Sunday, June 30, 2019

Office of Prime (I): A Brief History

The Offices of Prime and Compline are unique among the Roman Hours. They are horae minores, "little hours", but look little like the Terce, Sext, and None. Prime has variable readings and Compline boasts a canticle, a feature otherwise belonging to the Vigil and Vespers. Both of these Hours originated after the main Hours of the Office (Vespers, Mattins/Lauds, Terce, Sext, and None), but according to the evidence, they originated not too much later. If anything, all that lagged was their universal acceptance, which both Hours attained by the second half of the first millennium of the Christian age.

The Divine Office is a fracturing of the original Christian all-night vigil which would culminate in the singing of the Divine Praises (laudes) at dawn and the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the risen Sun would meet the Risen Son. The Hours separated and, as readers of St. Augustine's Confessions will remember, the implementation was somewhat arbitrary imitation of the practices of Alexandria according to local taste (Saint Ambrose evidently preferred a lone cantor to sing psalms in recto tono rather than ornate melodies of whatever practices preceded the Canonical Office).

Practical needs of discipline in monastic life generated the first Hour of the Office. Saint John Cassian purported that Prime, which he called "Mattins" (literally the "morning hour", as separate from the vigil we call Mattins and its accompanying Lauds), came about in his own monastery at Bethlehem:
"But you must know that this Mattins, which is now very generally observed in Western countries, was appointed as a canonical office in our own day, and also in our own monastery, where our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a Virgin and deigned to submit to growth in infancy as man, and where by His Grace He supported our own infancy, still tender in religion, and, as it were, fed with milk. For up till that time we find that when this office of Mattins (which is generally celebrated after a short interval after the Psalms and prayers of Nocturns in the monasteries of Gaul) was finished, together with the daily vigils, the remaining hours were assigned by our Elders to bodily refreshment. But when some rather carelessly abused this indulgence and prolonged their time for sleep too long, as they were not obliged by the requirements of any service to leave their cells or rise from their beds till the third hour" (Cassian, Twelve Institutes Bk III.IV).
In his Rule, Saint Benedict laid out a schema of psalms for his monks to follow according to the day, a schema which effectively reworked the Roman psalter of his time according to his own perceived needs. In Chapter 8 he asks that three psalms be said at Prime each day from Monday until the Lord's day, psalms 1, 2, and 6 and then three successive psalms each day; on Sunday the psalms at Prime were the four 15-line fragments of psalm 118.

Chapter Room of Poblet Monastery

Prime and Compline, unlike the other Major and Minor Hours, are "chapter" hours, not properly part of the cathedral or collegiate public liturgy. Their original purpose was to occupy monks' down time, but as the rites of the Church matured, they took on their own character and importance in the monastic and collegiate life. Both were sung "in chapter", that is, in a separate room attached to the collegiate or monastic church, but separate from it. Mass would never be offered in this room. Instead, the avowed clerics would sing either Prime or Compline, review business of the day, listen to spiritual reading, admit any violations of their Rule or constitutions, and administer punishment.

Among the Eastern Churches, the practice of reading sacred texts in the Office subsided, leaving only prophesies for major feasts in the Byzantine rite. The Roman rite, however, retained a full structure of readings at Mattins and offered the Martyrology at the Office of Prime. As an Hora Minor, Prime does not change drastically with the days or seasons, but if the Martyrology is read, it reads of the saints whose feasts will be recalled by the Church the following day. On December 24 comes the only day in the Roman rite wherein Prime is celebrated with great ceremony. Prime is sung as normal until the Martyrology, when a priest in purple cope flanked by two acolytes reads the foretelling of the Incarnation:
"In the year 5199th from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, in the year 2957th from the flood, in the year 2015th from the birth of Abraham, in the year 1510th from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses, in the year 1032th from the anointing of David as King, in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel, in the 194th Olympiad, in the 752nd from the foundation of the city of Rome, in the 42nd year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus, in the 6th age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace, Jesus Christ, Himself Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, being pleased to hallow the world by His most gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and when nine months were passed after His conception, (all kneel down) was born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem of Juda made Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh."
 A full singing of this Office can be viewed here.

After the psalms in Prime, the choir sing a series of intercessory prayers, the celebrant and the choir make Confessions in alternation, the celebrant recites a stationary collect that Our Lord might protect those present this day from the danger of sin, they read the Martyrology, and then follows another series of prayers in praise of Our lady and the Saints. These prayers are of early medieval Gallican origin. Prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the communities of England had their own preces based entirely on verses of psaltery, admitting no other text. These prayers, which one can read more about in The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: from Conversion to the Reformation, were replaced with more responsorial prayers akin to the ones in the pre-Conciliar breviaries.

