Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Little Office and the Office of the Dead

Among pious layfolk in past times, not only was the Little Office of Our Lady read, but also the Office of the Dead (to say nothing of the Penitential Psalms or Litanies of the Saints).

Now, interestingly enough, the three Nocturns of Matins of the Dead have on average 49 psalm-verses, Lauds have 64, and Vespers, 40.  Matins and Lauds together are known as (the) Dirge, from the first antiphon of Matins, Dirige; Vespers is for the same reason known as Placebo, its opening word (as Deus in adjutorium, etc. is not used).  Hence, Dirge and Placebo together have on average 153 psalm-verses, and this total, when added to that of the Hours of the Blessed Virgin (to wit, 237, as I calculated below), gives 390 - which is almost exactly the portion of psalm-verses counted up in the Breviary each day.

This has interesting consequences - for instance, a priest unable to say the Breviary for some reason could theoretically apply to have his obligation commuted to reciting the Little Office and the Office of the Dead together, since he would be praying about the same amount of holy psalms and lessons, pious hymns and prayers, so to speak!  (In mediæval days, it was common for religious and laity to have committed the Little Office to memory, and one assumes this would also be the case for Placebo and Dirge.  In more recent times, a priest unable, through failing eyesight, say, to read his Breviary would usually get his obligation commuted to reciting 15 decades of the Rosary daily, which at a reasonable pace takes 45 minutes to an hour.  I wonder if these days all 20 decades would be required?  But oh no, I forgot, the modern Divine Office being so short it would seem that only 10 decades would suffice... and in any case, few priests would know or care to ask for such a commutation, seeing as it is an open secret that many don't pray the Office at all.)

No comments: