Category Archives: Liturgy

Thoughts on the Divine Office

Originally published as “More thoughts on the divine office” , 18 December 2008.

Already on a few occasions I’ve written about the breviary, but I want to go in a different direction without rehashing too much of what I’ve already thought.

As I’ve written before, and as one could guess, I do not like the new Liturgy of the Hours in any way shape or form. I just fail to see it as an expression of prayer akin to what has always been adopted by the Church, east and west, from the most ancient times. It is modeled after the Quignonez breviary, which had 3 psalms for every office, and was suppressed because it made the prayer of the Church too short and placed psalms without regard for their historical replacement or the tone of the psalm with the time of day. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, drawing on the consensus of liturgical judgment, said concerning Quignonez:

In the light of tradition and of liturgical principles the only possible verdict in that Quignonez’ Breviary, being constructed on a priori principles, violating most of the liturgical rules, must be condemned…. Every hour had three psalms; and in consequence of this severe regularity, there disappeared the deep and historical motive which gave to each hour its own characteristics. (source)

It wasn’t because Quignonez was evil, he was in fact a great churchman, and effected the release of Pope Clement VII from Charles V’s de facto imprisonment. Moreover, he resisted the trends of the time to restore Latin to pagan usage in order to conform with antiquity. Rather, it was condemned because he made a “Novus Ordo” of sorts with the breviary. We don’t even have a breviary quite as good as his for the Novus Ordo and on top of that it doesn’t even have all the psalms. The concept of vigils, or Matins, as it existed in the ancient breviary which made it through the middle ages, was wrecked in the Quignonez version, and likewise in the 1970 version. Three psalms scarcely carries the ancient tradition, although it should be admitted, the two readings in themselves are about the length of the readings of the 2nd and 3rd nocturnes which are divided up in the traditional schema.

The principles of the divine office, the liturgical laws and the characters of the hours were of ancient usage. When St. Benedict laid out what was to become the Monastic Breviary in his rule, he himself was drawing on ancient tradition, particularly Roman tradition (and ironically, is the only breviary today which maintains the ancient Roman Tradition.) This is one reason of course why I pray the Benedictine Breviary, the division of Psalms is roughly the same as St. Benedict laid out and as his early monks prayed. Though it has changed and suffered additions over the years, it is substantially a product of ancient tradition. Akin to praying the ancient form of Mass, there is something both humbling and inspiring about praying the same breviary as ancient and medieval monks did. Another benefit to the Benedictine Breviary is they did not modify their hymns during the reform of Urban VIII, and hence have maintained their ancient style. Moreover, it did not suffer any changes to the psalter during St. Pius X’s reforms, so many features which it drew from the Roman office, such as the Laudes psalms (148-150) are still said at the end of Lauds (from which that hour gets its name), and the use of Psalm 50 every day. The length of psalms in the Benedictine and pre-Pius X Roman Breviary are interesting. The Benedictine breviary for example begins Lauds every day with Psalm 66, and then Psalm 50 are prayed. Two psalms and the canticle differ each day, and then the Laudes Psalms are said. The only difference in the Roman breviary is Psalm 66 was not said. So the hour generally has 8 psalms, and more on Sunday (although they’re short). Vespers in the Benedictine is generally only 4 Psalms, unlike 5 in the Roman. Matins was 12 Psalms in the Roman Breviary and 12 in the Benedictine, which was then followed up by 4 scriptural canticles.

Another interesting thing is that Compline was the same every day, and the tone of those psalms was always defense in the night. The little hours in the Benedictine breviary are exactly the same Tuesday through Saturday, and after a while you start to memorize them. This allows one to better meditate on the thought of the psalms (plus, only monks are going to have the time).

