Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Introduction to the Divine Office, and a basic "How-to"

This is an Introduction to the "Day Hours of the Church," in the "Liturgy for Layfolk" series by the Benedictine Nuns of the Stanbrook Abbey. The Introduction is by the Right Reverend Abbot Fernand Cabrol, OSB (of blessed memory). I thought I would share it in its entirety, although it is a rather lengthy article.


THE compilers and publishers of this translation of the Day Hours of the Church have desired me to introduce it to the public, and, in so doing, to set down the motives which have induced them to undertake so laborious a work. I do so the more willingly that I am convinced, with them, of its usefulness and advantages. And this conviction I should like all readers to share. It will suffice, I trust, for my purpose, to maintain in general the excellence of liturgical prayer, to seek out more particularly the origin and meaning of the “Horæ Diurnæ,” and to show the dogmatic bearing, the interest, and the beauty of these prayers.

Read more!



PRAYER is, of all things on earth, that which approaches nearest to heaven. Every being must give glory to God, for this is the very purpose of creation. Indeed, we may say that every being does, in its own way, pay this homage to God : " The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night showeth knowledge." The whole creation sings a hymn to the living God : the orbs of heaven, by following in their harmonious revolutions the course he has traced for them matter, by obeying the laws imposed by him ; the animals, by their elaborate organisms and their marvellous instincts. Nevertheless, all this inanimate creation, all these living things that fly through the air, that creep or run or bound upon the earth, that hide in the depths of the ocean, are unconscious of the office they fulfil. They follow blindly the laws and instincts of their nature. Until the creation of man, " homo sapiens," these wonders had no witness capable of admiring them this magnificent scene was unfolded before blind and deaf spectators. At length came man, a being superior to all those which had hitherto appeared upon the earth ; gifted with intelligence, reason, will, emotion, he sees, understands, examines, analyses, compares, draws conclusions. He will study the world that lies around him ; he will seek out its laws, and enter into its harmonies. He is creation's cantor. In the immortal words of Pascal " Man is but a reed, the feeblest thing in nature ; but a reed which thinks. There is no need for the whole universe to be armed against him in order to crush him : a vapour, a drop of water, is sufficient to destroy him. Yet should the universe crush him, man would still be more noble than that which kills him, because he knows that he dies, he knows that the universe is stronger than he : the universe knows nothing of it." Such is the being who will give thanks, who will be the voice of all, who will adore" in spirit and in truth," singing in the name of all creation the canticle Benedicite : "All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord, praise and exalt him above all for ever." This is his vocation, his greatness, his glory. Why man understands this vocation so little, why, since the fall, so many neither adore nor give thanks for all creation or even for themselves, it is not for us to explain here ; we can but mention it with regret. All the more august, then, all the more precious and sublime, is the vocation of those who understand the necessity of prayer, who consecrate their lives to the praise of God, and to intercession for themselves and for all their brethren. They form the "little flock" to whom the Father has given the kingdom (St Luke xii. 32).

If even in the natural order prayer and praise are the duty of every man, in the supernatural order this duty, like every other, is elevated and sanctified. Nor does it consist merely in private, individual prayer. Man is a social being. He is not an isolated, independent, autonomous creature, playing his part without a care for the other members of his race. He is a family, a city, a nation ; and, in the supernatural order, he is the Church. As a social being he is bound to pay to God a social homage ; and this homage the Church has organised. She is not satisfied with inviting us to praise and glorify God by our life and by our private prayer : she has instituted a public, official worship, namely, the Liturgy, the Divine Office. By liturgical prayers we mean those officially prescribed by the Church in her missal, breviary, ritual, pontifical, and diurnal. Nov, if every prayer addressed to the true God, by a Christian, with a pure and upright heart, is a good work, much more may this be said of liturgical prayer, which is both more excellent and more efficacious than private prayer.

It is not difficult to assign the reasons:


IN the first place, it is the Church's prayer. Private 'prayer has a personal value, varying according to the degree of faith, fervour, and holiness of him who prays. The Church's prayer has always, in itself, and independently of the person praying, an absolute value. It is a formula composed by the Church, and carrying with it her authority. Now, the Church can no more be deceived when she offers us a formula of prayer than when she prescribes a formula of faith : "Legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi," said the ancients : " The law of prayer establishes the law of faith." The Church is the well-beloved and only bride of Christ ; she is always pleasing to him, and her desires are always granted : she knows best what words will appeal to his Heart, It is the Holy Ghost who prays in her, with those unspeakable groanings of which St Paul tells us " We know not what we should pray for as we ought ; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings " (Rom. viii. 26). When uttering these formulas the Christian is sure of being heard ; for he acts as a member of the Church, of which Christ is the Head. He prays, and prays not alone he prays with Christ, the eternal Priest and Intercessor, who ever pleads for us before his heavenly Father. This prayer, in a word, is Catholic, and anyone who by chance opens this book of the Day Hours will readily perceive that it is so. Most of the expressions are in the plural : " Let us pray " ; " Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us " ; " May the Lord give us his peace " ; " Our help is in the name of the Lord " ; " Hear us, O God our salvation," etc. Even those which are in the singular are applied to the individual only in so far as he prays in union with his brethren ; as the " Deus in adjutorium," " Incline unto mine aid, O God ; O Lord, make haste to help me." In fact, this prayer is that of the choir ; it is intended to be said in common. Even when recited privately it keeps its public character ; it is universal, Catholic ; it is the Christian people that prays, and the prayer is said for all the faithful, and by all the faithful (at least virtually) the whole world over. Hence one may gauge the deep meaning and the value it derives from this very universality.


