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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"Consequently, the civilised peoples already in remote antiquity have found a call to the worship of God in the changing seasons and times and so have introduced sacred seasons. Sacred times and places are common to all religions in general. The change of times bringing with them corresponding changes in nature made a religious impression upon mankind. In turn, man sanctified certain times and dedicated them to God, and these days, thus consecrated to God, became festivals."

The entire number of ecclesiastical holydays and seasons is codified for us in the different Church calendars. Their contents fall into two essentially different divisions, each possessing an entirely different origin and history. The first division consists of festivals of our Lord, distributed over the year, regulated and co-ordinated in accordance with certain laws. The second division consists of commemorations of saints in no wise connected with festivals of our Lord or with one another. Occupying to some extent an intermediate position between these two chief divisions come the festivals of our Blessed Lady, which have this in common with the festivals of the saints, that they fall on fixed days; but, on the other hand, they are to a certain extent connected with each other and with some feasts of our Lord. This is carried out in such a way that they are distributed throughout the Church year and are included in each of the festal seasons (Kellner, Heortology, Part I.).

From Apostolic times the feasts of Easter, the Ascension and Pentecost were celebrated. In the second century feasts of the Apostles were celebrated and the cult of the Martyrs was of speedy and widespread development. But it was not, probably, till the fourth century, that the feasts of saints who were not martyrs were celebrated.

Origin of the different grades of feasts. To-day, we find Church festivals arranged in three grades, doubles, semi-doubles and simples, and it is very difficult, to determine clearly and accurately the origin and the nature of the arrangements. But from the works of scholars, who have studied this matter, the following may be considered as a fair and accurate summing up:–

In the first ages of the Church the Apostles and Martyrs only were commemorated in public prayers and, above all, in the Mass, perhaps, by a special prayer. Then, in time, followed the reading of a panegyric in their honour, and later still hymns and histories of martyrdom were added to the public recitation of the Office. Still later, there were added the feasts of the saints with an office resembling our simple office. Matins were entirely ferial, but had either a biography of the saint or a long extract from the Fathers added. The other hours were as in a Sunday office, save that these feasts had no Vesper matter.

In still later times, the Church added to the list of names on her saint roll, the names of saints who were honoured neither as Apostles nor as Martyrs. For these, special Masses, offices and feasts were established. St. Martin of Tours was the first confessor so honoured in the Western Church. For the more important feasts, an office of nine lessons was established and this came to be known as a semi-double office, and later such feasts were called doubles. Hence, before the thirteenth century, we find celebrations of simple feasts, of semi-doubles and of doubles. And Durandus, who wrote in the thirteenth century, tells us of the existence of doubles major and doubles minor. The Breviary of St. Pius V., published in 1568, gives three classes of doubles: doubles of the first class, doubles of the second class, and doubles per annum. But, in the revision by Clement VIII. the doubles per annum were again divided into doubles major and doubles minor. In the new Pian Breviary (1913) doubles are divided into Primary Doubles of the First Class, Secondary Doubles of the First Class; Primary Doubles of the Second Class, Secondary Doubles of the Second Class, Primary Doubles Major, Secondary Doubles Major. The list of feasts under each of these six headings may be seen in the Breviary.

Do double offices differ specifically from each other? No, the form is the same in all double offices. What then is the difference between doubles of different classes? The difference is chiefly in the preference which is given to them in cases of concurrence or occurrence of feasts of greater or of lesser rite.

The word "double" (duplex) is derived, some authors hold, from the ancient custom of reciting two offices or saying two Masses on the same day—one for the current feria and one for the feast (festa). Other authors say that the word is derived from the ancient practice of chanting twice or in repetition the complete responses and versicles. And, above all, the recitation of the full antiphons before and after each psalm, at Matins, Lauds and Vespers, was called "duplication," and this name, it is said, was given to the office (double, duplex) in which the practice of duplication took place.

It is often asked why are there different grades of feasts. Three reasons are given by writers on liturgy. First, to mark the diversity of merit in God's saints, their sanctity and their different degrees of service to His Church. Second, to mark their different degrees of glory in Heaven. "One is as the sun; another, the glory of the moon; and another the glory of the stars. For star differs from star" (1 Cor.). Third, for some special national or local reasons—e.g., patron of a country.

The rules laid down in the general rubrics in the new Breviary, for doubles and semi-doubles, are left unchanged almost by the regulations laid down by the Commission and by the Variationes. Their numbers were reduced, so that there now stand in the new Breviary only seventy-five doubles, sixty-three semi-doubles, and thirty-six movable feasts.

A reason for the new arrangement of double feasts in the Pian Breviary is the general one, that the Pope wished above all things the weekly recitation of the Psalter, and to bring about this weekly recitation and the restoration of the Sunday Office a mere rearrangement of the Psalms was quite insufficient, and a rearrangement of the gradation of feasts of concurrence and of occurrence was necessary.


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