Sunday, June 24, 2012

Traditional Devotion is Liturgical

The mediævals loved to practice their piety according to liturgical forms – hence, the laity as well as the clergy attended Mass and the Hours in church and, moreover, recited additional devotions, such as the Penitential Psalms, the Gradual Psalms, the Office of the Dead, the "Little" Office of Our Lady (so-called only in contradistinction to the "great" or daily Office, for even the Little Office is longer than the modern Liturgy of the Hours!), the Litanies of the Saints, and prayers honouring the saints in liturgical form (each with antiphon, versicle and collect).

Such forms of prayer, centering on the psalms, are of course fundamentally Biblical and therefore evangelical in inspiration, as all true prayer ought be – just so, frequent recital of the Lord's Prayer and Angelical Salutation (to which was eventually added a petition) is but to lovingly repeat the inspired words of the Scriptures: and thus the Rosary, itself in origins a mediæval prayer, is of all these the one best still beloved of the faithful, while also being most focussed on Scripture.  Upon this sure foundation, "than which none other can be laid", for in Holy Writ we find the Eternal Word, our one Saviour, the trustworthy asseverations of Holy Church – inspired by the Holy Ghost, that Other Paraclete, Who Christ told us would lead us into all truth – were built up over succeeding ages, thus helping the faithful pray in "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs".

Unfortunately, this love of praying according to the liturgical spirit of the Church has declined in the West over recent centuries.  Compare and contrast this loss of sympathy and understanding, this failure of memory, with the still-maintained love of Eastern Christians for the Hours of the Office according to their rites, for the Akathist Hymn, for the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, for the Paraclesis Service, and for many related paraliturgical devotions.  It is evident, or ought be, that if Byzantine worshippers still flock to church for such, or devoutly recite them from their prayerbooks, it is sad indeed that Catholics, even if well-instructed, no longer find delight in the Little Office, or in the Psalms themselves.  (It is customary at this point to criticise the Devotio moderna, but I will desist and proceed with my argument instead.)

Now, the last refuge, in most cases, of the older liturgical devotional spirit was in the Breviary itself – since the clergy and religious were bound to recite such forms, it stands to reason that those who found devotion in the Hours would also be glad to pray similar prayers when able.  It is, alas, nowadays notorious that many priests neglect even the simplified and accessible modern Divine Office: so much for liturgical piety, something praised (with little evident effect) by the last Ecumenical Council.  Similarly, the use of Our Lady's Hours, maintained by many female religious, utterly fell away after the Council – supposedly in favour of the full Divine Office or principal Hours thereof, but, one suspects, often being replaced with less liturgical devotions and even the suspect products of dissent (I recall seeing a strange self-made Breviary used by Australian religious sisters of one of the many dying congregations here).

However, to backtrack, even a century ago or so, while the Roman Breviary still contained the Little Office, the Gradual Psalms and so forth, these were no longer binding upon the secular clergy, except on certain occasions.  For Pope St Pius V had freed the secular clergy from the obligation of saying any such additional parts in private recitation, while retaining it in choir (hence the Gradual Psalms were to be said on Lenten Wednesdays, if I recall correctly); and Pope St Pius X abolished even that choral obligation.  Still, the Litanies of the Saints was still to be said on a few occasions (the Easter Vigil, the Rogation Days, and so forth) – further liturgical tampering has still further reduced the use thereof, however.

Regular clergy, being still then expected to maintain devotion over and above that of their secular brethren, were, a century ago or more, bound to keep up the praying of more of the age-old Western liturgical devotions.  At last, I reach the topic of this post! – for, having been inspecting the 1893 Dominican Breviary I acquired in Rome a fortnight ago, I find the following, having puzzled out the rubrics:
  • The brethren in choir (only) are bound to say the Penitential Psalms on Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday.
  • Whensoever the Office of Our Lady on Saturday is said, all friars, whether in choir or in private, are bound to say the Gradual Psalms before Matins (this, therefore, would be done fairly frequently).
  • Once a week, all brethren, whether in choir or not, must recite the Office of the Dead ("Vigils", comprising Vespers and full Matins of three nocturns, presumably including Lauds, which runs on from Matins without a break).
  • Every day, except on days of higher rank (from Christmas till after the Epiphany Octave, from Holy Wednesday until Monday after Low Sunday, on Sundays, Duplex and Totum Duplex feasts, solemn and most solemn Octaves and Octave days) and when Our Lady is celebrated in the Office of the day, is to be said by all the Office of Our Lady (not called "Little" by Dominicans), saying each Hour before the equivalent Hour of the main Office, except for Compline – when Compline of Our Lady is interpolated between the blessing at Compline and the following anthem of Our Lady, Salve Regina.
  • After Compline (which in Dominican piety was accorded great importance, and at the celebration of which all the brethren were to be present in choir), on every day except the Vigil of Christmas, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the Litanies of the Saints were to be sung; while, as at the Easter Vigil, on the Rogation Days and at the Vigil of Pentecost the Litanies are said directly before Mass, on the Rogation Days and the Vigil of Pentecost only the prefatory Ps 69, and the following preces and collects of the Litany are to be said.
  • Furthermore, after Compline (and Litanies) – but only if the Office is of the feria! – there follows the administration of the discipline, during which the prostrate brethren say the Confiteor &c., together with Ps 50, Kyrie, Pater, Salvos fac servos, Dominus vobiscum, Oremus and collect Deus cui proprium.  To this penitential practice the saying in the Order applied: "Let us not be as those nuns of whom it was said, they did scourge themselves with foxes' tails!"  (How times change: as one Father remarked in recent years, nowadays all the penance is done in gyms, and none in priories...)
Further, and, some would argue, rather unfortunately, the late nineteenth century Dominican Breviary contains Votive Offices allotted to vacant weekdays, just as does the Roman Breviary of that day.  It is fashionable to criticize the wholesale omission of the ferial Office in favour of such Votives: but it must be recalled that there was a tradition going back several hundred years or more of repeating the Office of favourite saints once a month or even once a week – a pious habit behind the still-continued celebration of the Office and Mass of Our Lady on Saturdays – and, furthermore, the multiplication of saints' days had meant that the relative length of the ferial Office, on the few days it still was used, appeared all the more wearisome and unexpectedly taxing, hence the increased permission, and eventual Papal direction (under Leo XIII) to use Votive Offices of certain saints on all ordinary ferias.