LITURGICAL prayer is superior to all others not only because it is the Church's prayer, but also on account of the elements of which it is composed. In England and in France collections of very beautiful prayers have been published : prayers of poets, of great souls, of kings, etc.1 All these books possess a certain interest, literary, psychological, historical, or theological ; yet we must own that they are sometimes rather vague, and often produce the impression of literary effort or of pretentiousness. But who can sufficiently praise the style of liturgical prayer ? It consists of two elements : prayers from Holy Writ, and prayers composed by the Church. There is no necessity to demonstrate to Catholics the value of prayers taken from Holy Scripture ; they know that this sacred Book is inspired by the Holy Ghost, and that the prayers it contains are of infallible, nay divine, authority. No other prayer is comparable to these. The Psalms especially, of which the Church makes such constant use, have always been regarded as the most perfect expression of prayer. In England, certainly, there is no need to prove this truth.2

The second element of liturgical prayer is of ecclesiastical origin. It consists either of centos (i.e. combinations of phrases, a sort of mosaic of sentences taken from different parts of Scripture and welded together), or of formulas which both in matter and form are the Church's own, such as collects, hymns, legends of the saints, blessings, acclamations, etc. For us Catholics the authority of the Church, when she prays officially, is paramount : we believe, as already stated, that she is inspired by the Holy Ghost, who secures her against all error. She could not deceive her children, or lead them astray. We accept what she offers us, with the confidence of children receiving food from their mother.3 We shall have to speak later on of many of these formulas; but we may here mention that the most solemn of them, the collects, are the most admirable set of prayers in existence. Their source is the highest inspiration ; and their composition, from a literary point of view, is exquisite. It has been remarked that many of them bear the stamp of the Roman genius, so sober, simple, laconic, but withal so forcible and so pregnant with thought.


LASTLY, this prayer holds the first rank on account of its efficacy, or the effects it produces in the soul. Its influence on the Christian life is incalculable. It is a norm or rule of spiritual life. Some have even asserted that it is not merely the best, but the only rule ; as though, apart from it, there were no salvation, no spiritual or even Christian life for the soul. But we do not wish to revive a worn-out controversy. We would not put any restraint upon the liberty allowed by the Church as to the choice of methods. The important point is to reach the goal : some will go by the royal road, others will take to by-paths ; it matters not, provided they meet at the last stage. At best, the question has not always been correctly stated or rightly understood. In its true meaning it is not open to discussion, for it is a decided fact ; Rome has spoken, we might say. All priests, all religious, all those who are bound by their vocation to the recitation of the Divine Office, nay, all the faithful, in so far as they are bound to liturgical service (assisting at Mass, receiving the ,sacraments), are obliged to esteem and love this form of divine worship. They are not allowed to disparage it by preferring other forms of worship, or devotions, or prayers which have not the official approbation of the Church.

So much for the question of authority. It remains now to point out the nature of the influence exercised by the liturgy upon the Christian soul.

It is universally acknowledged that prayer is one of the essential elements of the Christian life : without it, all is in danger ; with it, and by it, all is life, prosperity, development. It is a germ deposited in the soul, which, if cared for and cultivated, develops like a plant set in good soil, watered by the dews of heaven, warmed by a bright sun, and fostered by the care of a skilful gardener. The form which this prayer is to take is, therefore, not an idle question, nor one of secondary importance. The Christian must pray. Is he to be left to his own inspiration ? Doubtless the Holy Ghost dwells in him ; but He does not always speak and act, at least directly. But He often does so through the medium of the Church.

Setting aside certain privileged souls, prepared no doubt by long practice, many of the faithful are as unable to find for themselves the right formula of prayer, as in civil life they would be incapable of improvising a speech. They must, then, have a guide. And what better guide could be provided for them than the liturgy ? It furnishes us not only with the matter, but with the very text of our prayer. Little by little, if we suffer ourselves to be led by the hand, we shall find that we have a guide who will not forsake us, but will conduct us by paths known to him alone ; we belong no more to ourselves, but are under his control. The guide has become the pedagogue, and master, and ruler of our life. The sacraments, meeting us at every juncture ; the sacramentals, which claim a lower yet an important place in our Christian life ; the seasons of the year, each with its liturgical colour and purpose, and its special feasts ; the hours of the day and night, each with its appointed prayer ; the Divine Office, with its course of readings, chants, psalms, prayers, acclamations ; the Mass, with its daily varying formulas all these open out upon the spiritual life well-nigh infinite vistas. We are caught as in a current. The spiritual life, the priestly life above all, must needs be absorbed in it, or at least take shape and direction from it. Far from resisting the stream, it is good, useful, even desirable that we should yield ourselves up to it. Is not this what the Church wishes ? Let us suffer ourselves to be guided and drawn ; this is the secret of the progress and sanctification of many a soul.