The Pius X reform of the Roman Breviary starts a trend which ends up in the Novus Ordo, though St. Pius X could scarcely have imagined it. First off, while changes had been effected to the breviary throughout time, the Roman Psalter was thought to be in its integrity even older than the Canon of Mass in its current form. The idea of permanence in the liturgy was impugned, and it opened the door to further changes on the principle that Pius X had changed the breviary. However while the change in the distribution of Psalms ought to be a concern, the character of the hours largely remained the same, although now somewhat uniform. 5 Psalms for Lauds, 5 Psalms for Vespers, only 9 for Matins, while all the readings remained the same. The little hours now received psalms that were once said at Matins or at Lauds, so that they would change every day. All of these were motivated by pastoral changes. Yet these rubrics left in place a very important pastoral principle, that the priest could divide up the hour of Matins (which is very lengthy) so as to better accomplish the work of a parish priest. According to a good priest I know, one of the changes made by Bugnini when he served in the congregation of rites before Vatican II, was to eliminate this rubric and require priests to say the whole of Matins in one block and not divide it. Functionally, this meant that priests had to lock up a whole hour of prayer into the divine office. That is one thing for a monk or a country priest, but a priest in a large parish of many souls could have a problem.

This had a practical affect: to create disdain amongst the clergy for the office, which is exactly what Bugnini wanted. That is why when the Novus Ordo breviary rolled around, so many priests willingly accepted it because now: 3 psalms and 2 readings which can be anticipated the day before in the evening or said later in the day!

And if we look at the Novus Ordo breviary, the 1974 liturgy of the hours, there are some very unsavory things about it. Like the Quignonez, ever hour now has 3 psalms (except Compline which has one but inexplicably 2 psalms for Saturday and Wednesday). Moreover, one of the biggest problems with the Pius X psalter, that Psalm 50 is not said every day as is customary, is included. Unlike the Pius X psalter which required Psalm 50 during penitential periods, the Novus Ordo does not, except for Ash Wednesday, require Psalm 50 to be said on a day other than its placement, which is Friday every other week. This bothers me on a number of levels. A friend of mine who was recently ordained, in discussion on this topic, exclaimed “If you stop praying for mercy in the morning, what is going to happen in terms of pride during the day?” Like so many other things, you will stop getting it. It is the same with the Leonine prayers after Mass, or the use of additional collects praying for the Church before Bugnini suppressed them. If you stop praying for the defense of the Church, or from liberation against persecution, can you guess what is going to happen? You will stop getting defense, you cease to see even effective leadership bringing discipline from within. Ask and it shall be given, but what happens if you don’t ask?

This is the problem with many of the changes in both the breviary and the Mass.

Another problem with the Novus Ordo Liturgy of the Hours, is the new Vulgate has no decree behind it of infallibility in faith and morals. The Vulgate most recently promulgated under Pope Clement VIII on the other hand, has that guarantee both from the council of Trent and the Popes on document. John Paul II never extended such authority to the new Vulgate promulgated under his reign. Therefore if you are praying the LOH or the Pius XII psalter, your text is not even assured to be free from error in faith and morals as the traditional breviary and clementine psalter is! Imagine praying the new Vulgate for 4 weeks, shudder!

A lot of people complain about the four week psalter, but this doesn’t present a problem other than its novelty. There is nothing wrong in theory or even per se in practice with saying a four week psalter, except that the Fathers of the Church east and west when they required the faithful to attend the divine office being sung in the Churches, chose a one week psalter not a four. What is important about that is the early Bishops intended it to be done by lay people who had to work as well as pray, and they chose to accomplish the psalms in one week. The reason for this was so the faithful would be familiar with the Psalms and incorporate their prayers into their day. What better prayers are there than those which are scriptural and inspired by the Holy Ghost? It is for this reason the Traditional Mass incorporates so many of the psalms into the Holy Mass, many more than in the Novus Ordo.

The worst element about the Novus Ordo breviary, is the bidding prayers contained at Lauds and Vespers. I’m generally of the opinion that they are worse in Latin than they are in English, because ICEL polishes some of them up. There you have lame, dated, social justice petitions included in a banal manner in the Church’s official prayerbook. Contrast that with the breviary petitions formerly said on certain days at Lauds and Vespers (not every day), with prayers for the Pope, prayers for the Church, prayers for conversions, for defense from unjust persecution, etc. A holy priest I know looked at that in Seminary and questioned his vocation, because in his words “I could not say that nonsense every day of my life, whereas when I looked at the Traditional Breviary, I knew I could do that.”

