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.


  1. I am looking forward to this series. Happy Pentecost Monday...err...Lacrimation of Paul VI.

  2. I just discovered your site. I am very pleased to discover your posts about the office of Prime. It's my favorite and have figured it must have been (must BE)very powerful and effective for the *@$#@&!$ to have suppressed it. I look forward to reading all your posts about it.