HOWEVER lofty the dignity of liturgical prayer considered in the Divine Office, there is a yet more excellent rite ; a rite to which all other prayers and ceremonies of the liturgy are but as handmaidens : " adducentur Regi virgines post eam, proximæ ejus afferentur tibi." This is the Mass. There is Christ himself, making reparation, redeeming, praying to his Father, offering himself as a Victim to him, and giving himself to us. But this supereminence of the Mass, far from relegating the Divine Office to an inferior position, enhances its glory. In the liturgical world the Mass is the sun, which illumines all the planets and attracts them into its orbit. Liturgical prayer cannot and must not be separated from the holy sacrifice, to which it serves as a sort of cortege, and from which it derives all its value.

There is good reason for believing that originally the Divine Office formed part of the Mass. The synaxis, for which the early Christians assembled by night, consisted of the " breaking of bread," preceded by the singing of psalms and hymns, litanies and collects, readings, homilies, invocations, and canticles. This was the whole of the official liturgical prayer, apart, of course, from private prayer. From this somewhat crowded celebration, by an evolution the course of which we need not follow here, the Night Office (Matins, Lauds, and perhaps Vespers) came into existence, and afterwards threw out, like stars of second magnitude, Prime, Compline, and the Little Hours of the day. Besides this link of common origin, and the resemblance of the elements which compose them (psalms, hymns, versicles, responsories, readings, acclamations, collects), all these Hours are now clokly connected with the Mass of each day. The lessons of Matins, the Gospel, the homily, the collects, and some of the psalms of these Hours are the same as those of the Mass. The Mass regulates and determines the Office : according as it is of the feast, or feria, or vigil, so also is the Office ; at least such was the custom in the golden age of the liturgy. The very structure of the Office of Matins corresponded originally with that of the Mass of Catechumens.4

This intimate connection gives to the Office of day and night its true meaning. The Mass is par excellence the sacrifice of praise offered to God by Christ, who is both Priest and Victim. All our prayer must be united to his, and has no merit without him : " By him, and with him, and in him, is all honour and glory to thee, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen." It is for this reason also that we conclude every prayer with : " Through our Lord Jesus Christ." An analysis of the Epistle to the Hebrews would show how admirably St Paul has developed this truth.



THE " Day Hours," " Horæ Diurnæ," or " Cursus

Diurnus " contains all the prayers of the breviary, and all the parts of the Divine Office except Matins. This last, the Night Office, includes readings from holy Scripture, the legends of the saints, and homilies ; so that, in point of extent, it forms the principal portion of the breviary. By omitting Matins, we have a portable volume of conveniently small size known as the Diurnal or Day Hours. This is the portion of the Office with which we are now concerned. These Hours correspond to the divisions of the day as computed by the Romans : Prime, the first Hour, about six o'clock in the morning Terce, the third Hour, at nine ; Sext, the sixth Hour, about midday ; None, the ninth Hour, three in the afternoon Vespers, the twelfth Hour, towards six o'clock in the evening. Lauds and Compline stand apart. The former is attached to Matins, and is supposed to be said at dawn (in summer, three or four in the morning) ; Compline is the Office that closes the day, and is said about eight or nine at night. Of course this calculation is merely approximate, for the Roman hours varied with the season, according to the time of sunrise.

The institution of seven Hours of prayer in the day is very ancient, but not quite primitive. Originally, as we have said, there was but one public assembly by night, the synaxis, to which, more or less, all the prayers were attached. The division into separate Hours developed by degrees ; it began towards the second century, and by the fourth it was nearly complete. From the sixth century, or even earlier, these words of the prophet were applicable to the public prayer : " Seven times a day have I given praise unto thee." And to Matins, or the vigils celebrated in the night, belonged this other text : " At midnight I rose to praise thee."

We will now study separately the origin of each of these Day Hours.


THE Office of Lauds (from the Latin " Laudes," praises) is so called on account of the last three

psalms which were formerly always recited, namely, Psalms 148, 149, and 1 so, and in which the word " Laudate " constantly recurs. In ancient documents, prior to the seventh or eighth century, Lauds are known as " Matutinum," that is Matins or the morning Office ; or again as " Gallicinium," or " ad galli cantus," from being celebrated at cockcrow. This is, in fact, the Office of daybreak ; and the hour of its recitation formerly varied according to the rising of the sun : hence its symbolism. Christ, the light of the world, rose from the tomb on Easter morning, like a radiant sun triumphing over darkness and shedding his brightness upon the earth. The hymns, psalms, antiphons, and versicles of Lauds all proclaim the mystery of Christ's Resurrection, and the light which enlightens our souls. The reform of the Psalter in 1911 has not always preserved this liturgical idea ; nevertheless the character of the Office has not been altered. Lauds remain the true morning-prayer, which hails in the rising sun the image of Christ triumphant, and consecrates to him the opening day. No other morning-prayer is comparable to this.

At the present time the Office of Lauds consists of four psalms and a canticle, followed, as at the other Day Hours, by a little chapter, hymn, and versicle ; after which the canticle " Benedictus " is said with its antiphon, and then the collect. On certain days the Prayers or " Preces " are added.

We may remark here, to avoid repetition, that all the Day Hours are composed, like Lauds, of two parts : first, the psalmody, that is, a certain number of psalms with their antiphons ; and secondly, the other prayers, namely, a little chapter or short lesson, a hymn, versicle, and collect, corresponding to the readings at Matins and to the rites which accompany them. But the Hours of Lauds and Vespers most closely resemble each other in form.

