Divine Office – Divinum Officium

The Divine Office

A Study of the Roman Breviary

Part I.—General Questions On The Divine Office.

Chapter IV. The Contents of the Breviary.

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The title of the Breviary is, BREVIARIUM ROMANUM EX DECRETO SACROSANCTI CONCILII TRIDENTINI RESTITUTUM S. PII V. PONTIFICIS MAXIMI JUSSU EDITUM, ALIORUMQUE PONTIFICIUM, CURA RECOGNITUM PII PAPAE X., AUCTORITATE REFORMATUM. This work is divided into four parts, the first part being called Pars Hiemalis, the winter part; the second part, Pars Verna, the spring part; the third part, Pars Aestiva, the summer part; and the fourth part, the Pars Autumnalis, the autumn part.

The Church, guided by the Holy Ghost, has drawn up these volumes of liturgical prayer, so that for each season, even for each day, her official prayer may be suited to the time, to different degrees of solemnity and of rite, and so that it may be fixed and determined, yet having great beauty in its wonderful unity and variety. Hence, nothing in her official prayer is left to chance, nothing is left to the selection or caprice of the individual who recites this prayer; all is foreseen, everything is in order, every tittle has a reason for its existence and its place in the liturgy, and represents the end and the intentions of the Church. For, every part of the Roman Breviary is stamped with the wisdom, the zeal and the piety of the Church, which presents it, as an offering all suitable for and worthy of God's honour and glory.

Considering, then, the Breviary as a liturgical book, we find that the Divine Office has four general divisions, corresponding to the divisions of our Lord's life. First, from Advent to Septuagesima; second, from Septuagesima to Easter; third, from Easter to Pentecost; fourth, from Pentecost to Advent. These divisions correspond also to the divisions of the year, winter, spring, summer and autumn.

The end and object of the Office are to invite us to join in the infinite praise which the Son of God rendered to His Father during His life, and which He renders still in Heaven and in the Tabernacle. "Domine in unione illius divinae intentionis qua ipse in terris laudes Deo persolvisti, has tibi Horas persolvo," "O Lord, in union with that divine intention wherewith Thou whilst here on earth Thyself didst praise God, I offer these Hours to Thee." The life of Christ is divided into four principal divisions: first, His birth, circumcision, epiphany, presentation; second, His public life and His death; third, His resurrection, ascension, and descent of the Holy Ghost; fourth, His mystic life in the Church and in Heaven. Hence arise the four general divisions of the Divine Office:–

First General Division which begins the Church's year. From Advent to Septuagesima:–The birth of the Saviour preceded by His life in Mary's womb, and by the four weeks of Advent, representing (it is said) the passing of the four thousand years, and embracing the mysteries of the Holy Infancy, Circumcision, Epiphany, Holy Name of Jesus, and the Presentation.

Second General Division, from Septuagesima till Easter:–The death of Christ preceded by the events of His public life, His fasting, temptation, preaching, miracles, passion and death.

Third General Division, from Easter to Pentecost:–The Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost.

Fourth General Division, from Pentecost till Advent, the termination of the Church's year. The mystic life of Christ in the Church, which will end on the Judgment Day.

These divisions make up the four parts of the Roman Breviary.

The first part, Pars Prima, contains the Pontifical Bull, Quod a nobis, of Pope Pius V. (1568). It states:–1. That the cause of the new edition was to remove the regrettable variety in the public liturgy. 2. It recalls the labours of Pope Paul IV., Pius IV., and Pius V. for the same end. 3. It announces the abolition of the too-abbreviated Breviary of Quignonez and of all those which have not, for two hundred years preceding 1568, an authentic approbation or a lawful custom. 4. It gives permission to those using such breviaries to adopt the Roman Breviary. 5. It withdraws all privileges in respect to other breviaries. 6. It declares the Roman Breviary obligatory on all except those mentioned (vide 3, supra). 7. Even bishops are forbidden to make the smallest change in the new Breviary. 8. The recitation of offices from other breviaries does not fulfill the obligation of those bound to breviary recitation. 9. Bishops are requested to introduce the new Breviary. 10. The Pope suppressed the obligation of reciting on certain days the little Office of the Blessed Virgin, the Office of the Dead, the Penitential and the Gradual Psalms, 11. But he recommends their recitation on certain fixed days and grants an indulgence for the practice. 12. Where the custom of reciting the little Office, in choir, exists, it should be retained. 13. The appointment of the time for the adoption of the Breviary is obligatory. 14. Prohibition, under pain of excommunication, is made against those who print, distribute or receive copies of this Breviary without lawful authority. 15. The authentic publication and obligation of the Bull.

The second document in the Pars Prima of the Roman Breviary is the Bull Divino Afflatu, issued by Pope Pius X, on 1st November, 1911. It tells us:–

1. That the psalms were composed under divine inspiration, and that it is well known that from the beginning of the Church they were used not only to foster the piety of the faithful, who offered "the sacrifice of praise to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to His name" (Heb. xiii. 15), but—that retaining the custom of the Old Law—they held a conspicuous place in both the liturgy and Divine Office of the New Law. He quotes St. Basil, who calls psalmody the voice of the infant Church, and Urban VIII., who calls psalmody the daughter of hymnody which is chanted before the throne of God in Heaven. Two quotations from St. Athanasius and St. Augustine, in praise of psalmody, are added.

