Saturday, October 9, 2010

Officium Defunctorum

Over the past week since my father died, I've found such a help in the prayers of the Office of the Dead: the plaints of Job, the wavering between hope and fear, so well mirror one's own confusion and prayer.  (I compare it to the unhelpful modern Office, which is too happy by half: Glory be instead of Requiem, indeed!)

What has struck me about the Office of the Dead, or rather the Dirge and Placebo as mediæval Englishmen called it (Dirge from Dirige, the first antiphon of Matins, said as one with Lauds; and Placebo as the first word of Vespers), is how standardized it is: the Roman and Monastic Uses are identical in this respect; I have found in my Dominican Breviary but few differences; and having consulted the Carmelite, Carthusian and Ambrosian Breviaries available online via Google Books, in essence they are all the same.  (The Carthusians even used the same nicknames for the Hours of the Dead as the English did: Dirige for Matins, Exsultabunt for Lauds, and Placebo for Vespers.  In their case, however, they abbreviate by saying only one antiphon for the psalmody at each Nocturn and at the other Hours.)

Independently of one's grief or otherwise, I would commend praying some or all of the Office of the Dead on a semiregular basis (and many internet sites provide it even if you don't have it to hand in a book): it forms a most sobering meditation on the shortness and uncertainty of our life ere we shuffle off this mortal coil...