Notes on the hymns of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

We have previously outlined the great antiquity of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The hymns in the Little Office are no less ancient than the office itself. However, it may interest you, dear reader, to learn a little more about those hymns. As you no doubt know, the Little Office uses four hymns. At matins, Quem terra pontus sidera is sung; at lauds, O gloriosa virginum; and at vespers, the great Marian hymn Ave maris stella. At all the little hours and compline, Memento rerum conditor is sung. We shall see that these are all hymns of great antiquity, of Merovingian or Carolingian origin. However, we shall also see that these venerable hymns did not pass through Urban VIII’s reforms unharmed, despite the fact that the obligation to say the Little Office had been greatly reduced by St. Pius V. It is not our intention to present a complete history of the hymns of the Little Office; instead, we offer a few notes.

Matins: Quem terra pontus sidera and Lauds: O gloriosa virginum

Just as matins and lauds formed, traditionally, one office, so too do Quem terra pontus sidera and O gloriosa virginum form one hymn—a hymn of great antiquity. Walpole sets forth in his Early Latin Hymns, pp. 193–95, an argument for attributing this hymn, under its pre-Urban VIII incipit, Quem terra pontus aethera, to the great Merovingian poet, St. Venantius Fortunatus. It is Walpole’s argument that Quem terra pontus sidera, the Christmas hymn Agnoscat omne saeculum, and the long poem in elegiacs Walpole calls the Laus Mariae are all by one author. All three are very much in Venantius’s style, and this point Walpole finds conclusive, as he does not think it likely that anyone in the next couple of hundred years after Venantius’s death could have so ably imitated the master poet. There are, however, some metrical issues with both Agnoscat omne saeculum and Quem terra pontus sidera, but Walpole finds none of them dispositive. The bottom line is that the poems are “not unworthy” of Venantius, as Walpole puts it. If true, this means that Quem terra pontus aethera was composed no later than Venantius’s death at the very beginning of the seventh century, and it has remained in widespread use for over a thousand years.

Of course, the fact that Quem terra pontus aethera was a composition of Venantius, close to the heart of every Catholic in Europe for six hundred years, did not spare it from the revisions initiated by Pope Urban VIII in 1629 or so. (This was part of a broader project of revision initiated by Urban.) As you, dear reader, no doubt recall, Urban was a man of tremendous erudition and good taste, and he wished to correct the prosody of those good old Merovingian and Carolingian hymns. It seemed, we suppose, to him that the hymns of the Breviary were deficient insofar as they were not written by Horace. Unfortunately, Urban’s assistants—the Jesuits Strada, Gallucci, Sarbiewski, and Petrucci—went a little too far, and frankly mangled some of the most beloved hymns in Christendom. All told, they made about a thousand changes to the Breviary. Quem terra pontus aethera came through it all right, with aethera being replaced with sidera. Unfortunately, O gloriosa femina didn’t fare so well. The first stanza is almost unrecognizable in Urban’s text. They tinkered somewhat less with the second stanza, and almost not at all with the third.

It is too bad, too, as O gloriosa femina (O gloriosa domina is a known variant, per Walpole, attested by several sources) was a favorite hymn of St. Anthony of Padua, who learned it as a child from his mother. He died with it on his lips. One imagines that that saint was by no means alone in his devotion to the hymn. And, of course, if we say Venantius Fortunatus wrote it, we find ourselves with Quem terra pontus aethera being an expression of Marian devotion by the greatest Christian poet of his age. Either way, one may say both that Quem terra pontus aethera should have been spared the attentions of Urban’s Jesuits and that it is a preeminent example of their handiwork.

Little Hours and Compline: Memento rerum conditor

The authorship of Quem terra pontus aethera is just about the only question about that hymn. The same cannot be said for the hymn most used by the Little Office: Memento rerum conditor. We do not know who wrote it, nor when. Indeed, it is not a wholly original composition. Memento salutis auctor, the pre-Urban VIII version of Memento rerum conditor, takes its first stanza from the Christmas hymn Christe redemptor omnium. This is an anonymous hymn, part of the so-called New Hymnal of the Carolingian period, and it has had, over the past thousand years, a prominent place in the Christmas office. One imagines that the popularity of Christe redemptor omnium explains how one of its stanzas found its way into the Little Office.

But the second stanza, Maria mater gratiae, is not part of Christe redemptor omnium. It has been from time to time suggested that it is a continuation of Quem terra pontus aethera, or the second part of it, O gloriosa femina, said at lauds. It is thus found in Cardinal Quignon’s controversial breviary. However, Maria mater gratiae is not found in the text of Quem terra pontus aethera, and must be considered a later composition, whatever its source. It has been, however, a prayer close to the hearts of many Catholics down through the ages. For example, Fr. Henry Garnet, the English Jesuit hanged for his supposed complicity in the so-called Gunpowder Plot, died with it on his lips.

