Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Understanding the calendar for the office Pt 1 - Why are the Saturday Magnificat antiphons in a different place to the Sunday ones?!

Every year around this time the Diurnal (and other Office books) do something that seems quite inconvenient: it places the variable texts for Saturday Vespers (ie I Vespers of Sunday) in different places, so you have to go to one page for the Magnificat antiphon, another for the collect.

So why does it do that?

I thought this might be a good place to both answer that question, and explain more broadly the different cycles of the calendar that determine what is said at each hour and day.

Why do Saturdays and Sundays after Pentecost have different places in the Diurnal?

Going back to Saturday Vespers, for a moment though, the short answer is that from August, the Scriptural cycle for the first Nocturn of Matins, to which the Magnificat antiphon generally refers, shifts from being dependent on the number of Sundays after Pentecost, to dependent on the calendar month.

The collect though, continues to depend on the number of the Sunday after Pentecost.

As the number of Sundays between Easter and the first Sunday of August differs each year, the Saturday Magnificat antiphons and collects do not always line up.

There can never be less than three Sundays after Pentecost and before August though, so although the Diurnal puts the collects in a separate place from the Second Sunday after Pentecost onwards, other Office books, such as the breviary and the Antiphonale Monasticum, make the split at that point.

All too complex?

Let's go back to first principles!

The five cycles in the Office

The key to understanding how the Office works is to appreciate that there are essentially five different cycles at work in the Office, consisting of:
  • the hours, each of which have some fixed texts generally said every day at that particular hour;
  • the day of the week, which dictates changes to either the psalms and a few other texts (antiphons, responsories), and in some cases the chants used (for example the hymn tune used for Compline changes on Saturdays and Sundays);
  • the date - feasts which have fixed dates;
  • the month.  There are days and offices that are fixed to particular days of the week in particular calendar months (such as Matins readings for the Office of Our Lady on Saturday, the September Ember Days and Matins reading from August to November); and
  • the week and season of the liturgical year, which mostly depends on the date of Easter each year.
Each of these cycles can contribute to what is said each day, with a set of rules dictating about which ones take precedence.

In the next post in this series I will start looking at how these cycles work and interact.

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