  - though it may well be that I've missed something - does not rest on the temporal cycle (octaves aside), at least in the case of the Benedictine office, but rather on the sanctoral and perhaps other features of the breviaries.

I plan to look at the extra prayers and other changes to the hours themselves in the next post in this series.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Happy New year...and welcome to the most liturgically wreckovated time of the year!

Adoration of the Magi - Roman catacombs c3rd
Source: Giovanni Dall'Orto, Wiki commons

For most of the year, I don't have major problems with most of the calendar changes made in 1960 - if it was up to me (which it isn't!) there are some feasts I'd restore, but octaves aside, the changes to the calendar mostly were not too drastic (certainly not by comparison with those made in 1970, when whole seasons were excised).

But the period January 2 to January 13, is, I have to admit, something of a disaster zone liturgically.

Let's take a look at the key issues.

January 2 - 4

For centuries, January 2 - 4 were taken up by the Octave days of St Stephen, St John and the Holy Innocents.

In the Benedictine office, at least in its twentieth century versions, these days were, in my view, very well-designed so as to provide a reminder of the feast without disrupting the Benedictine psalm cursus and reading cycle.   

The psalms of the day were used at all hours, with the antiphons of the feast at Prime to None.  There were only two Nocturns at Matins, with two readings from Romans, and third Patristic reading for the Octave.

I've posted both versions of matins for these days over at Lectio Divina Notes blog for those interested in seeing the differences between the two versions, but on the face of it, I find it hard to see what the rationale for abolishing these very ancient octaves really was.  

Most Holy Name of Jesus (January 2 or the first Sunday of January)

I'm rather less concerned about the abolition, in the Benedictine (but not the Roman) 1960 calendar, of the feast of the Holy Name on January 2.  

Its move to that date in the twentieth century is something of an oddity in my view, since the Gospel is identical to that for January 1, and it cuts across the ancient octave days.  

A better solution than outright abolition, though, would surely have been to move it to an alternative date, or just use it when there is a second Sunday after the Nativity.

Vigil of the Epiphany (January 5)

The Vigil of the Epiphany used to be one of the four especially privileged Vigils to mark the four major feasts of the year.  

Its abolition, I suppose parallels the downgrading of Epiphany itself, but it was actually restored in 2002 (where the feast is not moved to the relevant Sunday!), so there is a strong case for arguing that it is legitimate to restore it also to the 1960 calendars.

You can find a useful discussion of its celebration here.

The feast of the Epiphany and the thirteen days of Christmas?

By far the most bizarre changes, of course, occur in the Novus Ordo calendar in places (such as here in Australia) where Epiphany is celebrated where this year we have not the on January 6, thus marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas, but this year, on January 7, giving us thirteen days of Christmas!

Actually though, it seems some places did have a tradition of thirteen days of Christmas, so maybe this year's outcome is not as odd as some year's!

Less explicable though, is that for reasons I don't understand, the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord is not on the octave day of Epiphany (January 13), but on January 8.

As I've written before, the number of days around these various feasts are not meant to be random, but have a deep symbolic meaning.  Why try so hard to remove this?

Octave of the Epiphany

Last, but far from least, the abolition of the octave of the Epiphany is surely one of the most unwise of the 1960 reforms, since this is one of the most ancient of all octaves, already celebrated at least in the East in the fourth century.

Fortunately, at least in the day hours, all of the texts of the Octave are preserved as the 'Ordinary of Epiphanytide'.

Still, if you want to go a step further and revert to the 1953 rubrics, all you have to do is add back the psalms and antiphons of the feast at the day hours.  At Matins, there are antiphons for each Nocturn for each day, which are used in conjunction with the psalms of the days of the week, as well as Patristic readings.

An alternative solution for the 1960 reformers, if the concern was to preserve the psalm and reading cycles, might have been to use the psalms of the day in conjunction with the antiphons and other texts of the feast, and make the Patristic reading the third of the day....

Saturday, December 30, 2023

1953 vs 1963: Monastic breviary comparisons

There is increasing interest, these days, in the use of older breviaries, at least amongst liturgical nerds and in some parts of traddy world.

Accordingly, this Advent I decided to use a 1953 (Latin only) monastic breviary as my main office book, adapting it to the 1963 calendar and rubrics, but reading the texts that differ outside the Office, so I could get a better feel for features of the older rubrics and calendar.

So herewith some reflections on the differences between the books and their respective merits, in the hope that it might spark some debate!

