Showing posts with label Office history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Office history. Show all posts

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Rogation days in the lead up to the feast of the Ascension

Monday to Wednesday this week are 'rogation', or 'asking' days.

Rogation days in history

Traditionally these are days of prayer (particularly in the form of a procession accompanied by a sung litany of the saints), and fasting.

The three 'minor' rogation days before Ascension date back to the fifth century, instituted originally by Bishop Mammertus of Vienne (c470).  The practice quickly spread throughout Gaul and Burgundy - the Council of Orleans in 510 ordered their use for example.  Rogation days were not adopted in Rome, though, until the early ninth century.

Their key purpose is to appease God's anger at man's transgressions, to ask protection in calamities, and to obtain a good and bountiful harvest.

Rogation days in the Office

You can find the litany and prayers appropriately used with them in the Monastic Diurnal at pg (200) and the full chants in the Processionale Monasticum.  If said privately, it is usually done after Lauds.

In earlier versions of the Monastic Office, the Rogations were marked as follows:

  • On Monday  there were three readings at Matins (from St Ambrose on the value of prayer at set times, and always) and a collect specific to the rogation day (set out below), I Vespers was of the votive office of St Benedict;
  • On Tuesday the Votive Office of St Benedict was said; and
  • On Wednesday the Office had three readings (from St Augustine) and a special collect.
In the 1962 monastic version, though, only the Wednesday readings and collect have survived (under the rubric of the Vigil of the Ascension).  I can only presume that this is one of several unfortunate early manifestations in the Office of the modern resurgence of the heresies of presumed universal salvation (we all go to heaven; there is no-one hell) and rejection of the value of intercessory prayer.

The Monday readings in particular though, are rather lovely and important ones, and so I have put up them up on the Lectio Divina Notes Blog for your consideration.

Praesta quaesumus omnipotens Deus: ut qui in afflictione nostra de tua pietate confidimus; contra adversa omnia tua semper protectione muniamur.
Per Dóminum nostrum Jesum Christum, Fílium tuum: qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitáte Spíritus Sancti Deus, per ómnia sǽcula sæculórum.
R. Amen.
Let us pray.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who in our tribulation are yet of good cheer because of thy loving-kindness, may find thee mighty to save from all dangers.
Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tuesday of St Benedict - Matins in the Office of St Benedict

St Benedict, Servandus and the death of Bishop Germanus (Dialogues ch 35)

I noted a few weeks ago that on 'unimpeded Tuesdays' and Office of St Benedict used to be said, and described First Vespers of that Office. Today I want to look at the Matins of this Office.

It would be lovely to see this custom revived, not least because one can't help but think its abolition contributed to the loss of any sense of St Benedict as a real person and founder of the Order in so many monasteries in the twentieth century. At Matins, for example, the readings included a series of extracts from the Life of St Benedict by St Gregory the Great.

At the very least, we can say some of its prayers, or say it devotionally - and if you do, can I urge you to offer it for the new Benedictine foundation being established in Australia?

Matins of St Benedict on Tuesdays

 The invitatory antiphon (for Psalm 94) is Regem confessorum Dominum Venite Exsultemus Iie from the Common of Confessors).

The hymn is Quidquid antiqui, which you can listen to below.  The text can be found in the Liber Hymnarius for the feast of St Benedict on 21 March.

The psalms and antiphons are of Saturday, and there are three readings with responsories.

The three responsories are:

1. R.  Sanctus Benedictus plus appetiit mala mundi perpeti quam laudes atque pro deo laboribus fatigari *quam vitae hujus favoribus extolli.
V. Divina namque praeventus gratia, magis ac magis ad superna animo suspirabat
*quam vitae hujus favoribus extolli.
(Nb: the chant can be found in the Processionale monasticum)

2. R. O laudanda sancti Benedicti merita gloriosa qui dum pro Christo patriam mundique sprevit pompam adeptus omnium contubernium beatorum *et particeps factus praemiorum aeternorum
V. Inter choros Confessorum splendidum possided locum et ipsum fontem omnium intuetur bonorum.

(Chant in the Liber Responsorialis for the transit of St Benedict)

3. R:Sanctissime confessor Christi Benedicte, monachorum pater et dux * intercede pro nostra omniumque salute.
V. Devote plebi subveni santa intercessione, ut tuis adjuta precibus regna consequatur.
 Intercede pro nostra omniumque salute.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto
Intercede pro nostra omniumque salute.

(Chant in the Liber Responsorialis for the transit of St Benedict)

The readings for the Office were different for each month, and I've put the appropriate ones for October up in full over at my Lectio Divina blog, but they basically consist of 2 Corinthians 12:1-6 (reading 1) and then chapter 35 of St Gregory's Dialogues Bk II, divided into two readings.

The collect is:

Excita Domine, in Ecclesia tua Spiritum, cui beatus Pater noster Benedictus Abbas servivit; ut eodem nos repleti studeamus amare quod docuit.  Per unitate ejusdem Spiritus.

Raise up, O Lord, in thy Church, the Spirit wherewith our holy Father Benedict was animated: that, filled with the same,  we may strive to love what he loved, and to practise what he taught.  Through Christ...

Saturday, June 11, 2016

St Benedict on the Office

In the daily readings of the Rule of St Benedict as traditionally organised, we have now reached the chapters relating to the Office (viz Chapter 8) which are worth reading, particularly if you are relatively new to the Office, haven't done so before, or haven't read them for a while.

The Rule on the Office

These chapters of the Rule often appear a bit dry, but with a bit of digging they can actually yield a lot in my view.  In particular, they assume a knowledge of Patristic and monastic traditions.  Accordingly this time through the Rule over at my Daily Readings from the Rule Blog I'm providing some extracts from key source texts from before St Benedict's time that I think throw some light on his thinking.

The first post in the series deals with the connection between the first seven chapters of the Rule which set out St Benedict's spiritual theology and the Office, the reasons for praying at night, and the instruction to study the psalms between Matins and Lauds.

St Augustine on prayer through Christ

By way of a taster, on the last point I've included a discussion of prayer in the context of the psalms by St Augustine, who provides a deeply Christological interpretation of prayer which is entirely consistent with St Benedict's approach.

St Benedict starts his Rule with a discussion of the virtues of cenobitic monasticism, where a group of people are made one through God under the abbot.  And the pre-eminent work of this one body is of course the Office, on which St Benedict instructs: 'let nothing be put before the Work of God',  a phrase which Fr Cassian Folsom has pointed out in an excellent series of Conferences can be interpreted as 'put nothing before Christ' (drawing on similar phrases in chapters 43, 4 and 72 of the Rule).

St Augustine summarises and makes clear these linkages saying:
No greater gift could God have given to men than in making His Word, by which He created all things, their Head, and joining them to Him as His members: that the Son of God might become also the Son of man, one God with the Father, one Man with men; so that when we speak to God in prayer for mercy, we do not separate the Son from Him; and when the Body of the Son prays, it separates not its Head from itself: and it is one Saviour of His Body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who both prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us.   He prays for us, as our Priest; He prays in us, as our Head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us therefore recognise in Him our words, and His words in us... 
Therefore we pray to Him, through Him, in Him; and we speak with Him, and He speaks with us; we speak in Him, He speaks in us the prayer of this Psalm, which is entitled, A Prayer of David. For our Lord was, according to the flesh, the son of David; but according to His divine nature, the Lord of David, and his Maker....Let no one then, when he hears these words, say, Christ speaks not; nor again say, I speak not; nay rather, if he own himself to be in the Body of Christ, let him say both, Christ speaks, and I speak. Be thou unwilling to say anything without Him, and He says nothing without you....
There are  a lot of passages like this that I think help us understand what St Benedict is coming from on the Office, and can deepen our understanding of it, so I do hope you will go over and take a look at the contextual texts I've assembled.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Praying without ceasing: St Benedict's numerical theology

If you've been listening to the excellent talks on prayer given by Fr Cassian, Prior of the monastery of Norcia, you will know that a lot of this week's talk (the second in the series) deals with the question of how we can be said to pray without ceasing in the context of the Divien Office.