One of the characteristics of Lauds from a liturgical point of view is that a canticle from the Old Testament is inserted after the third psalm, and that the hymn is followed by another canticle, the " Benedictus."

If, according to the new distribution of the Psalter, the psalms for Lauds do not refer so directly as heretofore to the symbolism of sunrise, they are nevertheless more varied, and are generally well chosen. The canticles inserted among the psalms have also been changed. The whole selection is worthy of note. It contains, besides those given in the former arrangement of the Psalter, others which are very beautiful and admirably prayerful.

The " Benedictus " corresponds to the " Magnificat " of Vespers. Both are sung with the same solemnity and are of the same importance ; they form, as it were, the culminating point of their respective Hours, and on feast days the altar is incensed while they are chanted.

The " Benedictus," or canticle of Zachary, recalls the Precursor's mission of proclaiming the Messiah and the new alliance. It is altogether appropriate to the Office of daybreak, as ushering in the dawn of a new era. The closing verse speaks of the light which the announcement of the Messiah shed upon the nations " sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death."

The hymns for Lauds, all ancient and varying with the seasons, form a fine collection. Their theme is one : the rising of the sun as a symbol of Christ's Resurrection, and the crowing of the cock which arouses the sluggish and calls all to work. Some of these hymns are of considerable poetical merit ; that for Sunday, " Æterne rerum Conditor," is a little masterpiece. Unfortunately space will not allow us to dwell upon them here.


THE Office of Prime appears at first sight somewhat more complicated than the other Little Hours, Terce, Sext, and None, to which it is usually joined ; and this because it is composed of two distinct portions. The first portion consists, like the other Hours, of a hymn, psalms, little chapter, and collect ; for the prayers and " Confiteor " inserted before the collect to be said on certain days may be considered as adjuncts. The second portion includes the reading of the Martyrology (when Prime is said in choir), and a certain number of other prayers peculiar to this Hour. The reason for this divergence may be traced to the fact that Prime is of monastic institution ; and the second portion, which is said in the chapter- house, has reference to monastic customs. The Martyrology and Necrology having been read, prayers were said for the dead recommended to the community, as benefactors, friends, patrons, protectors, etc. Then followed a special prayer in preparation for the manual labour of the day ; and a chapter of the Rule was read, on which the abbot sometimes briefly commented, or else he gave some admonition to the community. This monastic character will be easily recognised by a glance at the formulas used. The prayer " Sancta Maria et omnes sancti " forms a natural conclusion to the reading of the Martyrology. The " Deus in adjutorium," the " Pater noster," with the accompanying versicles, and the collect, are the prayers before manual labour : " Respice," etc. : " Look, O Lord, upon thy servants and upon thy works . . . and direct thou the works of our hands " ; " Dirigere et sanctificare," etc. : "Vouchsafe to direct and sanctify . . . our senses, words, and actions," etc. ; whilst the " Dominus nos benedicat " and the " Fidelium animæ " are the conclusion of the prayers for the dead.

The origin of Prime is less ancient than that of Lauds and Vespers, or of the other Day Hours ; it is the only one of which the precise time of institution can be determined. Cassian, who lived in the fourth century (about 382), claims it as being established in his lifetime and in his own monastery in Palestine. The Night Office (Matins and Lauds), he says, finished at daybreak. From that hour until Terce, the monks remained in their cells, occupied in reading or study. As the time was long, especially in summer, they were naturally exposed to the temptation of falling asleep. To obviate any such abuse, this extra Hour of Prime was instituted in order to recall the monks to choir ; and the time after Prime was given to manual labour. (Cassian, " Institutions," Book III., chap. iv.)

The construction of this Office has varied throughout the centuries. We have seen its present arrangement but it should be added that the time-honoured symbol of faith, the Athanasian Creed, which has been the subject of so much controversy among Anglicans, is inserted on certain days.


THESE three Little Hours have the same origin and the same form. They correspond, as we have already said, to the Greek and Roman divisions of the

hours of the day: nine o'clock, midday, three o'clock. At six o'clock the evening or vesper hour began, followed by the night watches until six in the morning. The custom of praying at these hours is very ancient. It was in use among the devout Jews, and the first Christians faithfully observed it. We find mention of it in the Acts of the Apostles : Peter prayed at the sixth hour ; Cornelius was in prayer at the ninth hour, etc. (Acts x. 9, 3, 3o ; iii. I). To the Christians these hours were of peculiar significance ; for at nine o'clock the Holy Ghost descended; at twelve our Saviour was nailed to the cross and darkness covered the earth, and at three Jesus expired on the cross.

In form, these three Hours are identical. After the preliminary " Deus in adjutorium " come the hymn, three psalms, a little chapter, short responsory, collect, and the concluding versicles. On Sundays the psalmody consists of three divisions of Psalm 118 ; on the other days the series from Psalm 26 to Psalm 1o8 is used, omitting a few which are required for other Hours, and dividing some of them into two or three portions. The hymns of these Little Hours precede the psalms, as at Matins ; whereas at Vespers and Lauds they follow them.5 Though short, they are very ancient, and occupy an important place in the history of hymnology. Their authorship cannot with any certainty be assigned to St Ambrose, but they most probably belong to his school. The " Nunc sancte nobis Spiritus," of Terce, speaks of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles ; the hymn of Sext alludes to the heat of midday, and is a prayer against the temptations of that hour ; whilst that of None recalls our Redeemer's death : " sed præmium mortis sacree perennis instet gloria." Their movement is lively and natural.