Memento salutis auctor also met with substantial revisions under Urban VIII. The first three lines of the first stanza were substantially rewritten into their present form, and in the second stanza, Mater misericordiae, a quotation perhaps of the Salve Regina, was changed into Dulcis parens clementiae. The Jesuit Hornsby, discussing this revision in the American Ecclesiastical Review, observed that, “though corrected in meter, it has lost some of its sweetness.”  While contemporary critics remarked accessit latinitas, recessit pietas, we think Hornsby has a nice way of putting it, too. It is telling, we think, that Dom Anselmo Lentini, when putting together the hymns for Paul VI’s Liturgia Horarum, rolled back the clock, stripping away Urban’s classicizing revisions. (And introducing some revisions of his own.)

At any rate, none of this answers the fundamental question: who wrote Memento salutis auctor, or, perhaps more precisely, who added the stanza Maria mater gratia to the stanza of Christe redemptor omnium selected for the Little Office? When did it happen? Walpole observes (p. 306) that Christe redemptor omnium is found in most manuscripts from the 10th century onward. We may guess that the stanza was excerpted and enlarged at about that time or shortly thereafter. Such would jive with what we know about the emergence of the Little Office generally. But that answers nothing. We are still left with questions upon questions about this little hymn.

Vespers: Ave maris stella

Little needs to be said about this great Carolingian hymn in honor of Our Lady. It is found already in the ninth century Codex Sangallensis 95, and it has been attributed to numerous authors, including Venantius, Paul the Deacon, and Bernard of Clairvaux (who could not have written it). However, its certain authorship remains a mystery. What is not mysterious is the preeminent place it has held in the Breviary, even down to the present day. It passed unscathed through Urban’s process of reform, a testament, we suspect, as much to its stature as to its prosody.

Never abrogated: ten years of “Summorum Pontificum”

At New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo has a lengthy post, arguing that the legal fiction that the two forms of the Roman Rite—ordinary and extraordinary—constitute one rite, is the legal achievement of Summorum Pontificum. It is basically his argument that the Mass of Paul VI is so different from the traditional Roman Mass that it is impossible to say that it is but a use of the Roman Rite in the same way as historic uses. Indeed, it appears, DiPippo says, to be another rite altogether, but the establishment of a new rite would in fact cause all manner of problems. Benedict’s establishment of forms, therefore, was an elegant legal solution to a vexing problem.

However, in our view, there is a much more significant legal achievement in Summorum Pontificum. It is in two words in article 1 of the motu proprio: numquam abrogatamnever abrogated. This is a recognition that at no point in Paul VI’s 1969 apostolic constitution Missale Romanum did that pope ever abrogate the Missal of St. Pius V and St. John XXIII. One can compare the language in Laudis canticum, Paul VI’s 1970 apostolic constitution promulgating the Liturgia Horarum to see just how ambiguous Missale Romanum is. And it is the recognition that the Mass of St. Pius V and St. John XXIII was never abrogated that served as the tool for Benedict to reorient the Roman Rite. Indeed, Summorum Pontificum simply follows the logic of this basic legal fact. If the traditional Mass was never abrogated, then surely any priest can say it. And surely the faithful who want it have a right to request it.

Of course, the signs were there all along. The 1984 indult, Quattuor abhinc annos, did not address the question directly, while authorizing diocesan bishops to permit use of the 1962 books under fairly onerous conditions. Likewise, John Paul’s 1988 response to the Écône consecrations, Ecclesia Dei adflicta, does not touch upon the status of the 1962 books, but encourages a broad application of the Quattuor abhinc annos indult. One could conclude from Paul VI’s ambiguity and Rome’s subsequent silence that the traditional Mass had never actually been abrogated, and that it remained valid and licit. But such a conclusion would be contrary to the attitude and behavior of both the liturgical experts and the various bishops who were staunch partisans of the post-Conciliar changes in the liturgy. Summorum Pontificum made it official, however: the traditional Mass was never abrogated.

As a result Benedict XVI was able to come along and liberalize its use. This was a great defeat for the liturgical progressives who, on the strength of some broad mandates in Sacrosanctum Concilium, completely remade the Roman Rite. As far as we can tell, they have not forgiven and will not forgive Benedict for the direct application of clear logic. But there is a lesson here for anyone who wants to do anything radical, as the liturgical progressives did: you have to do it. You cannot leave it implicit, you cannot rely on pressure, subtle or otherwise, and you cannot assume that everyone will always toe the line. Benedict shows us that Catholics’ common sense needn’t be checked in the vestibule. Not doing something is, in fact, not doing something.

Benedict went farther and explained that the traditional Mass could not have been abrogated. In his letter to the bishops regarding Summorum Pontificum, he famously observed:

In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.

