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.

Previous Title III.—The Simple Office. | IndexTitle V.—Ferial Office.  Previous


We translate the Latin Dies Dominica by our word Sunday, for in English the days of the week have retained the names given to them in Pagan times. In Irish, too, Deluain, Monday, moon's day, shows Pagan origin of names of week days.

The literal translation of the Latin Dies Dominica, the Lord's Day, is not found in the name given to the first day of the week in any European tongue, save Portuguese, where the days of the week hold the old Catholic names, domingo, secunda feira, terca feira, etc. It is said that the seven days of the week as they stand in numerical order were retained and confirmed by Pope Silvester I. (314-336): "Sabbati et Dominici diei nomine retento, reliquos hebdomadae dies Feriarum nomine distinctos, ut jam ante in Ecclesia vocari coeperunt appellari voluit; quo significaretur quotidie clericos, abjecta caeterarum rerum cura, uni Deo prorsus vocare debere" (Brev. Rom. in VI. lect. St. Silvester Pope; 31st Dec.).

There is no evidence of the abrogation of the Sabbath by Christ or by His Apostles, but St. Paul declared that its observance was not binding on Gentile converts. Accordingly, in the very early days of Christianity the Sabbath fell more and more into the background, yet not without leaving some traces behind it (see art. Sonnabender in Kraut's Realenzyklop). Among Christians the first day of the Jewish week, the prima Sabbati, the present Sunday, was held in honour as the day of our Lord's resurrection and was called the Lord's Day (Apoc. i. 10; I. Cor, xvi. 2), This name, dies dominica, took the place of dies solis, formerly used in Greece and in Rome. This day has many names in the works of Christian writers. St. Ignatius, M. calls it Regina omnium dierum; St. Chrysostom, dies pacis; dies lucis; Alcuin, dies sanctus; feria prima, Baronius tells us, was another name for our Sunday.

The subject of the liturgical celebration of the Lord's Day has been a great study and a problem to modern scholars. It appears that in the first ages of the Church, Sunday was a day of solemn reunion and of common prayer. St. Justin, in his second apology, writes that on the Lord's Day town and country met together at an appointed place for sacrifice, for the hearing of the word of God, for pious readings and for common prayer. This common, prayer consisted largely in the recitation of the Psalms, hymns and prayers, of what are called the Sunday Office. This office was nearly always the same in psalms, in hymns and in every part; so that Sunday after Sunday, for many years, there was very little change in the Sunday united-prayer part of the liturgy, although the preaching on the incidents of the life of our Lord (Beckel, Messe und Pascha, p, 91), the blessings and the thanksgivings relieved the service from monotonous sameness.

A nocturn, a round of Psalms, was said on Saturday night by the vigilants preparing for the Sunday services. Before the eighth century two other short nocturns were added. This addition, which was copied from the monastic practice, built up the three nocturn form of office and became the model and form of the office for saints. "There is good reason for believing that originally the Divine Office formed part of the Mass. The synaxis, for which the early Christians assembled by night, consisted of the 'breaking of bread,' preceded by the singing of psalms and hymns, litanies and collects, readings, homilies, invocations and canticles. This was the whole official liturgical prayer, apart, of course, from private prayer" (Dom Cabrol, Day Hours of the Church, Introduction, p. xvi).

One of the chief objects of Pope Pius X. in his reform was the restoration of the liturgical importance of the Sunday office, the office of the Lord's Day, and, therefore, in its own right, superior to the saints' feasts by which it had been displaced from its special office, psalms and lessons. And this could only be effected by a change in the rules of occurrence, and in Title IV. (De Festorum occurentia, etc., section 2) we find the new rule for restoring Sunday offices to their proper liturgical rights.

In Title IV., sect, 1 (see Breviary, Additiones and Variationes) there is no change in the old rubric. The eight Sundays of the first class exclude every other feast. And the Sundays of the second class only give place to a double of the first class and then are commemorated at Lauds, Vespers and Mass, and have the ninth lesson in Matins.

But section 2 (Dominicis minoribus)... goes to the root of the matter of the new change in the rules for Sunday's liturgical office. The ordinary Sundays ranked as semi-doubles and hence their Mass and Office was superseded by the Mass and Office of some occurring feast. The length of the Sunday office, in the breviaries until lately in use, made many hearts rejoice over the occurring feast. But the almost total omission of the ancient and beautiful Sunday Masses was a misfortune and, in a sense, an unbecoming practice, which broke away from ancient liturgical rule and tradition. The abbreviation of the Sunday office in the new breviaries and the rule laid down in Title IV., sect. 2, restore Sunday's office and Sunday's Mass to their old and proper dignity.

The general rule laid down is that on Sundays throughout the year the proper office of the Sunday shall always be said. The exceptions are (1) Feasts of our Lord and their octaves, (2) Doubles of the first class, (3) Doubles of the second class. On these days the office will be the office of the feast, with commemoration in Lauds, Vespers and Mass. Henceforth Sundays are divided into:

(1) Sundays of the first class, which exclude all feasts;

(2) Sundays of the second class, which exclude all feasts save doubles of the first class;

(3) The ordinary Sundays, which exclude all but doubles of the first or second class, feasts of our Lord, and their octave days.

The date of Easter is the pivot of Calendar construction. Before Easter come the Sundays of Lent and Quinquagesima, Sexagesima, Septuagesima Sundays. Septuagesima cannot fall earlier than the eighteenth day of January, nor later than the twenty-second day of February. Hence, in some years there are fewer "Sundays after the Epiphany" than in others, owing to the dates of Easter and Septuagesima. The smaller the number of Sundays after Epiphany the greater is the number of Sundays after Pentecost. If the number of Sundays after Pentecost be twenty-five, the twenty-fourth Sunday will have the office of the sixth Sunday after Epiphany. If there be twenty-six Sundays after Pentecost, the twenty-fourth Sunday will have the office of the fifth after Epiphany, and the twenty-fifth will have that of the fifth Sunday; the twenty-sixth will be the sixth Sunday's office. It should be remembered that the Sunday called the twenty-fourth after Pentecost is always celebrated immediately before the first Sunday of Advent, even though it should not be even the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost.


NEXT SECTION: Title V.—Ferial Office. Previous

Previous Title III.—The Simple Office.


The Divine Office: A Study of the Roman Breviary

Tutoriel pour la Messe Tridentine en Latin (Français) | Tutorial on the Tridentine Latin Mass (English)
Online Tutorial for Priests | Rubrics of the 1962 Roman Missal | Learning to Serve at the Altar

Spirituality of the Tridentine Mass | Liturgical Books and Resources | Sacred Music of the Liturgy
From Sacristy to Altar | The Liturgical Year

What's New | Frequently Asked Questions
Letter from the SuperiorSite Dedication | Contact Us | How You Can Help

Copyright © 2018. Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. All Rights Reserved.