Divine Office – Divinum Officium

The Divine Office

A Study of the Roman Breviary

Part III.—The Canonical Hours.

Chapter IV. Vespers And Compline, The Little Office Of The Blessed Virgin (Title XXXVII)

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Etymology. The word vespers comes directly from the Latin Vesper; Vespera or Espera was a name given to the star Venus, which rising in the evening was a call to prayer. This Hour is recited after None and before Compline. In structure, it resembles Lauds, Pater Noster, Ave, Gloria, Five Psalms with antiphons, Capitulum, Hymn, Versicle, antiphon, Magnificat, antiphon and collect.

It had several synonymous names. It was called Duodecima Hora (Antiphonary of Bangor), because it was said at the twelfth hour of the day, six o'clock, or, perhaps, the name came from the twelve psalms which made up the Hour in some churches. It was known, too, by the names Lucernarium, hora lucernalis, the hour of the candles; because at this hour a number of candles were lighted, not only to shed light but for symbolic purposes. It was sometimes referred to as hora incensi, from the custom of burning incense at this evening service, and sometimes it is called gratiarum actio (St. Isidore), because it gives thanks to God for the graces given during the day. It came to mean not the evening Hour, but the sunset Hour. And in the sixth century it was celebrated before daylight had gone and before there was any need for artificial light. In the fourth century it was recited by torchlight.

Antiquity. The Jews honoured God by special and solemn evening service. Their feasts by God's command began in the evening. "From evening unto evening you shall celebrate your sabbaths" (Lev. xxiii, 32). And David sang "Evening and morning and at noon I will speak and declare" (Psalm 54:32). The eariy Christians faithfully followed the practice.

"In the sixth century, the order of Psalms, etc., in Vespers differed little from the Vespers in our modern Breviaries. Long before the sixth century there were evening Offices in various forms. Its existence in the fourth century is also confirmed by St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Basil, St. Ephraem ... Before the fourth century we find allusions to the evening prayer in the early Fathers, Clement I. of Rome, St. Ignatius, St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, the Canons of St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian (for texts see Baumer-Biron; 1. c.t. 20 seq. 73-74, 76, 78)"–(Dorn Cabrol, Cath. Ency., art "Vespers").

Why do we offer up public prayer in the evening? The old liturgists reply:–

1. To imitate the devout Christians of apostolic times.

2. To honour Jesus, the true Sun of the world, Who hid Himself at His Incarnation, and in His life, and Whose glory was hidden in His Passion.

3. To thank Christ for the Eucharist, which He instituted in the evening of His earthly life, ... "and they prepared the Pasch. But when it was evening (vespere autem) He sat down with His twelve disciples" (St. Matthew, xxvi. 20). At this vesper meeting He gave to priests the power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, to change bread and wine into His body and blood. At this vesper service, too, Christ and His apostles celebrated the divine praises, "Hymno dicto" (St. Matthew xxvi. 30).

4. In the evening our Lord's body was taken down from the cross.

5. At the approach of evening Christ appeared to His disciples at Emmaus and revealed to them His divinity. "Stay with us because it is towards evening (advesperascit) and He went in with them. He took bread and blessed and brake and gave it to them and their eyes were opened and they knew Him" (St. Luke xxiv. 29-30). At Vespers we thank God for the Eucharist.

The hymns at Vespers date for the most part from the sixth century. They are of great beauty and have the peculiar characteristic of telling of the days of creation. Thus St. Gregory's (?) fine hymn, Lucis Creator optime, in Sunday's Vespers, refers to the creation of light; Monday's hymn, Immense coeli Creator, refers to the separation of land and water; Wednesday's hymn (written probably by St. Ambrose), Coeli Deus sanctissime, refers to the creation of the sun and moon; the hymns for Thursday's vespers, Magnae Deus potentiae, refers to the creation of fish and birds; Friday's hymn, Hominis superne conditor (St. Gregory), refers to the creation of the beasts of the earth; Saturday's hymn (St. Ambrose) is an exception, as it refers to the Trinity. All these hymns have been beautifully translated into English and the text and translations repay study.

Sunday's hymn, Lucis Creator optime, stands thus in translation:–

"O blest Creator of the light, Who makest the day with radiance bright, And o'er the forming world didst call The light from chaos first of all.