The little chapters, and versicles, in the Office of the season often refer to the mysteries commemorated at these several Hours.

Thus these devotions of Terce, Sext, and None, so short and well chosen, are fixed at hours which ought to be dear to all fervent Christians, as recalling the chief mysteries of our Redemption : hours when the heart naturally raises itself to God, and may find expression for its sentiments in the prayer of the Church.


VESPERS, "vespertina synaxis, vespertina solemnitas," is, as the name implies, the evening service. Like the corresponding .Office of Lauds, it ought to be celebrated with great solemnity. It is an Hour replete with symbolism. In the fourth century, Vespers went by the name of " lucernarium," because it was celebrated at the decline of day and by the light of lamps. The lights recalled the hour of the great sacrifice in the Jewish temple, the " sacrificium vespertinum." They also reminded the faithful that Christ is the true light, who, like the pillar of fire going before the Hebrews, leads Christians through the desert of this world. incense was also burned ; and hence another name for Vespers was " hora incensi," the hour of incense. Perhaps the Service of Holy Saturday, with the chanting of the " Exsultet," the blessing of the fire and of the incense, and its other ceremonies, was but the Office of the " lucernarium " in its full solemnity. In any case, Prudentius connects all these circumstances together in a hymn composed for this Hour.

Everything tends to make the Hour of Vespers, as evidenced from the fourth to the sixth century, the most solemn and sacred Hour of the Day Office, and one might even add, the most poetical. It is the hour when the last rays of the sun disappear, the hour of twilight, and of the mysterious creeping in of night with its phantoms and terrors. The theme of the psalms and hymn, the fragrance of the incense, the brightness of the lights, all this tends to strike the imagination, whilst it elevates the soul and casts her, awed and trembling, into the arms of her God ; for with the approach of darkness man becomes more sensible of his weakness and dependence. Hence during all ages, and even to the present day when liturgical prayer has so often been decried, the faithful have ever cherished the Office of Vespers. Whilst the other Hours are scarcely known even by name, this one, the Evensong of Sunday, is everywhere celebrated, and has still the same attraction. Although the form of this Office has varied much with time and in the different liturgies, certain traits of antiquity have survived all these transformations. In the present diurnal, the psalms chosen for Vespers are still those from 109 to 144, which is a very ancient selection. The hymns of this Hour are of the same style as those of Lauds, and probably belong to the same period. They celebrate, according to the six days of creation, the formation of light, of the plants, of the animals, etc. They constitute a small hexameron of poetic beauty and interest.


THIS Office, like Prime, is of later origin than Vespers and the other Hours. Like Prime, too, it is, as it were, an additional Hour ; and its institution dates from the time when the grandeur of Vespers, the true evening Office, was diminishing. It seems, in a certain sense, to have sprung out of Vespers, and to have carried away with it some of the solemnity and significance of that Hour. The name Compline, derived from the Latin " Completorium," denotes the Office that completes and closes the Hours of the day.

Its origin is less certain than that of Prime. It has been considered as dating from St Benedict in the sixth century ; and certainly the name Compline, and the description of the Office, are first found in his Rule. But recent researches have traced it to the fifth or even the fourth century, where mention is made of an evening Office between Vespers and the Vigils or Matins. It was a form of night-prayers. It remains doubtful whether St Benedict adopted it from the Roman Office or vice versa. The Roman Compline is very beautiful, and is more complete than that of the Benedictine breviary, which would lead us to assign it to a more recent date.

The new distribution of the Psalter discards the traditional psalms, 4, 9o, and 133, except for Sundays and greater feasts, substituting other psalms for the remaining days of the week. The short lesson " Fratres, sobrii estote," the hymn " Te lucis ante terminum," the responsory " In manus tuas Domine," the canticle of the venerable Simeon " Nunc dimittis," the antiphon " Salva nos," and the collect " Visita qusumus," are all admirably chosen for this closing hour of the day, and appropriate for night-prayers.



THE Diurnal, or Office Book of the Day Hours of the Church, comprises the several parts here briefly set forth.


or list of Feasts and Saints' days ; followed by a Table of the order of Feasts, and two Tables concerning the occurrence and concurrence of Feasts, with directions for use.


to which reference is constantly made. This portion of the book comprises the psalms in use for all the Hours, beginning with Lauds, for which Hour the new distribution of the Psalter assigns two sets : one for Sundays and Feast days, noted as " first place," and another for ferias and vigils, as also for the Sundays in Advent and from Septuagesima to Easter, referred to as " second place." Here also are to be found the little chapters, hymns, etc.


LIKE the civil year, the liturgical year comprises a certain number of seasons. They are : Advent, Christmas, Septuagesima, Lent, Paschaltide, and the Time after Pentecost. The Offices for these different seasons form what is called the Proper of the Time or Season. We can only briefly sketch the history of each.