2. In the Psalms there is a certain wonderful power which arouses in souls a zeal for all virtues. Two quotations from St. Augustine are added. One says that as it is written that all Scriptures both of the Old and the New Testaments are divinely inspired and useful for our instruction.... Nevertheless, the book of the Psalms is, as it were, a very Paradise containing in itself the fruits of all the other books and expressing them in hymns; and moreover it joins its own hymns to them and merges them in the general song of praise. Two further quotations from St. Augustine, in similar strain, follow. For who will be, asks the saint, unmoved by those frequent passages in the Psalms in which are proclaimed the immensity, the omnipotence, the infallible justice, the goodness, the clemency of God? Or who is not moved by the prayers and thanksgivings for benefits received by the humble and trustful petitions, by the cries of souls sorrowing for sin, found in the Psalms? Whom will the Psalmist not fill with admiration when he recounts the gifts of the Divine loving kindness towards the people of Israel and all mankind, and when he sets forth the truths of heavenly wisdom? Who, finally, will not be inflamed with love by the carefully foreshadowed figure of Christ, our Redeemer, whose voice St. Augustine heard in the Psalms, either singing or sighing or rejoicing in Hope or mourning in present sorrow?

3. In, former ages it was decreed by Popes and Councils and by monastic laws that the whole Psaltery should be recited weekly. Pope St. Pius V., Pope Clement VIII., and Pope Urban VIII. in their revisions of the Breviary ordered this weekly recitation. And even at the present time, such would be the recitation of the Psalter had not the condition of things changed.

4. This arose from the multiplication of saints' offices (officia de sanctis), which after the canonization of saints gradually grew to such a huge number that very often the Dominical and Ferial Office remained unread, and hence not a few psalms were neglected, which yet are as the rest, as St. Ambrose says, "the benediction of the people, the praise of God, the praise offering of the multitude, the acclamation of all, the expression of the community, the voice of the Church, the resounding confession of faith, the truly official devotion, the joy of liberty, the shout of gladness, the re-echoing of joy."

Many complaints from prudent and pious men reached the Pope about the omission of psalms, which took away from those bound to recite the Office not only helps, well suited for God's praises and for the expression of their inmost souls, but also diminished that desirable variety in prayers which is so appreciated and which so well accords with and aids our worthy, attentive, and devout praise of God. For St. Basil says that "in smooth uniformity the soul often grows weary and while present is yet away, but when in psalmody and chant are changed and varied in every hour, the fervour is renewed and its attention is restored."

5. This matter of the reform of the order of the psalter was brought before the Holy See by many bishops and chiefly in the Vatican Council, where the demand for the old custom of reciting the whole psalter weekly was renewed, with the provision that any new arrangement should not impose a greater onus on the clergy, now labouring more arduously in the vineyard of the sacred ministry on account of the diminution of toilers. These requests and wishes were repeated to Pope Pius X., and he took up the matter cautiously, so that the honour due to the cult of the saints should not be diminished, nor the onus on the clergy increased by the weekly recitation of the full Psalter. Begging the help of God, the pontiff formed a commission of learned and industrious men, who with judgment and care carried out his wishes. The results of their labours were submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and after careful consideration by the members of the Congregation the matter was submitted to the Pope, who sanctioned the new arrangement, that is, as regards the order and the division of the Psalms, Antiphons, Versicles and Hymns, with the rubrics and rules pertaining to the same. And the Pope ordered an authentic edition of these new arrangements to be prepared and issued from the Vatican Press.

6. The arrangement of the Psalter has an intimate connection with the Divine Office and the Liturgy; and by these new decrees regarding the Office and the Psalms a first step in the improvement of the Breviary and the Missal has been taken. These matters will be dealt with by a commission of learned men which is soon to be formed. Amongst other things that this first step established was that the recitation of the Scripture lessons with the proper responses according to the rubrics should receive due honour and more frequent recitation, and that in the Liturgy the most ancient Masses of the Sundays throughout the year, especially those of Lent, should be restored to their places.

7. The use of the old order of Psalms found in the Roman Breviary is abolished and interdicted from 1st January, 1913, and the use of the new Psalter for all clergy, secular and regular, who used the Roman Breviary as revised by Pius V., Clement VIII., Urban VIII., and Leo XIII., and those who continue to use the old order do not satisfy their obligation.

8. Ecclesiastical superiors are to introduce the new order of the Psalter, and chapters are permitted to use it if the majority of the members agree to its introduction.

9. Establishment and declaration of the validity and efficacy of the Bull, notwithstanding all previous apostolic constitutions and rulings, whether general or particular. Any person infringing these papal abolitions, revocations, etc., sins and merits God's anger.

10. Date and place of promulgation.


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