Whose wisdom joined in sweet array The morn and eve and named them day, Night comes with all its darkening fears; Regard Thy people's prayers and tears,

Lest sunk in sin, and whelmed with strife, They lose the gift of endless life; While thinking—but the thoughts of time, They weave new chains of woe and crime.

But grant them grace that they may strain The heavenly gate and prize to gain; Each harmful lure aside to cast, And purge away each error past.

O Father, that we ask be done, Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son; Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee, Doth live and reign eternally. Amen."

(Translation by Dr. J.M. Neale).

Structure. Vespers, in structure, resembles Lauds and consists of five Psalms. It begins with Pater Noster, Ave (said silently), Deus in adjutorium,... Domine ad adjuvandum.... Gloria Patri.... Sicut erat. Alleluia or Laus tibi.... Antiphon begun only if the feast be not double; if feast be a double the antiphon is said in full before and after each psalm. If feast be a semi-double or simple the antiphon is intoned at the beginning and is said in full at end of each psalm and then only. Then are said Capitulum, Deo gratias, Hymn, versicle and response, antiphon to Magnificat, the canticle Magnificat, Gloria Patri.... Sicut erat.... Dominus vobiscum.... Et cum spiritu tuo, Oremus, collect, commemoration if any made by versicle and response and antiphon of Magnificat proper to commemoration with collect, Dominus vobiscum, Et cum.... Benedicamus Domino; Deo gratias, Fidelium animae.... Amen. If Compline be not said immediately after Vespers, Pater Noster is added.

At the opening words of the Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis and Benedictus, it is a practice with many priests to make the sign of the cross from forehead to breast, as at Deus in adjutorium (cf. Ceremoniale Epis. lib. II. i. 14). This custom, where it exists, should be preserved (S.R.C., April, 1867).

Writers on liturgy tell us that the number of Psalms in Vespers have a symbolic meaning, typifying the five wounds of the Saviour, the last of which, the wound in the side, was inflicted on the evening of Good Friday, and the others, as the Church says in the hymn Vergente mundi vespere, at the waning of the day of the Old Law, before the dawn of salvation (Honorius of Autun, circa 1130). Other writers say that these five psalms should produce acts of contrition for the sins committed during the day, by the five senses; and that they should be for us, morally, what the five lighted lamps were for the wise virgins in the Gospel parable (Amalare of Metz, circa 850).

Magnificat. Author. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the author of this canticle. "The witness of the codices and of the Fathers is practically unanimous for the Vulgate reading: 'Et ait Maria,' but apart from this, the attribution of the Magnificat to Elizabeth would in St. Luke's context be highly abnormal" (Dr. H. T. Henry, Cath. Encyc., word, Magnificat)–The Roman Breviary entitles it Canticum Beatae Marine Virginis.

It is divided by commentators into three parts (St. Luke 1, vv. 46-49; 50-53; 54-55). It "is in many places very similar in thought and phrase to the Canticle of Anna (I. Kings ii. 1-10) and to various psalms (Ps. 33, vv. 3-4; Ps. 39, v. 9; Ps. 70, v. 9; Ps. 125, vv. 2-3; Ps. 110, v. 9; Ps. 97, v. 1; Ps. 117, v. 16; Ps. 32, v. 10; Ps. 92, v. 7; Ps. 33, v. 11; Ps. 97, v-3; Ps. 131, v. 11). Similarities are found in Hab. c. III. v. 18; Mal. c. III. v. 12; Job. c. 5, v. 11; Is, c. 41, v. 8; Is. c. 149, v. 3, and Gen. c. 17, v. 19. Steeped thus in scriptural thought and Phraseology, summing up in its inspired ecstasy the economy of God with His chosen people, indicating the fulfilment of olden prophecy, and prophesying anew until end of time, the Magnificat is the crown of the Old Testament singing, the last canticle of the Old and the first of the New Testament. It is an ecstasy of praise for the inestimable favour bestowed by God on the Virgin, for the mercies shown to Israel, and for the fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs" (Dr. Henry, loc. cit.).