(Emphasis supplied.) This point has been much repeated in the last ten years, but it bears repeating still. The Church is not a legislature or a court, which has the authority to change everything as needed. To be sure, our understanding of the tradition may deepen and the pastoral needs of the faithful may require different emphases, but that is not a commission to tear down and rebuild to suit the fashions of the world at any given moment.

This is, in fact, a supremely important legal achievement, going to the very heart of power in the Church. As anyone who has read Pastor aeternus knows, the pope is not an absolute dictator within the Church. There are limits on the authority of the Church. Benedict presents two of these limits. First of all, mere suggestion is not enough. Those in authority may not imply something and expect it to have the force of law. Second, the Church cannot suppress outright holy things in the tradition. The progressives and modernists will, naturally, consider these reactionary tenets, though both seem to us to be double-edged swords. Of course, DiPippo identifies an important legal question in Summorum Pontificum, but it seems to us that Benedict has as much to say about the very nature of law in the Church as he does about forms and uses and rites.

More on the Roman epiclesis

Fr. John Hunwicke has another excellent blog post on the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite. This time, he ties the question into the propers for the Octave of Pentecost, observed still in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The crux of his ingenious argument is this:

According to the older Roman Rite, the Church offers the Elements to the Father, and it is simply by His gracious act of acceptance that they become the Body and Blood of His Son.  

This is exemplified in the Prayers over the Offerings, the ‘Secrets’, of this Octave week of Pentecost. If the venerable Roman tradition had had the least inkling that the Spirit is involved in the Consecration of Bread and Wine, surely the Pentecost Octave, and the Prayers over the Offerings, would have been its opportunity to offer some sort of hint in this direction.

There is none. The Propers of these days emphasise the role of the Holy Ghost in the Paschal Mysteries of Initiation, Baptism and Confirmation. For this connection, of course, there is Biblical and Patristic evidence galore. And the renewal of the hearts and lives of the Faithful by the outpouring of the Spirit is expressed.

(Emphasis in original.) This is, we think, a hugely clever argument. Notwithstanding the absence of an epiclesis in the Roman Canon, one would assume that the Pentecost propers would make some reference to the work of the Holy Spirit in the consecration of the elements of the Eucharist, no?

We note, with some amusement, that some commenters at Fr. Hunwicke’s blog point to the Veni Sanctificator in the offertory as a Roman epiclesis. However, we observe, as we did some time ago in response to Martin Mosebach’s otherwise brilliant essay, that the Veni Sanctificator, like the rest of the offertory prayers, was a later addition to the Roman Rite (coming from the Mozarabic Rite), and it cannot be said to be the ancient Roman offertory.

On the Little Office

We have noticed an uptick in one of the traditional liturgical devotions of the Church, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Officium Parvum Beatae Mariae Virginis. (We shall use the terms “Little Office” and “Parvum” interchangeably.) Available today in a couple of very handsome editions—one from Baronius Press, the other from Angelus Press—the Parvum is a devotion of great antiquity, and it has, at times, made up part of the public prayer of the Church. Indeed, for several hundred years, the Little Office was no less obligatory for clerics than the great Office. Unfortunately, in connection with his reform of the Roman Breviary in 1568, St. Pius V reduced significantly the obligation to recite the Little Office. In 1911, St. Pius X finally suppressed the obligation altogether. The Parvum continued to be printed in the Breviary, but primarily as a private devotion. (We will leave to one side the orders that required it of lay brothers and sister.) And that is how one finds it today: as a private devotion.

But what a devotion! There are, in our view, two great attractions to the Parvum. First, it is, like the Rosary itself, a wonderful expression of Marian devotion, all the more appropriate in this great Fatima year. We are, above all, reminded of Charles de Koninck’s great Thomistic tract on Marian devotion, Ego Sapientia. Consider this passage, one of many great passages in the little book:

Order is of the very notion of wisdom. It is at the same time one and many, stable and mobile. Wisdom can be said of the principle as such, of the sapiential order in so far as this principle stands as root of the precontaining of the order of which it is the principle. Mary is, with her Son, at the very origin of the universe; she is as the root of the universal order: Ego sum radix—I am the root. That which God wishes principally in the universe is the good of order. And this order is the more perfect in so far as its interior principle is more profoundly rooted in God. Now, Mary is the purely created principle of this order, purely created principle closest to God and the most perfect conceivable. As principle of the sapiential order, she participates in the unity and the very unicity of this principle: she is at once emanation and immanence; her power extends to all things, which take from her their incessant innovation. We think, in effect, of vital immanence as a constant renewal from within, and in their relation to the first principle things are in being by an always innovative procession. In effect, the being which things would hold from themselves would be nothingness. Una est columba mea, perfecta mea; Et cum sit una, omnia potest: et in se permanens omnia innovat—One is my dove, my perfect one. And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself the same, she reneweth all things.

