So far in this series I've looked at how the hours, day of the week and fixed dates affect the Office.
I now want to start looking at the less appreciated of the cycles in the Office, that related to calendar months, and to understand this, we need to traverse a bit of the history of the development of the Divine Office.
I'm planning to tackle this in two parts.
In this post, I want to provide a bit of an introduction to the monthly cycle by focusing on the 'ferial' character of the Office as St Benedict describes it in his Rule, and particularly look at the design of Matins. While most people don't actually say Matins regularly, it is useful to understand since it has flow on effects to some of the day hours.
In the next part I will look at the days, feasts and seasons that are tied to calendar months and dates rather than Easter (viz Advent and Epiphanytide, the September and December Ember Days, and the feast of Christ the King).
The monthly cycle and the history of the Office
We are used to thinking of the Mass and Office as being connected through the fixed Sunday cycle of the collects and readings.
But none of these connections are mentioned by St Benedict in the Rule, and in fact they almost certainly largely reflect rather later developments of the Office.
In particular, the Rule does not mention the use of collects in the Office at all (1).
Instead, the early Office had a much stronger relationship to the calendar year, and at least some of this flavour remains in the 1962 Office and calendar.
The length of the Night Office (Matins)
Consider first the design of Matins, where St Benedict specifies two broad 'seasons', with three readings and responsories each weekday from November to Easter (winter), but only a short verse and responsory for the rest of the year (RB 10).
The inspirations for this design seem to me to be twofold (2).
The early Egyptian Office: The first source is the early Egyptian monastic Office, popularised and advocated for in the West by St John Cassian. This form of the Office seems to have had a fixed in format regardless of the time of year: it had twelve psalms at Vespers and twelve in the Night Office, in each case with a couple of (other) Scriptural readings.
Variable length Offices: Many other early Offices though, up until at least the eighth century, adjusted the length of the Night Office with the seasons, by a combination of shortening or lengthening the individual readings, adjusting the number of readings, and most importantly, increasing or decreasing the number of psalms said.
The monastic Office associated with St Augustine, for example, which may have represented the earliest Roman monastic practice, varied between 12, 15 or 18 psalms each night, as well as either two or three readings, according to the seasons (and hence the length of the night).
Similarly, a (non-monastic) Night hour in use in Rome and the surrounding region in the sixth century (described in the Liber Diurnis) had either 3 or 4 psalms, readings and responsories on weekdays, depending on the time of year, and nine of each on Sundays.
St Benedict's Office arguably represents something of a compromise between these two styles of Office.
Like the Egyptian monastic Office, St Benedict kept the number of psalms fixed regardless of the season, with twelve psalms said in the two Nocturns said each night, and another twelve to mark the number of hours of the day, from Prime to None.
Like the Roman and several other early offices, Sundays had a longer, more elaborate structure that remained the same regardless of season (although St Benedict does flag the possibility of shortening the readings if the monks sleep in: RB 11).
But St Benedict also offered a concession to the variable Office model by cutting the length of the weeknight readings drastically for the part of the year when the nights are shorter (in the Northern Hemisphere).
Summer and winter chant tones/hymns at Lauds and Vespers
Seasons are also marked in the Office in other ways, most notably the hymns of Lauds and Vespers.
On Sundays, the Office actually has different hymns for use at Sunday Matins and Lauds from October onwards.
And on the other days of the week, different chant tones are used for summer and winter at Lauds and Vespers.
While the particular hymns we use now are mostly not the ones St Benedict would have used himself (the Vespers hymns, for example, are traditionally attributed to St Gregory the Great, c540-604), the use of different hymns depending on the time of year goes back to at least St Benedict's time.
It is documented for Gaul in the Office described by one of St Benedict's early sixth century contemporaries, Caesarius of Arles, for example, and also reflected in a collection of hymns almost certainly taken to England with the mission dispatched by St Gregory the Great.
The Matins reading cycle
The other key element of Matins governed by the calendar year cycle is the readings.
In St Benedict's time the Sunday cycle of Gospel readings was much more fluid and developed than it was to become later, and the earliest surviving Matins lectionaries reflect this.
'Ordo XIV', which probably describes sixth and seventh century Roman practice, for example, prescribes a cycle where all if the canonical books of Scripture were read in the course of the year.
Although the cycle was reformed somewhat later on, probably in the eighth century, the cycle laid out in this document still underpins the Scriptural reading cycle (and the responsories) used at Matins in the 1962 Office in the First Nocturn on Sundays and ferial 'winter' weekdays outside of Lent and Advent.
The reading cycle starts with the first seven books of the Bible in the lead up to Easter, and then moves to Acts and the last books of the Bible (the Catholic Epistles and Revelation) during Eastertide.
After for period after Easter, the books to be read are listed by reference to the season (Kings and Chronicles were originally read up to Autumn for example, before being cut back at the end of July in the eighth century reform) or month.
Over time the cycle has been formalised into set readings for each night; shortened, so that only selections are used rather than the whole of Scripture read; and displaced altogether on weekdays in some seasons.
Nonetheless it is this cycle that dictates that from August onwards, the First Nocturn readings at Matins are linked to the week of the calendar month rather than the Sunday liturgical cycle.
And since the weeks Matins readings are foreshadowed each week in the canticle antiphon for Vespers, this means that the cycle of antiphons for I Vespers of Sunday doesn't match up to the cycle of collects from August to November each year.
(1) The hours as described in the Rule end generally end with the litany (ie Kyrie Eleison...) and Our Father. The eighth century Roman Office as described by Amalarius of Metz also lacked collects, though the surviving books suggest that collects were used in some places in Rome fairly early on. Some early forms of the Office certainly used collects (though not necessarily the Sunday ones), but their use seems mainly to have been limited to clerics.
(2) This is my take on the subject, but whether or not these developments were instigated by St Benedict himself, or were largely anticipated in the Roman Office before him remains a subject of debate. There are two datapoints for the use of a variable, rather than fixed weekly cursus for Rome before St Benedict: the Rule of the Master (though its dating and location continues to be subject to debate); and the 'Cautio Episcopi', which we know reflects actual practice, as the protests of clerics at one of Rome's tituli at the imposition of a Night Vigil on them has survived. It is possible of course, as at least one study has noted recently, that the Roman Office in at least one of the basilicas had already moved to a fixed weekly psalm cursus before St Benedict. But most if not all of the evidence and methodology relied on by Callaewaert and other twentieth century liturgists to argue this case has arguably been undermined by more recent work.