Sacred numbers

Fr Cassian notes that the Fathers, including St Benedict, placed a lot of meaning on numbers.

In particular, he points out that St Benedict uses two numbers to signal completeness or totality -  praying seven times a day in the day hours, and the twelve psalms of Matins (leaving aside the two said daily) - to indicate that the Divine Office enables us to meet this Scriptural injunction.

Seven, he notes, is frequently used in Scripture to denote completeness, or continuous prayer.  And twelve is also used to indicate universality or completeness, for example in the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, the saints in the canon of the Mass and so forth.

Number of psalms in the day

By way of a possible footnote to Fr Cassian's talk for those who enjoy number symbolism, I want to suggest another way in which St Benedict uses numbers to indicate the Office's fulfillment of the requirement to pray continuously.

In particular, I want to suggest that it is not just in the number of psalms he sets for Matins that plays on sacred numerology, but also the other hours of his Office.

Fr Cassian noted St Benedict's reference to the twelve psalms of Matins (RB 10).

But note that the number of psalms said each day at Lauds (except Saturday) is seven - Psalms 66, 50, two psalms of the day, 148, 149, and 150 (RB 12-13).

The number of the psalms (provided you count as a psalm anything said under a Gloria Patri) said at Prime to None is twelve (RB 17).

And the number of psalms said at Vespers (four) and Compline (three) again adds up to seven (RB 17).

And note that in RB 17, the number of psalms is carefully discussed in groupings: Matins and Lauds (already settled); Prime to None; and Vespers and Compline.

So we have a pattern: 12 (+2), 7, 12, 7.

Of course there is a bit of fudging in this but I don't think we should be too fussed at this, but rather consider the point he is trying to make in his modelling of the basic structure of the Office.

Am I onto something or reading too much into it?!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

St Benedict's liturgical Code: On Benedictine prayer (Feb 25 or 26/June 27/Oct 27)

Sodoma, Life of St Benedict, 1505
St Benedict frees a monk
And today, the last in this series of posts on St Benedict's liturgical code, on reverence in prayer.

Caput XX: De Reverentia Orationis

Si cum hominibus potentibus volumus aliqua suggerere, non praesumimus nisi cum humilitate et reverentia; quanto magis Domino Deo universorum cum onini humilitate et puritatis devotione supplicandum est. Et non in multiloquio, sed in puritate cordis et com-punctione lacrimarum nos exaudiri sciamus. Et ideo brevis debet esse et pura oratio, nisi forte ex affectu inspirationis divinae gratiae protendatur. In conventu tamen omnino brevietur oratio, et facto signo a priore omnes pariter surgant.

Chapter 20: Of Reverence in Prayer

If we wish to prefer a petition to men of high station, we do not presume to do it without humility and respect; how much more ought we to supplicate the Lord God of all things with all humility and pure devotion. And let us be sure that we shall not be heard for our much speaking, but for purity of heart and tears of compunction. Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure, unless it chance to be prolonged by the impulse and inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, let prayer be very short, and when the superior has given the signal let all rise together.


This final chapter of the liturgical code is interesting not least in that it stands in sharp contrast to some later schools of spirituality.

There is some modern debate on this chapter: the traditional view, embraced by Dom Delatte and others is that whereas the previous chapter refers to the Divine Office, this chapter is essentially about private prayers, with the last sentence most likely referring to the traditional period of communal prayer immediately after each hour.

Some modern commentators, however, such as Dom De Vogue, argue that St Benedict is really talking here about the pauses between psalms in the Office.  Personally I’m not terribly convinced by this, for reasons too complex to go into here.

In the end, though, whether we are talking about our approach to the Office here, or our private prayers, the same considerations surely apply.

First we are told to approach God with humility and respect, as we would a person in a position of authority in the world when we ask for things, rather than immediately treating him as if he were a close friend. We should be aware of the immense gap between man and God, St Benedict suggests, and start from an attitude of worship and devotion.

The recovery of this sense of the sacred, of the otherness and greatness of God, is of course one of the greatest priorities of the Church at the moment, something the Pope has been trying to lead by example through the use of more elaborate and beautiful vestments, Latin, chant, kneeling to receive communion and so much more.

Of course we can and should aspire to the status of close friend of God: but here as elsewhere in the Rule, St Benedict writes not for the saint, but for the person who still has some way to go in making progress in the spiritual life. So the message is that we shouldn’t presume, but rather start at least by regarding ourselves as labourers in the vineyard, even as we wait for God to invite us in further as we progress in his ways.

The second point to note is the emphasis on compunction, or remorse, and purity of heart, reiterating the tool of good work ‘Daily in one’s prayer, with tears and sighs, to confess one’s past sins to God’.

Again, these days there is a lot of emphasis on ‘moving on’ or putting things behind us. The more traditional view though is that even though we should have confessed our sins and been forgiven them, we must still do penance for them now, in order to avoid purgatory!

Confession, absolution and whatever penance we are set removes eternal punishment, but it doesn’t necessarily wipe out all the remaining temporal punishment that we have accumulated. Saying our Office however, or studying the psalms (even if we enjoy doing so), is a good work that can help make amends for what we have done wrong in the past.

Thirdly, St Benedict emphasizes non-vocal prayer. Whereas the earlier Eastern monastic tradition urges the use of short phrases throughout the day, and later traditions added in practices such as the rosary (all laudable in themselves), St Benedict, without excluding these, urges a more meditative, mystical approach, perhaps as a counter-balance to the hours of vocal prayer in the Office that he prescribes.

Finally, St Benedict urges brevity, particularly in communal prayer. It is notable that whereas St Teresa of Avila urged her disciples to spend as much time praying after Mass as possible for example, in order to capture the graces that followed from it, and set specific periods of meditation as part of the rule for her nuns, St Benedict does none of this.

Over time of course, what St Benedict left to the individual (see for example RB 52 which allows individual monks to stay after the Office and pray in the oratory) has tended to be formalized (largely to compensate, I would suggest, for the reduction in time typically allocated to lectio divina compared to that specified in the Rule). Still, I think this injunction fits in with St Benedict’s approach of viewing all of the monk’s activities as dedicated to God and times for awareness of his presence, not just the set times of prayer.

And on that note, we end this little series of notes on the liturgical chapters of St Benedict’s Rule. I hope you have found it interesting and useful.  Please do let me know if you have reactions, questions or points you would like to debate or explore further.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

St Benedict's liturgical code: Sing wisely (Feb 24 or 25/ June 26/Oct 26)

Dunois Hours, c15th
Today's chapter of the Rule deals with our dispositions when we say the Office.

Caput 19: De Disciplina Psallendi

UBIQUE credimus divinam esse praesentiam, et oculos Domini in omni loco speculari bonos et malos; maxime tamen hoc sine aliqua dubitatione creda-mus cum ad opus divinum assistimus. Ideo semper memores simus quod ait propheta: Servite Domino in timore; et iterum: Psallite sapienter; et: In conspectu angelorum psallam tibi. Ergo consideremus qualiter oporteat in conspectu Divinitatis et angelorum ejus esse; et sic stemus ad psallendum ut mens nostra concordet voci nostrae.