Daughter of the eternal Father, mother of the Son, spouse of the Holy Spirit, she is rooted in the Trinity, and she ties up the order of the universe, in a radically new way, which is in God according to the procession. Collum tuum sicut turris eburnea—Thy neck is as a tower of ivory. (Wis. VII, 4.)

As De Koninck demonstrates in his Primacy of the Common Good, it is only in submission to the common good—to order—that man finds his dignity. One may say, perhaps a little polemically, that Marian devotion is, therefore, necessary for man to achieve his fullest dignity. How much better, then, to express one’s devotion to Our Lady in a manner approved both by competent authority and the vote of history? This is the first great value of the Little Office: as a wonderful form of Marian devotion.

Second, it is a participation in the liturgical prayer of the Church. We are reminded here of Benedict XVI’s letter to the bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum:

In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

We shall see that the Parvum has been considered for nearly a thousand years as an integral part of the Church’s prayer, coming in time to be obligatory upon clerics. While that has not been the case generally for some time, the Little Office “remains sacred and great for us too.” There is perennially an argument about whether recitation of any office by the laity constitutes a liturgical act—that is, an act of public prayer—of the Church, but we see no need to explore those arguments. It is enough to say that Our Lady’s office is a prayer, long approved by the Church for both devotional and liturgical use. Indeed, when one prays the Little Office, one joins a tradition stretching back a thousand years.

The Parvum has its early origins in the time of St. Benedict of Aniane, who introduced at his monastery of Inde, the practice of saying a Pater and the Credo at all of the altars of the church before taking their places in the choir and reciting fifteen psalms and some prayers. (The custom of saying the Pater, the Ave, and the Credo before the Office endured until 1955, when it was suppressed by Pius XII.) In his essay on the medieval Primer in the posthumous Liturgica Historia, Edmund Bishop observes that Benedict’s fifteen psalms were almost certainly the so-called Gradual Psalms. Eventually, the prayers said or sung expanded from the Gradual Psalms to include the seven Penitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead, and various other commemorations. Some of these devotional accretions took the form of the great Office; notable among these is the Office of All Saints, apparently modeled on the Office of the Dead. By the second half of the tenth century, Bishop tells us, these accretions were binding on monks throughout Europe, de facto if not de jure. At about this time, the Parvum appears almost out of nowhere.

Bishop pulls together “the scanty early notices” of the Parvum. In sum, we learn from these sources that there was some special prayer or other devoted to Our Lady, which certainly looks like the Parvum by the end of the tenth century. (Though this conclusion is by no means uncontested.) The earliest example cited by Bishop comes from the biography of St. Udalric, bishop of Augsburg, in which the biographer notes that Udalric, having set aside many of the heavy burdens of his office in his old age, added to the great Office a cursus in honor of Our Lady, in addition to cursus in honor of the Holy Cross and All Saints. He also prayed the whole psalter every day. Bishop says Udalric threw himself “almost unreservedly into prayer and acts of devotion” (emphasis supplied). One wonders what an unreserved life of prayer and devotion would have looked like. At any rate, this would have been, by Bishop’s reckoning, in the early 970s. We do not know what Udalric’s cursus in honor of Our Lady was, and we shall see that this mystery forms a key part of the debate over the precise antiquity of the Parvum.

In the chronicle of Hugh of Flavigny, a story is reported about how Berengarius, bishop of Verdun, began his day with lengthy prayers before matins was sung. One morning, Berengarius entered the cathedral, only to trip over Bernerius, the provost of the cathedral, who was prostrate on the floor praying matins of Our Lady. This also would have been in the middle of the tenth century, or within ten or twenty years of Udalric’s cursus in honor of Our Lady. And at about the same time, Bishop tells us, the Einsiedeln Customs introduced an office of Our Lady into the public worship of the Church. Foreshadowing the later practice of the universal Church, the monks of Einsiedeln added a votive office of Our Lady on Saturdays, in addition to the ferial office. (Unless a feast occurred.) Based on this evidence, coming but a few decades after Udalric, we are inclined to say that there was some kind of office, likely modeled on the great Office, in honor of Our Lady, even if it was not along the lines of the Little Office later known throughout Europe.

We come now to the famous testimony of St. Peter Damian, who, writing about 1053, note that it was customary in a certain monastery to sing the hours of Our Lady in choir, following the hours of the great Office. According to Bishop, the practice must have been known at the great Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino at the same time. Peter the Deacon wrote, about a hundred years later, that Pope Zacharias, in the eighth century, had required the monks of Monte Cassino to sing the office of St. Benedict in choir before the great Office and the Office of Our Lady after. Bishop suggests that the custom must have been of some long standing when Peter wrote, though perhaps not such long standing that Peter felt free to omit the authority of the injunction to sing the additional offices. That is, the Office of Our Lady had not been around so long that there was no grumbling about it. Once again, this evidence supports the conclusion that the Little Office emerged toward the end of the tenth century and became a widespread devotion by the middle of the eleventh.

