The Ratchet

Today, with little advance notice, the Holy Father issued his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Magnum principium. The upshot of the letter is that bishops’ conferences now have the authority to prepare translations of liturgical books, subject to confirmation by the Holy See. In technical terms, canon 838 has been modified to reflect this order. We are told in an anonymous note on canon 838 “in the light of conciliar and post-conciliar sources” that

The “confirmatio” is an authoritative act by which the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ratifies the approval of the Bishops, leaving the responsibility of translation, understood to be faithful, to the doctrinal and pastoral munus of the Conferences of Bishops. In brief, the “confirmatio”, ordinarily granted based on trust and confidence, supposes a positive evaluation of the faithfulness and congruence of the texts produced with respect to the typical Latin text, above all taking account of the texts of greatest importance (e.g. the sacramental formulae, which require the approval of the Holy Father, the Order of Mass, the Eucharistic Prayers and the Prayers of Ordination, which all require a detailed review).

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, Magnum principium appears to imagine CDW rubber-stamping what the bishops approve. We are told that this is a more authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 2. Whether it is or not, this will be seen as a major victory for the progressives, who have, for fifty years, talked endlessly about adapting the liturgy to local conditions and doing away with the uniformity in liturgy that apparently scarred their youths. Now, the episcopal conferences will prepare translations, which the Holy See anticipates confirming “on trust and confidence” in the conferences’ judgments in the “faithfulness and congruence of the texts with respect to the typical Latin text.”

It is, of course, in our opinion a sort of strange sign for a pontificate that began with big gestures like Evangelii gaudium, Laudato si’, and even Amoris laetitia to turn to the project of making middle-aged felt-banner enthusiasts happy. That is to say that, so far, the Holy Father’s vision has seemed much grander than questions of which translation of the Mass of Paul VI is most pleasing to liberal liturgists. Additionally, the Holy Father has so far not seemed overly exercised about the endless struggles between progressives and more orthodox Catholics about Vatican II. Indeed, it is by no means clear that the Holy Father is hugely invested in the Vatican II question. At the same time, it is plain that retrenching the post-Vatican II liturgical order has been much on the Holy Father’s mind lately. Recall his speech to the Italian liturgists:

The direction traced by the Council was in line with the principle of respect for healthy tradition and legitimate progress (cf. SC, 23), in the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed Paul VI, well received by the very Bishops who were present at the Council, and now in universal use for almost 50 years in the Roman Rite. The practical application, supervised by the Episcopal Conferences of the respective Countries, is still ongoing, because reforming the liturgical books does not suffice to renew mentality. The books reformed in accordance with the decrees of Vatican II introduced a process that demands time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation in celebrations, firstly, on the part of the ordained ministers, but also of other ministers, of cantors and all those who take part in the liturgy. In truth, we know, that the liturgical education of Pastors and faithful is a challenge to be faced ever anew. Paul VI himself, a year before his death, said to the Cardinals gathered in the Consistory: “The time has now come to definitively leave aside divisive elements, which are equally pernicious in both senses, and to apply fully, in accordance with the correct criteria that inspired it, the reform approved by Us in the application of the wishes of the Council”.

And today, there is still work to be done in this direction, in particular by rediscovering the reasons for the decisions taken with regard to the liturgical reform, by overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, a partial reception, and practices that disfigure it. It is not a matter of rethinking the reform by reviewing the choices in its regard, but of knowing better the underlying reasons, through historical documentation, as well as of internalizing its inspirational principles and of observing the discipline that governs it. After this magisterium, after this long journey, We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.

The task of promoting and safeguarding the liturgy is entrusted by right to the Apostolic See and to the diocesan bishops on whose responsibility and authority I greatly rely at the present moment; national and diocesan liturgical pastoral bodies, educational Institutes and Seminaries are also involved.

(Emphasis supplied.) Setting to one side the Holy Father’s decision to minimize Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 1 in favor of episcopal conferences and to minimize the responsibility and authority of individual diocesan bishops, this speech seems to reflect the standard narrative of Vatican II. That is, a reform moving ever forward toward some more or less poorly defined endpoint.