ADVENT or " Coming, "from the Latin "Adventus," announces, as the name implies, the coming or birth of Christ, and is that period during which the faithful prepare for the celebration of the Christmas mystery. Advent comprises the four Sundays preceding Christmas day but as that feast may occur on any day of the week, there are four complete weeks only when it falls on a Sunday. When Christmas day is on Monday, Advent has only three complete weeks. The liturgy of Advent, embracing a Proper for the four Sundays and other special occasions such as the Ember Days, not to mention the feasts which occur, is rich in beauty and instruction. This Season represents the long centuries during which the human race awaited in anxious expectation the coming of the Messiah : centuries of hope, betokened by the prayers and cries of the prophets calling for the Emmanuel, the promised Saviour, and by their prophetic descriptions disclosing to future generations the marks whereby to know him. The hymns, antiphons, versicles, and psalms of the Day Office resound with the oft-repeated cry : " Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One ; come and deliver us ; show thy face and we shall be saved ; now is the hour for us to rise from sleep ; night has passed, day is at hand," etc. Throughout the Advent Office frequent allusion is made to St John the Baptist, the Precursor, who pointed out the Messiah in clearer terms than any of the prophets. The antiphons of the Sunday Office are of a soul-stirring character. Those of Christmas Eve should be studied in detail. But the Great Antiphons, sometimes called the O's of Advent, deserve all our attention, whether we consider them from a doctrinal point of view, or for the magnificent titles they give to the Messiah, or again for their remarkable structure. We can but draw attention to these different features the faithful, however, who study and meditate on these sublime formulas will find them instinct with admirable teaching.

CHRISTMASTIDE. This liturgical season, which begins with the feast of Christmas, may close as early as January 18, or may extend even to February 22. These two days are called the keys of Septuagesima, because Septuagesima Sunday cannot fall before the former, nor after the latter date. Christmas is a time of joy. Holy Church is filled with enthusiasm in the glad celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation. The soul prepared by penance and the mournfulness of the Advent season has reached the harbour she is now all illumined with the rays of the Epiphany or Theophany, the manifestation of God to man. Jesus makes himself known to her in the mystery of his infancy, and invites her to the joys of the illuminative life. Trues there are still in reserve the greater lights shed from the mysteries of Christ's Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension ; from the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles ; and from the mystery of the holy Eucharist ; which will enlighten the soul, and raise her to the heights of the mystic life. But Christmas is already the aurora, with its abundant promises. The Christian soul, thus called to rejoice in intimacy with the divine Babe, gives herself up to joy, confidence, gratitude, and love.

The formulas of the liturgy contain these sentiments, and give them their most candid and suitable expression. Thus the First Vespers of Christmas open with the magnificent antiphons : " Rex pacificus magnificatus est," and the rest ; the antiphons of the Circumcision are of liturgical celebrity : " admirabile commercium," " Quando natus es," etc. ; and not less remarkable are those of the Epiphany : " Ante luciferum genitus," etc. ; as well as the antiphons of St Stephen, St John, and the Holy Innocents, all of which have their note of beauty and antiquity ; nor must we omit to mention those of the Purification, a feast which belongs essentially to Christmastide. The same remarks apply to the hymns. Some of them are among the most ancient in Christian hymnography. Such, for instance, are those for Christmas and for the Holy Innocents, " Jesu Redemptor omnium," " A solis ortus cardine," " Salvete fibres martyrum," " Crudelis Herodes Deum," " sola magnarum urbium." These were written by Prudentius, the well-known Latin poet of the fourth century, and by Sedulius, a hymn-writer of the next century, who probably lived at Rome. The Sundays after the Epiphany are less rich from a liturgical point of view ; but these several weeks are not too much to devote to meditation on the mystery of our Lord's manifestation.

SEPTUAGESIMA. This season, which is of a less marked liturgical character than Advent or Lent, includes the three Sundays, or three weeks, called respectively Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and 'Quinquagesima, which immediately precede the first Sunday of Lent. As this last-named is called, in the language of the Church, Quadragesima or fortieth, it is by analogy, and regardless of arithmetical precision, that the former three have received the names of fiftieth, sixtieth, and seventieth. Besides its numerical relation to Lent, Septuagesima puts on somewhat of that season's colouring : it is a transition from the joy and gladness of Christmastide to the sombre penance of Lent, to which it is a sort of prelude.

LENT. Of all the liturgical seasons this is the richest and the most interesting, as it is also the most ancient. It may be said to have originated with the Easter festival, for which it is the preparation. At first Lent consisted of a few days of fasting and penance ; but dating from the ourth century it embraced a period of six weeks, and soon afterwards reckoned forty days of fasting hence the term Quadragesima. We reed not here enlarge upon the liturgical richness of this season, which lies principally in the Masses and the Night Office. As we are here concerned with the Day Office alone, we will but point to the hymns, which are attributed, not without good reason, to St Gregory the Great (sixth century), and to the collects, incontestably of an earlier date, in which the Church embodies her liturgical thought for the day. The new Psalter assigns some special psalms to this season.

The liturgy of the last two weeks of Lent, termed Passion Week and Holy Week, is strikingly solemn. It leads us to follow in the footsteps of our divine Saviour through the closing days of his mortal life. Day by day, and almost hour by hour, holy Church places before our eyes the history of the Passion of the Son of God. The psalms, the hymns, all the liturgical formulas of these two weeks, are of a nature to inspire us with sentiments in harmony with the great events of our Lord's last days upon earth.

