Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Little Office after the Use of Sarum

In the famous Holbein sketch of St Thomas More and his extended family, all are shewn with a book - but this is not so much, as it has been misinterpreted to demonstrate, that they are all Renaissance men to a man (and woman), but to manifest their piety as all good Englishmen would have wished in the days before the Reformation struck: for evidently the volume they are each holding is a copy of the Primer, or Book of Hours; led by the head of the family, they are about to pray, not the family Rosary more familiar to Catholics in later times, but an Hour from the Little Office (probably Vespers).

Now the Little Office according to the Use of Sarum (which was that used in England for the most part, until in time of persecution the Roman Use was adopted for Mass, Office and most things else) was more or less like the modern, but probably a little closer to the Dominican Use (and closer still to the Carmelite) in point of fact - at Matins, appointing always the same three Psalms (8, 18, 23) under one antiphon, Benedicta tu, appended to them only, and having the three usual prayers to Our Lady as Lessons, and with no Absolution, but a versicle after the Te Deum. (It can be followed via this link to the Burnet Psalter; note such gloriously mediæval spellings as Ympnus for Hymnus.)

At Lauds, the eight pre-Pius X psalms and canticle are given with only one antiphon, the first of the Christmastide ones in the Roman Little Office, and the little chapter is also non-Scriptural (oddly, but as commonly in mediæval books): Maria virgo semper letare que meruisti Christum portare celi et terre conditorem quia de tuo utero protulisti mundi salvatorem ("Mary Virgin rejoice alway who deservedst Christ to carry, of heaven and earth the Maker, for from thy womb came forth the world's Saviour). The Benedictus antiphon is the same as the Dominican. As was also common, the Collect at all the Hours was Concede nos famulos; and as also common in mediæval times, after it and Benedicamus Domino came very many commemorations (each an anthem, verse and collect): of
  1. the Holy Ghost,
  2. the Holy Trinity,
  3. the Holy Cross,
  4. St Michael Archangel,
  5. St John Baptist,
  6. St Peter,
  7. St Paul,
  8. St Andrew,
  9. St John the Evangelist,
  10. St James,
  11. St Bartholomew,
  12. All the Apostles,
  13. St Stephen,
  14. St Lawrence,
  15. St Thomas à Becket,
  16. St Blaise,
  17. St Christopher,
  18. St Edmund King & Martyr,
  19. St George,
  20. All Martyrs,
  21. St Germanus of Auxerre,
  22. St Nicholas,
  23. St Martin,
  24. St John of Beverley,
  25. St William,
  26. St Leonard,
  27. All Confessors,
  28. St Anne,
  29. St Mary Magdalen,
  30. St Catherine,
  31. St Margaret,
  32. St Etheldreda,
  33. St Faith,
  34. All Virgins,
  35. All Saints, and
  36. for Peace.
(Note that the exact saints commemorated tended to vary from Little Office to Little Office - recalling that all these were manuscript, handwritten copies until the late 15th century - according to the personal devotion of the user, who even added in favourite saints or, one suspects, didn't read all of the commemorations each and every day.)

(For the same reason, very often short Hours, really just larger commemorations, were inserted after each Hour of the Blessed Virgin - in the Burnet Psalter, these are the Hours of the Holy Cross and of the Compassion of the Virgin.)

As in the Carmelite Use, Prime of Our Lady has Psalms 53, 116 and 117 (not 84 as in the Roman) - the first being that always used at the start of Prime, the last, that great Psalm of the Exodus sung on Sundays in celebration of the still greater and more perfect redemption wrought for us through the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The hymn - used at all the Little Hours - in its older version as here reading Memento salutis auctor &c., begins, as I suggested in an earlier post, with the first stanza of Veni Creator Spiritus - for through the agency of the Holy Ghost (first stanza), Christ took flesh (second stanza) in His Mother Mary (third stanza), to the glory of the whole Trinity (fourth and last stanza). The psalm antiphon is again the same as that in the Roman Little Office for Christmastide, and the lesson is from Ecclesiasticus; but there is a short responsory as well as a versicle, and the Collect is Concede. Terce, Sext and None have successively Pss 119-121, 122-124, 125-127 as in the Roman Use, again with Christmastide antiphons, capituli from Ecclesiasticus, short responsories, versicles and the same Collect.

Sarum Vespers of Our Lady are quite different to begin with from what the Roman and Dominican have: for the psalmody consists of Pss 121-125, under one antiphon, and with a non-Scriptural little chapter that is in fact elsewhere used as an antiphon: Beata es virgo Maria que dominum portasti creatorem mundi genuisti eum qui te fecit et in eternum permanes virgo ("Blessed art thou, Virgin Mary, who didst carry the Lord the Creator of the world: thou didst give birth to Him Who made thee, and in eternity thou abidest a virgin"). It is evident then that the psalms of Vespers are repeats of those used earlier during Terce, Sext and None; in the Sarum Breviary, as in the Roman before 1912, these five psalms were those read on ferias on Tuesdays, and were perhaps chosen for their brevity and beauty, the Gradual Psalms being favourites for use at prayer.

Again as in the Carmelite Little Office, there are four psalms appointed for use at Compline de Beata according to the Sarum Rite: Pss 12, 42, 128 and 130. The anthem for these psalms is familiar to me from Marian feasts at Compline according to the Dominican Breviary - an instance of how texts were interchanged, or rather how there existed a great fund of items for liturgical use. Likewise, the hymn appointed is the second half of the Vesper hymn Ave maris stella; strangely, there is no short responsory. As was also a common mediæval custom, the Collect for Compline is not Concede, but Gratiam tuam quæsumus, familiar to moderns as the concluding prayer of the Angelus. After the intercalated Hours mentioned above comes the Salve Regina, with its last exclamations farced, as was the Sarum custom, with stanzas of a hymn, then a versicle and the usual collect afterward.


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