Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Three Months of the Late Tridentine Breviary

Vespers in the Church of S Francis in Assisi by Mikhail Petrovich Botkin

My edition of the Breviarium Romanum is an editio post typicam from the era of Pius IX. It includes the feast of Saint Joseph under the title Patron of the Universal Church. Someone printed the additional votive offices of Leo XIII and the instruction to cease transferring Semi-Doubles and put these things in the back at a later date. Since the first week of May I have followed the rubrics and instructions in my Breviary exactly, although I confess my ignorance of when the local cathedral or my home parish were consecrated, so those octaves may have been neglected. What follows are some observances on the late Tridentine Office prior to the alterations of S Pius X.

The Psalter

As noted elsewhere on this blog, by the time of Divino afflatu the Roman Office was encumbered with feasts of nine lessons, bringing out the psalms from the Commons on a near-daily basis outside of Lent and putting the Roman psalter into considerable desuetude. This is largely true in my late Tridentine Office, with even formerly minor saints from the original medieval kalendar of S Pius V receiving promotions of their feasts from Simples to Semi-Doubles. 

That said, there are still a sufficient number of feriae and Simples in a given month to give the psalter its place. This month the 7th and 9th were feriae while Pius I (11th), Praxedes (21st), Pantoleon (27th), Ss Abdon and Sennen (30th), and the vigil of the Apostle James (24th) all employ the psalter of the day on Simple feasts. Simples still use the Dominical Lauds and Prime psalms, but those hours already have very little true daily variability. Most of the variability happen at Mattins, where the ferial psalms would be said on all of these days. However, given the rarity of adjoining Simples and feriae even in as sparse a month as July, the Vespers of the day are rarely sung unless a lesser feast falls on Sunday. This month only the first Sunday was a Dominical Semi-Double. The rest have been impeded by John Gaulbert, Vincent de Paul, and Saint Anne, the mother of Our Lady. This is a remarkable contrast because in the kalendar of S Pius V the month of July compares to Lent in its sparsity of feasts in between the comparatively festive months of June and August. In this kalendar May and June have more feriae than July.

Variety is the Spice of Life

The monotony of the late Tridentine Office can be overstated. Although there is great repetition of the psalms, the differences in feasts and their nature (bishops, martyrs, virgins, confessors etc) means different Mattins responses, chant tones, and lessons are employed throughout the Office. An Orthodox friend once observed that the true treasure of the Roman Office is the second nocturne of Mattins, with the unique readings on the lives of the saints or the mysteries that day celebrated.

Another less obvious source of variety in the late Tridentine Office is the occurring Scripture. Despite the prominence of Double feasts and the de facto ignorance of the ferial psalter most days, the occurring Scripture is generally observed during the first nocturne of Mattins while the lessons from the back of the book only take precedent on the more ancient feasts or feasts which possess unique texts, today's feast of Saint Mary Magdalen being an example.

The Office of Our Lady on Saturday was observed a few times during the last three months and of course the Office of the Dead on the first day without a feast of nine lessons was read, too. These do add something to look forward to and supply the medieval spirit of devotion through liturgy to a kalendar with little room for personal discretion.


Variety does have its limitations, however, in this Office. Next month is August, the most festive month of the year in the Roman rite, with the feasts of Peter in Chains—ancient and great, the finding of Saint Stephen, the dedication of Our Lady of the Snows, the Transfiguration, Saint Lawrence and his octave, Our Lady's Assumption and her octave, Bernard of Clairveaux, Augustine, Louis IX of France, the Beheading of John the Baptist, and a number of other lesser days. There is not one day without a feast or vigil, and the 1570 kalendar of S Pius V is not much freer. 

Despite the density of feasts, August has no sequence of identical days. This past week my Breviary called for the exact same texts of a Confessor for four consecutive days (five if factoring in first Vespers). None of the saints were Doctors or martyrs, so aside from the occurring commemorations and Scripture, the exact same Office was said for four days without an octave occurring. This would not be a problem, as octaves are replete in the old kalendar and repeat aspect of the same Office for eight days aside from readings, if not for the fact that this particular Common is used numerous times every single month. At second Vespers of S Camillus de Lellis it instructed me to read Vespers as at first Vespers for a Confessor, non-martyr, non-bishop until the Chapter, at which point I was to switch to the Vespers of S Vincent de Paul, and read onward from the Vespers of a Confessor, non-martyr, non-bishop. By Sunday night I knew instinctively to begin Vespers with Domine quinque talenta tradidisti mihi....

Divino Afflatu

These points are important if only because they mean Divino Afflatu outmoded the ancient Roman psalter to fix one problem without fixing the rest. Every day in the S Pius X system is a day of nine psalms and the occurring Scripture is read just as much. While I would not say Domine quinque talenta tradidisti mihi as often I would continue to say the chapter, Iste Confessor, and the antiphon  Similabo just as often. The quasi-Novus Ordo nature of the Divino Afflatu rubrics—mixing ferial psalms and festive readings on Simple, Semi-Double, and Double days—means that the tonal diversity of even the late Tridentine Office was suppressed in favor of more or less the same thing weekly. 