Thus, even with the problems of the Pius X reform, I would still see that breviary accepted rather than the 1970 Liturgy of the Hours, which is just a mess of liturgical experimentation (replete with “original texts” in various languages not included in the editio typica). The solution in my view, is to permit a certain amount of freedom in which edition of the breviary that priests pray. In other words, allow them to go back to earlier forms of the Roman breviary, or to the monastic breviaries of different orders. Ideally of course, one would want the Bishop to regulate it according to the breviary which he prays, but the result of that is “well, pray the LOH that I pray.” If he does that is. I was invited once to a vocations get together at a chancery, and the Bishop’s breviary was at a table in a hallway. What sparked my curiosity was the fact that it was the wrong color for the season (as the LOH is multi-colored). I moved it, and a sharp outline of dust surrounded it. Told me everything I needed to know!

The Mystery of Fasting and Lent

Originally published 22 February, 2007

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris. (Genesis III:19)

These words from the ceremonies by which we commence Lent is indicative of several things we necessarily must keep in mind.

The First is the Latin words address each of us individually. Memento homo, quia pulvis es, etc. Remember O Man, that thou art dust. Almighty God is speaking to us, to remind us that in the greater scheme of things we don’t matter. We are but a speck of dust which He made out of nothing, something to keep in mind lest we get puffed up or full of ourselves, or think somehow we are great because we have money, or a Theology degree or something. And again we shall return to dust. We will die one day and make an account of ourselves, and there is nothing that can be done to escape it.

God addresses the individual, not some social group, he is not setting an action plan against poverty, or “injustice” or societal discontent. Neither are we hearing that we are perfect and must fight against society now. This is generally the message of today’s Social Gospel or Social Justice Theologians. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said once “It used to be that only Catholics believed in the Immaculate Conception, now every man believes he is Immaculately Conceived.” (Is Christendom dead?) This feature of society, the denial of original sin, the elements of that have sunk into Catholics on both the left and the right. On the left, they deny the doctrine of original sin. We don’t have any sin, it is society, business, the government, those are the evils which we must fight. But we don’t need to go to confession. Then on the right, there is a different evil. Unlike those apostates I have the Traditional Latin Mass, or the equivalent expression on the neo-conservative Catholic end. I am not like that man. I eat fish on Friday and I only go to Mass in Latin, and I pray a rosary and I don’t get drunk and I don’t act like the heathen, so I am better than them. Both of these attitudes suffer from the same problem: The problem isn’t with me, it is with society, it is with someone else. It is the same reality following sin which began in the garden of Eden, Adam, when asked why he failed blamed his wife rather than himself, and Eve blamed the Serpent. No one could say, as King David in the 50th psalm: Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco, et peccatum meam contra me est semper. (Psalm L:4)

However, like any other man, each one of us is dust. We are as weak as dust. We are all equally capable of any crime, and often commit crimes that are as bad as others. I am quite capable of doing a whole host of evils that I can’t even conceive of. I don’t say that because I am likely to do them (God forbid), but because I can do them in light of my fallen human nature, just as any other man. I can lie, cheat, steal, murder, commit adultery, commit idolatry, take the holy name of God in vain, ignore the poor, hate my neighbor, be gluttonous, drunk, use obscene filthy language, just as any other man. There is nothing in my nature to stop that, because even though my will is oriented toward the good, due to my fallen nature it does not distinguish between an immediate good and an eternal good without the light of reason, and faith derived from supernatural grace.

Dom Gueranger says:

When the priest puts the holy emblem of penance [ash] upon you accept in a spirit of submission, the sentence of death, which God Himself pronounces against you: “Remember O Man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return!” Humble yourself, and remember what it was that brought the punishment of death upon us: man wished to be as a god, and preferred his own will to that of his sovereign Master. Reflect too, on that long list of sins, which you have added to the sin of your first parents, and adore the mercy of your God, who asks only one death for all these transgressions. (Liturgical Year vol 4, Ash Wednesday)

It is with this in mind that the Church commences Lent, that we may consider our faults, our nothingness, rather than our pluses or net worth and move toward making ourselves one with Christ on the cross.

