Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sunday after Ascension and the week ahead



This Sunday is traditionally titled the Sunday after Ascension, though these days in some countries has become 'Ascension Sunday' (!).  The Gospel is St John 15:26-16:4.

The 1962 Benedictine Office in summary this week

Notes on the rubrics for Ascensiontide can be found here, while more detailed instructions for praying the Office this week can be found in the Ordo for June.

Sunday 1 June - Sunday after the Ascension, Class II
Monday 2 June -  Class IV; SS Marcellinus and Peter, memorial [EF: and St Erasmus]
Tuesday 3 June - Class IV
Wednesday 4 June - Class IV [EF: St Francis Caracciolo]
Thursday 5 June - St Boniface, Class III
Friday 6 June - St Norbert, Class III
Saturday 7 June - Whitsun Eve (Vigil of the Pentecost), Class I


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Feast of the Ascension


Today is the feast of the Ascension.

Somewhat bizarrely - given the Scriptural attestation to the number of days after Easter that this occurred - it is celebrated on the Sunday instead in many places these days.

The Gospel for the feast is St Mark 16:14-20, and you can find the Matins readings on it over at my Lectio Divina blog..


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fifth Sunday after Easter and the week ahead



The Gospel this Sunday is St John 16:23-30.  You can find the Matins readings for it over at my Lectio Divina blog.

Ascensiontide coming...

This Sunday is the last in Eastertide proper - on Thursday the season changes to that sub-set of Easter, Ascensiontide. You can find notes on the rubrics for the Office during this period here.

In addition, the first three days of this week are traditionally especial days of prayer called Rogation Days, when the litany is sung in procession before the Mass.

The 1962 Benedictine Office this week in summary

Sunday 25 May – Fifth Sunday after Easter, Class II
Monday May 26 – St Augustine OSB, Class III/I [EF: St Philip Neri, Class III]; Rogation Day
Tuesday May 27 - St Bede the Venerable OSB, Class III/I; Rogation Day
Wednesday May 28 - Vigil of the Ascension, Class II; Rogation Day
Thursday May 29 - The Ascension of Our Lord, Class I
Friday May 30 – Class IV [EF: Commemoration of St Mary Magdalen of Pazzi]
Saturday May 31 – Saturday of Our Lady (Sat 5)

As usual you can find fuller instructions for saying the Office for the week in the Ordo for May.

Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians


Collect for the feast:

Omnipotens et misericors Deus, qui ad defensionem populi christiani in beatıssima VırgineMarıa perpetuum auxılium mirabıliter constituısti: concede prop´ıtius; ut tali præsıdio muniti certantes in vita, victoriam de hoste malıgno consequi valeamus in morte. Per Dominum nostrum.

O Almighty and merciful God, Who didst wondrously appoint the most Blessed Virgin perpetual
help for Christians in need of protection: grant in Thy mercy that after battling in life under such a protectress, we may be able to conquer our enemy at death. Through our Lord.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fourth Sunday after Easter and the week ahead



The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday after Easter is St John 16:5-14, on the sending of the Paraclete.

Summary of the 1962 Benedictine Office this week

Sunday May 18 – Fourth Sunday in Eastertide, Class II
Monday May 19 - Class IV; St Peter Celestine, Memorial (EF: Class III) **In Some Places St Dunstan
Tuesday May 20 - Class IV [EF: St Bernardine of Siena]
Wednesday May 21 - Class IV
Thursday May 22 - Class IV
Friday May 23 - Class IV
Saturday May 24 – Saturday of Our Lady (Sat 4 of May) [In some places, Our Lady Help of Christians, Class I]

You can find more details of the Office for these days in the Ordo for May and notes on the rubrics for Eastertide.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Third Sunday after Easter




The Gospel for the Third Sunday after Easter is St John 16:16-22.

The Benedictine 1962 Office this week in summary

Sunday May  11 - Third Sunday after Easter, Class II; Commemoration of SS Philip and James
Monday May 12 - Class IV; SS Nereus, Archilleus and Pancras, memorial [EF: and Domitilla]
Tuesday May 13 – Class IV; St Robert Bellarmine, memorial
Wednesday May 14 – Class IV; St Pachomius, memorial [EF: Commemoration of St Boniface]
Thursday May 15 – Class IV [EF: St John Baptist de la Salle]
Friday May 16 – Class IV [EF: St Ubald]
Saturday May 17 – Saturday of Our Lady (Sat 3 of May) [EF: St Paschal Baylon]

You can find further details of the Office in the Ordo for May.

And if you are just getting started, you might also want to take a look at the daily cheat (reference) sheets for the hours - you can find the link in the right-hand side bar, or go straight to Sunday's.