Chapter 19: The Manner of Saying the Divine Office

WE believe that God is present everywhere and that the eyes of the Lord in every place behold the good and the evil but let us especially believe this without any doubting when we are performing the Divine Office. Therefore, let us ever remember the words of the prophet: Serve ye the Lord in fear; and again, Sing ye wisely; and, In the sight of the angels will I sing to thee. Let us then consider how we ought to behave ourselves in the presence of God and his angels, and so sing the psalms that mind and voice may be in harmony.


The last two chapters of the liturgical provisions of the Rule consider our proper dispositions as we say the Office and pray, and so serve as a useful point to touch on a very important subject, namely our external deportment or behaviour when we say the Office.

Once of the more unfortunate developments of recent years, in my view, has been an aversion to proper use of ritual and bodily gestures such as kneeling. Indeed, the 1977 Directory on the Office for the Benedictine Order even has a section in it warning of the dangers of ‘periculum ritualismi vacui’, or ‘empty ritualism’.

Yet such warnings forget two vital points.

First, they forget that we are in fact embodied beings, not just souls. We need gestures and rituals to remind us of what is important: it is inherent in human condition that the body calls the mind to order, and vice versa.

For this reason, St Benedict includes in these chapters (and throughout the Rule), numerous references to ritual and external gestures and actions – to slowing down the chant (and by implication speeding it up); to standing, sitting, bowing and prostrating; to what should be said aloud, what silently, and much more.  These instructions are there to help us, not to encourage external form for forms’ sake as some would suggest! So even when we say the Office privately, we should endeavour to be reverent in the way we approach it, and follow the rubrics on gestures as far as possible.

Secondly, St Benedict suggests in both this chapter, and in Chapter 7 on humility, that external manifestations of our devotion should actually flow from our internal dispositions. I suggested earlier in this series of notes that the chapter on humility (RB 7) actually serves as something of an introduction to the rationale for the detailed instructions on the Office St Benedict sets out: the Office serves to help train us in obedience to an external authority rather than the indulgence of our own personal likes and dislikes.

Here St Benedict makes the connection more explicit by recapitulating the opening and closing ideas of Chapter 7 in just a few brief lines, and applying the first and last degrees of humility specifically to the Office. When it comes to the Office he says, we should start by cultivating an appropriate fear of the Lord (the first degree of humility), a sense of reverence and awe that comes from knowing that he is watching everything we do, and that when we sing or say the Office, we do so in the company of the angels.

That awareness, he argues, should shape our behaviour, so that we manifest our internal dispositions externally (the twelfth degree of humility) in things like custody of the eyes, and obedience to the other body postures St Benedict and the rubrics prescribe such as standing for the Gloria Patri.

And of course implicitly we should be applying all the intervening steps on the ladder of humility to the way we approach the Office.

So how can we put all this into practice when saying the Office privately?

First, say the Office in an approved form, following the rubrics and rules as best possible.

Secondly, try and set up some special corner of a room to say the Office in, with an icon or cross to focus the attention.

Thirdly, try and avoid distractions, give the particular hour all our attention – it is not something to be said while sipping a cup of coffee and watching television!

There are always exceptions of course – better to say the Office and pray in some way than not at all. Indeed, Chapter 50 makes it clear that the Office can be performed anywhere if necessary.  But still with reverence.

And for the final part in this series, click here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

St Benedict's liturgical code: Should we 'update' St Benedict's psalm scheme? (Feb 24/June 25/Oct 25)

Chludow Psalter, c850

Today's section of the Rule returns to the beginning of the Office, and the psalms of Matins.  But it also includes what I consider to be that most abused of provisions, the invitation to make some other arrangement of the psalms, provided that all 150 psalms are said in the course of the week. 


Disposito ordine psalmodiae diurnae, reliqui omnes psalmi qui supersunt aequaliter dividantur in septem noctium Vigilias, partiendo scilicet qui inter eos prolixiores sunt psalmi, et duodecim per unamquamque constituantur noctem: hoc praecipue commonentes, ut si cui forte haec distributio psalmorum displicuerit, ordinet si melius aliter judicaverit; dum omnimodis id attendat, ut omni hebdomada psalterium ex integro numero centum quinquaginta psalmorum psallatur, et dominico die semper a capite reprehendatur ad Vigilias; quia nimis inertem devotionis suae servitium ostendunt monachi, qui minus a psalterio cum canticis consuetudinariis per septimanae circulum psallunt, dum quando legamus sanctos patres nostros uno die hoc strenue implesse, quod nos tepidi utinam septimana integra persolvamus.

Chapter 18/4

The order of psalms for the Day Hours being thus arranged, let all the remaining psalms be equally distributed among the seven Night Offices, by dividing the longer psalms and assigning twelve psalms to each night.

But we strongly recommend, if this arrangement of the psalms be displeasing to anyone, that he arrange them otherwise, as shall seem better to him; provided always that he take care that the psalter with its full hundred and fifty psalms be chanted every week and begun afresh every Sunday at Matins.

For those monks show themselves very slothful in their sacred service, who in the course of the week sing less than the psalter and the customary canticles, whereas we read that our holy fathers strenuously fulfilled in a single day what I pray that we lukewarm monks may perform in a whole week.


Today's section of the Rule is actually end of the detailed prescriptions on the structure of the Benedictine Office: the next two chapters, though generally considered part of the liturgical code, really deal with how to pray rather then the structure of the Office itself. The liturgical code proper, then ends here where it began, on the great night Office of Matins, arguably reflecting its centrality to St Benedict's vision of what a monk is.

It has to be said that most modern commentaries on this chapter pretty much ignore the comments on the psalms of Matins, and focus instead on the seeming permission to reorganise the psalter.  I think that is a mistake, for reasons I'll set out below.  Nonetheless, let us first look at that sentence that has been used to justify the wholesale abandonment of the traditional Benedictine Office by most modern monasteries.

Can we rearrange the psalter?

St Benedict devotes several chapters to setting out his preferred framework for the Office. 

His 'opt-out' provision constitutes one sentence, and is hedged around with warnings about the danger of sloth!

So it is surely one of the greatest ironies that the instruction to 'return to the sources' contained in Vatican II's Perfectae Caritatis, instead of leading to a renewal of interest in the traditional Office actually led to its wholesale abandonment!

Worse, St Benedict makes it clear that any rearrangement of the psalter should at least retain a weekly psalm cursus.  Yet this provision, too, is widely ignored.

The rationale for all this, at least according to the 1977 Thesaurus Liturgiae Hororum Monasticae, put out under now disgraced Archbishop, then Abbot Primate, Rembert Weakland, was an emphasis on the idea of ‘quality over quantity’. The results, in terms of the continuing decline in vocations and the scandals that continue to rock a number of 'Benedictine' monasteries, speak for themselves in my view.

The real message St Benedict wants to emphasize, I would suggest, in returning here to the longest hour of the Office and putting the option of an alternative psalm schema in this context, is that though it might all seem rather long and demanding to us, his Office is in fact a considerably less demanding one, appropriate to "we lukewarm monks", compared to the Office of the monastic tradition as he received it.

I agree strongly with Abbot Lawrence of Christ in the Desert who comments:

"Saint Benedict really prefers his own arrangement, but allows that it could be changed but he does insist on a certain length to the Divine Office...if we are going to be true to our own Benedictine tradition, the best way is to follow the Divine Office as it is described in the Holy Rule...”

