If you sing or recite the Divine Office according to the Roman Breviary of 1960, as we do, then you may have noticed something strange today. November 11 is the feast of St. Martin of Tours, Bishop and Confessor, a third-class feast. But St. Martin’s office is nothing like the usual third-class feast. Martin’s office is different—and has been since the earliest days of the Roman Rite as it has existed since Trent.
The third-class feast in the 1960 Breviary is, in some way, a compromise between celebrating the saints’ feasts and preserving the order of the psalter. That is, the third-class feast, as you probably already know, uses the antiphons and psalms from the occurring feria. The rest of the third-class office is supplied by the common of the saints, more or less. This represents not only the longstanding objective of preserving the order of the psalter as closely as possible but also the horror of repetition, which will find fuller expression ten years later. It also is but one of the reasons why some folks, devoted to older forms of the Roman Breviary view the 1960 Breviary as transitional and, to be blunt, part and parcel of the reforms that led to Paul VI’s Mass and the Liturgia Horarum. But St. Martin’s office is different.
To begin with, it has proper antiphons for the psalms of matins, lauds, and vespers. It also has elaborate proper antiphons for the Benedictus and the Magnificat. But it doesn’t stop there. Not to get too technical, but: the psalms for matins are taken from the common of one martyr, though the hymn is Isti confessor Domini, not Deus tuorum militum; there are proper responsories; the psalms for lauds are the psalms from lauds of Sunday in the first place, not the occurring feria; the psalms and antiphons for the little hours are taken from the occurring feria, but the little chapters, short responsories, and verses are taken from the common of a confessor bishop, not the common of one martyr; and the psalms for vespers are the psalms of second vespers of Sunday (with a substitution for the fifth psalm), but compline is of the feria. While one can trace the individual components of St. Martin’s office to their original sources, their combination means, essentially, that St. Martin’s feast has a proper office. (Which resembles a second-class feast much more closely than a third-class feast.) This is no ordinary third-class feast.
So we did a little digging, and found that Gregory DiPippo anticipated our curiosity today with a fascinating article at New Liturgical Movement on St. Martin’s office. In short, St. Martin’s feast has always, for our purposes, had special treatment in the Roman Rite. Discussing William Durandus‘s commentary, DiPippo observes,
only Martin’s was considered important enough to be kept with an octave, as was the general custom in the Middle Ages, and in many places well beyond that. It was also the only feast of a Confessor kept with a proper Office in the medieval use of the Papal chapel at Rome, which formed the basis of the Tridentine liturgical books; not even the four great Doctors or Saint Benedict have their own Offices in the Roman Use.
(Emphasis supplied.) DiPippo tells us the astonishing fact that Isti confessor Domini—the great hymn for confessors—was originally composed for St. Martin. Dom Prosper Gueranger fleshes this bit of information out and tells us that St. Odo of Cluny, a canon of Tours before going to Cluny, composed Isti confessor Domini for Martin, to whom he had no small devotion—no doubt as he was imploring Martin’s help in converting the monks and canons of Tours from their laxity. (As you might expect, Urban VIII improved Odo’s composition in Papa Barberini’s inimitable, impeccable Latin. Immeasurably, no doubt.) DiPippo and Gueranger tell us also that there were other compositions dedicated to Martin, particularly Adam of St. Victor’s sequence Gaude Sion, which DiPippo discusses at some length. At any rate, the office of St. Martin was (essentially) a proper office well before 1568/1570, when the Tridentine books were established. As we said, St. Martin’s feast has always received special treatment in the Roman Rite as we know it today.
And it still does. In the Liturgia Horarum, St. Martin’s feast is an obligatory commemoration, with proper antiphons and psalms at morning prayer and evening prayer, proper antiphons for the Benedictus and the Magnificat, and Isti confessor Domini as the proper hymn for the office of readings and evening prayer, instead of the hymns set forth in the common of pastors with the verses for bishops (another point in favor of the contention that Isti confessor Domini was Martin’s hymn before it was most confessors’). We find this point really extraordinary, given the fact that the Liturgia Horarum generally minimizes the saints’ offices in favor of the occurring offices. (As we noted above the revisions to the office beginning with Pius X have favored preserving the integrity of the psalter over the saints’ offices; the Liturgia Horarum just carries that idea forward a little bit.) But not Martin’s office. Acknowledging the major differences between the 1960 Breviary and the Liturgia Horarum, Martin’s office still looks like Martin’s office.
And it is easy to understand why with a little digging. The excellent Veneremur Cernui (A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics) this time last year had a post recounting Gueranger’s entry for St. Martin’s feast. From Gueranger:
Has that history of the brightest days of the Church, of the reign of Christ as King, come to an end, O Martin? Let the enemy imagine he has already sealed our tomb: but the story of thy miracles tells us that thou canst raise up even the dead. Was not the catechumen of Ligugé snatched from the land of the living, when thou didst call him back to life and baptism? Supposing that, like him, we were already among those whom the Lord remembereth no more, the man or the country that has Martin for protector and father need never yield to despair. If thou deign to bear us in mind, the angels will come and say again to the supreme Judge: “This is the man, this is the nation, for whom Martin prays,” and they will be commanded to draw us out of the dark regions where dwell the people without glory, and to restore us to Martin, and to our noble destinies.
Thy zeal, however, for the advancement of God’s kingdom knew no limits. Inspire, then, strengthen, and multiply the apostles all over the world, who, like thee, are driving out the forces of infidelity. Restore Christian Europe, which still honors thy name, to the unity so unhappily dissolved by schism and heresy. In spite of the many efforts to the contrary, maintain thy noble fatherland in its post of honor, and in its traditions of brave fidelity, even though it now be so sadly fallen. May thy devout clients in all lands experience that thy right arm still suffices to protect those who implore thee.
(Emphasis and a few alterations supplied.) Gueranger’s full prayer to St. Martin may be found through Google Books, too. With that in mind, it seems entirely appropriate that St. Martin is entitled to his privileged place in the Roman Rite. And with that in mind, it seems entirely appropriate at this moment to beseech Martin’s intercession for both Church and state.
O beatum Pontificem qui totis visceribus diligebat Christum Regem, et non formidabat imperii principatum: o sanctissima anima, quam etsi gladius persecutoris non abstulit, palmam tamen martyrii non amisit!