Divino Afflatu accomplished some reasonable things in the kalendar, making the "lollipop" Dominical feasts optional in favor of fixed days. Formerly the Patronal feast of the Church was always observed on the third Sunday after Pascha, Saint Joachim always fell on the Sunday after the Assumption, the Precious Blood was always the first Sunday of July, and Our Lady of Sorrows was always the third Sunday of September, and Our Lady of the Rosary would always be on the first Sunday of October, permanently suppressing those days. 

What was needed was not necessarily a reform of the psalter, but a reform of the kalendar. Almost every Italian or French founder of a minor religious order after the Council of Trent found his or her way into the kalendar as a Double feast of the universal Church despite the absence of wider devotion to these saints and their lack of enduring interest. Even a reduction of their ranks to Simple would not clear out the clutter. 

We need to relearn the craft of local kalendars. Would it be so bad if Camillus de Lellis and Jerome Aemeliani were only on kalendars in Italian dioceses? While local medieval rites are largely extinct, the principle of local kalendars is not and is a good solution to this problem, allowing these saints' veneration to continue where they are revered. Vincent de Paul would be a proper Semi-Double feast in France, widely loved, but perhaps not on the level of their patrons, Michael the Archangel and Joan of Arc.

Going Forward

Despite its repetition, my Breviary does represent the Roman Office and liturgy more fully than what came after it so I will continue to use it. It is the Roman rite, albeit an imbalanced expression of it. Despite its imperfections it also reflects the kalendar, on most days, as it is in both the pre-Pius XII and 1962 rites used by most traditional Catholics today, differences acknowledged (ex. switching S Dominic and S Jean Vianney).


  1. Why not observe the CTO or some variation thereof which cleans out the kalendar and preserves the Roman Breviary? I took up the 1910 Breviary one summer about 10 years ago, and I got sick of the same Office of Confessors ad nauseam (Iste Confessor tide seems like a perpetual season interrupted by things like Advent and Lent) and rarely ever got to the Dominical Office per Annum let alone the Ferial. Some of my favourite psalms never featured - e.g. Ps. 21 on Friday Prime.

  2. It is good that you have used the old rite over a number of months - that is by far the best way to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses.

    Simply put the Calendar is the problem, not the rite. As the comment above states there were simply too many feasts of Confessors. A judicious cull of those, as happened in 1568/70 reform was what was needed not the invention of a new Psalterium with its various peculiarities.

    After having used the old Breviary I personally found it impossible to return to the post-1911 arrangement. In particular attending anything like Tenebrae became irritating and incomplete.

    1. Joannes: I hate to be carping and critical, but this isn't how the Liturgy works. We can't alter the Kalendar to suit our preferences. The liturgy is in a book and we take it up and offer it to God, whatever our feelings might be about an "awkward" saint,or a difficult psalm.The liturgy isn't ours to fiddle with. Far too many problems have come from people "personalising" services and making them our own.If we use one edition of the Breviary, surely it's our duty to use it as it stands - part of the great patrimony- for the greater Glory of God.

    2. As we are laymen, we don't have a strict obligation to follow exactly the Office as it stands. Unless you just plain want us to say the 1962 Breviary, as the older offices were forbidden by Pius X. And anyways, the CTO is going back to the austerity of the Pius V Breviary.

  3. I have always found this excessive repetition of the Confessors' office very irritating, even when I said the artificial office of Pius X. In Huysmans' 'Oblate' the protagonist discusses with a monk how foolish it is to say an hymn in honour of St. Martin, with the narration of his miracles, at the feasts of all confessors, including non-bishops. This becomes unbearable if repeated over and over.

    I never said the ancient office exactly with the calendar in use at the end of the 19th century. Although I am Italian, I also find that host of local confessors very inappropriate, placed on the calendar as doubles, since the orders they founded often paid for it.

    I personally use a rearranged kalendar to solve this, though my July Sanctorale is still somewhat crowded: this month there are no green sundays (dominical office was said on 5th but obviously in red), but no intrusive unknown confessors.

  4. Thank goodness for someone who know Huysmans: The Oblate - described somewhere as a "liturgical novel" Maybe someone will pick up the novels of Montgomorey Carmichael (e.g. the Life of John William Walshe - usually classed as biography- but really a novel) which deal with romantique,gothique,antique devocioun of the late 19th cent./early 20th cent.

  5. Thank you, The Rad Trad, for this riveting read.

  6. I appreciate many of the points being made in this article, but I'd like to sound a dissenting voice about St. Camillus and St. Jerome Emiliani:

  7. For the life of me I can't figure out how to post under my own name...

    I understand we have "development" of the liturgy, in this case the Divine Office. But wouldn't it be accurate to say that the purpose (or at least its primary purpose) was to recite/sing the psalter? I understand there were always feast days, but certainly not many to begin with. Some development in this regard is fine, but to have a calendar crowded with saints, and rubrics that require a festive office for many/most of them overshadows this very important component of the office.

