Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monastic versus Roman Day Hours

I've been exercised about the pros and cons of the Monastic Office compared to the Roman - and of course, the one thing we all want to know about is, Which is longer?
(Not having mine own copy of the Breviarium Monasticum, I made use of Google Books for the purposes of making certain comparisons.)

Well, the short answer is, the Psalmody of the Day Hours of the Monastic Breviary is about 4% longer on average, but of course the Monastic Office lacks certain elements of the Roman - it has only two short responsories a day as against five, no Nunc dimittis at Compline, and, at least in the Farnborough Abbey edition, there is no Officium Capituli at the end of Prime.  On the other hand, it does have Kyrie and Pater noster at every Hour, which is much to be desiderated.  So overall the two are roughly the same length within the limits of this rough measurement.

Short answer to question: The two are each just about as long as the other. 

The longer answer is that the devil is in the detail!  

For a start, Monastic Lauds is almost twice as long as the Roman, and no wonder: every day it consists of Psalms 66 and 50, then two variable psalms and an Old Testament canticle (on Saturday, the canticle is so long it's broken into two, and only one psalm accompanies it), and then Psalms 148, 149 and 150 sub una Gloria Patri, for a total of seven psalms and a canticle.  Prime, on the other hand, is exactly the same length in both rites, despite having quite different psalms allotted to it.  Still, of the 289 psalm verses on average in the Monastic Diurnal's psalmody each day, 148 of them - half - are got through at Lauds and Prime, which makes their recitation rather daunting!  (I try and say Roman Lauds and Prime before work; I doubt I'd be able to if I used their Benedictine equivalents.)

The Rule of St Benedict wisely provides that Terce, Sext and None be short; they are in fact each only about two-thirds as long as the comparable Roman Hours.  What a relief after Lauds...

As for Vespers and Compline, Roman or Monastic, their length is almost the same. 

My final reflection: while Traddies do tend to deprecate the psalter reform of Pope St Pius X, he did make it possible to get through all 150 psalms in the week* - which remains no mean feat even with the '62 Breviary, I can assure anyone: you need to devote an hour a day at least to it! - and did so by using each psalm only once, rather than repeating psalms on different days (as is done at Lauds, the Little Hours and Compline in the Monastic Breviary, and as was done even more in the pre-1912 Roman Breviary, which included such fatiguing joys as praying the whole of Psalm 118 every day).  As a result, even if one only prays the Day Hours of the Roman Breviary, one is exposed to 115 of the psalms, over three-quarters of the total - whereas, because of its repetitions, the Benedictine Diurnal only includes 72 psalms, just less than half of the Psalter.

*Recall what the Holy Patriarch St Benedict said in his Rule (chapter xviii):

We especially impress this, that, if this distribution of the psalms should perchance displease anyone, he arrange them if he thinketh another better, by all means seeing to it that the whole Psalter of one hundred and fifty psalms be said every week, and that it always start again from the beginning at Matins on Sunday; because those monks show too lax a service in their devotion who in the course of a week chant less than the whole Psalter with its customary canticles; since we read, that our holy forefathers promptly fulfilled in one day what we lukewarm monks should, please God, perform at least in a week.

What then of the Night Office?  (Which is called Matins, rather misleadingly, in the Roman, and Vigils in the Monastic terminology: both contain one or more Nocturns.)

It is said that an angel revealed to a desert Father that twelve was the appropriate number of psalms for the Night Office, and this is the number adhered to in the Monastic Nocturnal.  Be that as it may, in the Roman the number nine - no doubt in honour of the Nine Choirs of the angelic host - was settled on for feasts long ago, and since 1912 this has been the number of psalm-portions for each night.  Note how much longer Monastic Vigils must be: it must get through 78 psalms (some divided in twain) each week, and each Hour begins not just with Psalm 94, but with Psalm 3 beforehand.  Most holy, but very lengthy...  Whereas the Roman arrangement since 1912 has only had to cover 35 psalms a week, or 5 a night (again, breaking longer ones up into parts, as in the Day Hours as well), plus the prefatory Invitatory (Ps 94).

Again, I find Roman Matins quite long enough, and quail at the very idea of attempting Monastic Vigils.


Anonymous said...

Teehee. Interesting and witty post.

You know, it's been so long I can't remember; what is done in monastic Compline instead of Nunc Dimittis?

