As all men know, Pope St Pius X did two very daring things:
- first, he caused a change to the traditional order of reception of the sacraments - not of set purpose but because he desired to encourage all frequently to partake of Holy Communion, and so ordered that all children having reached the age of reason could communicate - as the age for Confirmation remained what it had been previously, in most countries it transpired that children began making their first Holy Communion before being confirmed;
- second, he had the weekly order of reciting the psalmody in the Divine Office rearranged - so that nearly all the psalms were recited only once in the week (rather than some being repeated every day), and thereby shortening the Office, while ensuring, by a change of the rubricks, that on most days (other than the great feasts) the ferial psalms were said, so that each week most of the Psalter was prayed (by the growth in the number of feasts over the centuries, which took their psalms from the Common, many psalms allotted to ferial days were hardly ever said).
Whatever of the first concern, the second I think, over all - beware, those besotted with the ancient Roman cursus psalmorum! "Rome has spoken..." and all that - to have been beneficial.
For a start, rather than daily reading the long Psalm 118 at the Little Hours, and having twelve psalms to get through each night at Matins, it was decided to reduce Matins to nine psalms or portions thereof, and to redistribute the surplus psalms over Prime, Terce, Sext and None, moreover making each of those Hours somewhat shorter than before.
This to be honest made the Little Hours much more interesting, and reduced the fatigue of the Night Office - certainly I enjoy the daily variation at Prime, Terce, Sext and None (unfortunately, the lengthy and highly repetitive nature of Psalm 118 still can make these Hours difficult on Sundays and feasts, I find), and given that I find even nine psalms or parts thereof rather tiring, I hate to imagine how twelve full psalms would seem. The reforms reduced the length of Matins on most days by half, or even by two-thirds!
(That said, it is said that an angel appeared to one of the Desert Fathers to reveal that twelve was the right number of psalms for Matins. Then again, I'm not a holy hermit!)
I will leave aside the changes made to Lauds for a later post...
As for Compline, I do wish that it hadn't been changed, and had remained invariable - Psalms 4, 90 and 133 are supremely suitable for the Hour. As it is, on ferias other psalms, redistributed from Matins, were introduced, which rather destroyed one beauty of Compline: that it could be said from memory in darkness just before retiring for the night. (Benedictines retained both their ancient invariable Compline, and the lovely custom of singing it in choir entirely unlit, but for a candle burning before the image of Our Lady, to which all turned at the end to sing her anthem.)
But my real interest is Vespers, pre- and post-1912.
Vespers had always consisted of five psalms each day, taken in order from Psalms 109 to 147 (except for four: 117, used at Prime or Lauds; 118, used at the Little Hours; 133, at Compline; and 142 at Lauds one morning). Psalms 1 to 108 were nearly all used at Matins, and some at Lauds, Prime and Compline; Psalms 148 to 150, the Laudate psalms par excellence, were used daily together at Lauds, which was named after them.
Surprisingly little change was made: only five psalms were removed entirely (and employed at Lauds), and four were moved forward by a day, while four were divided into portions:
- Sunday — Pss 109, 110, 111, 112, 113 [unchanged]
- Monday — Pss 114, 115, (116 - moved to Lauds), 119, 120 (plus 121 from Tuesday)
- Tuesday — Pss (121 - moved back), 122, 123, 124, 125 (plus 126 from Wednesday)
- Wednesday — Pss (126 - moved back), 127, 128, 129, 130 (plus 131 from Thursday)
- Thursday — Pss (131 - moved back), 132, (134 - moved to Lauds) 135 (broken into two), 136 (plus 137 from Friday)
- Friday — Pss (137 - moved back), 138 (broken into two), 139, 140, 141
- Saturday — Pss 143 (broken into two), 144 (broken into three), (145, 146, 147 - all moved to Lauds)
One happy consequence of this reform was that the disparity in length of psalmody (measured by the number of verses of the psalms to be recited) between different evenings at Vespers was diminished: before 1912, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Vespers were all very short, less than half as long as Vespers of the other days - while Thursday evening had a particularly lengthy Vespers, which was cut down to size by the reforms. By roughly evening the evenings up, it would seem that some good was effected.
In summary, Sunday Vespers remained unchanged, Vespers of Monday through to Friday more or less had two changes each, but remained mainly unchanged, and only Saturday Vespers (first Vespers of Sunday) was markedly affected.
Yes, it will be noticed that it is Saturday Vespers - such as first Vespers of Septuagesima, which I've claimed below can be truly called the start of the Church's Year of Grace - that has been cut down.
Perhaps, pro pia devotione, one could read Psalms 145, 146 and 147 after Saturday Vespers, to experience somewhat of the character of that Hour in its older form.