Note that we are currently in the season of Eastertide which results in fewer antiphons than usual (mostly Alleluias!) and proper hymns and so forth for the season at Lauds and Vespers.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Second Sunday after Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) and the week ahead

Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome

We are now in one of those times when the designation of the Sundays has the potential to be confusing for those attending churches with both forms of the Mass.

In the Extraordinary Form (and 1962 Benedictine) calendar, this is the Second Sunday after Easter, aka Good Shepherd Sunday, named for the Gospel, St John 10:11-16.

In the Ordinary Form however it is the 'Third Sunday of Easter'.

This week in the 1962 Benedictine Office in summary

Sunday May 4 – Second Sunday after Easter, Class II; St Monica, memorial 
Monday May 5 - Class IV; St Pius V, memorial
Tuesday May 6 - Class IV
Wednesday May 7 – Class IV [EF: St Stanislaus, Class III]
Thursday May 8 – Class IV
Friday May 9 - St Gregory Nazianzen, Class III
Saturday May 10 – Saturday of Our Lady; SS Gordian and Epimachis, memorial [EF: St Antoninus]

More detailed instructions for each day's Office can be found in the Ordo for May.  You may also find these notes on the Office during Eastertide helpful.

The repeated psalms of the Benedictine Office - revised




A little while I ago, I noted in a post that I think St Benedict's design of his Office was a very deliberate work, a work of liturgical genius in fact, that very much reflects the spiritual agenda of the Benedictine Rule.  In particular, I suggested that his ordering of the psalter aimed at providing both horizontal and vertical unity to the Office, and reflects a deeply Christological theology of it.

Part of this agenda is reflected in the selection of the variable psalms for each day, which I think generally reflects a certain thematic unity for the particular hour, as well as a weekly cycle based around the life of Christ.   

The other key factor that gives the Benedictine a particular spiritual flavour, and helps shape a particularly Benedictine spirituality amongst those who say this form of the Office arises, I think, from the repeated psalms.

St Benedict, in his Rule, makes it clear that he wanted all of the psalms to be said every week by his monks.  The vast majority of the psalms are, of course, said but once each week.  A select few, however, are given a more privileged place in his Office.

Accordingly, I wanted to alert readers here that I've just started a series, over at my blog Psallam Domino (which is dedicated to providing notes to aid understanding the psalms, particularly in the context of the Benedictine Office), looking at the repeated psalms, and at the reasons why St Benedict may have wanted his monks to say them so often.   

I thought I would post here now, though my introductory comments on this set of psalms by way of an alert and taster for the series.  

Comments, corrections and other reactions are, as always, very welcome.

The repeated psalms

It is worthwhile, firstly, just to list out what the repeated psalms of the Benedictine Office are.

First, some individual verses (Psalm 50:16 and Psalm 69:1) are used as opening prayers for the hours, and are thus repeated every day, or even, in the case of the Deus in adjutorium verse, at almost every hour for most of the year.  

Secondly, there are eight psalms repeated every day at particular hours, namely:
  •  Matins (Ps 3 & 94)
  •  Lauds (Ps 66, 50, 148-150); and 
  • Compline (Ps 4, 90 & 133). 
And thirdly, nine of the Gradual Psalms (Psalms 119-127) are said on five days of the week from Terce to None.

It is worth noting that the number of times each of these verses and psalms is said has a deep theological symbolism:

  • O Lord open my lips (Ps 50:16) is said seven times a week at Matins and again seven times a week at Lauds.  Seven is a number symbolising completeness; fourteen is a number St Benedict uses a lot (for example in the number of psalms said daily at Matins), perhaps alluding to the grouping of the generations to Christ in the genealogy provided by St Matthew, accordingly it symbolises deliverance or salvation;
  • the number eight (the repeated psalms each day) symbolises the start of the new creation initiated by Christ's Resurrection, and perhaps our recreation through Christ;
  • the number nine echoes the triple invocation of Christ in the Kyrie of the Mass, and symbolises the sum and end of men's work.

History, speculation and spirituality

In the Western monastic tradition of St Benedict's time (and long after it; St Benedict's Office was slow to gain general acceptance) it was actually more common to start at Psalm 1 and say them in their Scriptural order.  St Benedict, however, evidently took is cue from alternative traditions that existed at the same time both in the East and the West, which saw certain psalms as particularly fitted to particular hours, and thought some so important as to warrant daily repetition.  Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that the particular choices he made of repeated psalms are significant.

One popular theory is that St Benedict actually started from the ordering of the psalter used by Roman Churches of his time, adjusting it to give it more variety.  It is certainly a plausible theory, but essentially unprovable since there are no surviving Office books or psalter schemas that survive from that era.   Nonetheless, the Roman Office as it has come down to us shares at least some of the repeated psalms of the Benedictine Office in common, namely Psalm 94 at Matins; Psalms 66, 50 and 148-150 at Lauds; and Psalms 4, 90 and 133 at Compline.  The Roman Office, however, at least until it was thoroughly 'updated' under Pope St Pius X in 1911, contained far more repetitions than the Benedictine, for Psalms 118, 53 and 30 were all said daily in the older form of the Roman Office.

