Many readers probably pray all or part of the Divine Office. I myself pray Vespers and Compline daily, with Mattins and Lauds on, or the evening before, the majors feasts. For those not bound to praying a particular version it is good to be aware of what options are available and what differentiates certain versions. The major differences between versions will be:
- The arrangement of the psalms: the older psalter was modified, or outright suppressed, by Papa Sarto in 1911. The psalter from 1911-1965, when the office of Prime was suppressed, is theoretically the same throughout, but other changes by Pius XII and John XXIII means it differs in practice. The pre-Pius X psalter prescribed 12 Mattins psalms on ferial days and 9 on feasts, using a consistent repertoire on feasts for Mattins, Lauds, and Vespers. The "little hours" would be the same daily. After Pius X the offices remained the same, but the psalter changed drastically, chopping psalms into roughly equal 15-verse bits and distributing them in order throughout the week. The little hours became fungible at this point.
- The rubrics: the post-Pius X office has the odd practice of splitting semi-double and double feasts into halves, using the ferial psalms and antiphons, but with the festal hymns, collects, and canticle antiphons. Given the number of feasts in any calendar after the 17th century, this makes a daily difference.
- Preces/suffrages: these delightful and moving intercessory prayers are prayed on semi-double, simple, and ferial days outside of octaves. They are most notable by their absence on feasts, reminding us that we are to rejoice on feasts, but most of our time ought to be spent in prayers for mercy and in penance. The Advent/Lenten Vespers suffrage is particularly powerful. The 1911-1913 reforms reduced the suffrages to one antiphon and collect, but on the whole kept the idea. At some point between 1955 and 1960 they went extinct.
- The calendar: the ranking system was in principle the same from time immemorial through 1955, when Pius XII eliminated semi-double days and when John XXIII tossed the entire thing in favor of a numerical system, but the number of feasts in the calendar by 1910 and the rubrics governing Sundays and other special days in the post-1911 Office make each version substantially different in practice. Even 1568 and 1910, which use the same psalter and mostly the same rubrics are very different in practice due to the proliferation of double feasts. The Johannine calendar is very simple, but also has a narrower experience with its compressed rankings and commemoration system. Most noticeable, aside from feasts, is the disappearance of most octaves and vigils in 1955, a sad loss.
- Assorted matter: many other things changed between 1568 and the mid-twentieth century. The scriptural readings at Mattins were altered and shortened a bit by Clement VIII. Pius IX introduced a new, and improved in my opinion, feast of the Immaculate Conception. Pius XII introduced a new Assumption feast. Urban VIII toyed with the hymns. There was the 1942 Common for Popes. A lot differs that is not structural, but I do not think these matters are as substantial as the structural differences.
The choices for praying the Divine Office have proliferated thanks to the internet, which has given us both resources to pray from online editions of the Roman Office or to purchase used copies on sites like Abe Books or eBay. I will narrow my comments on what one can pray from Divinum Officium, a very nice and informative website that allows one to pray any number of editions of the Office, more or less, including a theoretical reconstruction of a medieval monastic Office—which I will actually be ignoring in my comments along with the 1960 Office according to the Pauline calendar.
Here we go:
- 1570: actually 1568, but it's "Tridentine" either way. Uses the original Roman psalter, including full-length psalms aside from the little hours. Over half the days are ferial, lending a strong awareness of the temporal cycle. The limited number of psalms used for festal offices and for octaves actually makes the feasts more special. I entered a state of shock by praying ferial Vespers tonight for the first time in a very long time, after having prayed the octaves the Ascension and Pentecost, followed by the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Simple feasts have the "splitting" structure I mentioned for most feasts in the Pian Office, but I do not mind it here, as most all the saints under the Simple category were local saints of the diocese of Rome, giving those offices a special and familiar character. My only real cavil with this edition is that St. Pius V eliminated the feasts of Ss. Joachim and Ann, the ancestors of our Lord. It has the suffrages and preces, which can be time consuming, particularly during Advent and Lent, but are very rich in their content during those seasons. This year is the most difficult, and in some sense the most brutal, to pray, but I find also the most rewarding. Saints feasts can supersede Sundays, but there are comparatively so few double feasts that one does not mind the break from the green days. Twelve psalms at ferial Mattins!