To accomplish this, the Church employs several things for this season. Purple, the liturgical color of penance in the liturgy. The organ is practically silenced, whereas normally (in the ideal situation of course) it is present in all the chants of the liturgy. The epistles transform into Old Testament lessons, and the breviary picks up all the ancient prophecies and types of Christ, to prepare us for the resurrection, the fulfillment of everything past, present and future. Outside of the liturgy, the Church exhorts us to fast. Traditionally, the Church ordered us to fast every day of Lent with the exception of Sunday, while abstaining from meat on Fridays. That in and of itself is a simplification of still ancient and stricter regulations, and is comparatively light by the standards of the Eastern Church, where no meat is eaten or dairy, eggs or oil consumed until Easter (except that on Saturday and Sunday all but abstention from meat and dairy is relaxed).

Since Vatican II, the ideal of fasting has been thrown out the window like the proverbial baby in the bath water. The Traditional Ember days, by which in each season the Church instituted days of fast and abstinence for her intentions were eliminated, all fasting in Lent was reduced to Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, and even abstinence is rolled back on those unfortunate Fridays where St. Patrick’s feast day occurs. Fasting or abstinence on vigils of the great feasts has also been eliminated, and it is suggested that those who do so are too rigid, divisive or are engaged in an “unhealthy” spirituality. Much the same way that those who cling to the Traditional Mass are said to be engaging in an unhealthy spirituality or something of that sort, for merely doing what Catholics for over a thousand years did, but I digress……

The reality is fasting and penance are things totally unknown to the world of today, and less known to the Church of today. Even among Traditional Catholics, though not most by far yet enough to be of some concern, the concept of penance and fasting as the fathers understood it tends to be weak, and it is not necessarily their fault. Just as there is a crisis of fatherhood in society, so there is also in the Church, from the Pope down to the parish priest, no one wants to be a Father, just an adviser, (and if a priest dares to do otherwise he is sent off to receive mental help) that way they need not take responsibility and bear blame. Thus, who is there to lead the faithful? Not all the faithful will readily understand theology, or the reason for discipline. The reality is while the modern prelates in the hierarchy are concerned about modern man’s disposition and how to lower the standards to meet his “needs” (which are really wants), the reality is that it is man who must raise his standards to meet God’s.

Fasting in the greater scheme of things, is not as difficult as some would make it seem, yet it is an extremely valuable tool in disciplining our senses, in practicing due modesty, and in laying the foundation for sanctification in our daily lives. Modern man is no more unable to fast than his medieval or ancient predecessors. It is merely a question of priorities. People are always willing to sacrifice and make things happen in order to meet their priorities. For example, a parent that really loves their child will make the sacrifices of time, money, and many other things to make certain their children grow up safe, and are well fed and taken care of. A single mother will work 2 jobs sometimes so that she can afford to provide for her children, because her children are a priority. People are sure to be present loyally at the TV during a given time on a given night for a basketball game, because they make that their priority. People put away money all year around so that they can spend a small fortune on Christmas presents, because they make that their priority.

It should come of no surprise that to accomplish the things of God takes nothing other than one making that their priority. What is important to you? If God is important to you, if Christ and His Church is important to you, than making the necessary sacrifices to conform to Church Law should be a simple matter of priorities, as is mammon. Making a regulated life, where fasting becomes a priority 40+ days of the year, is not an impossibility for moderns, it is just a matter of the will. Thus modern prelates err gravely when they focus on making it easier for the spirit of the age, rather than preaching the conforming of the spirit of the age to Jesus Christ.

Given the modern Church has no interest in calling us back, and that even in the monasteries of the Novus Ordo one can scarcely find days of fast, it is up to those of us who would say we are the remnant of the Church’s discipline and her sacraments to lead by example. Not so that we might say I am better than that man, but so that we might say Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, remembering that we are but dust, just as our brothers in the Novus Ordo, and that we are no less accountable than they, just because we have been fortunate enough to retain the glory of Catholic Tradition.