PASCHALTIDE. The sacred period of fifty days which elapses from Easter to Pentecost (this latter name meaning fifty in Greek) has from the earliest times been regarded as one feast.6 By the mourning and penance of Lent, Christians have earned the right to give themselves up to holy joy. The Church allowed neither fasting nor kneeling during these fifty days.7 The Alleluia ceaselessly and joyously resounds, as a cry of victory, proclaiming the triumph of Christ over death and hell.

The feast of Easter, which may fall on any day between March 22 and April 25, regulates the moveable portion of the Church's cycle, that is, from Septuagesima to the first Sunday of Advent. All these Sundays depend upon Easter for their place in the kalendar, and in a certain measure for their liturgical formulas. Moreover, it may be remarked that Easter, falling always on Sunday, has for ever abrogated the Jewish Sabbath. In a certain sense, all Sundays may be regarded as anniversaries of the Easter festival, a fact which the liturgy often brings before us. From these considerations we shall understand the importance of Easter in the liturgical cycle, and consequently in the spiritual life.

Over and above this influence exercised over the Christian year, the feast of Easter gives its name to Paschaltide, a season which has a very special character of its own. The antiphons, hymns, and collects for the Day Hours will help us the better to understand the mystery of the Resurrection, and will penetrate us with the spirit and beauty of this liturgical season.

The Rogation Days and the feast of the Ascension reflect their own distinctive features on this most glorious season of the sacred cycle, which is finally closed by the great day of Pentecost with its octave. It embraces also, like Advent, Lent, and the month of September, that venerable institution, the Ember Days ; they fall during the octave of Pentecost, and their liturgy is absorbed in, -and forms part of, that great mystery.

TIME AFTER PENTECOST. The feast of Pentecost, as we have seen, is included in Paschaltide nevertheless, the period which elapses from the octave of that great solemnity to the first Sunday of Advent is known as the Time after Pentecost, and is under the aegis of the divine Paraclete. It is by far the longest portion of the liturgical cycle, containing from twenty-four to twenty-eight Sundays, called Sundays after Pentecost. The variation in number depends upon the date of Easter. Each Sunday has its proper Mass and Office ; and the collects may be reckoned among the most remarkable in the liturgy. They treat in general of the power of grace, and of its wonderful work in the soul. It is to the Holy Ghost, who descended upon the faithful on the day of Pentecost, that is attributed " by appropriation " the operation of grace in the soul. The great mysteries we have hitherto celebrated had for their object the forming of Christ within the Christian soul, and the conformity of that soul to his likeness. It is for this end that the circumstances of his life, from his birth to his ascension, were set before us. These liturgical phases have led the soul from the threshold of the purgative even to the heights of the illuminative life. But the work of sanctification cannot be consummated until the Christian soul attains to the intimacy of union with God. Now it is the holy Spirit who enables her to scale these lofty summits. The Word made Flesh withdrew from our earth by his Ascension ; but he sent the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, to take possession of the Church. The reign of this holy Spirit on earth began on the day of Pentecost. He has not come to do a new work, or to teach a new doctrine ; his mission is to give solidity and permanence to the image of Christ formed within us. The Word is the Wisdom of the Father ; the Holy Ghost is essentially the Sanctifier. He works in the soul, he consolidates, purifies, strengthens her, and enkindles her zeal and fervour. Such is the most salient characteristic of this season. It is the theme of the collects, versicles, and other formulas found in the Office of the Day Hours.

Historically this season of the Time after Pentecost is less ancient than Advent and Lent. In fact, we might say, it is only in comparatively modern times that it has assumed the form now given it in liturgical books. Before the twelfth century it was scarcely considered as one connected period ; the liturgy seemed to centre round the great feasts which occur during these months. Those of St John the Baptist's Nativity, of St Peter and St Paul, of St Laurence, St Michael, and St Martin, are among the most ancient, and deserve to be celebrated, as of old, with great devotion by all those who are faithful to the spirit of the Church. Other feasts, such as those of the Most Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, All Saints', All Souls' Day, which have been added in the course of centuries, shed a new light on this portion of the cycle, and complete the teaching given us by the liturgical year. The Ember Days of September, which commemorate the Jewish feast of Tabernacles, are replete with instruction, and the lessons, especially those of Saturday, are deserving of careful study.


IN principle, the daily Office is that of the season. Every day, or at least every Sunday, has its proper Office. When a *day in the week has not a Proper, the Office is taken from the preceding Sunday, as we have seen with regard to the Sundays after Pentecost. But a great many days are occupied by the feasts of saints, the Office of which takes precedence of that of the day. These Offices are given in what is called the Proper of the Saints. It begins on November 29 with the feast of St Andrew, which theoretically coincides with the beginning of Advent, the opening of the ecclesiastical year.

There is no necessity to enlarge upon this Proper of the Saints. We will but remark that the antiphons of some of these Offices are of ancient date and very striking ; e.g. those of St Andrew, St Agatha, St Agnes, the Conversion of St Paul, St John the Baptist, SS. John and Paul, SS. Peter and Paul, St Martin, St Cæcilia, St Clement. These are some of the treasures of the " Day Hours of the Church." Other feasts, such as the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Name of Jesus, St Martina, St Mary Magdalen, St Hermenegild, St Joseph, St Michael, St Teresa, etc., have proper hymns, some of which are of high literary value. It will suffice to mention the " Jesu dulcis memoria " ; " Martinæ celebri plaudite nomini " ; " Pater superni luminis " " Te Joseph celebrent agmina ccelitum " ; " Te splendor et virtus Patris." Indeed, some of the Offices in the Proper of the Saints are storehouses of mystic or dogmatic theology. Among these we will mention that of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lady of Lourdes, the Seven Dolours, the feasts of the Invention and Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Sacred Heart, the Precious Blood, the Transfiguration, the Nativity of Our Lady, the feast of the Most Holy Rosary, All Saints', and the Office for the Dead. What a rich source of meditation, contemplation, and instruction for the faithful soul, who is not satisfied with reciting the Office mechanically and with exactitude, but seeks in it the nourishment of piety!