As far as the psalms themselves, Sunday Prime before S Pius V was longer than any major Hour, save Mattins. Psalms 21-25, 53, 117, and the first two fragments of 118 were sung, followed by the Athanasian Creed, the Martyrology, and the aforementioned prayers. For the rest of the week, Prime was short. The 1568 reforms, cognizant of the new obligation of secular clergy to pray the complete Office daily and also aware of the 26 psalms sung at Mattins and Lauds, re-distributed psalms 21-25 and 117 throughout the week while retaining 53 and the first two fragments of 118 daily. The result was coming substantial, but manageable from the standpoint of secular clergy.

Why, then, did Prime become the object of incessant caterwauling by reform minded priests in the late 19th and early 20th century? The Industrial Revolution quickened the pace of life in ways that modern society often overlooks. Throughout medieval times and into the pre-Industrial period, most people in Europe practiced bi-phasic sleep. Liturgically, this meant monks would awake in the middle of the night, sing the Nocturnal Vigil (Mattins and Lauds), return to sleep, and observe the rest of the Liturgy in the morning. When that disappeared, clergy still retained the venerable tradition of anticipating Mattins and Lauds after nightfall the prior evening. After both social changes in sleep and 20th century legislation forcing the entire Office to be sung or said within a modern 24 hour day, the morning became front-loaded with psalms. For the parish priest celebrating a 7AM Mass, this was onerous.

As stated elsewhere on this blog, the answers to the problems with the ancient Roman Liturgy could easily have been resolved by reducing clerical obligations and lessening the number of Doubles in the kalendar, but the result was something quite different.

Next we will look at how to pray Prime and its variations in the early half of the 20th century.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Family & Friends

"My wife is my best friend," I often hear. One hopes she would be and in many exemplary cases, she is. Yet realistic expectations for spouses are often clouded by the singular focus society asks them to put on each other.

Marriage should be practical and then idealistic. No rite of marriage in any mainstream Christian denomination asks the bride and groom if they love each other, only if they promise to love each other. John Rotondi has an insightful piece about a fairly niche issue, which is the tendency in some traditionalist families for men to lose any and all sense of personhood, to disappear into domesticity, devoid of friendships and hobbies, two very conventional ways in which men built their personhood in prior, more Christian times when unions were, coincidentally, more based on agreement than 18 months of buying dinner.

God bless men who provide for their families and who do not obstruct His gift of life through artificial means. All the same, you have seen it at the local traditionalist parish sometimes, have you not? A few burnt out fellows providing $55,000 per annum for their seven children and wife, huddled together saying the Rosary with every possible Fatima oration added; they look glazed, tired, and desperate to be interested in what is transpiring at the altar if only to offer the sacrifice of themselves to God.

Restricting one's self to the nuclear family, something all too common both in Catholic and non-Catholic families, narrows one's potential co-enthusiasts, confidants, and friends. Indeed, friendship is an image of the Divine Love in that it is entirely volitional and offers no physical reward (not that married love is not also, in its own way, an icon of the generational love of God). What I once termed "romantic friendship" may be the most under-appreciated sort of relationship out there, wherein you find a little of yourself in another. In a spouse this is a unique gift because of its rarity, but in any friend it should be the glue.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Ad Orientem: Is There a Future?

What is the future of the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, in the United States? Or is there one at all?

This sore subject has come up frequently in a few recent conversations. Religion on the whole is declining in American life and the irreligious are the largest voting demographic out there. The Eastern Churches abroad, even more so than the Italian and Irish Roman Catholic parishes of old, are uniquely dependent on members of a national bloc to have a base of attendees. One hopes the people are devout, but inevitably a large portion of any [insert country] Catholic/Orthodox parish subconsciously use their parish as a means of association with others who share their identity. Their children know this and see the church as a cultural foible. After they graduate high school, they may never set foot in the church again until their parents' funerals.

I am unaware of any equivalent of CARA in the Eastern Christian world abroad, but anecdotally the Eastern Churches' future shares much in common with that of the Latin Church. In the next generation there will be another round of compression for the physical plants (churches, schools convents), tears will flow, fleeting communities will reminisce for the good old days (which may not have been so good).

However, just as the Latin Church's future will look more to its past and coalesce around stronger, smaller, more orthopractic settings, so I believe Eastern Christianity will persevere in the United States, albeit greatly reduced and in very different looking parishes. Aside from well-moneyed areas with good donor based, the usual ethnic parishes are probably on their way out. Much like in the Latin Church, thriving oriental parishes usually do not look too much like the rest of their larger body. They are often smaller parishes, sometimes less than a hundred souls, but devout souls. The people who attend have little or nothing to do with Eastern Christendom by ancestry and genuinely want to be there. Melkite Catholic parishes have done an excellent job at cultivating this sort of group into their parishes to give them new blood; some OCA churches have succeeded in doing the same. Barring an act of God, these places will not convert Americans into hesychasts, but they do produce enough devotion, vocations, and income to sustain themselves; they will not be primary fixtures in American religion, but they will be there.