    For this reason, I agree that it is the calendar, not the office itself, that needed/needs reform. I would also say that I think the Office is a separate (though certainly related) question. If most saints' feast days were a simple save for the most important ones, there would still be Mass said for the saints on their days, but nearly all of the psalms would always be said each week in the Office.

    Thus, for example if one (such as Dr. K) objects to St. Jerome Emiliani (etc.) being removed from the universal, perhaps he could agree that, except perhaps in certain locations, it is a Simple feast. The Mass would still be said as usual (one of the articles Dr. K wrote only talks about the Mass texts anyway); and the ferial psalms of the day would be said in the Office. That's a win-win to me.

    I support reducing most saints to simples (and leaving a few of them to local calendars), as well as modifying the way both semidoubles and simples are said in the Office, while restoring the minor double to a wholly festive office (though of course there would be a lot less minor doubles anyway).


    1. Charles,
      How would you modify the way simples and semidoubles are said in the Office?

    2. Paulus, the way I do it in my individual recitation is this:

      Semidoubles are roughly what simples were, except that they retain 9 (12 for me since I use the monastic) readings:

      1st Vespers only (no 2nd), at which ferial psalms and antiphons are used; capitulum onward of the feast;
      Matins is basically ferial psalms and antiphons, occurring scripture if it exists in the 1st nocturn (from feast if not), feast's readings in 2nd and 3rd nocturnes. Canticles and festal antiphon in the 3rd nocturn (as usual for a monastic feast of 12 readings).
      Lauds is entirely festal. Little hours as usual for any feast (in the monastic usage, psalms of the day are always used for those regardless of feast or feria).

      I do Simples basically exactly as they used to be in the monastic rite (3 readings, 2 nocturnes with ferial antiphons/psalms at Matins with no Te Deum) - except I also do ferial psalms/antiphons at Lauds, Capitulum onward of the feast.

      This, combined with basically using the CTO in terms of calendar (though not always same rankings, and with some Benedictine feasts added in) - for me seems a very good balance.

      I cut off 2nd Vespers for Semidoubles because if I keep them, one will not often (too rarely in my opinion) get the full ferial Vespers. If I did them as they were pre-Pius X (semidoubles were axed in the monastic breviary post Pius X except for Sundays and infra Octavas), one would be reciting not much of the ferial Psaltery and rarely getting full festal Vespers if most feasts have 1st and 2nd Vespers.

      I could just reduce more Semidoubles to the old simples so as not to "innovate," but I wanted some of them at least to still have 12 readings and Te Deum while not having a fully festal office (i.e. still ferial psalms at least at Vespers).

  8. I’ve been attending a Ukrainian Catholic Church and recently decided to set aside my Baronius Press Breviary and try praying the Byzantine hours from the horologion. I’d be curious to read your thoughts on the Byzantine office.

    I think that this is, by the way, one of the best Catholic liturgical blogs currently running. Thank you!

    1. All excellent comments and of course true. I still think that once we concede the liturgical principle, we are not able to unilaterally change the Kalendar, either alter the rank or observance of feasts.It's just beyond us and we are stuck with it. As an ex-anglican who often officiated at Evensong I often wanted to cut out bits of the Book of Leviticus (and much of the O.T.) appointed as the First Lesson, but always felt that I was the servant of the authorised liturgical order.

      Sorry, but on a different topic I am fascinated by the appeal of jazzy non-liturgical [Anti-Liturgical,in fact] worship within the Church Of England and many other groups.It seems that more and more Anglican churches are being "updated" at tremendous expense and turned into sub-Anglican worship spaces. Near us the Quire Stalls of a fine church have all been ripped out to make a Worship Platform. I just don't know what the appeal is and all these places are really flourishing with often hundreds of people of all ages. My poor old Strict Particular Independent Baptist friends (no-hymns written after about 1850 and King James Bible Only) have really tiny numbers. I know that it's not a numbers game but it does intrigue me.

    2. I do generally agree with the principle of following the liturgy as it is given in a book, since any edition of the old breviary is an edition of the Roman Tradition. Still, I cannot object to what "Unam Sanctam" and "Johannes" do as laymen, since I, a layman, often do the same myself in following the 1570 kalendar with a few post-Tridentine accretions (Our Lady of the Rosary, Ss Joachim & Anne etc).

      As for the Byzantine Office, I find it textually simple compared to the rich words of the Roman rite. The real essence of the Byzantine Office is the the ceremonies that accompany it, especially on major days (Holy Week, Bright Week, Pentecost etc). Two of my favorite services in the entire Church are the incensation during the Presanctified Divine Liturgy and the Stases of Jerusalem Mattins. The only real variety and textual richness of the Byzantine rite is normally during the Sessional hymns of Mattins. The Greek rite is marvellous in person, but on paper I find the Roman rite more portable.

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