WHILST some of the saints, like St Andrew, St John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, St Michael, have an Office almost entirely Proper, others, and these by far the greater number, share what is called a Common Office, that is, one applied to .several saints of the same order. Thus in the Common of the Saints we distinguish the Common of Apostles, of Martyrs, of Confessors Bishops, of Confessors not Bishops; of Abbots, of Virgins, of Holy Women, of the Dedication of Churches, and of feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some of these Commons can be traced to the seventh century and even farther back, at least as regards certain portions of the Office ; for instance, those of Apostles and Martyrs ; whilst those for Holy Women and for our blessed Lady, as they now stand, are of much more recent date. Again, some of them were originally composed for a particular saint, and afterwards adapted to the saints in general of the same order. Thus the Common of Apostles was, in the beginning, the proper Office of SS. Peter and Paul and those of Martyrs and Virgins can be traced to St Laurence, and St Cæcilia or St Agatha.

From a liturgical point of view the Common Offices are not of equal merit. That of Apostles and some of those for Martyrs are drawn up in strict conformity with the rules of the golden age of the liturgy. Some of the hymns are very prosaic, and could with advantage be replaced by others taken from the hymnology of the middle ages. The Common for the Dedication of Churches is worthy of special mention. It is used for the Dedication feasts of the great Roman basilicas, St John Lateran, St Peter on the Vatican, etc., as well as for the anniversary of the Dedication of any church. The rites of the Dedication are of the highest antiquity, as shown by examples in ecclesiastical history found in the fourth century. Many of our feasts originated in the Dedication of churches, or of chapels to the martyrs : e.g. those of St Michael, St Laurence, SS. Cosmas and Damian (stational church for the Thursday in the third week of Lent), etc. The psalms, antiphons, and hymns are admirably chosen, and form a harmonious whole.

The Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary is used for most of the many feasts of our Lady throughout the year. Like all the Commons, it is a factitious composition ; for the publishers and printers at the beginning of the nineteenth century invented it to save themselves a multitude of repetitions. Its component parts are, of course, very old ; for instance, the hymn " Ave maris stella," which may, with a very strong probability, be ascribed to Venantius Fortunatus.



WE should have been glad to dwell more fully on the theological teaching to be found in these prayers of the Day Hours of the Church, and on their beauty and excellence. but by so doing we should have far exceeded the limits of an Introduction already too long. However, a little reflection and study will easily lead to a just appreciation of their value. Our endeavour has been to point out—not to priests and religious who are fully alive to it, but to the laity for whom this translation is intended—the interest and advantage of liturgical prayer ; and, by drawing attention to the form of the book, to enable them to use it intelligently and profitably. May this undertaking meet with a favourable reception from the faithful, and be welcomed by English Catholics as warmly as the translation of the " Année Liturgique."


The Abbey, Farnborough,

On the Feast of St Michael,
29th September 1915.

1"Prayers from the Poets," edited by C. Headlam and Laurie Magnus, London, 1899 and 1906 ; Mary Tileston, " Great Souls at Prayer," and ed., London, 1899 ; Paul Viollet, " Œuvres chrétiennes des families royales," Paris, 1870; Annie de Péne, " Les belles priéres," 3rd ed., Paris, 1910; Alexander Fletcher, " The Book of Family Devotion," 63rd ed., London, s.d. ; Leon Gautier, " Choix des priéres d'aprés les manuscrits du ixe au xviie siécle," Paris, 1874 ; Selina Fitzherbert, " A Chain of Prayer across the Ages, Forty Centuries of Prayer, z000 B.C.—A.D. 1912," London, 1913; Baron Bunsen, " Prayers from the Collection of Baron Bunsen," London, 1871 ; " The Preces Privatæ of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester," London, 1903 (ed. Brightman), etc.

2We may quote in this connection a book which we cannot approve of on all points, but which contains a number of interesting facts : Rowland E. Prothero, " The Psalms in Human Life," London, 1903. Compare also our " Livre de la priére antique," chap. i. : On the use of the Scriptures in the liturgy. An English translation of this book is in preparation.

3In strict theology, we ought to distinguish between the more important formulas, such as those used in administering the sacraments, and the more solemn prayers such as collects, on the one hand ; and on the other certain parts of the liturgy, for instance, hymns or the legends of the saints, for which the Church does not claim the same degree of respon- sibility. But this does not weaken our argument.

4We have shown this in our work " La priére antique," chapter vi.

5The right place for the hymn seems to be before the psalms. At Vespers, Lauds, and Compline, it is said after the psalms for special reasons relating to those particular Hours, but which it is not necessary to treat of here.

6At the present time Paschaltide ends with the Saturday preceding Trinity Sunday, thus including Pentecost week.

7Hence there are no genuflexions on the Ember Days of Pentecost week.

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