- 1910: theoretically the same as above, but the multiplication of doubles severely curtails the praying of the psalter, especially considering that any feast with the word "double" in it has first Vespers. For instance next month, June, has four ferial days—two of them Saturdays of Our Lay—and three Simple days that will be observed. At none of them will the ferial Vespers be prayed, and at some of them there preces and suffrages will be omitted because of tomorrow's feast. In practice, this is a very different Office from 1570. Feasts replace the Sunday Office very often.
- Divino Afflatu: while the name might give one the impression that this is the 1911 Office, it is not. It is basically 1954, meaning the Pian psalter, but with fewer psalms at ferial Mattins, the "splitting" of most feasts, and the ranking of octaves to clear up any ambiguity. If one had to read the rubrics of a breviary and decide how to pray the Office for the day, this would be the most confusing edition of all mentioned by far. The calendar is very balanced in this edition, but there is the reduced length of the psalms. Each major office and minor office, and even each nocturn at Mattins, is roughly the same size—very streamlined. This edition does have some pluses: octaves are observed, preces and suffrages are still there but curtailed, one goes through the entire psalter, full range of Mattins lessons, and not too time consuming if one wants to have a fuller experience of the Office in limited time. One should note that the little hours during Holy Week and Tenebrae during the Triduum will differ from the ancient version. Feasts replace the Sunday Office about as often as they do in 1570.
- 1955: much of what I wrote above from Divino Afflatu still applies, but without most octaves (only Pascha, Pentecost, and Christmas live), with modifications to the Triduum per Pius XII's reforms, and the mixing of most semi-double days into Simples. Also, the antiphons, I believe, are now entirely doubled on every day, discarding the partial singing of the psalm antiphons to begin a psalm on ferias, Simples, and semi-doubles, consistent with their character. The effect is the blurring of feast days.
- 1960: calendar is mostly third class days. Very few days have first Vespers. On all but a few days there is one nocturne a Mattins, and those days are almost never Sundays. First class feasts can still take precedence over Sunday, as can second class feasts of our Lord, but these occasions are rarer than ever. The overall use of patristic texts is lacking in this Office, as is the means of commemorating superseded offices. The ancient character of feasts of ancient Roman saints or ancient saints of universal fame is gone. First class days are mostly the same, as are some second class feasts of our Lord and Lady. On the whole, this is the least time-consuming Office, but also the oddest structurally and most impoverished textually.
I would first recommend the 1570 if one has the time, and then the Divino Afflatu edition. Why Divino Afflatu over 1910? Purists may disagree with me, but I hold the 1910 Office does not fully accomplish the purpose of the Office: to pray the psalms. Yes, everything else is intact, but in this sense everything else is less important. Was the reform of 1911 wise? I would respectfully say it was very unnecessary, as some calendar changes would have solved the problem. Still, I would prefer Divino Afflatu over 1910 if those were my two choices because one can pray the psalter and still go through the entire calendar. 1960 is very barren to me and 1955, while fuller in content, is clearly a transition.
My advice is to take things easy and begin by praying a little hour. I started with Compline in the Divino Afflatu form and soon adapted the older version, then took on Vespers. One advantage to starting with a minor hour like Compline or Sext or whatever in the 1570-1910 form is that it is more or less the same daily, but one finds small variations like the preces from day to day, allowing both familiarity with the calendar and stability with the general structure of that particular office. Perhaps something like Vespers of Lauds on Sundays and feasts could be added later.
Of course this is just my suggestion. Pray whatever you like and however you find your prayer effective. The purpose of this post was to help anyone praying the Office who is confused about versions clarify those matters and to aid anyone considering praying the Office in making an informed decision, given that person's time and desire to be immersed in the ancient prayer of the Church.
The Rad Trad