Coming back to Matins

Finally I wanted to note that by leaving the allocation of the psalms for Matins until last, and simply saying split the longest psalms, St Benedict perhaps gives the impression that the allocation of the psalms to each day of the week for this hour is relatively random. But this impression is entirely deceptive.

In the case of Matins it isn't necessary to specify which psalms to split, because splitting the psalms with the most verses, in combination with necessary reordering accomplished by starting Matins at psalm 20 and pulling out selected psalms to be said at other hours (mostly Lauds) ensures that the hour stays loosely aligned with Lauds each day during the week, both thematically and numerically.

For the next part in this series, go here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

St Benedict's liturgical code: Terce, Sext and None (Feb 22/June 23/Oct 23)

c13th Songs of the Ascent
Today's section of the Rule deals with the Little Hours.


Ad Tertiam vero, Sextam, Nonamque secundae feriae novem capitula quae residua sunt de centesimo octavo decimo, ipsa terna per easdem horas dicantur. Expenso ergo psalmo centesimo octavo decimo duobus diebus, id est dominico et secunda feria, tertia feria jam ad Tertiam, Sextam, vel Nonam psallantur terni psalmi, a centesimo nono decimo usque centesimo vigesimo septimo, id est psalmi novem. Quique psalmi semper usque Dominicam per easdem horas itidem repetantur, hymnorum nihilominus lectionum vel versuum dispositione uniform! cunctis diebus servata; et ita scilicet semper Dominica a centesimo octavo decimo incipietur.

Chapter 18/2

At Terce, Sext, and None on Monday, let the remaining nine sections of the hundred and eighteenth psalm be said, three at each of these Hours. The hundred and eighteenth psalm having been said thus on two days, that is Sunday and Monday, let Terce, Sext, and None of Tuesday each have three psalms, taken in order from the hundred and nineteenth to the hundred and twenty-seventh, i.e. nine psalms. And let these psalms be repeated at these Hours every day until Sunday; but let the arrangement of hymns, lessons, and versicles be kept the same on all days. Thus Prime on Sunday will always begin with the hundred and eighteenth psalm.


I’ve mentioned previously that the hours of Terce, Sext and None, at least in some form, date back to the earliest days of the Church, and almost certainly back to Jewish prayer patterns. Still, the early Church Fathers gave them a makeover with Christian associations, so that Tertullian and other early third century commentators, for example, associate Terce with the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost; Sext with Peter going to pray on the housetop at the sixth hour, and having the vision that leads to the abandonment of the Jewish dietary and other restrictions (Acts 10:9); and None with Our Lord’s crucifixion. The hymns for these hours allude at least in passing to these themes.

St Benedict, however, seems to me to give these hours a firm focus on our pilgrimage through life in his selection of the psalms for them. He takes the long and beautiful meditation on the law of the Lord in Psalm 118, with its frequent allusions to the way of life, at a very leisurely pace, spread out over two days.

Then for the rest of the week, he sets six of the ‘Gradual Psalms’, the pilgrim songs that were sung on the way to Jerusalem for major feasts, thus helping us mark the progress of our daily pilgrimage towards the heavenly Jerusalem. These psalms are short, and the hymn the same each day, allowing it to be readily memorized and said if necessary in the workplace or fields (RB 50): not a bad idea for us to emulate.

There is also, in my view, a reason for them starting on Tuesday in the psalter.  Many of Tuesday's psalms, including at Matins, have a strong focus on the Temple, and the desire to enter into it fully.  Indeed, all but one of the fifteen Gradual Psalms, or  'Songs of the Ascent', are sung on this day.

If Monday in the Office is about the Incarnation, then, the theme for Tuesday, in my view, is Christ's public ministry, during which he teaches us how to live properly as Christians.

First we must prepare ourselves, by meditating on the law, using Psalm 118.   Then we must learn how to be pilgrims towards heaven, and constantly remind ourselves that we are on a journey, that has a purpose and an endpoint.

For the next part of the series, see here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

St Benedict's liturgical code: the structure of the day hours (Feb 20/June 21/Oct 21)

Codex Amiatinus

Caput XVII: Quot psalmi per easdem horas dicendi sunt

JAM de Nocturnis vel Matutinis digessimus ordinem psalmodiae; nunc de sequentibus horis videamus. Prima hora dicantur psalmi tres singillatim et non sub una Gloria, hymnus ejusdem horae post versum Deus in adjutorium, antequam psalmi incipiantur. Post expletionem vero trium psalmorum, recitetur lectio una, versu et Kyrie eleison, et missae. Tertia vero, Sexta et Nona, item eo ordine celebretur oratio: id est versu, hymni earundem horarum, terni psalmi, lectio et versu, Kyrie eleison et missae sunt. Si major congregatio fuerit, cum antiphonis; si vero minor, in directum psallantur.

Vespertina autem synaxis quattuor psalmis cum antiphonis terminetur; post quos psalmos lectio recitanda est; inde responsorium, ambrosianum, versu, canticum de 'Evangelia', litania, et oratione dominica fiant missae. Completorium autem trium psalmorum dictione terminetur; qui psalmi directanei sine antiphona dicendi sunt: post quos hymnus ejusdem Horae, lectio una, versu, Kyrie eleison, et benedictione missae fiant.

Chapter 17 – How many psalms are to be said at these hours

WE have already settled the psalmody of Matins and Lauds; let us now look to the remaining Hours. At Prime let three psalms be said, one by one and not under the same Gloria; and before the psalms begin, but after the verse Deus in adjutorium, the hymn proper to that Hour. Then, at the end of the three psalms, let there be the lesson, versicle, Kyrie eleison, and concluding prayers. The Offices of Terce, Sext, and None are to be performed in the same way: that is, Deus in adjutorium, proper hymn, three psalms, lesson, versicle, Kyrie eleison, and concluding prayers. If the community be a large one, let the psalms be sung with antiphons; but if small, let them be sung straightforward.

Let the service of Vespers consist of four psalms with antiphons. After these psalms let a lesson be recited; and then the responsory, hymn, versicle, canticle from the Gospels, Kyrie eleison, and the Lord's Prayer to conclude.

Let Compline be limited to the saying of three psalms, and these said straightforward without an antiphon. After the psalms let there be the hymn for that Hour, the lesson, versicle, Kyrie eleison, and the blessing to conclude.


The structure of Prime to None and Compline

One of the striking things about this little section of the Rule is the number of times the number three is mentioned - something that would immediately have been taken by the medieval reader, I think, as a reference to the Trinity embedded in each of the hours of Prime, Compline and Terce to None.

As St Benedict set it up, the only difference in the structure of Prime to None and Compline lies in the use of an antiphon during the day, but not at night, and in the positioning of the hymn.

All the same, the actual length of the various hours do differ quite substantially: the psalms set for Prime in particular are quite long on average, while Compline includes the very long (and very important) Psalm 90; by contrast Terce, Sext and None are kept very short, certainly compared to those in both the pre and post-1911 Roman Offices.

The most important elaboration of these hours since St Benedict’s time clearly relates to Compline, which has acquired a short verse and penitential rite upfront, and in a monastery at least, an aspersion ritual afterwards. Personally, I think these developments really make sense. The end of the day is a logical time to take the time to do an examination of conscience, say the Confiteor and promise amendment.  And that final sprinkling of water - a mini-exorcism of sorts - before bed is particularly beautiful.  Now if only a little more organic development could occur in order to add the Nunc Dimittis (used in the Roman Rite) to this hour….


Both literally and symbolically, I think St Benedict was more of a morning person in terms of emphasis, with more of a Resurrection focus than on the Cross, thus he does not give equal weight to the two claimed 'hinges' of the Office, Lauds and Vespers! 

Lauds has in effect eight psalms (if you count the variable canticle as a psalm), a number usually taken as symbolising regeneration or the resurrection (many baptismal fonts are eight sided).  By contrast Vespers in St Benedict's schema has exactly half that, four, one less than in the Roman Rite and a number that usually refers to the four evangelists, the ends of the earth and thus to the earth itself: while Lauds celebrates the resurrection, Vespers symbolically refers to the death of Our Lord, which in turn calls forth the mission to spread the Gospel to all the world.

The structure of Vespers as set out here follows the same pattern as Lauds, but in a considerably shaved down form: unlike Lauds, Vespers has no invitatory or fixed psalms.

Excellence in performance

The last section of today's Rule, dealing with singing psalms with antiphons or 'directly' indicates a certain degree of flexibility in the performance of the Office depending on the resources available. 

The reference to antiphons here may be a reference to the practice of interspersing verse of the psalm with antiphons – or perhaps to greater or less use of more elaborate chant.  Certainly there are at least half a dozen different methods of performing the psalmody that we are aware of employed in the period up to St Benedict’s time, and it is not entirely clear when the current method of alternating sides of the choir for each verse (assuming there are enough singers) became the norm. 

The takeout message, though, I think, is to adapt to circumstances in order to perform the liturgy as well as we possibly can in order to properly honour God and for the aid of others: St Benedict’s later instruction to allow only those whose voices edify sing or read (RB 38) is worth keeping in mind for those performing the Office in common!

For the next part in this series, go here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

St Benedict's Liturgical Code: Is there a 'magical' number of hours in the Office? (Feb 19/June 20/Oct 20))

Hours of Marguerite D'Orleans

Caput XVI: Qualiter divina opera per diem agantur

UT ait propheta: Septies in die laudem dixi tibi. Qui septenarius sacratus numerus a nobis sic implebitur, si Matutino, Primae, Tertiae, Sextae, Nonae, Vesperae, Completoriique tempore nostrae servitutis officia persolvamus; quia de his diurnis horis dixit: Septies in die laudem dixi tibi. Nam de nocturnis Vigiliis idem ipse propheta ait: Media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi. Ergo his temporibus referamus laudes Creatori nostro super judicia justitiae suae, id est, Matutinis, Prima, Tertia, Sexta, Nona, Vespera, Completorio;et nocte surgamus ad confitendum ei.

Chapter 16 – How the Work of God is to be performed in the day-time

The prophet saith: Seven times a day have I given praise to thee. We shall observe this sacred number of seven, if we fulfil the duties of our service in the Hours of Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; for it was of these Day Hours that he said: Seven times a day have I given praise to thee. But of the Night Office the same prophet saith: At midnight I rose to give praise to thee. At these times, therefore, let us render praise to our Creator for the judgements of his justice: that is, at Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline; and let us rise in the night to praise him.


The Scriptural rationale for the number of hours
Chapter 16 turns, seemingly somewhat belatedly, to the rationale for the Office in terms of the number of hours to be said and why they are to be said.

The modern view is that there is no 'magical' number of hours or psalms. St Benedict, however, seems to suggest otherwise, claiming Scriptural authority for the number of hours to be said each day.  Should we take him seriously?

It is true of course that his seven hours a day schema did not in fact have a long tradition behind it. The oldest of the hours, dating back in rudimentary form a least to the first century, are almost certainly Lauds, Terce, Sext, None and Vespers (thus dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon and dusk), together with the night Office at least on Sundays. Prime, however, probably dates only from the fifth century, imported from the East by John Cassian; Compline can be traced back only so far as the fourth century.

Still, one could argue that this process of evolution reflects providential guidance to bring the Office into line with the Scriptural injunction cited here; certainly this schema took hold and stood the test of time until the liturgical revolution of Vatican II.

What is the purpose of the Office?
In the end, one’s view on the importance of the number of hours in the Office depends on one’s view of its purpose. There are two competing positions: one stresses the role of the Office in personal sanctification, as an aid to fulfilling the New Testament injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’; the other stresses the Office’s ecclesial dimension as sacrifice of praise on behalf of all creation, a work of intercession for the salvation of the world.

St Benedict, I would suggest, actually attempts to balance both objectives.

The Prologue to the Rule makes it clear that the first goal of the monk, as for us all, must be to reach heaven. It is clear that St Benedict does envisage the Office as an aid to this, perhaps why the section on the Night and Dawn Offices flow on directly from the chapter on humility without any fresh introduction. Implicitly, I think the message is that the monk learns humility and obedience by praying at the set times (including that early rise into the darkness) and following the rubrical prescriptions laid down.

In this chapter though, we are provided with some further rationales for the Office.

First, the very alignment of the day hours with the times of the civil day points to the idea of the sanctification of the monks’ day by interspersing his work with ‘frequent prayer’ (RB 4).

Secondly, the symbolism of the number seven in the verse St Benedict cites suggests fullness or perfection (the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven sacraments, etc), and can be interpreted as a reference to the New Testament injunction to ceaseless prayer.  Nonetheless, throughout the Rule, though, St Benedict sets out a fairly clear delineation between times of communal prayer, times of work and times for study.  He does not seem to advocate, as some do, that work become our liturgy!  Rather, St Benedict urges us to pray before working (Prologue), and demands that the monk treat his tools as if they were altar vessels: all of our lives, in other words, should be our offering, but that does not make times of work times of prayer.

More fundamentally, St Benedict connects the Office here not just to the process of growing in humility and charity of the earlier, spiritual instruction chapters, but also to the duty of praising our Creator and his righteous laws. It is unsurprising then, that the monastic Office has traditionally been held to be a participation in the priestly prayer of the whole Church particularly appropriate to those he calls as his special workmen, acting on behalf of the rest of us.

In recent centuries, clerics and religious only were deputed to say the Office in order to protect its integrity. Today the laity too, have the opportunity of participating in the Office as part of the official liturgical prayer of the Church; the distinction is that monks are bound to say all of the Office (in the form set out in the constitutions of their monastery), while the laity say what they can without any formal obligation to do so. What an awesome privilege!

And for the next part in this series, click here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

St Benedict's Liturgical Code: Feast Days (Feb 17/June 18/Oct 18)

The title of today's chapter of the Rule seems to take us back for a moment, to the Night Office of Matins.  But Dom Gueranger and others argue that its provisions apply equally to Lauds, and this interpretation is certainly reflected in the structure of the Office as it has come down to us.  Indeed, some modern translators argue that the chapter in fact refers to Lauds rather than Matins...

Caput 14: In nataliciis sanctorum qualiter agantur vigiliae

In Sanctorum vero festivitatibus vel omnibus sollemnitatibus, sicut diximus Dominico die agendum, ita agatur, excepto quod psalmi aut antiphonae vel lectiones ad ipsum diem pertinentes dicantur; modus autem suprascriptus teneatur.

Chapter 14: On how the night office is to be performed on saints’ days

On the feasts of Saints and on all festivals, let the Office be performed as we have prescribed for Sundays, except that the psalms, antiphons, and lessons belonging to the particular day are to be said; but the general arrangement of the Office shall be as laid down above.


St Benedict and devotion to the saints

There are several pieces of evidence that attest to St Benedict's devotion to the saints.  We know, from both St Gregory the Great and the archaeological record, that he established chapels at Monte Cassino dedicated to St Martin of Tours and St John the Baptist (both saints who combined the active and contemplative lives in their life and work).  Elsewhere in the Rule St Benedict talks about making vows on relics. And in this chapter he makes provision for their celebration in the liturgy.