The East deserves our respect and affection. Their faithful and priests have served this poor soul for seven years now, taught me proper prayer, and provided true Christian community. Tomorrow I will cast my shadow in the nave of my local Ukrainian temple and observe the Second Sunday after Pentecost. My parish is doing well. Remove the Ukrainians and it would struggle. Increase the proportion of Ukrainians and it might be gone in ten years.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Out. Proud. And Way Too Loud.

I returned a night ago from New York City, where I was happily reconnecting with my best friend, and I have to say: the entirety of Manhattan is gay. How gay? Very gay.

Unless I have misunderstood the rainbow flags, logos, scripts, and tchotchkes as some invocation of traditional images of the Holy Trinity, then New York is in the throes of something called "pride" month. Pride in what? I have no idea, but it is every bit as ubiquitous as the plastic Santa Claus statues and reindeer during December.

In fact, it has all the external trademarks of religion. Aside from the Catholic churches and an Orthodox parish, I did not see one Christian edifice that did not mark the occasion with flags and a trite aphorism about how loving God is, while neglecting just how "judgmental" He also is.

This "pride" slogan and its accompanying month of very loud advertising has all the trademarks of superficial religion in that not only the devout 2% of the populace observe its tenets, but the non-practitioners also wish to be seen in union with it. I saw [naturally] married couples with rainbow engraved hearts as lapel pins, toddlers and elementary students in "proud" t-shirts, and even children's clothing stores broadcasting a sale to people who cannot conceive in any God given manner. Even the money lenders wished to virtue-signal. Did you know HSBC was gay? I didn't know a bank could have a sexual identity, but my misconceptions have been clarified.

These once-a-year devotees of the gay agenda may claim to be in favor of "marriage equality", but fifteen years ago they laughed at the idea and ten years ago they voted against it at the ballot box. No, they are not interested in the doctrine of this lifestyle, they are interested in what it means for them. In an atomistic city, where millions of people are unwillingly compressed into a tight space with less and less sense of community, "pride" is the final teaching of permissiveness to be one's self in a vacuum, devoid of consequences or social standards. "You do you and I'll do me," they say.

Fittingly, the one place I expected to see rainbow flags and acceptance slogans hardly sported any: Brooklyn. The hipster demographic—replete with plaid shirts, waxed facial hair, suspenders on jeans, "craft" beer, and fair trade coffee—has gentrified Brooklyn and is now turning it into a family neighborhood. The twenty-somethings are now thirty-something and often with a stroller. A stroller with no proud and loud flags.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Cum complerentur dies... A Look at the Office of Prime (Intro)

"Hora Prima supprimatur." -Sacrosanctum concilium IV.89.d

If the Second Vatican Council had passed no further legislation, decrees, or "constitutions"—something I thought only secular governments implemented, this simple, unadorned and unsubstantiated sentence would be enough to cast doubts on the Council's proceedings. The hour of Prime is not the oldest hour in the Roman Office. In fact, it and Compline were the two late-comers to the effort to sanctify the entire day. Unlike the vespertinas solemnitas practiced by Cassian, the monks of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantine's day, or the furtive prayer meetings of pre-Nicene Christians, continuing the ritual of praising God as certain times during the Temple period, the Office of Prime was created deliberately. That does not, however make it any less part of the Roman Office, since it has been part of the Liturgy for a millennium and a half.

The real scandal of its suppression is the sentence above. In a document that goes on and on and on about vernacular, about the needs of our day, about development, and which generally "asks for the principles" (Msgr. Bugnini's words) for liturgical deconstruction, a major and time tested element of the Latin Rite is simply deleted in a three word sentence, devoid of any pretext, purpose, debate, or justification.

By the mid-20th century, clergy, according to the reformers, had complained about the complexity of hymnody, the length or Mattins, the number of ferial prayers, and other such variable features of the onerous Office. Saint Pius V bound all the ordained to recite the Office in totum daily, de facto removing votive Offices from the public sphere and making the Breviarium Romanum into "Father's prayer book". The privatization of the Office also meant that administrative decisions regarding the Breviary would primarily account for the clergy saying it rather than the liturgical wisdom of a given possibility. Hence Saint Timothy is a Simplex in 1570, but by the 19th century he, and a number of obscure French and Italian founders of tiny religious orders, is a Duplex with a Common Office. The deletion of Prime, its becoming an un-Hour, must be read within the larger context of how the Office was treated at the time by both Rome and the Latin clergy at large.

But this is merely the story of how it temporarily ceased to be. The next few posts in this short series will cover its origins, its structure and place in the general scheme of Hours, and, lastly, its modifications in the 20th century.

Happy Pentecost, the most beautiful of feast.