It is found universally in the ancient liturgies and affords a proof of the apostolic and universal praise of the Blessed Virgin. Durandus (thirteenth century) gives some reasons for the assignment of the Magnificat to Vespers. Because Vespers is the grandest liturgical Hour; because Mary probably arrived at the house of Elizabeth in the evening; because it was in the moral evening of the world that Mary consented to be the Mother of God; because she is the star of the sea, etc. The following interesting reason for the use of the Magnificat at Vespers is given by St. Bede (works 5, 306). "It comes to pass, by the bounty of the Lord, that if we were at all times to meditate upon the acts and sayings of the Blessed Virgin, the observance of chastity and the works of virtue will always continue with us. For, the excellent and salutary custom has grown up in Holy Church that all shall sing her hymn (the Magnificat) every day with the Vesper Psalms, in order that the recalling of the Lord's incarnation, by this means, may the oftener incite the souls of the faithful to devotion and that the consideration of the example set by His Mother may confirm them in the stability of virtue. And it is meet that this should be done at Vespers, so that the mind wearied in the course of the day, and distracted by various opinions, may, at the approach of the season of quiet, collect itself in oneness of meditation and through the wholesome reminder may hasten to cleanse itself, by the prayers and tears of the night, from everything useless or harmful which it had contracted by the business of the day."

Suffrages of the Saints. (Title XXXV.) In Sec.2 of rubrics of the new Breviary we read, "Deinceps, quando facienda erunt suffragia sanctorum, unum fiet suffragium, juxta formulam propositam in Ordinario novi Psalterii." Thus were abolished the old formulae of suffrages and a new one inserted.

Antiphon Beata Dei Genitrix.... V. Mitificavit .... R. Et exaudivit.... Oremus, A cunctis....

This will be said at Lauds and Vespers outside Paschal time (1) on all Sundays and ferias, (2) on semi-doubles and simples, except (a) in Advent and Passiontide, (b) when there is a commemoration of a double, a day within an octave. In Paschal time the Commemoration is of the Cross.

In this prayer the names of the Holy Angels and of St. John the Baptist, if they be titulars, are inserted before the name of St. Joseph. At the letter N. in the prayer, the name of the titular saint of the particular church should be inserted; but churches dedicated by the title of a mystery (e.g., the Ascension) are not to be named in this prayer (S.R.C., March, 1912).


1. "Woman, behold thy Son; Behold Thy mother" (St. John, c. 19),

2. "I thirst" (St. John, c. 19).

3. "And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to His mouth" (St. John, c. 19).

General Intentions. The conversion of sinners; the wants of the Church; those in death agony; spread of Eucharistic devotion; daily Communion; priest adorers; reparation for bad Communions; reparation for impieties and irreverences towards the Eucharist.

Personal Intentions. Regularity in visits to Blessed Sacrament; Fervour in Mass and in administering Holy Communion; a happy death; true and deep devotion to Mary.

Special Intentions. The Irish Daily Mass Crusade; Total Abstinence; devotion to the Passion; devotion to the agonising Heart of Jesus.


Etymology and synonym. The word compline comes from the Latin word complere, to complete, to finish, because this Hour completes or finishes the day Hours of the Office. It bore several names, Completa (St. Isidore), Initium noctis (St. Columbanus), Prima noctis hora (St. Fructeux).

Antiquity. The origin of this Hour has given rise to a great deal of controversy. Both Baumer and Battifol in their histories of the Breviary attribute the origin of this Hour to St. Benedict (480-543). Other scholars attribute its origin to St. Basil, and hence date it from the fourth century. It is admitted that before the time of St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (370-379) this Hour was in existence. Some hold that St. Basil established the Hour in the East and St. Benedict in the West. The latter certainly invested the Hour with the liturgical character and arrangement which were preserved by the Benedictines and adapted by the Roman Church. The Compline of the Roman Church is more ornate and solemn than the liturgy assigned to this Hour by St. Benedict, which was very simple. The addition of the response In manus tuas Domine, the Nunc dimittis and its anthem of the Blessed Virgin make this Hour one of great beauty.