And this thing about the Pius X Psalter still confuses me... I keep getting slack from a load of friends because I use the '61 Breviary; it is not the structure they bemoan, but the actual Latin ("it's unsingable", they say!).

Re Monastic Vigils, I used to pray it on retreat, but we did begin at 4:30am!!

Joshua said...

Don't get confused -

1. In 1912, St Pius X rearranged the *way* the psalms were said in the Office, so each is used only once each week (except for Ps 94 daily at Matins of course);

2. In 1945, Pius XII approved a new *translation* of the Psalms, made from the Hebrew, and done into classical Latin: most Breviaries from then until the Council were in this version, but it wasn't compulsory to use it, and it is notoriously unsingable - today, Traddies prefer to use the ancient and traditional Vulgate Latin Psalms as translated by St Jerome.

In Monastic Compline, there is no short responsory and no Nunc dimittis, but there is a Kyrie and Pater noster before the Collect:

Little Chapter: "Tu autem in nobis..."
Versicle "Custodi nos Domine..."
Pater noster...
V/. Dominus vobiscum... (or "Domine exaudi...")
Collect: Visita quæsumus...."

Cheers, Mark!

Anonymous said...

Ah; I did get confused, didn't I!

Well, apparently both my Diurnale and Breviary are the Pius XII Psalter. I wonder if there are any "'61" Breviaries with the old Vulgate Psalter. Or is that a contradiction in terms?

Thanks for explaining Compline; every time I'm at Pluscarden I keep thinking I must've dozed off!

Terra said...

Monastic matins takes about half to three quarters of an hour to say or recto tono on a feria in (Australian) winter, a bit longer in summer due to extra readings (it varies in length quite a lot between days, with Tuesday being the shortest). The monastic Office is certainly very 'front-end loaded' compared to the Roman!

On Lauds, more than a few monasteries rotate around the Laudate psalms, just saying one of the three each day, so an option that could be considered if you find it a bit long!

In the end it comes down to taste and charism. Personally, I started saying the Roman Office several times, but flagged after a while each time. But since I received my Diurnal haven't stopped, just built up to add more such as Matins and a few hours from the Little Office.

I think we should keep in mind, though, St Benedict's injunction about getting through all 150 psalms in a week is, in the end, directed at monks are we aren't monks and shouldn't try to be!

Consistent with a vocatin in the world, a more limited office, such as the Little Office of Our Lady, or selected day hours from either the monastic or the Roman are good options for lay people. Trying to say the whole thing is for the few not the many!

Personally, I like the repetition in the way the monastic day hours are structured, because you really get to know some of the key psalms (such as the gradual psalms, miserere, etc) very well.

But attempting the whole thing is certainly a very solid program aimed at contemplatives, not actives, and designed as a softening, St Benedict claims, of the '150 psalms in a day' regime of yesteryear! In fact in his schema if you do the lot, due to the repetitions you end up saying 240 psalms a week, plus canticles.

Joshua said...

Mark -

Yes, my FSSP reprint Breviary (Vol. I only, alas) has the Vulgate Psalms. Because I have a mismatched vol. II with the Pius XII Psalms, for half the year I have to juggle both, in order to read the Vulgate Psalms with the correct other bits, LOL!

Terra -

Good points.

It amuses me to note (and I used the modern Office for a decade or so) that the modern Office, to which priests are bound (but how many say it???), is about as long as... the Little Office of Our Lady!

A friend calls it "the Little Office of Vatican II".

I was quoting St Benedict and implying that his Rule is a good indication to the clergy also that they should say all the Psalms in a week, as they did right down to the late 1960's... (I am aware that the Ambrosian Breviary has always had a fortnightly cycle, but that and the entirely different Mozarabic Breviary are the exceptions that prove the rule at least for clergy in the West.)

As a layman, one ought adopt some rule of prayer, and all things being equal, the Prayer of the Church is a good one to adopt. Clearly, if I weren't a bachelor, or if I worked a lot of overtime, I wouldn't have the time to read the Breviary of course.

But remember: St Thomas More, erstwhile Lord Chancellor of England, not only said the Little Office with his family (the famous Holbein sketch of them all holding books in fact shews them all holding Primers containing the Little Office: they were about to pray Vespers together), but is recorded as taking with him his Portuary - a Breviary according to the Use of Sarum, which he prayed.