However, in his 1949 essay on the Parvum, Msgr. William Lallou points to the eleventh century evidence of St. Peter Damian as “the first mention we have” of the Parvum. Following the great Battifol, Lallou contends that the earlier ninth and tenth century evidence—marshaled by Bishop—is evidence of suffragia, not officia plena. However, we fail to see the inconsistency in the evidence of Bishop. Peter Damian, writing in the middle of the eleventh century, says that the devotion was popular in northern Italy. This seems consistent with the evidence of Augsburg and Verdun, showing the Little Office emerging in the middle of the tenth century. One could well imagine the Parvum spreading steadily over the intervening century, and by the time of Peter the Deacon a hundred or so years later the Little Office must have seemed venerable, even if some monks could reasonably contend that it was a relatively recent addition to the day’s prayers. But the difference is only one of a hundred years or so. Whether it emerged in the 950s or the 1050s does not make a huge amount of difference in 2017.

To be completely honest, this is one of our favorite aspects of the Parvum. It seems to have come out of nowhere sometime toward the end of the tenth century, and, within a couple of hundred years, it was obligatory for clerics throughout the western Church. It has also outlasted most of the other devotional offices from that time, notably the Office of All Saints. One can intellectually trace the development of the Parvum back to Benedict of Aniane’s imposition of the prayers before matins of the great Office. One can also discuss the general tendency of that time to add devotional offices to the great Office. But neither point seems to explain the speed with with the Little Office emerged and became obligatory or the fact that the Little Office has outlasted most of the other devotions of its age. The Little Office has a little mystery about it. It is possible to get somewhat mystical about these things, though we will resist the temptation for you, dear reader.

As we said, the Parvum became obligatory along with the other accretions to the great Office, though not without some controversy. Msgr. Lallou notes:

As time went on into the fourteenth century, there was opposition to the burdening of the already long office with rather lengthy epilogues, like the seven penitential psalms, the gradual psalms, the office of the dead and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. The last named was to be said, in addition to the canonical hours, on every day of the year, except the greater festivals, the last three days of Holy Week, the octave of Easter, and the feasts of our Lady herself. The Constitutiones Lateranenses of Gregory XI (1370-78) prescribed that the office of the hours of the Breviary of the Curia was to be sung (cum nota) and then followed every day by the recitation (sine nota) of the office of the Blessed Virgin. The Franciscans were accused of multiplying feasts of nine lessons in order to get rid of the obligation of adding to the office the penitential and gradual psalms and the office of the dead. They were also charged with growing laxity in the observance of the daily recital of the office of our Lady. So, it is not surprising that in the proposals for the reform of the Breviary, made especially in the sixteenth century, there was always included that of suppressing additions to the office which made it unduly prolix and increased its complexity.

(Footnote omitted.) It has been the goal of the modern reformers of the Office, beginning with St. Pius X in 1911, to make the obligation of the Office lighter rather than heavier. This tendency was finally fulfilled after the Second Vatican Council, with the wholesale revision of the Office into the Liturgy of the Hours. It is, therefore, interesting to see the antecedents of that process about five hundred years earlier. One does wonder—we wonder, at any rate—what this modern reduction of the Office means, especially since the accretions to the Office were motivated by piety and devotion.

Strangely enough, while the reformers were trying to make the great Office lighter, they were also trying to make the Little Office heavier. We shall not rehearse the full shape of the Little Office in its post-Tridentine form, except to say that it is generally unvarying throughout the year. In Advent and Christmastide, there are some variations. The reformers, however, wanted to lengthen the psalter used in the Little Office, add additional observances of the seasons, add some saints’ feasts, and use Cardinal Bea’s translation of the psalter. The repetition of the Parvum was no doubt a black mark against it. Happily for the Little Office—if unhappily for the Church—the collapse of the traditional Office following the Council meant that attention was turned away from the Little Office.

Despite the fact that the office in honor of Our Lady first emerged on the continent, it has become peculiarly associated, at least in our mind, with England. Bishop suggests that the English must have known the Parvum at about the same time as St. Peter Damian discussed its popularity in Italy, given the English devotion to Our Lady, only briefly chastened by the Norman Conquest. By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Parvum was once again an English devotion. And it continued to spread, forming a central part of every literate Englishman’s devotional life through the medieval Primer. This continued even into the time of the so-called English reformation, despite the best efforts of the Tudor regime to suppress the devotion. In both the repetition and in the connection to penal times in England, one is reminded of Blessed Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s comment on the Office:

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, we think, the other great value of the Little Office, to join in prayer so many Catholics throughout history and to express with them love of and devotion to Our Lady.


A word on the Baronius edition: if you decide to purchase one of these, make sure you purchase a recent printing. The fifth edition is dated 2015. The early editions were marred with some fairly serious errors, such as wrong hymns and switched antiphons in the offices of Advent and Christmastide. To their great credit, Baronius appears to have taken notice of the errors and corrected them in subsequent printings.