These differences, I would suggest, are important, for what things are or aren't regularly repeated surely help develop a particular spiritual mindset.  Some modern Benedictines, though retaining the weekly psalter, have sought to eliminate many of the repetitions, taking their permission from Chapter 18.  It seems to me, however, more consistent with the Vatican II direction to retain the patrimony of religious orders (Perfectae Caritatis 2b), to devote some consideration to just why St Benedict decided that certain psalms (and certain verses) were so important and/or so appropriate to a particular hour that they should be repeated frequently.

The comments below consider the reasons for the repetitions in the context of the particular hours in which they occur.  

Matins: A light in the darkness

"At midnight I rose to give praise to thee." (Psalm 118:62, quoted in RB 16)

St Benedict made it clear, in his Rule, that the symbolism of light and darkness were extremely important to him.  In particular, he devotes an entire chapter to the timing of the Divine Office at night (Matins, or Vigils), in order to ensure that the monks rose early enough to enable Lauds to be said at first light.   

The long night Vigil, however, in which the monk keeps watch through the darkness of the literal and metaphorical night, reflects the particular Office of the monk in dispelling the darkness on behalf of us all.  Unsurprisingly then, Matins is the workhorse of the Benedictine Office, easily the longest 'hour' of the day, almost as long,  most days of the week, as all the other hours combined due to its twelve variable psalms to be said each day.

St Benedict manages to pack a lot of symbolism though, into the repeated psalmody of the hour.  Firstly, the start of Matins marks the end of the overnight 'great silence' that starts after Compline.  How appropriate then, that the first words the monk or nun says each day is a plea for God to allow him to speak in praise of him:


16  Dómine, lábia mea apéries: * et os meum annuntiábit laudem tuam.
O Lord, you will open my lips: and my mouth shall declare your praise.

The first full psalm of the hour, Psalm 3, also includes a verse that can be taken very literally - though it also has an important spiritual meaning as we shall see  - in a reference to waking from sleep:

6  Ego dormívi, et soporátus sum: * et exsurréxi, quia Dóminus suscépit me.
I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me

Psalm 3, though, is primarily a call to take up the spiritual warfare at the start of the new day, a reminder that the battle will not end until we are in heaven.  It is not accidental, in my view, that St Benedict's Rule also opens with a call to become spiritual warriors for Christ.

The second invitatory, Psalm 94, is a joyful invitation to worship our creator, redeemer and protector, but also contains an important warning not to put off repentance, but to respond to God’s call here and now should we here it.  It is worth noting that this psalm features heavily in the Prologue to St Benedict's Rule, so it's appearance here too, is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Lauds: The hour of light

"May God cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us" (Psalm 66)

 In the Roman Office, Lauds is very closely linked to Matins, and often said effectively as one hour.  In the Monastic Office, however, St Benedict envisages there being a break between the two hours.  In winter he envisages this break being quite long break, providing time for study of the psalms and lessons for those who needed it (RB8); in summer it is just a break for 'the necessities of nature'. The reason for the break is simple: Lauds was to be carefully timed so that it begins at first light, and thus taken in dawn.  The rising of the sun, then, symbolises the Resurrection of the Son.  So important is the connection with the time of day for this hour that St Benedict even instructs his monks to cut short the readings of Matins if necessary in order to ensure that Lauds is said at its proper time.

In keeping with this symbolism, both the psalms and the proper canticle for the hour, the Benedictus (from St Luke), link the hour symbolically to the 'almost/but not yet' time we live in - after the Coming of Our Lord, but before the Kingdom is fully realised on earth with his return in glory to judge the earth.  The hymns and psalms of Lauds focus on preparing for and rejoicing at the coming of the sun/Son, and its hymns and psalms contain many references to the dawn and the morning, and the coming light.  Overall, the flavour of the hour is one of anticipation and joy at the coming dawn. 

Lauds is the longest of the day hours in the Benedictine Office, with seven psalms and two canticles assigned to it.  The hour itself is somewhat unusual compared to the rest of the Office in that five of those psalms - Psalms 66, 50, 148, 149 and 150 - are repeated every day.  The fixed psalms are, therefore, obviously very important in setting the flavour of this hour.

The repeated psalms of Matins, I would suggest, are essentially ones of preparation, seeking to inculcate the right attitude to the coming day in us.  The repeated psalms of Lauds, though, have more of a focus on action.

The hour always starts (after the Deus in Adjutorium) with Psalm 66, a beautiful psalm asking for God's blessing to come upon us.   Psalm 66 is though, above all a prayer for the mission of the Church, the blessing requested is for our work so that 'all peoples may confess God's name'.

