Divine Office – Divinum Officium

The Divine Office

A Study of the Roman Breviary

Part I.—General Questions On The Divine Office.

Chapter III. Excellence of The Roman Breviary—The Esteem Which We Should Have For the Book Itself.

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The Council of Trent, Sess. XXIII., c. 18, orders "ut in disciplina ecclesiastica clerici commodius instituantur grammaticas, cantus, computi ecclesiastici, aliarumque bonarum artium disciplinam discant." The minute study of the ecclesiastical calendar is not now so necessary for each priest, as it was centuries ago. The Ordo Divini Officii recitandi, issued yearly, and prepared with great accuracy, relieves priests of much labour and secures them from many doubts. And the decision of the Congregation of Rites (13th January, 1899) regarding the authority of the ordo gives greater security. "Qui probabilius judicat errare Calendarium tenetur eidem Calend. stare, nec potest proprio inhaerere judicio quoad officium, Missam vel colorem Paramentorum." Of course this decision does not apply to errors which are openly and plainly at variance with the rubrics of the Missal and Breviary. However, it may be well to revise and to recall the student days' lessons on the Church's Calendar. The study is not an easy one, and in labouring to be brief, probably, I may be obscure and incomplete.

Annus menses habet duodecim..." says the Breviary. The year has twelve months, fifty-two weeks plus one day, or 365 days and almost six hours. But these six hours make up a day every four years, and this fourth year is called bisextile.

In making calculations the six hours were taken as six complete hours, and not six hours wanting some minutes. And the aggregate miscalculation continued until the minutes added yearly, amounted to ten days and changed the date of the spring equinox. Pope Gregory XIII. (1572-1585) sought to remedy the error. He re-established the spring equinox to the place fixed by the Council of Nice (787). The year had fallen ten days in arrear from the holding of the Council until the year of the Gregorian correction, 1582. He again fixed it to the day arranged by the Council, the 14th of the Paschal moon. And he arranged, that such a time-derangement should not occur again. He omitted ten full days in October, 1582, so that the fourth day of the month was followed immediately by the fifteenth. He determined that the secular year must begin on 1st January, that three leap years should be omitted in every four centuries, e.g., 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, and his arrangement has been observed throughout nearly the whole world.

Quarter Tenses fall on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the third Sunday of Advent, after the first Sunday of Lent; after Pentecost Sunday, and after the feast of the exaltation of the Cross.

The Nineteen Years' Course of the Golden Number. This course or cycle was invented by an Athenian astronomer about 433 B.C. It was not exact, but was hailed with delight by the Greeks, who adorned their temples with the key number, done in gold figures; hence the name. The cycle of course is the revolution of nineteen years, from 1 to 19. When this revolution or course of years is run there is a new beginning in marking, No. 1, e.g., in the year 1577 the nineteenth number, the golden number, was 1; the following year it was 2, and so on until in 1597 the golden number again is 2. A table given in the Breviary shows how the golden number may be found and a short rule for the finding of it in any year is given. To the number of the year (e.g., 1833) add 1; then divide the sum thus resulting by 19 and the remainder is the golden number; if there be no remainder the golden number is 19.


The Epact (Greek [Greek: epaktos] from [Greek: eapgo] I add) is nothing more than the number of days by which the common solar year of 365 days exceeds the common lunar year of 354 days. So that the epact of the first year is 11, because the common solar year exceeds the common lunar year by 11 days, and these added to the 11 days of the first, produce 22 as the epact. At the end of the second year the new moon falls 22 days sooner than in the first year. The epact of the third year is three, because if 11 be added to the 22, the result is 33, and from this 33 we subtract 30 days which make up a lunar embolism and the remainder gives us 3, the epact for the year, and so on.

In the Breviary there is a table (alia Tabella epactarum) corresponding to the golden numbers from the year 1901 to the year 2000 inclusive. To take away all doubt in the use of this table, a new table of epacts, an example may be quoted. In the year 1901 the epact was X, which is placed under the golden number 2; and new moons appear on the 21st January, 19th February, and 21st March.... Again, in 1911 the epact is not marked by a number, but by an asterisk (see Table in Breviary) which is placed under the golden number 12, and in the calendar for the whole year will indicate the new moon on January 1st, January 31st (for in February there is no new moon indicated in the Table; the sign [*] is not found), on March 1st, March 31st, and on April 29th. In the year 1916 the golden number is 17 and the epact is 25 (written not in Roman numerals but in ordinary figures), the new moons occur on 6th January, 4th February, 6th March, 4th April, etc. For when the epact is 25, corresponding with golden numbers greater than the number 11 in the calendar, we must take in computation the epact 25 (written in modern figures) but where the epact corresponds with numbers less than the number 11, in the tabella, the epact XXV. in Roman numerals must be taken in calendar countings. This change takes place with epact 25 only, so that the computation of the lunar years may more closely respond to the solar year. It is for this cause, too, that in six places in the calendar two epacts, XXV. and XXIV., are given.

The new Breviary contains a tabella of Dominical letters, up to the year 2000 A.D. It needs no comment.

Indiction. Indiction was a cycle of fifteen years, the first of which dated from the third year of the Christian era. It was usual to indicate the number of the year in a cycle and no mention was made of the cycles already completed. Thus, the indictio sexta meant the sixth year of a cycle and not the sixth cycle or period of fifteen years. Hence, to know the year of indiction is useless for determining the date in old documents of State. Indiction was instituted by Constantine in 313 for fiscal purposes. In papal and imperial documents the name of Pope or emperor was generally given and the regnal years noted.

Movable Feasts. In virtue of the decree of the Council of Nice, in 325, Easter, on which all other movable feasts depend, must be celebrated on the Sunday which follows immediately the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month (in the Hebrew year), our March. Easter, then, is the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon (i.e., the full moon which happens upon or next after March 21st). If full moon happens on a Sunday, Easter Sunday is the Sunday after the full moon. The matter of the arrangement of Easter was for long a subject of very bitter contention in the Irish and in the English Church. The Irish, clinging tenaciously to the calendar of St. Patrick, carried it everywhere in their missionary labours, so that the controversy was not confined to Ireland and England. It was long and bitter, until at last the Irish Church agreed to follow the reform. (See Healy, Ireland's Schools and Scholars, p. 592; Moran, Irish Saints in Great Britain, "The Conference at Whitby in 664," pp. 255-261).

Calendar study is interesting, and many valuable contributions on this matter have been given to us by Father Thurston, S.J., and other English and Irish scholars.


The next document in the Breviary, Part I., has the title "Rubricae Generates Breviarii," the general rubrics of the Breviary. They are called general, as they apply to every part of the Breviary and are to be distinguished from the rubrics dealing with the proper (proprium) of the Breviary, the proper of time or of the saints. The word "rubrics" was originally applied to the red marking lines used by carpenters on wood, later it referred to the titles used by jurisconsults in announcing laws, which were written in red colours. The word appears in Church literature to refer to signs and directions as early at least as the fourteenth century (Cath. Encyclopedia–word "rubrics").

The general rubrics are divided into thirty-seven Titles. Attention will be given to each; of these Titles, some of which must be modified by recent legislation. The order followed may not be the order followed in the general rubrics as given in the Breviary, as matters treated in the general rubrics found in the Breviary are treated under other headings here. However, a look at the table of contents or at the index shows the pages treating of these Titles.


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