Against Options

This is not another piece about Rod Dreher’s discussed-to-death “Benedict Option.” We have said what we intend to say about that. Instead, we want to call your attention to an excellent essay by Peter Kwasniewski at New Liturgical Movement. It begins:

I was once talking with a priest about the strange phenomenon of options in the new rite of Mass and the other sacraments. He made the observation that whenever there are multiple options, one of which is traditional and the others more recent inventions, there seems to be a subtle pressure to choose the more recent inventions, with the consequence that, as he put it, the traditional practice is “optioned out of existence.”

He goes on to observe:

To take another example, we know that it’s possible to sing the entire Mass in Gregorian chant, and that this is the clearly-stated preference of the Second Vatican Council; but a chanted Mass was one of the first casualties of allowing options for music. Most places don’t use the Entrance, Offertory, or Communion antiphons. The music ministers simply substitute other, more or less appropriate (usually less appropriate) hymns for those Propers, which are actually part of the structure of the Mass in a way that hymns never have been and never will be. Miscellaneous vernacular hymns are not printed in the official liturgical books; they’re not printed in the missal; they’re not part of the liturgy; they’re just optional add-ons. But the optional add-ons have become the norm, almost as if they’re required, and the traditional options, which are a part of the structure of the liturgy and its history, are optioned out of existence.

Read the whole thing at NLM.

Prof. Kwasniewski is, of course, correct. The Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite has a plethora of options available to the priest. And it is entirely possible to say a Novus Ordo Mass that is similar to the traditional Latin Mass. But one does not have to be a Catholic very long to realize that almost no one says a Novus Ordo that resembles a traditional Mass all that closely. Prof. Kwasniewski makes some excellent points about this reality pointing toward a wholesale rejection of tradition by many priests and bishops. We wonder, however, if that’s the whole story.

More on the triumph of the Cross

About this time last year, we wrote about Venantius Fortunatus’s glorious Passiontide hymn, Pange lingua gloriosi, in the context of a post by Fr. John Hunwicke. Fr. Hunwicke is, we are happy to report, at it again. Last year, he wrote at length about Venantius’s meter, observing that trochaic tetrameter catalectic was the meter of the bawdy songs sung at Roman triumphs. This year, he adds a few observations that are very provocative if you ponder them for a while:

Triumphant, yes, but before that word Venantius uses another: a Greek word, tropaion. This refers to what you did after winning a glorious battle: first you found a tree; then you lopped its branches off; and you clad it with armour stripped from your defeated foes. Clever of Venantius, to see the Cross as a Victory Tree, and neat to think of the diabolical powers as stripped naked in defeat. Next we have a Latin word, Triumph, which refers to the boisterous procession into Rome after a victory: the Triumphator, his face painted red so that he looked like Juppiter, processed in his chariot with his legions following and singing. By the chariot wheels marched the leaders of the defeated enemy; they were facing a decisive end in a dark little cellar on the Capitoline Hill (you’ll remember that Cleopatra didn’t look forward to making her last public appearance in such a way). And what the soldiers chanted was the Triumphant Lay: io triumphe io triumphe. Venantius neatly suggests that we Christans have our own Triumphant Lay: immolatus vicerit; The Sacrificial Victim has won the day. An oxymoron: sacrificial victims usually ended up dead rather than in glory. Or you could call it a paradox; G K Chesterton rightly observed that it’s not easy to be a Christian if you can’t take paradox.

(Emphasis supplied and italics in original.) These three points are well worth meditating upon as we progress toward Good Friday. For our part, we observe that the canticle in the traditional Roman Breviary for Friday Lauds in the second place—said all through Lent and Passiontide—is the Canticle of Habacuc (3:2–19), which begins in Jerome’s Latin, Domine, audivi auditionem tuam. This is, as you may know, a canticle setting forth the terrifying glory of the Lord coming forth for the salvation of His people.

Mosebach, the Extraordinary Form, and the Offertory

At First Things, Martin Mosebach, author of The Heresy of Formlessness, has a provocative essay reflecting upon the restoration of the Roman Rite under Benedict XVI. It is a long essay, and well worth reading and reflecting upon at length. We doubt that you’ll need much incentive to check it out, but we wanted to call your your attention to a couple of excerpts. (And to criticize, very gently, a statement Mosebach makes about the offertory in the Roman Rite.) He concludes,

The movement for the old rite, far from indicating aesthetic self-satisfaction, has, in truth, an apostolic character. It has been observed that the Roman Rite has an especially strong effect on converts, indeed, that it has even brought about a considerable number of conversions. Its deep rootedness in history and its alignment with the end of the world create a sacred time antithetical to the present, a present that, with its acquisitive preoccupations, leaves many people unsatisfied. Above all, the old rite runs counter to the faith in progress that has long gone hand in hand with an economic mentality that is now curdling into anxiety regarding the future and even a certain pessimism. This contradiction with the spirit of our present age should not be lamented. It betokens, rather, a general awakening from a two-hundred-year-old delusion. Christians always knew that the world fell because of original sin and that, as far as the course of history is concerned, it offers no reason at all for optimism. The Catholic religion is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, a “philosophy of disillusionment” that does not suppress hope, but rather teaches us not to direct our hope toward something that the world cannot give. The liturgy of Rome and, naturally, Greek Orthodoxy’s Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom open a window that draws our gaze from time into eternity.