Structure, The structure of the Hour seems to point to its monastic origin, "The reader begins, 'Pray, Father, a blessing' (jube, domne benedicere); the blessing, 'The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.' 'Noctem quietam....' Then follows a short lesson, which the Father Abbot gave to his monks. 'Brethren, be sober and watch; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist ye, strong in faith. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy on us.' And the monks answer 'Thanks be to God.' 'Fratres sobrii estote et vigilate....' Then the Pater Noster (silently), and the presiding priest, who was the Abbot or his deputy, said the confiteor and the choir answered Misereatur.... 'May Almighty God have mercy upon thee and forgive thee thy sins, and bring thee to life everlasting.' The choir then repeats the Confiteor and the priest replies 'Misereatur vestri....' 'May Almighty God have mercy upon you, forgive you your sins and bring you to life everlasting.'" Of course, in private recitation, or where two or three recite the Office, these prayers are said only once, and in the Confiteor, tibi pater and te pater are omitted, and nostri, nostris, nos, nostrorum, nobis, are said in the Misereatur and Indulgentiam.

Then the Converte nos Deus.... At averte iram tuam.... Deus in adjutorium.... Domine ad adjuvandum.... Gloria Patri.... Antiphon (begun only) and three psalms, which vary, are said, Gloria Patri.... Sicut erat... being said at the end of each. In manus tuas... is said twice. Redemisti nos. ... Commendo spiritum meum; Custodi nos ... sub umbra.... Salva nos; Nunc dimittis.... Gloria Patri, Salva nos Domine vigilantes, custodi nos... pace. (Preces are said here if rubric orders; i.e., Kyrie eleison, Christie eleison... ad te veniat); Dominus vobiscum, Et cum.... Benedicamus Domino, Deo gratias; Benedicat et custodiat nos omnipotens. Amen; then the anthem of the Blessed Virgin, Alma Redemptoris Mater (from Saturday before first Sunday of Advent to the feast of the Purification, inclusive) with its antiphon; in Advent, Angelus Domini, response, Et concepit, Oremus and prayer, Gratiam tuam, or with antiphon (after Advent) Post partum... and response, Dei genetrix, Oremus, Deus qui salutis. After the Purification, until Holy Thursday the anthem is Ave regina coelorum, with versicle Dignare me ..., Da mihi, Oremus, Concedemisericors. From Holy Saturday until Saturday after Pentecost, the anthem is Regina coeli with versicle, Gaude... and response, Quia surrexit.... Oremus and prayer, Deus qui per resurrectionem. From Holy Trinity Sunday to the Saturday before Advent, the antiphon is Salve Regina with versicle, Ora pro nobis... response, Ut digni, Oremus and prayer, Omnipotens semipeterne Deus. Then the versicle Divinum auxilium.... Amen. Pater Noster, Ave, Credo, in silence, are said. The Sacro-sanctae is added (see pp. 133-135).

The study of the component parts of this Hour are of great interest. After the Abbot had given his blessing and begged of God to grant the two-fold favour of a quiet night and a good death, a monk read from Holy Scripture, and when a suitable portion was read, or at the end of a Scripture chapter or theme, the Abbot said, "Tu autem," and the reader "Tu autem, Domine, miserere nobis." This was to ask God to pardon faults both of reader in his reading and of monks, who, perhaps, were drowsy and inattentive. The Abbot terminated the exercise by the Adjutorium nostrum (the Pater Noster is of more recent introduction). Monks who were absent substituted for the Scripture lesson which they had missed, the pithy extract from St. Peter, "Fratres; sobrii estote," which we now read. The whole company of monks and their abbot then proceeded to the chapel where each made his examination of conscience, and at a sign from the abbot, the monks, two by two, in a subdued tone of voice, said the Confiteor, Misereatur, Indulgentiam and Converte nos. Gavantus and Merati hold that the Converte nos does not belong to this introductory matter, but formed part of Compline proper. This prayer is very beautiful: "Convert us, O God, our Saviour. And turn away Thine anger from us. Incline unto my aid, O God; O Lord, make haste to help us. Glory be to the Father,... Praise be to God."

The new arrangement of the Psalter did not retain the old traditional psalms, 4, 90, 133, in Compline, except for Sundays and solemn feasts. But the selection of psalms accords well with the idea of the hour—night prayer—and with the other prayers, which go to make up the close of the Office of the day. The hymn, Te lucis, so chastely simple, has ever been admired. Its ideas suit so admirably for the prayer before sleep and for reminding us of sleep and her sister death and the solemn petition made to God to be our guardian and defence in the solemn hour of death, are simply and solemnly set out in this daily hymn. How beautiful it reads in Father Caswall's translation:–

"Now with the fast departing light, Maker of all, we ask of Thee Of Thy great mercy, through the night, Our guardian and defence to be.