For the record, on free Tuesdays, the Office of St Dominic was to be used (ferial psalms at 1st Vespers, festal psalms at Matins, with 3rd Lesson of the Saint after the first two occurring Lessons from Scripture, festal psalms at Lauds, the Office concluding with None); on free Wednesdays, if the convent was a place of study and learning, the Office of St Thomas Aquinas was appointed (the same rubrics applying); on free Thursdays – as in Austria-Hungary – the Office of Corpus Christi; on the first free Monday or, failing that, the first free Friday of the month, the Office of St Vincent Ferrer (thanks to a decree of Clement X in 1674); on all free Saturdays, of course, the Office of Our Lady; and, where the custom exists – note this glad recognition of traditional practices – on free Wednesdays or Fridays, the Office of some other saint of the Order.

As I recall a learned blogger commenting, the ferial psalms were oft retained at (first) Vespers in Roman use.  In Dominican terms – replaced in 1923 by the Roman ones! – only Totum Duplex feasts had proper psalms thereat, while those feasts ranked as Duplex and Simplex did not, and neither did feasts Trium Lectionum, which furthermore ended at None.  However, by contrast, feasts of all ranks used the Sunday psalms at Lauds, and the psalms of the relevant Common at Matins.  Especially the latter provision meant that two-thirds of the Psalter, being assigned to ferial Matins, was scarcely if ever read.  For example, a quick and rough calculation of how the Office would have been said in June this year, had the 1893 Breviary still been in force (neglecting the rules for transferring impeded feasts for up to fifteen days!), reveals that the festal Office would have been said almost every day, save on the two Vigils (when the ferial Office was kept) and on four days at Vespers, when the ferial psalms would have been retained.

It is therefore quite understandable that Pope St Pius X wished to curb the excessive use of the festal Office, since it meant that many psalms were hardly ever recited, thus making mockery of the distribution of the whole psalter over the course of the week.  He and his advisers therefore decided upon redistributing the psalms over all the Hours of each week, so that, with almost no exceptions, each psalm was to be said only once each week, thus lightening the burden by decreasing the length of the Office, and to change the rubrics to ensure that only saint's days of higher rank caused the psalms to be said to be changed, thus increasing the probability that all the psalms were regularly prayed.  Having used, with varying fidelity (owing to work and other reasons good and bad), the 1962 Roman and latterly the 1962 Dominican Breviaries for my own prayer, I can attest that the daily varying of the psalms at each Hour is conducive to prayer, whereas, say, the use of Ps 118 every day at the Little Hours (as still found on the highest feasts and on Sundays) is, shall we say, a little repetitive in comparison.

What is to be regretted is that this reform in some aspects detracted from traditional liturgical forms and pieties – above all, at Lauds, it may be argued, where for example the immemorial daily use of Pss 148-150, the Laudate psalms which gave Lauds its name, was given away.  A levelling spirit resulted in some foolish decisions: for example, there was no need to likewise modify the psalms at Lauds in the Little Office of Our Lady, yet there, too, Ps 66 and two of the Laudate psalms were removed, impoverishing prayer.  The same was done at Lauds in the Easter Triduum, where if anywhere the ancient forms should have been kept sacrosanct.

The ancient liturgical devotions of the Western Church – Little Office of Our Lady, Office of the Dead, the Gradual Psalms, the Penitential Psalms, the Litanies of the Saints, and all related devotions – contain a treasure of piety, built around the Psalms, composed by inspiration of the Holy Ghost Himself, and decorated by the words of Holy Mother Church, inflamed by that same Spirit.  Their words have been on the lips of countless devout souls down the centuries.  Yes, they are long and not short: ought we not take the time to pray as those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, have prayed?  May we have something of their piety, and their reward.

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