Reform is a return to form. The movement that seeks to restore the form of the Latin Rite is still an avant-garde, attracting young people who find modern society suffocating. But it can only be a truly Christian avant-garde if it does not forget those it leads into battle; it must not forget the multitude who will someday have to find their way back into the abundant richness of the Catholic religion, once the generations who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, sought the salvation of the Church in its secularization have sunk into their graves.

(Emphasis supplied.) We add that what is true of the Mass is true too of the Breviary and other time-honored forms of the Church’s liturgical prayer, like the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are reminded of Bl. Ildefonso Card. Schuster’s observation, made near the end of his life (translated a couple of years ago by Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement):

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.

(Emphasis supplied.) To join so many of our forebears in prayer is to begin to join them in other ways, and, bit by bit, to leave behind the blandishments of the modern world for the faith that they passed down to us.

Now, we cannot discuss the question of the traditional Roman Rite without engaging in some harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement. And we found ground for disagreement in the way Mosebach characterizes the offertory and the necessity of the epiclesis in the traditional Roman Rite. This is, as you’ll see in a moment, a bit of a capital-T Thing. Mosebach observes:

This hope of restored liturgical continuity was connected to the concept of a “reform of the reform,” a notion Benedict had already introduced when he was a cardinal. What Ratzinger wished to encourage with the idea of reform of the reform is exactly what the council fathers at Vatican II had in mind when they formulated Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. They wanted to allow exceptions to the use of Latin as the common language of the liturgy, insofar as it should be beneficial to the salvation of souls. That the vernacular was presented as the exception only emphasized the immense significance of Latin as the language of the Church. They imagined a certain streamlining of the rite, such as the elimination of the preparatory prayer at the steps of the altar and the closing Gospel reading, which would have been highly lamentable losses without any noteworthy advantages, but which would not have damaged the essence of the liturgy. Of course they left the ancient offertorium untouched. These prayers over the bread and wine make clear the priestly and sacrificial character of the Mass and are therefore essential. Among these, the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical.

(Emphasis supplied.) While the loss of the traditional offertory was by no means something to be happy about, we should not allow ourselves to get carried away when lamenting its loss. Recall that Mosebach is talking about the restoration of the traditional Roman Rite, not a comparative study of the various liturgies with apostolic or patristic origins.

Mosebach’s first mistake is characterizing the offertory as “ancient.” In his article on the offertory in the old Catholic Encyclopedia, Adrian Fortescue observed:

Originally the only Roman Offertory prayers were the secrets. The Gregorian Sacramentary contains only the rubric: “deinde offertorium, et dicitur oratio super oblata” (P.L. LXXVIII, 25). The Oratio super oblata is the Secret. All the old secrets express the offertory idea clearly. They were said silently by the celebrant (hence their name) and so are not introduced by Oremus. This corresponds to the oldest custom mentioned in the “Apost. Const.”; its reason is that meanwhile the people sang a psalm (the Offertory chant). In the Middle Ages, as the public presentation of the gifts by the people had disappeared, there seemed to be a void at this moment which was filled by our present Offertory prayers (Thalhofer, op. cit. below, II, 161). For a long time these prayers were considered a private devotion of the priest, like the preparation at the foot of the altar. They are a Northern (late Gallican) addition, not part of the old Roman Rite, and were at first not written in missals. Micrologus says: “The Roman order appointed no prayer after the Offertory before the Secret” (cxi, P.L., CLI, 984). He mentions the later Offertory prayers as a “Gallican order” and says that they occur “not from any law but as an ecclesiastical custom”. The medieval Offertory prayers vary considerably. They were established at Rome by the fourteenth century (Ordo Rom. XIV., 53, P.L. LXXVIII, 1165). The present Roman prayers were compiled from various sources, Gallican or Mozarabic. The prayer “Suscipe sancte pater” occurs in Charles the Bald’s (875-877) prayer book; “Deus qui humanæ substantiæ” is modified from a Christmas Collect in the Gregorian Sacramentary (P.L., LXXVIII, 32): “Offerimus tibi Domine” and “Veni sanctificator” (fragment of an old Epiklesis, Hoppe, “Die Epiklesis”, Schaffhausen, 1864, p. 272) are Mozarabic (P.L. LXXXV, 112). Before Pius V’s Missal these prayers were often preceded by the title “Canon minor” or “Secretella” (as amplifications of the Secret). The Missal of Pius V (1570) printed them in the Ordinary. Since then the prayers that we know form part of the Roman Mass. The ideas expressed in them are obvious. Only it may be noted that two expressions: “hanc immaculatam hostiam” and “calicem salutaris” dramatically anticipate the moment of consecration, as does the Byzantine Cherubikon.

