Divine Office – Divinum Officium

The Divine Office

A Study of the Roman Breviary

Part I.—General Questions On The Divine Office.

Chapter I. Idea of the Breviary.

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PART I.

GENERAL QUESTIONS.

THE DIVINE OFFICE

CHAPTER I.

IDEA OF THE BREVIARY.

Etymology.—The word, Breviary, comes from an old Latin word, Breviarium, an abridgment, a compendium. The name was given to the Divine Office, because it is an abridgment or abstract made from holy scripture, the writings of the Fathers, the lives of the Saints. The word had various meanings assigned to it by early Christian writers, but the title, Breviary, as it is employed to-day—that is, a book containing the entire canonical office—appears to date from the eleventh century. Probably it was first used in this sense to denote the abridgment made by Pope Saint Gregory VII. (1013-1085), about the year 1080.

Definition.—The Breviary may be defined as "the collection of vocal prayers established by the Church, which must be recited daily by persons deputed for that purpose."

Explanation of the Definition.—"Prayers," this word includes not only the prayers properly so called, but also, the whole matter of the divine office. "Vocal," the Church orders the vocal recitation, the pronunciation of each word. "Established by the Church," to distinguish the official prayers of obligation from those which the faithful may choose according to their taste. "Which must be recited," for the recitation is strictly obligatory. "Daily," the Church has fixed these prayers for every day of the year, and even for certain hours of the day. "By persons deputed for that purpose," therefore, persons in holy orders recite these prayers not in their own name, but as representatives of the universal Church.

Different Names for the Breviary.—This book which is, with us, commonly called the Breviary, has borne and still bears different names, amongst both Latins and Greeks.

Amongst the Latins, the recitation of the Breviary was called the Office (officium), that is, the duty, the function, the office; because it is, par excellence, the duty, function and office of persons consecrated to God. This is the oldest and most universal name for the Breviary and its recitation. It was called, too, the Divine Office (officium divinum), because it has God for its principal object and is recited by persons consecrated to God. It is called the ecclesiastical office (officium ecclesiasticum), because it was instituted by the Church. Other names were, Opus Dei; Agenda; Pensum servitutis; Horae; Horae Canonicae.

Which books were employed in olden times in reciting the Office?

Before the eleventh century the prayers of the Divine Office were not all contained in one book, as they are now in the Breviary, which is an abridgment or compendium of several books. The recitation of the Office required the Psaltery, the Lectionary, the Book of Homilies, the Legendary, the Antiphonarium, the Hymnal, the Book of Collects, the Martyrology, the Rubrics. The Psaltery contained the psalms; the Lectionary (thirteenth century) contained the lessons of the first and second nocturn; the Book of Homilies, the homilies of the Fathers; the Legendary (before the thirteenth century), the lives of the saints read on their feast days. The Hymnal contained hymns; the Book of Collects, prayers, collects and chapters; the Martyrology contained the names with brief lives of the martyrs; the Rubrics, the rules to be followed in the recitation of the Office. To-day, we have traces of this ancient custom in our different choir books, the Psalter, the Gradual, the Antiphonarium. There were not standard editions of these old books, and great diversities of use and text were in existence.

Divisions of the Divine Office.—How is the daily Office divided? The Office is divided into the night Office and the day Office. The night Office is so called because it was originally recited at night. It embraces three nocturns and Lauds. The day Office embraces Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

Parts or Hours of the Office.—How many parts or hours go to make up the Office? Rome counts seven, and seven only; and this is the number commonly counted by liturgists and theologians. They reckon Matins and Lauds as one hour.

The old writers on liturgy ask the question: "Why has the Church reckoned seven hours only?" Their replies are summarised well by Newman: "In subsequent times the hours of prayer were gradually developed from the three or (with midnight) the four seasons above enumerated to seven, viz.:–by the addition of Prime (the first hour), Vespers (the evening), and Compline (bedtime) according to the words of the Psalm—'Seven times a day do I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgments.' Other pious and instructive reasons existed, or have since been perceived, for this number. It was a memorial of the seven days of creation; it was an honour done to the seven petitions given us by our Lord in His prayer; it was a mode of pleading for the influence of that Spirit, who is revealed to us as sevenfold; on the other hand, it was a preservative against those seven evil spirits which are apt to return to the exorcised soul, more wicked than he who has been driven out of it; and it was a fit remedy of those successive falls which, scripture says, happen to the 'just man' daily." (Tracts for the Times, No. 75. "On the Roman Breviary.")

"Matutina ligat Christum qui crimina purgat, Prima replet sputis. Causam dat Tertia mortis. Sexta cruci nectit. Latus ejus Nona bipertit. Vespera deponit. Tumulo completa reponit. Haec sunt septenis propter quae psallimus horas."

"At Matins bound; at Prime reviled; Condemned to death at Tierce; Nailed to the Cross at Sext; at None His blessed Side they pierce. They take him down at Vesper-tide; In grave at Compline lay, Who thenceforth bids His Church observe The sevenfold hours alway."

(Gloss. Cap. I. De Missa)

Thus, this old author connects the seven hours with the scenes of the Passion. Another author finds in the hours a reminder and a warning that we should devote every stage of our lives to God. For the seven canonical hours, he writes, bear a striking resemblance to the seven ages of man.

Matins, the night office, typifies the pre-natal stage of life. Lauds, the office of dawn, seems to resemble the beginnings of childhood. Prime recalls to him youth. Terce, recited when the sun is high in the heavens shedding brilliant light, symbolises early manhood with its strength and glory. Sext typifies mature age. None, recited when the sun is declining, suggests man in his middle age. Vespers reminds all of decrepit age gliding gently down to the grave. Compline, night prayer said before sleep, should remind us of the great night, death.

 

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The Divine Office: A Study of the Roman Breviary

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