The chapter points, then, to the great importance of the saints in the life of the Church: the saints provide us with models, and inspire us to do better.  They aid us when we need help.  And they provide a link between heaven and earth, reminding us that we are part not just of the Church Militant, but also must pray for the Church Suffering, those in purgatory, and can benefit from the intercession of the Church Triumphant, those in heaven.

The Office on saints days

It is in the area of the celebration of the saints that the Office has most become elaborated over time. As St Benedict specifies, the basic structure of three nocturns on major feast days has been retained. But as well, the use of specific sets of psalms for various types of feasts has arisen, overriding the use of the ferial psalms in many cases. And of course, a whole gradation of feast days has grown up over time (with ever changing labels and rubrics!).

Similarly, the Sunday psalms are used at Lauds for major feasts  - but the modern Office also includes festal psalms for Vespers, as well as special texts for the other hours of the day.

More importantly from a practical point of view, the number of saints celebrated in the calendar has increased dramatically.

Organic development of the liturgy?

This is perhaps a useful point at which to note the debate about how much the liturgy can be changed. At the extremes sit those who see the liturgy as entirely fixed by certain decrees (such as Pius V’s in the case of the Mass; St Benedict’s Rule for the Office), and at the other end of the scale, those who regard every aspect of the liturgy as a historically conditioned and therefore changeable.

The correct path, I think, lies somewhere in the middle.  In the case of the Office, some would point out that St Benedict was doing in these legislative provisions what many other monastic legislators were doing at the time in constructing an Office. And just as twentieth century Popes have reordered the psalm cursus and more for the Roman Rite, so too, it is perfectly legitimate, even authorized by the Rule, for modern monks to do likewise.

The alternative, and in my view better, position is that the Rule’s provisions are a providential recipe for a particular spirituality, a gift that has come down to us because God willed it. For centuries the Benedictine Office has provided an important element of continuity for new foundations and refoundations that has automatically served to provide a specifically Benedictine character to the houses of the Order.

But the framework St Benedict provides in his Rule is clearly sufficiently flexible to allow for the kind of ‘organic’ elaboration of the Office that has occurred over time, particularly in relation to feasts. The liturgy clearly can and does change over time, and there is no rationale that is obvous to me at any rate, beyond antiquarianism, something long condemned by the Church, and a rejection of the concept of obedience, for deciding to go back to St Benedict’s one class of feast schema, or to adopt without good reason and permission, some other arbitrarily chosen date for rubrics other than those currently approved by the Church (ie 1962 or later).

St Benedict and St Gregory the Great pray for us!

The next part of this series can be found here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St Benedict's Liturgical Code: Lauds/1 (Feb 14/June15/Oct 15)

Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, folio 182v

Today's section of the Rule describes the structure and content of Lauds on Sunday.

If you look at the Latin you will see that St Benedict uses the word 'Matutinis' to describe this hour (and vigils for what we now call Matins) - don't be confused by the terminology, this is the first of the day hours we are talking about here, taking its modern name from the three 'Laudate' psalms that conclude the psalmody for the hour.

Caput XII: Quomodo matutinorum sollemnitas agatur

In Matutinis dominico die, inprimis dicatur sexagesimus sextus psalmus sine antiphona in directum. Post quem dicatur quinquagesimus cum Alleluia; post quern dicatur centesimus septimus decimus et sexagesimus secundus; inde Benedictiones et Laudes, lectio de Apocalypsi una ex corde et responsorium, ambrosianum, versu, canticum de 'Evangelia', litania, et completum est.

Chapter 12: How the Office of Lauds is to be Said

LAUDS on Sundays should begin with the sixty-sixth psalm chanted straight through without an antiphon. After that let the fiftieth psalm be said, with Alleluia; then the hundred and seventeenth and the sixty-second; then the Benedicite and the Laudate psalms; then a lesson from the Apocalypse to be recited by heart, the responsory, the hymn, the versicle, the canticle from the Gospel book, the Kyrie eleison, and so the end.


Sunday in the Office and Mass is a weekly celebration of the Resurrection, and the imagery, texts and rubrics St Benedict specifies for this hour all reinforce this.

The symbolism of light and darkness

In the previous chapters (especially chapter 8) it was made clear that the timing and length of Matins was to be adjusted in order that Lauds started strictly at daybreak (McCann translates it as dawn, but the general consensus is that daybreak or first light is the actual meaning).  Unlike the Roman Office, where Matins and Lauds are typically joined together, St Benedict, you will recall from Chapter 8, actually provides for a separation between them, of shorter or longer duration depending on the season.

Some modern commentators see this daybreak start as a relic of a bygone age that was driven by the rhythms of agriculture, and there is a certain truth in this in that St Benedict clearly expected his monks to follow the flow of the seasons.  Still, St Benedict seems actually to have taken the structure of his office of Lauds, as he implies in the next chapter, pretty much entirely from the urban `Cathedral' Office of Rome, not the desert or the countryside traditions.

Moreover the symbolism of light and darkness St Benedict draws on in these provisions reflects a tradition dating back to the first Christians, and indeed, in all probability, Jewish practice as attested to not least in the very psalms we sing at the hour.  But in Christian practice the hour became strongly linked to the Resurrection. Dom Delatte, for example, in his classic commentary on the Rule, states that Lauds "represents the hour of victory of light over darkness, the hour of Our Lord's resurrection."

The psalms of Sunday Lauds

St Benedict is very specific in the psalms to be said at Lauds on Sunday, so it is worth considering the specific content of the psalms he sets for it.

The first psalm to be said, the invitatory psalm, Psalm 66, clearly sets the tone for the hour, by asking for God's blessing on the day to come.

Psalm 50 can be seen as serving as something of a continuation of the invitatory, addressing our need to purify ourselves from sin before offering God praise, and to help us recognize that, as Dom Delatte suggests,  "God alone can make it [the soul] come forth from its darkness". That he freely gives us this grace is reflected in the Alleluia St Benedict adds as its antiphon.

The resurrection focus of Sunday, however, is given pre-eminence by the use of  Psalm 117: the verse Haec Dies is used throughout the Easter Octave at Mass.  In the old Roman Office, this psalm was said at Prime.  St Benedict shifts it to the more important hour of Lauds, presumably in the interests of symmetry: Psalm 117 is the last of the 'Hallel' psalms on major Jewish feasts, and in an interesting reversal of their order (the first shall be last and the last first?), the first of this group of psalms (psalm 112) closes off Sunday Vespers.

Psalm 62 which follows perhaps provides something of a counterpoint to the Resurrection focus of Psalm 117, stressing the 'almost but not yet' character of the age we live in, speaking of the longing for Christ's return. 

Above all though, the rejoicing at the rising sun/Son is most aptly captured in the Benedicite, the three Laudate psalms, and the Benedictus (Gospel canticle), all of which serve to link God's work of creation, salvation and the re-creation of the world through Christ.

This commentary on the Rule continues here.

Monday, February 13, 2012

St Benedict's Liturgical Code: Matins/4 (Feb 13/June 14/Oct 14)

Agnès de Kiqeumberg's Matins, c1425

Today's section of the Benedictine Rule deals with the much longer than usual Sunday Night Office.

