Saturday, July 13, 2019

Office of Prime (II): How to Say It

Using the rubrics that were in force from time immemorial until 1911 and Divino Afflatu, the Office of Prime mirrors the movements and variations of Lauds. The Roman Office has much variation, but essentially there are three types of days:
  • Duplex feasts
  • Simplex feasts
  • Feriae
A Semi-Double is celebrated in much the same manner as a Double, but with a lesser ranking and some additional prayers. A day within an octave is similar, although without additional prayers. The psalms at Vespers and Mattins are from the common and the Lauds and Prime are sung using the Dominical psalms. The Little Hours never change.

A feria simply observed the Office of the day with no note of any feasts, unless they warrant a commemoration of a superseded Lenten or Advent Simplex feast. Simple feasts use the psalter of the day for Vespers and Mattins, but follow the Dominical psalms for Lauds and an abbreviation of Prime. At first this seems a strange and arbitrary shift away from the purpose of the Office, the recitation of 150 psalms of David every week spread through the day for its sanctification. In fact, Lauds and Prime before S Pius X had very little daily variation. The first psalm of Lauds would be either 50 (Miserere mei Deus) or 92 (Dominus regnavit), the second psalm varied every non-festive day of the week, and the canticle could be one of seven possibilities unless a feast occurred, in which case the Benedicite would be sung. Two psalms varied daily, one conditionally, and five remained constant. 

At Prime, the psalter was as follows:
  • Sunday: 53, 117, 118i (1-16), 118ii (17-32)
  • Monday: 53, 23, 118i, 118ii
  • Tuesday: 53, 24, 118i, 118ii
  • Wednesday: 53, 25, 118i, 118ii
  • Thursday: 53, 22, 118i, 118ii
  • Friday: 53, 21, 118i, 118ii
  • Saturday: 53, 118i, 118ii
The entirety of the psalmody would be wrapped under one antiphon, either from the Office of the day or the first Lauds antiphon of the occurring feast. Like the other Horae Minores, the antiphon on Prime is semi-doubled, that is, read as far as the asterisk before the psalms and read in full after. On a feast, the psalms were always the three of Saturday not not the longer Prime of Sunday. Sunday Prime, before the full antiphon, also includes the Athanasian Creed. On feriae of Paschaltide, the psalms are always festive just as the Lauds are always Dominical.

If the Office is of Sunday, any feast, within an octave, or a weekday of Paschaltide, the chapter is from Timothy; otherwise, it is from Zachariah. Then follows the responsory Christe Fili Dei vivi. On festive days, the collect Domine Deus omnipotens immediately follows. Under any other circumstance the responsory and collect are separated by a series of versicle preces and the Confiteor said as at Mass and Compline. During penitential seasons the preces are expanded, although they do not include an additional psalm as they do at Vespers and Lauds during those seasons. 

Should the Martyrology be read it comes after the collect. The Roman Martyrology for the current day is always that of tomorrow's saints, usually with a word or two about them. At the end, thanksgiving is made and Our Lady and the rest of the saints are invoked for protection. Another comes another responsory, Deus in adiutorium, Gloria Patri, Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, the Lord's Prayer, another set of versicles, and the collect Dirigere:
O Lord, Almighty God, King of heaven and earth, Savior of the world, bless, lead, rule and govern our hearts and bodies, our senses, words and deeds today, following thy law and commandments, that here and for eternity with thy help we shall be saved in freedom. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. 
If the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is to be sung this day, it begins at once. Otherwise, as with the beginning of Compline, a lector asks the celebrant for a blessing and reads a short lesson varying with the season. On feasts, however, the lesson is the same as the chapter sung at None.

After Adiutorium nostrum the dismissal is sung: Benedicite / Deus followed by the blessing:
May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. And may the souls of the faithful, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  
Again, Prime resembles Compline in how it contrasts the other Hours, this time with its own dismissal (not the usual Benedicamus Domino) and blessing (not the usual Fidelium animae).

Divino Afflatu reordered the entire psalter to revive the de facto recitation of the 150 psalms daily. The better solution would either have been to reduce the number of Duplex feasts or lessen clerical obligations, but instead Papa Sarto initiated a radical overhaul of the Office. To the layman, the only arrant changes may have been more green vestments on Sundays and a strange new antiphon at Sunday Vespers for no apparent reason. In fact, most of the old antiphons of the Roman Office had to be discarded and replaced due to the fragmented psalter introduced in place of the full psalms of the Roman rite. Between its psalms and antiphons, the Little Hours are nigh unrecognizable. Some of the psalter remains unchanged for the great feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady, aside from the reduction of Lauds and the loss of ps. 53 at Prime on Sundays. The rest of it differs greatly every single day. The psalter became as follows:

  • Sunday: 117, 118i, 118ii
  • Monday: 23, 18 (in halves)
  • Tuesday: 24 (in thirds)
  • Wednesday: 25, 51, 52
  • Thursday: 22, 71 (in halves)
  • Friday: 21 (in thirds)
  • Saturday: 93 (in halves), 107
If these psalms look familiar it is because most of them belong to Mattins, not Prime, in the classical forms of the Roman Office. Additionally, the Pian Lauds and Prime represent the first time psalms in the Roman rite would be said out of order. The Byzantine rite Vespers sings some psalms out of order, but following a theme of persecution, deliverance, and thanksgiving. The Pian rite, by contrast, was formed with uniformity and a side glance to Tradition in mind. Its intentions were rational and yet, unlike the preceding Gregorian/medieval and Tridentine iterations, the psalms are printed on the page out of order because they must present the remaining psalm from S Pius V's Office first.