(Emphasis supplied.) Fortescue makes much the same point on pages 304 to 308 in the 1914 edition of his The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy. When Mosebach describes the offertorium—in the context of the traditional Roman Rite—as “ancient,” he is saying something simply not supported by the historical development of the Roman Rite. They’re old enough, but they’re not as old as the Canon Romanus itself. And the prayers of the offertory are not uniformly Roman; in fact, they’re mostly Gallican and Mozarabic. Perhaps this is merely traditionalist exuberance finding tremendous antiquity and Romanità in every corner of the traditional Roman Rite, as a very sharp friend of ours has suggested. However, writing a prose poem about the value of the traditional Roman Rite and then getting sloppy about the development of the traditional Roman Rite is something else.

Mosebach makes a more serious mistake when he turns to the matter of the epiclesis. Indeed, Fortescue clearly establishes that Mosebach goes too far when he says “the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit who will consecrate the offerings, is especially important. According to the apostolic tradition, which includes the eastern Roman Empire, this prayer of consecration is critical” in the context of the traditional Roman Rite. It is, we submit, not “critical” to the Roman Rite by any stretch of the imagination, and we’ll see in a moment that it may not even be an especially Roman idea. In an appendix to The Mass (pp. 402–07, 1914 ed.) devoted to the question of the epiclesis in the Roman Rite, Fortescue argues that the Roman Rite originally had some sort of epiclesis (a point with which John Hunwicke might disagree, but more on that in a second, like we said), but that it was dropped from the liturgy as a result of patristic insistence on the words of institution as the form of the consecration. We don’t know, Fortescue says, what this primitive epiclesis looked like, as it disappeared before the various sacramentaries were prepared. But, according to Fortescue, the primitive epiclesis likely came at about the same place the Supra quae and Supplices come now. (And the Supra quae and Supplices came in essentially the same form and in essentially the same place in the Gelasian Sacramentary, as one can see on page 235 of Wilson’s edition. Likewise the Gregorian, viz. p. 3 of Wilson’s edition.) The upshot is that the epiclesis was so important in the Roman Rite that it was omitted very early on in order to avoid confusion over the form of the sacrament. Whether this prompted heartburn among the popes of the age is another question.

There is no question, however, about conflating the offertory with the primitive Roman epiclesis. In Fortescue’s judgment, this Roman epiclesis came after the words of institution. At any rate, the Roman offertory could not have been this primitive epiclesis, since, at the time when the epiclesis was purportedly part of the Roman liturgy, the offertory was simply the secret, with the congregation singing the offertory chant. (The prayer, Veni Sanctificator, included in the offertory prayers as codified by St. Pius V, was a much later addition from the Mozarabic Rite, as Fortescue notes.) Now, John Hunwicke would object strenuously (and did over a series of posts in 2015) at the idea that the Roman Rite had to have an epiclesis. He suggests that, theologically, the Quam oblationem is the quintessentially Roman prayer in this context. However, regardless of the theological question: he is manifestly correct: the primitive Roman epiclesis was omitted to avoid confusion about the form of the sacrament. The Roman Rite did not need an epiclesis, whether or not it had one in its early form.

And this does not take into account the orientalizing battles in the 20th century about the epiclesis. Perhaps it should, though. Mosebach talks about the conservative—organic?—reforms envisioned by the Council fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and then dives right into one of the favorite topics of the professional liturgists who hijacked the liturgy in what Mosebach characterizes as the “Spirit of 1968.” (We might quibble with that, too, and call it the “Spirit of 1910” or the “Spirit of 1955.”) Now, all of this might be harmless antiquarianism and mild disagreement, not to say waspishness or pedantry, but it goes to a point Mosebach tries to get at in his essay. He argues:

The time has come to set aside a widespread assumption in the Catholic Church that the liturgy and religious education are in good hands with the clergy. This encourages passivity among the faithful, who believe that they do not have to concern themselves with these matters. This is not so. The great liturgical crisis following the Second Vatican Council, which was part of a larger crisis of faith and authority, put an end to the illusion that the laity need not be involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) If the faithful are to involve themselves in the liturgy—especially with a view to defending the traditional forms of the liturgy against the professional liturgists who, quite unlike Wotan in Die Walküre, seem entirely thrilled to find only themselves in their creations—then the faithful must know the history and theology of those traditional forms of the liturgy.