Caput 11: Qualiter diebus Dominus Vigiliae Agantur

Dominico die temperius surgatur ad Vigilias. In quibus Vigiliis teneatur mensura: id est, modulatis ut supra disposuimus sex psalmis et versu, residentibus cunctis disposite et per ordinem in subselliis, legantur in codice ut supra diximus quattuor lectiones cum responsoriis suis; ubi tantum in quarto responsorio dicatur a cantante Gloria, quam dum incipit, mox omnes cum reverentia surgant. Post quas lectiones sequantur ex ordine alii sex psalmi cum antiphonis, sicut anteriores, et versu. Post quos iterum legantur aliae quattuor lectiones cum responsoriis suis, ordine quo supra. Post quas dicantur tria cantica de 'Prophetarum',quae instituerit abbas; quae cantica cum Alleluia psallantur. Dicto etiam versu, et benedicente abbate, legantur aliae quat-tuor lectiones de Novo Testamento, ordine quo supra. Post quartum autem responsorium incipiat abbas hymnum Te Deum laudamus. Quo perdicto, legat abbas lectionem de 'Evangelia', cum honore et timore stantibus omnibus. Qua perlecta respondeant omnes Amen; et subsequatur mox abbas hymnum Te decet laus, et data benedictione incipiant Matutinos. Qui ordo Vigiliarum omni tempore tam aestatis quam hiemis aequaliter in die dominico tene-atur; ni, si forte (quod absit) tardius surgant, aliquid de lectionibus breviandum est aut responsoriis. Quod tamen omnino caveatur ne proveniat; quod si contigerit, digne inde satisfaciat Deo in oratorio, per cujus evenerit neglectum.

Chapter 11: How the Night Office is to be said on Sundays

On Sundays let the brethren rise earlier for the Night Office, in which let this order be kept. When the six psalms and the versicle have been chanted, as we ordained above, and all are seated in their stalls, duly and in order, then let there be read from the book, as we said before, four lessons with their responsories. In the fourth responsory only shall the reader chant the Gloria, and when he begins it let all rise immediately with reverence. After these lessons let there follow in order another six psalms with antiphons, like the previous ones, and a versicle. After these again let four more lessons be read with their responsories, in the same way as before. After these let there be three canticles from the book of the prophets, as appointed by the abbot, and let these canticles be chanted with Alleluia. Then, when the versicle has been said and the abbot has given the blessing, let another four lessons be read from the New Testament, in the same way as before. When the fourth responsory is finished, let the abbot begin the hymn Te Deum Laudamus. When that has been said, the abbot shall read the lesson from the book of the Gospels, all standing with fear and reverence. That having been read, let all answer Amen, and then let the abbot follow with the hymn Te decet laus, and the blessing having been given let them begin Lauds. This order of Matins shall be observed on Sundays all the year round, both in summer and winter; unless (which God forbid) they be late in rising, so that the lessons and responsories have to be shortened. However, let the greatest care be taken that this do not happen; but if it happen, let him through whose neglect it has occurred, make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.


These days we tend to think of Sundays as a day of rest; St Benedict, however, presents it as a day for worship, with his monks rising earlier order to say a much longer than usual Night Office. 

Though this approach to Sunday might seem counter-cultural to us today, in fact St Benedict’s schema represented a considerable concession at the time, compared to the common monastic practice of the time of staying up all night as Vigil for Sunday.

Blessed Pope John Paul II’s letter Dies Domini suggests that we need to recover something closer to St Benedict’s conception of the Sunday, and treat it as a ‘day of faith’ first and foremost rather than a day of rest:

“The commandment of the Decalogue by which God decrees the Sabbath observance is formulated in the Book of Exodus in a distinctive way: "Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy" (20:8). …Before decreeing that something be done, the commandment urges that something be remembered. It is a call to awaken remembrance of the grand and fundamental work of God which is creation, a remembrance which must inspire the entire religious life of man and then fill the day on which man is called to rest. Rest therefore acquires a sacred value: the faithful are called to rest not only as God rested, but to rest in the Lord, bringing the entire creation to him, in praise and thanksgiving, intimate as a child and friendly as a spouse….Therefore, the main point of the precept is not just any kind of interruption of work, but the celebration of the marvels which God has wrought.”

The second point to note, also reflected in Pope John Paul II’s exposition, is the joyous character of Sunday’s Office.

The psalms are upbeat in tone, containing many obvious allusions to the Resurrection and the coming joy of heaven, starting from psalm 20 at Matins, one of the Royal psalms which speaks of the crowning of the King.

It is normally festooned with Alleluias.

And each week, a Te Deum is sung (the hymn was probably composed by Bishop Nicetas c400) in thanksgiving for all God does for us, as well as the Te Decet Laus.

Sunday, Pope John Paul II reminds us, was viewed by the early Church as a mini-Easter:

‘"We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do so not only at Easter but also at each turning of the week": so wrote Pope Innocent I at the beginning of the fifth century, testifying to an already well established practice which had evolved from the early years after the Lord's Resurrection. Saint Basil speaks of "holy Sunday, honoured by the Lord's Resurrection, the first fruits of all the other days"; and Saint Augustine calls Sunday "a sacrament of Easter".’

Finally, minor additions of prayers and blessing aside, it is worth noting that the modern Office differs from that prescribed by S Benedict in one important respect, and that is the selection of readings: Patristic commentaries on the Gospel now generally substitute for the New Testament readings that St Benedict prescribed for the third nocturn.

This concludes St Benedict's commentary on Matins.  For his notes on Lauds, see the next part of this series.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

St Benedict's Liturgical Code:Matins/3 (Feb 12/June 13/Oct 13)

Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
Today's section of the Benedictine Rule looks at the structure of Matins in Summer.

Caput X: Qualiter aestatis tempore agatur nocturna laus

A pascha autem usque ad Kalendas Novembres, omnis ut supra dictum est psalmodiae quantitas teneatur, excepto quod lectiones in codice, propter brevitatem noctium, minime legantur; sed pro ipsis tribus lectionibus una de Veteri Testamento memoriter dicatur, quam brevis responsorius subsequatur, et reliqua omnia ut dictum est impleantur; id est, ut numquam minus a duodecim psalmorum quantitate ad Vigilias nocturnas dicantur, exceptis tertio et nonagesimo quarto psalmo.

Chapter 10: How the Night Office is to be said in summer

From Easter to the first of November, let the number of the psalms be exactly as given above; but let there be this difference, that the lessons from the book be not read, on account of the shortness of the nights. Instead of the three lessons, let there be but one from the Old Testament, said by heart, and let it be followed by a short responsory. But all else should be done as has been said; that is to say that there should never be less than twelve psalms at the Night Office, not counting the third and ninety-fourth.


That demanding Benedictine moderation

The abbreviation of Matins in summer reinforces St Benedict's first message of this section of the Rule, namely that the life of the monk is not based on sleep deprivation or other artificial austerities. The Office comes first, yes, but in the context of a balanced life.

St Benedict, I think, does emphasize moderation rather than the 'more is better' approach of his contemporaries, whose monks spent many more hours of the day reciting the psalms than St Benedict prescribes. Still, the saint does insist on a minimum number of psalms to be said at Matins - twelve plus the two invitatory psalms - that is not small.  Accordingly, it seems to me a considerable stretch to get from St Benedict's prescriptions to the 'less is more' approach of most monasteries today, who instead of retaining the weekly psalter, put a greater emphasis on the readings.

The primacy of the psalms

Indeed, this chapter also makes clear the primacy of the psalms as the basis of the Benedictine Office: readings and other elements are less important than this core, and can be dropped out as the seasons and other needs dictate.

It is true that the inclusion of readings at Matins does seem to have been a Benedictine innovation.  Still, it does seem to me a considerable irony that most modern versions of the Office actually reverse the relative emphasis between psalms and readings that St Benedict proposes.  Abbot Lawrence of Christ in the Desert Monastery, for example, argues that:

"In this short Chapter 10, we have an important teaching about the Divine Office as understood by Saint Benedict. In the modern age, our focus is very much on intellectual content and thus on listening to the readings. For Saint Benedict, it is clear, the psalms are the most important part of the Divine Office and so if the Divine Office has to be shorted, the readings are the first things to be omitted. So in the summer, when the night is shorter, the three longer readings are dropped and one shorter reading from the Old Testament is substituted."

