Sunday, October 14, 2018
The Suffrages of the Saints
The suffrages of the various saints in the old Divine Office are rarely treated in histories of the liturgy. Gregory Dix and Pierre Battifol make no mention of them. Perhaps Jungmann does, but I am not familiar enough with his scholarship to recall off hand. Yet these intercessions to the Saints were present in the Lauds and Vespers of the Roman rite for nearly a millennium, as stationary and consistent as the antiphons on the psalms themselves.
Devotion to the Saints entered the regular aspects of the liturgy some time between the reign of Gregory the Great and the reforming pontificate of Gregory VII. In the 9th and 10th centuries monks began to dedicate ferial, non-Lenten Saturdays to Our Lady. At the same time demand for additional Requiem Masses birthed the "private" Mass, that is, an additional Mass not specifically required by the liturgy of the day (in contrast to days where the liturgy traditionally does demand numerous Masses, like the Roman rite on Christmas or the pre-Byzantine rites of Jersualem on Pascha). Votive Masses of the Saints came some time later, but from the same popular desire for liturgical devotion. Early chapters of Duffy's Stripping of the Altars has some fascinating discussion of the evolution of votive Mass texts, mainly by means of priests guiding the benefactors through what sort of readings might be most appropriate and even efficacious for a Saint.
It might be safe to say the Suffrages date to around this time, some era shortly after the Gregorian reforms cemented the place of Gallican influences in the Roman liturgy, including Gallican monastic influences. This last point ought not be overlooked. When Saint Peter Damian visited Cluny, sure the monks were slacking on their vows by wearing habits of the daily liturgical color and feasting on huge meals, he was exhausted after participating in several days of their common life, which included the full daily Office, the Office of the Dead, the Office of the Blessed Virgin, and the Office of All the Saints, some ten hours in choro plus the day's Mass and any potential private Masses.
The texts of the Suffrages relate more to the votive Offices of the Middle Ages than they do to the older feasts of the Saints. For example, the collect for Our Lady is that of Vespers in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, not that of any generally celebrated Latin feasts of the Virgin, the Assumption, the Nativity of the Virgin, or the Annunciation. Similarly, the collect for Ss. Peter and Paul is that of the votive Mass of those two Apostles, not that of their feast, although the votive Mass is remarkably similar to that of their Octave day, which presents and "chick or the egg" question about which came first. It would seem possible, if not probable, that the Suffrages were initially instituted as means of honoring Saints on days when their greater veneration was impeded by the presence of Sunday.
Lastly, in the Tridentine Office the Suffrages were sung in choro and kneeling. Was it always like this? Or were the Suffrages sung in the manner of other antiphons prior to Mattins or Mass, that is, as "stations" within the church? Would the antiphons Sancta Maria be sung in procession to the chapel of the Virgin followed by the aforementioned collect from the Little Office? Perhaps readers can chime in on this final point.