Of course, it is entirely possible that this reflects some sort of reaction to the response to the grander elements of the Holy Father’s program. Curia reform appears to be something better discussed than implemented. Despite the increasingly extreme weather observed in the United States and elsewhere, there seems to be little interest in Rome or Washington in taking up Laudato si’ and the environmental question again. Amoris laetitia has turned into an extremely complicated, unpleasant situation, with prelates and theologians debating seriously the implications of private letters and unanswered dubia, among other things. Indeed, recently the American bishops had an invitation-only conference in Orlando about Evangelii gaudium; they wanted to promote its reception and understanding by Catholic leaders. Whatever that means. It is a strange thing to do, over four years into a pontificate, to return to a “programmatic” document, as if the intervening priorities of the pontificate never happened. It is possible, we think, that the Holy Father has turned to the question of liturgy, so long a topic almost entirely controlled by party spirit, to accomplish some things broadly pleasing to his core constituency.

Candidly we were not surprised to see Magnum principium. It does not reflect the broad scope of the Holy Father’s vision, but even visionaries have to help their supporters. (Cf. p. 70 of Syme’s Roman Revolution.) We were, however, hugely surprised to read this in Magnum principium:

The goal of the translation of liturgical texts and of biblical texts for the Liturgy of the Word is to announce the word of salvation to the faithful in obedience to the faith and to express the prayer of the Church to the Lord. For this purpose it is necessary to communicate to a given people using its own language all that the Church intended to communicate to other people through the Latin language. While fidelity cannot always be judged by individual words but must be sought in the context of the whole communicative act and according to its literary genre, nevertheless some particular terms must also be considered in the context of the entire Catholic faith because each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.

It is no surprise that difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See in the course of this long passage of work. In order that the decisions of the Council about the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy can also be of value in the future a vigilant and creative collaboration full of reciprocal trust between the Episcopal Conferences and the Dicastery of the Apostolic See that exercises the task of promoting the Sacred Liturgy, i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is absolutely necessary. For this reason, in order that the renewal of the whole liturgical life might continue, it seemed opportune that some principles handed on since the time of the Council should be more clearly reaffirmed and put into practice.

(Emphasis supplied.) What a startling admission from the Holy See. The Holy See has been, in its approach to translations of liturgical texts, defending the “entire Catholic faith” because “each translation of texts must be congruent with sound doctrine.” For some reason, “difficulties have arisen” between episcopal conferences and the Holy See in this work. That is, episcopal conferences and the Holy See have been at odds about whether or not liturgical texts are “congruent with sound doctrine”? What an extraordinary, unsettling admission. And what an extraordinary, unsettling solution: devolution of authority over liturgical translations to the same episcopal conferences that have been involved in “difficulties” with the Holy See.

In all of this, we cannot help but be reminded of Paul VI’s statement introducing his great Credo of the People of God. (It seems that Paul VI has been on our mind just as he has been on the Holy Father’s mind.) When he spoke, Paul said, in terms that are no less frank than the terms the Holy Father likes to use:

Likewise, we deem that we must fulfill the mandate entrusted by Christ to Peter, whose successor we are, the last in merit; namely, to confirm our brothers in the faith. With the awareness, certainly, of our human weakness, yet with all the strength impressed on our spirit by such a command, we shall accordingly make a profession of faith, pronounce a creed which, without being strictly speaking a dogmatic definition, repeats in substance, with some developments called for by the spiritual condition of our time, the creed of Nicea, the creed of the immortal tradition of the holy Church of God.

In making this profession, we are aware of the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith. They do not escape the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed. We see even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty. The Church, most assuredly, has always the duty to carry on the effort to study more deeply and to present, in a manner ever better adapted to successive generations, the unfathomable mysteries of God, rich for all in fruits of salvation. But at the same time the greatest care must be taken, while fulfilling the indispensable duty of research, to do no injury to the teachings of Christian doctrine. For that would be to give rise, as is unfortunately seen in these days, to disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.

(Emphasis supplied.) Despite Paul’s statement, perhaps intended to contradict the narrative of progress moving ever forward, eventually leaving behind the truths of the faith in favor of “a kind of passion for change and novelty,” it is clear that the progressive wing of the Church holds firm to the view the Church in the wake of the Council must move ever forward into change and novelty, even at the cost of increasing disquiet and disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls.

The ratchet, dear reader, only moves one way.

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.