Far off let idle visions fly, No phantom of the night molest: Curb Thou our raging enemy, That we in chaste repose may rest.

Father of mercies! hear our cry; Hear us, O sole-begotten Son! Who, with the Holy Ghost most high, Reignest while endless ages run."

In Passiontide, the Breviary gives us the last verse, Deo Patri, and the translation renders it:–

"To Thee, Who dead again dost live, All glory, Jesus, ever be, Praise to the Father, infinite, And Holy Ghost eternally."

Little Chapter. This is a beautiful call to our Lord to remind Him, as it were, that we are His own, that we bear His name. In this invocation we express our confidence in Him and ask Him not to abandon us, but to dwell with us. "But Thou, O Lord, art among us, and Thy holy name is invoked upon us; forsake us not, O Lord our God"; and for past protection the Church adds to their invocation, taken from the prophet Jeremias, the words of gratitude, "Thanks be to God."

The Response. "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum... nos." "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit. For Thou hast redeemed us, O Lord God of Truth. I commend my spirit. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of Thine eye. Protect us under the shadow of Thy wings." No more sublime prayer exists in the liturgy than this response, which the Church orders us to say nightly. She wishes, in its daily recital, to prepare us for death, by reminding us of the sentiments and words of our dying Lord on the cross, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit" (Ps. 30, v. 6), and by asking Him Who redeemed us on the bitter tree, to keep us safe as the apple of His eye and to protect us "under the shadow of His wings" (Ps. 40, v, 6). These solemn words of our dying Saviour have been, in all ages, and in all lands, the death prayer of many of those whom He redeemed, with the great price. St. Stephen, the proto-martyr, prayed "Lord Jesus receive my spirit." "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit," prayed St. Basil in his death agony. "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit," prayed thousands of God's servants, heroes and heroines, e.g., Savanarola, Columbus, Father Southwell, the martyr Mary, Queen of Scots, and countless other servants of God.

Nunc Dimittis. The canticle Nunc dimittis is the last in historical sequence of the three great canticles of the New Testament. It was spoken at the presentation of Christ, by Simeon, "This man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the spirit into the temple. And when His parents brought the child Jesus to do for him according to the custom of the law. He also took Him in his arms and blessed God and said 'Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace....'" (St. Luke ii. 29-33). This sublime canticle uttered by the holy old man at the close of his days is placed fittingly in the priest's Office at the close of the day. It breathes his thanks, expresses his love and his wish to die, having seen the Saviour.

Before the canticle are said the opening words of the antiphon, "Salva nos"; and it is repeated in full at the end. "Save us, O Lord, while we are awake, and guard us when we sleep, that we may watch with Christ and rest in peace."

The prayers, Kyrie eleison, Christie eleison, etc., are said always except when a double office or a day within an octave has been commemorated at Vespers. The prayer, Visita quaesumus is found in Breviaries of the thirteenth century and was introduced probably by the Friars Minor. The words habitationem istam are said to indicate that it is a prayer not only for the chapel of the friars, but for their dwellings on journeys. It was said in choir by the abbot or presiding priest. Like all prayers for Compline it begs God to drive far away the snares of the enemy; it begs Him to let His angels dwell in that house to keep the dwellers therein, in peace; and finally, it begs Him to "let Thy blessing be always upon us. Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen."

After the Dominus vobiscum and its response, the abbot or presiding priest gave the solemn blessing "Benedicat et custodiet..., May the Almighty and merciful Lord, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, bless and preserve us. Amen."

Then one of the anthems of the Blessed Virgin Mary is said. From the Saturday before Advent until the feast of the Purification, inclusive, is said the anthem "Alma Redemptoris Mater"; translated by Father Caswall, it reads:–

"Mother of Christ, hear Thou thy people's cry, Star of the deep and portal of the sky, Mother of Him who Thee from nothing made, Sinking we strive and call to Thee for aid. Oh, by that joy which Gabriel brought to Thee, Thou Virgin first and last, let us Thy mercy see."