The second psalm, the Miserere acknowledges our sinful state, and begs God's forgiveness of our sins.  The Miserere is the most famous of the penitential psalms, and also the most beautiful, not least for its glimmers of light as it begs God to 'give us back the joy of salvation'.  But again, as well as being a call to repentance it also has a focus on mission, for example asking for the grace to 'teach thy ways to evil-doers'.

The psalmody of Lauds always ends on a joyful note, with the Laudate or ‘rejoicing’ psalms, from the very end of the psalter, which have always been interpreted by Christians as our response to the Resurrection.  The really key verse, I would suggest, comes right in the middle, in Psalm 149:6, which teaches that the mission of the faithful is twofold: firstly to worship God, and secondly to advance the Gospel in the world (the sword is the word of God, its two edges the Old and New Testaments):


6  Exaltatiónes Dei in gútture eórum: * et gládii ancípites in mánibus eórum.
6 The high praises of God shall be in their mouth: and two-edged swords in their hands:

Terce to None: the ascent of grace

One of the most distinctive features of the Benedictine Office is the use of nine of the Gradual Psalms (Psalm 119-127) at Terce to None from Tuesday to Saturday.  St Benedict's use of the Gradual Psalms is interesting, because they fit particularly well with the other psalmody of Tuesday, the first day of the week on which they are said, but also form part of the repeated framework of the day hours.

These psalms are thought to have been sung liturgically as the pilgrims ascended the fifteen steps of the Temple in Jerusalem on major feasts, as well as being pilgrim songs.  The Fathers saw them, though, as tracing the mystical ascent of the Christian in the spiritual life in imitation of Christ, who shows us how to climb Jacob’s ladder to heaven and grow in virtue.

Compline: Into great silence

Compline is the only hour in the Benedictine Office that remains the same every day (the Marian antiphon aside).  Said last thing in the evening, it teaches us how to deal with the darkness that inevitably surrounds us in this world, as well as the darkness and dangers of the literal night itself.

The structure of Compline is described in St Benedict’s Rule in Chapters 17 and 18, however over time the hour has been elaborated somewhat with the addition at the beginning of a new ‘opening section’ that includes a short reading warning of the dangers of the night and an examination of conscience and confession of sins; at the end with a Marian antiphon and prayer.   The three psalms set for it are Psalms 4, 90 and 133.  

Like Psalm 3 that opens the day, Psalm 4 contains verses that makes it particularly appropriate to the hour, indeed one that is in effect response to the verse on rising from sleep in Psalm 3:


9 In pace in idípsum * dórmiam et requiéscam;
In peace in the self same I will sleep, and I will rest
10 Quóniam tu, dómine, singuláriter in spe * constituísti me.
For you, O Lord, singularly have settled me in hope.


The psalm calls upon us to repent of the sins of the day; asks God to grant us forgiveness and the grace to do better in future; and asks for God’s blessing on our sleep.  

Psalm 90 is most commonly associated with Our Lord's temptation in the desert in the Gospels, and provides reassurance of God’s protection of the just against all the dangers that can arise.  The first section of the psalm sets out the promise of divine protection that God grants to the faithful.  It closes with words put in the mouth of God.  

One particular reason its use may have appealed to St Benedict is the allusion to God as our 'susceptor' or sustainer, upholder, a word (which also appears in Psalm 3) that was particularly important in the monastic tradition, not least for its associations with the Suscipe verse (Psalm 118:116) used in the monastic profession ceremony.  

Psalm 90 contains another verse paralleling Psalm 3 as well, on the spiritual warfare:


Ps 3: 7  Non timébo míllia pópuli circumdántis me: * exsúrge, Dómine, salvum me fac, Deus meus.
I will not fear thousands of the people, surrounding me: arise, O Lord; save me, O my God.

Ps 90: 7  Cadent a látere tuo mille, et decem míllia a dextris tuis: * ad te autem non appropinquábit.
A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand: but it shall not come near you.

The last psalm of the each day, Psalm 133 is also the last of the Gradual psalms, and at the literal level, this psalm is a summons to worship at night, and give God thanks for the blessings of the day.  Spiritually though, it points to our ultimate destination in heaven, where the worship of God never ends.   It concludes by requesting a blessing from God on us. 

In a monastery, the hour is traditionally followed by the abbot or abbess sprinkling the monks or nuns with holy water, usually while verses of Psalm 50 (from ‘Asperges me…’) are chanted.  And then the Great Silence falls, lasting until those first words of Matins are spoken again.

You can follow my series on the repeated psalms of the Office either by visiting the Masterpost for the series (which covers the material provided above, but also provides links to the notes on each of the psalms in question), or start with the post on the first of the set, Psalm 3.

***Apologies for the formatting problems with an earlier version of this post!