This emphasis reflects the long tradition that saying the psalms is especially pleasing to God.  St Romuald's (950-1027) brief Rule for his Comaldolese Congregation of Benedictines, for example, instructed his monks as follows:

"Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him."

The next part of this series can be found here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

St Benedict's Liturgical Code: Matins/2 (Feb 11/June 12/Oct 12)

Gray-Fitzpayn Book of Hours, c14th
Continuing my series on St Benedict's liturgical code, today's section of the Benedictine Rule continues to set out details of the night Office, Matins.

Caput 9: Quanti psalmi dicendi sunt Nocturnis horis

Hiemis tempore suprascripto, in primis versu tertio dicendum, Domine labia men aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam; cui subjungendus est tertius psalmus et Gloria: posthunc, psalmus nonagesimus quartus cum antiphona, aut certe decantandus. Inde sequatur ambrosianum: deinde sex psalmi cum antiphonis. Quibus dictis, dicto versu, benedicat abbas; et sedentibus omnibus in scamnis legantur vicissim a fratribus in codice super analogium tres lectiones, inter quas et tria responsoria cantentur. Duo responsoria sine Gloria dicantur; post tertiam vero lectionem, qui cantat dicat Gloriam; quam dum incipit cantor dicere, mox omnes de sedilibus suis surgant ob honorem et reverentiam Sanctae Trinitatis.

Codices autem legantur in Vigiliis divinae auctoritatis tarn Veteris Testamenti quam Novi; sed et expositiones earum, quae a nominatis et orthodoxis catholicis Patribus factae sunt. Post has vero tres lectiones cum responsoriis suis, sequantur reliqui sex psalmi cum Alleluia canendi. Post hos lectio apostoli sequatur ex corde recitanda, et versus, et supplicatio litaniae, id est Kyrie eleison; et sic finiantur Vigiliae nocturnae.

Chapter 9: How Many Psalms are to be said at the Night Office

In the aforesaid winter season, there is first the versicle Domine labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam [O Lord open my lips, that my mouth may declare thy praise], to be said three times; then must follow the third psalm and the Gloria; then the ninety-fourth psalm to be chanted with an antiphon, or at any rate to be chanted.

Let the hymn follow next, and then six psalms with antiphons. When these are finished and the versicle said, let the abbot give a blessing; and then, all being seated in their places, let three lessons be read from the book on the lectern by the brethren in their turns, and let three responsories be chanted between them. Two of the responsories shall be said without the Gloria; but after the third lesson let the reader chant the Gloria. And as soon as he has begun it, let all rise from their seats in honour and reverence to the Holy Trinity.

The books to be read at Matins shall be the inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and also the commentaries on them which have been made by well-known and orthodox Catholic Fathers.

After these three lessons with their responsories, let there follow the remaining six psalms, which shall be chanted with Alleluia. After these shall follow the lesson from the apostle, to be recited by heart, the versicle, and the petition of the litany, that is Kyrie eleison. And so shall the Night Office end. (trans J McCann)


This chapter sets out the structure of daily Matins, and its prescriptions continue to be followed with only minor variants in the 1962 version of the Office.

In designing a liturgy for his monks, St Benedict took as his starting point the contemporary (fifth century) Roman Office.  But he seems to have done a fair amount of recrafting of its design to reflect his own particular school of spirituality, and this is particularly apparent in Matins.

First, the opening versicle that he has selected, Domine labia mea aperies, seems to serve as a reminder of what I would argue is the primary purpose of the Benedictine Office, namely to praise God. Pope Benedict XVI has said:

"Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. ‘Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! – Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!’: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1). Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks.”

Secondly, consider first the Trinitarian focus St Benedict gives Matins.  The Fathers loved the symbolism of numbers (have a read of Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus' commentary on the psalms for example), and St Benedict is no exception to this, opening Matins with a threefold repetition of a verse from Psalm 50; having three readings and three responsories on winter weekdays.

Similarly, the doxologies he instructs be added to the psalms, as well as reinforcing that trinitarian message, are perhaps also intended to reinforce the idea that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New, and the New interprets the Old.  They also serve as a constant reminder of why we offer the Office:  as Pope Benedict XVI has said, the Office “is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously renewed it."

There is also I suspect some symbolism in the number of psalms to be said: twelve variable psalms to represent the twelve apostles?  And perhaps fourteen to reflect the Incarnation (St Matthew's genealogy of Our Lord comes in three groups of fourteen generations)?

Finally, St Benedict inserts not one but two 'invitatory' psalms to be said daily, namely Psalms 3 and 94.  These psalms, I think, strongly reflect the spirituality set out in the Benedictine Rule. 

In particular, Psalm 3 asks for help in the daily spiritual warfare, and uses the kind of robust martial imagery that St Benedict frequently uses in the Rule. 

Psalm 94, by contrast, is a joyful invitation to worship our creator, redeemer and protector.  But it also has a darker message, namely a warning not to put off repentance, but to respond to God’s call here and now, a theme St Benedict dwells on at length, referencing this psalm, in the Prologue to the Rule.

And you can find the next part of this series here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Understanding the Benedictine Office: upcoming series

There are quite a few people who are relatively new to the Benedictine Office looking in on this blog, so I thought it might be helpful to run a short series on the structure and underlying spirituality of the traditional Benedictine Office.

The Rule of St Benedict on the Office

In fact, the Rule of St Benedict devotes quite a few chapters to the Office, and these are traditionally read between February 10 and 26 (and again in June and October) in monasteries. 

Reading these chapters reflectively, will I think, help you to get more out of the Office, as well as aid your understanding of how it all fits together and works.

Many who do read the Rule regularly, struggle, I think, to get much spiritual juice out of the section on the Office. But my own view is that the Benedictine Office as broadly set out in the Rule is a vital element of Benedictine spirituality, teaching and reinforcing many of the messages set out elsewhere in the Rule, as well as important in its own right.

Accordingly, I plan to offer a short series of posts each day here by way of commentary on this section of it.

You don't have to have read what comes before it in the Rule to make sense of that is often described as St Benedict's 'liturgical code', but if you do have time for a quick read or refresher of the Prologue up to Chapter 7, that will certainly be helpful.  You can find online versions of the Rule of St Benedict in a variety of languages here.

Each post will set out the prescribed section of the Rule for the day in Latin and English (using the translation by Abbot Justin McCann).  I'll then set out a few notes on it for you to consider, question and debate.

And before I start that, I'll offer a sort introduction to this section of the Rule.  So more soon....

Understanding the psalms

I'd also like to draw your attention to my other blog, Psallam Domino.  Over there I'm providing a series of notes aimed at helping people pray the psalms in the Office more deeply, and particularly, to pray them in Latin, in line with the Church's tradition!

If you have a look through it, I've already provided notes on quite a few psalms, but at the moment I've just started on the psalms of Sunday Vespers, with an introductory post on Psalm 109.

To find the next part in this series, click here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

History of the Roman Office

The New Liturgical Movement website has just published the latest in its excellent series on the history of the Roman Office since 1568 by Gregory di Peppio.

Not all of the changes made were adopted in the Benedictine Office (fortunately) but many were.  In any case, it is excellent reading for anyone interested in the Office.

You can find a list of the parts in the series so far, and links to supporting material here.