The rules for how to recite Prime are otherwise the same under Pius X as they were under Pius V with the caveat that, again, Prime's variability tracks Lauds. Divino Afflatu limited the potential for proper psalms and texts on feasts below Duplex of the II Class to a handful of ancient Roman feasts, meaning festive Prime (still 53, 118i, and 118ii) would now be said rarely. This system would continue until 1964.


  1. A few points:
    1. Festal Prime (i.e. Pss. 53, 118.1, 118.2) is still fairly common under Divino Afflatu. Almost the entire month of June just passed would have featured this daily due to the privileged octaves mandating festal psalmody and the concentration of D1Cl feasts.

    2. The "simplification" of 1955 and its echo in 1960 are what greatly reduced the instances of festal Prime.

    3. Again, though, Pss. 21-25 would have been missed for a supermajority of weeks even if we revised the Kalendar back to 1570 (or use CTO). If the ferial psalmody (i.e. the addition of the one of those psalms) for Prime were mandated for all days except D1Cl and D2Cl, this would have been perfectly organic and resolved this problem. Those are of some of the most well known psalms! Yes, Ps. 23 gets exposure in festal Matins, but the others not so much.

    1. To your third point, even in 1910 ferial psalms would have been said most of Lent and Advent. It's hardly a full representation, but there were still chunks of the year where the full psalter could reliably come to be read.

  2. A magnificent and long-overdue explanation (for all the less-knowledgeable Faithful) of Prime and The Breviary.

    Thank You, The Rad Trad.

    God Bless.

    in Domino

  3. "the dismissal is sung: Benedicite / Deus "

    This has always mystified me. What is that single-word response supposed to mean?

    "In fact, most of the old antiphons of the Roman Office had to be discarded and replaced due to the fragmented psalter introduced in place of the full psalms of the Roman rite."

    The fragmentation and displacement of psalms would require adding a bunch of new antiphons. In reality, many antiphons were replaced even where the psalms remained untouched, for example, Sunday Vespers (3 of 5 antiphons new), the same in other ferial services.

  4. Prime was further changed with the rubrics of the 1961BR.

    Pacem et veritatem was abolished entirely and the chapter became Regi saeculorum regardless of whether the day was festal or ferial. Both the Dominical and ferial preces were also abolished (from 1956) along with the addition of the fourth psalm on penitential days.

    Considering also the loss of proper Doxologies that would have affected Jam lucis the net effect is to make 1961-64 Prime invariable except for the psalmody.

    By 1964 it had become a rather a shadow of its former self.

  5. As a post-script to my previous comment the other notable change in '1962' Prime is the short lesson. No longer on feasts was it taken from None but became 'of the season'.

    1. As a former citizen of 1962ville, six months of "Dominus autem dirigat..." did become quite tiresome, but I do remember in my early SSPX days in Ridgefield that "older" books were still to be found in the pews for us to follow Prime, Sext, and Compline. I had always wondered why we never used the "In plateis..." given in that book at Prime when it was a Saturday of the BVM. It was an interesting time in that first decade after the split of the "Nine" when 1962 was still not being "perfectly" observed and reprints of the older books was all there were to follow Mass and the Office.

  6. Back in the mid-90s I was involved with a half-dozen of us who sang Prime and the Hours on Saturday mornings at Corpus Christi church off the Strand. To be frank it became rather boring to have the same psalm tones week after week: 8G for Prime, 8c for Terce, 8G (again) for Sext, and 1f for None. One longed for a feast which would have proper antiphons at the Hours to break the monotony. It struck me at the time how much more interesting the pre-1911 would be with a variety of tones for Confessors (albeit too many of them), Martyrs, Virgins etc.

    One of the real absurdities of '1962' Prime is having the hitherto festal psalms (53, 118i & 118ii) on the penitential Sundays of Septuagesima and Lent and then in Paschaltide where pre-1911 Sundays and ferial days has those festal psalms on Sundays Pss. 117, 118i & 118ii are sung.

    However that is not quite a bad as one of the revisions of the Monastic Breviary following Divino afflatu that prescribes Ps. 50 Miserere at Lauds on the ferial days of Paschaltide - quite absurd.

  7. Regarding the Little Office in Prime, at least in Tridentine books, the instruction is to insert it after the Benedicamus Domino before the Martyrology.

    But I've heard that the Dominicans for one had a different way of joining the Marian and Divine Offices, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are varied ways that it was done.