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Advent and the Annunciation

Our Lady, the glorious Virgin of Isaiah's prophecy (Is 7:14), is everywhere present in the liturgy of Advent, and this from the very first day. This morning at Matins, I delighted in the beautiful responsories woven around Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child, and the mystery of the Annunciation.

Praying With a Short Attention Span

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah -- and all the long readings at Matins, for that matter -- are, in the ancient tradition subdivided into small lessons; each lesson is followed by a responsory. This practice is eminently pastoral. It takes into account the weariness that one sometimes brings to the long Night Office and the perennial problem of all who try to remain recollected in prayer: the short attention span! Each lesson is no more than five or six verses long, and is followed immediately by a responsory that engages the listeners in an inter-active meditatio.

This morning, for example:

Lesson I: Isaiah 7:1-6, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear.
Then, the Responsory:

R. The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin espoused to Joseph, to bring unto her the Word ; and when the Virgin saw the light she was troubled till the Angel said : Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. * Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.

Lesson II: Isaiah 7: 7-9, If you do not believe, surely you shall not established.
Then, the Responsory:

R. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee : * The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
V. How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? and the Angel made answer.
R. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Lesson III: Isaiah 7: 10-17, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
Then, the Responsory, this time with a Gloria Patri:

R. We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ : * Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.

Wisdom

The wisdom and benefits of this carefully crafted approach to the readings at Matins/Nocturns is, I should think, evident to anyone who has attempted to pray his way through the more turgid reformed Office of Readings which gives them en bloc, as it were.

Advantages of the Traditional Structure

If I were to sum up the advantages of the traditional structure of lessons and responsories at Matins/Nocturns, I would say:

1. The lessons are brief, allowing the listener to extract one significant phrase to be stored up in his heart. See the phrases from each of the lessons that I give above as an example of this. Doing this, one is already practicing lectio and meditatio.

2. The responsories, built around the repetition of a single sentence, deepen one's meditatio and effectively dispose the soul to oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (simple abiding in adoring love).

3. The Gloria Patri added to the last responsory (for which, according to the injunction of Saint Benedict, all rise out of reverence for the Most Holy Trinity) gives to the whole structure a doxological impetus. In Christian prayer, praise has the last word.

A Critique of the Structure in the Liturgia Horarum

Now, if I may be so bold as to critique the structure found in the current reformed Office of Readings of the Liturgia Horarum:

1. The readings are relatively long, giving one the impression of a didactic exercise. One has the impression that the framers of this innovation (and I knew one of them very well) wanted to supply for the average priest's need to have some element of study or spiritual reading in his day. The very designation, Office of Readings, is suspect, reflecting more the goals of its framers in the 1960s than the tradition of the Church. This pragmatic use of the Divine Office -- killing two birds with one stone, as it were -- is foreign to the tradition. Saint Benedict, in fact, reserves the time after the Night Office precisely for study.

2. The suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading is a regrettable impoverishment of the Divine Office. The responsories of Matins constitute, in fact, one of the richest elements in the liturgical corpus of the West.

3. Again, the suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading minimizes the fruitful interplay of listening to the Word and tunefully (chantfully?) repeating it until, at length, it descends into the heart as a seed of contemplation.

4. The doxology in the responsories was completely suppressed by the artisans of the reformed liturgy. A most curious innovation, given the great antiquity of the Gloria Patri in this particular context. A mere detail, one may say -- Not at all, say I. It reveals the shift in the liturgical paradigm from God to man. The liturgy becomes something one can use for one's personal growth as opposed to something one offers gratuitously to God.

Liturgical Haste Makes Liturgical Waste

The current reformed Liturgia Horarum was put together in haste. It reflects the prejudices and limitations of the redactors who were, in fact, more concerned with producing a practical breviary for the modern clergy -- something to be read-- than they were with working in organic continuity with the Church's age-old and perennially fruitful practice of the Divine Office.

The time has come, I would argue, for a complete mise en question of the 1970 reform of the Divine Office. Any future reform of the Divine Office will, I pray, incorporate the recovery of elements such as those discussed above.


13 Comments

Considering the problematic nature of the LOTH 1975 as it is, are there any other acceptable ports in the storm? I know that the FSSP suggests the Anglican Breviary, a translation of Brevarium Romanum, to the lay faithful (which is my state).

Currently I am holding out hope for a good solid breviary to be published by Baronius Press in the next year, something that moves far away from the ICEL translations.


Pax Christi,
Tim

padre mark:
que dios le bendiga eternamente y gracias por reconocer y denunciar la gran diferencia...
que la madre de nuestro senor
lo mantenga siempre fiel a la verdad
que poco a poco parece obscurecer en nuestras vida....
que con valentia combata nuestra ignorancia
y que lleno del espiritu santo nos dirija completamente asta la luz verdadera..

eternas bendiciones para su sacerdocio santo..
mary

Fr. Kirby,

What about "Daily Prayer" isbn 978-0007212217? Would this be better than LOTH?

Thanks,
Jen

Dear Fr,

I have used the modern Office for some years, but over the past two have more and more turned to using the '62 Breviary.

However, Matins I find very penitential owing to its length, and I have unhappily compromised by reading the Office of Readings from the modern Office instead. I must say (sorry to be contrary) I like its readings, especially the patristic pasages, although the OR is arranged untraditionally, and I miss out on some psalms if I make this compromise.

Any hints on how best to commit to Matins?

Father, what's a "mise en question"?

"Mise en question" = calling into question!

For people who don't mind the structure of the modern LOTH, the UK/Irish edition of the Office is an option that gets away from the ICEL translation.

This book is the one-volume reduced version with just Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer, but the whole 3-volume set is probably out there on Amazon or Amazon's UK site:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0007211333?tag=stblogsorg-20&camp=14573&creative=327641&linkCode=as1&creativeASIN=0007211333&adid=1CV45107F6GR6S187NN0&

Indeed, RC!

I even have a copy (3 vols.), slightly worn, but perfectly servicable, that I'd be happy to give to a good home.

Two of my boys, told me to just write and say this - Would you please send us the prayer books, it would make our mom very happy. From, David (10) and Michael (8).

So, if you consider our home a good one, we would be most grateful.


Mark, is it still possible to take you up on your offer?

Never mind, I just saw Jen's comment above. First come, first serve! God bless you.

Jen / Brendano:

Well, whoever gets their first. Leave me a comment with an email address on my blog, and we can arrange it.

Fr Mark,

Are you aware of the existence of the patristic (non-biblical) readings of the monastic Vigils (Office of Readings) -- old or new -- published in affordable form, or in electronic version, in English, without all the rest of the Divine Office? I have consulted Fr Abbot at St Michael's Farnborough. He only has an old Anglican publication of Vigils, which is again available but a bit expensive, and containing all of Vigils in Prayerbook English!

Fr Ernie

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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