I plan to divide up my comments into a couple of posts, covering:

  • the physical books;
  • the calendar differences for the sanctoral and temporal cycles;
  • differences the structure and content of the hours themselves (things like preces, hymn doxologies, etc).

The books

So first something about the physical books.

None of the monastic breviaries are currently in print, and they are all fairly scarce and expensive to buy secondhand (although the 1930 breviary is available online).

Four volumes vs two

The 1963 breviary (and the 1930) comes in two volumes, but the 1953 edition follows the Roman by being spread over four volumes, thus increasing the cost.  

The need for four volumes is presumably because of the slightly smaller size  - 1953 book is two centimeters in length shorter - but I don't personally find that any more convenient than the slightly bigger book.

The type size and fonts seem to be the same.

Psalter placement

Secondly, the 1963 breviary places the psalter at the middle of the book.  Personally I prefer that - it helps to prolong the book's life a bit, but also makes it easier to see where the temporale vs sanctorale are.  By contrast, the 1953 follows the older structure of putting the psalter at the beginning.

Repeated texts

Perhaps the most annoying feature of the 1953 book is that, like the Diurnale, it doesn't bother repeating key fixed part of the hours such as the Prime hymn and the Benedictus and Magnificat each day - with four volumes to spread it over, it seems to me that more concession to convenience could have been made.

I guess part of the rationale is that monks will tend to know these parts by heart - and yes I do know them too, but I like having them in front of me all the same! 

More importantly perhaps, breviaries were presumably mostly only used when a monk was out of the monastery, for the Matins readings (with a psalter or the Antiphonale for the psalms), and as a reference document for rubrics and planning purposes.  But it is still annoying.

Sanctoral calendar

When it comes to the sanctoral calendar, the changes are in my view, a bit of a mixed bag. The changes were that:

  • the feast of St Peter Chrysologus on December 2 (a fifth century bishop of Ravenna) was reduced to a commemoration in 1963 (previously the equivalent of Class III);
  • the feasts of St Ambrose and St Lucy are reduced from being a Class II equivalent, with three Nocturns, to Class III; 
  • the Octave of the Immaculate Conception was abolished;
  • the second and third class equivalent feasts (St Lucy and St Thomas in December) no longer have a first Vespers; 
  • the commemorations of St Melchiadus (Pope 311-313, December 10) and St Thomas (Beckett, December 20) were abolished; and
  • commemorations were generally previously made at both Vespers and Lauds; under the 1960 rubrics they occur at Lauds only.

The Octave of the Immaculate Conception

The biggest change is clearly the abolition of the Octave of the Immaculate Conception, and in my view that was a positive step.  

The effect of the Octave (introduced to the Roman office in the eighteenth century) was to displace the ancient texts of Advent, including the antiphons set for the day hours each week, and replace them with the same repeated texts each day in the day hours; and to replace the reading of Isaiah, a tradition dating back to St Benedict's time, with readings from the Papal Bull of Pius IX.  

In a year when the feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on a Sunday, the antiphons wouldn't be said at all. 

I really can't see a strong case for the suppression of the seasonal texts, particularly as the season already has a strong Marian flavour in its readings and the responsories.

It has been pointed out to me though, that the monks of Norcia have come up with a sensible compromise approach to this problem for those keen on octaves, namely commemorating the Octave at Lauds and Vespers but privileging the Advent days.

Class III vs Class II?

Similarly, I don't mind the reduction of St Ambrose and St Lucy to Class III feasts - Class II feasts in the Benedictine Office are not very different when it comes to the day hours, but festal Matins is very very long indeed compared to both the Class III structure (3 vs 12 readings and responsories, plus extra three canticles, Te Deum and Gospel) and the Roman Office version.

It is not obvious though, why St Peter Chrysologus was demoted, or the two commemorations abolished - they all represent quite important saints on the face of it.

First Vespers

One of the most important rubrical changes between the 1953 Office and the 1963 was the abolition of First Vespers for most feasts.

It was a mistake I think, as it means that Class III feasts regularly don't have any Vespers at all, such as when they fall on a Saturday.

Most monasteries have restored them for class II feasts, but I think there is scope to go further.

If the concern is the displacement of the ferial psalm cursus in favour of the festal, a concern I agree with in principle, the simple solution would surely be to specify the use of the ferial psalms in conjunction with the antiphons of the feast at either First and/or Second Vespers.

But anyway, more anon...