The Latin hexameters are attributed to Hermanus (circa 1054). It has been translated by several poets great and small, and is well known in Newman's translation, "Kindly Mother of the Redeemer." It was a popular hymn in Norman Ireland and in Catholic England, as we see in Chaucer's "Prioress's Tale." After this anthem are said its versicle, response, and prayer Oremus, Gratiam tuam quaesumus.

From the first Vespers of the Nativity, the versicle, response and prayer said are "Post partum ...; Dei Genetrix.... Oremus, Deus qui salutis." ... From the end of Compline on February 2nd until Holy Thursday exclusive the antiphon is "Ave Regina coelorum." It appears to be of monastic origin, and St. Jerome attributes it to St. Ephraem. Its expressions are borrowed from the works of St. Ephraem, of St. Athanasius and of other doctors, and its theme is Mary, as Queen of Heaven, the dawn of our salvation, and an extolling of her beauty.

From Compline of Holy Saturday, inclusive, until None of the Saturday after the feast of Pentecost, inclusive, the "Regina coeli" is said. It is a very old composition, but its author is unknown. Some authors attribute it to St. Gregory the Great (590-604). Others, following a venerable tradition, say that the three first lines were the composition of angels, and the fourth, Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia, was added by Pope Gregory. The legend tells us that when in the year 596 Rome was desolated by the plague, Pope Gregory the Great exhorted his people to penance and prayer, and carrying in his hands the picture of the Blessed Virgin, said to be painted by St. Luke, he led them in procession to the church, Afa Coeli, on Easter morn. When the procession was passing Adrian's Mole, angel voices were heard chanting the Regina Coeli, and the Pope astonished and rejoiced added the words "Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia," and immediately a shining angel appeared and sheathed his sword, the plague ceased on that very day (Gueranger, Liturgical Year, "Paschal Time," Part I., p. iii; Duffy, Dublin). Attempts at translation have been indifferent.

From the first Vespers of the feast of the Most Hoiy Trinity to the None of the Saturday before Advent, the Salve Regina is said. The authorship was assigned to St. Bernard (1091-1153). But scholars reject this theory. It is assigned to Petrus de Monsoro (circa 1000) and to Adehemar, but the claims of both are doubtful. In 1220 the general chapter of Cluny ordered its daily chanting before the high altar, after the Capitulum. The use of the anthem at Compline was begun by the Dominicans about 1221 and the practice spread rapidly. It was introduced into the "modernised." Franciscan Breviary in the thirteenth century. The Carthusians sing it daily at Vespers; the Cistercians sing it after Compline, and the Carmelites say it after every Hour of the Office. It is said after every low Mass throughout the world. It was especially obnoxious to Luther, who several times denounced it, as did the Jansenists also. It is recorded in the lives of several saints that the Blessed Virgin, to show her love for this beautiful prayer, showed to them her Son, at the moment they said "Et Jesum ... nobis post hoc exilium ostende."

Speaking of these antiphons of the Blessed Virgin, Battifol, in his History of the Roman Breviary (English ed.), writes: "We owe a just debt of gratitude to those who gave us the antiphons of the Blessed Virgin ... four exquisite compositions, though in style enfeebled by sentimentality."

After the antiphon of the Blessed Virgin the versicle and response are said. Then Oremus and prayer "Omnipotens sempiterne Deus ... Divinum auxilium ... Amen," are said. Then the Pater Noster, Ave and Credo are said silently, and this finishes the Hour. The prayer Sacro-sanctae et individuae.... V. Beata viscera ... R. Et beata ubera ... Pater Noster and Ave are generally added though not of obligation. They are to be said kneeling. The reading of this well-known and oft-repeated prayer, in its English translation, may bring fresh and fervent thoughts to priests, for it is a sublime prayer:–

"To the most holy and undivided Trinity, to the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, to the fruitful virginity of the most glorious Mary ever a Virgin, and to the company of all the saints, be given by every creature, eternal praise, honour, power and glory, and to us the remission of all our sins. Amen. Blessed be the womb of the Virgin Mary, which bore the Son of the Eternal Father. And blessed be the breasts which gave suck to Christ our Lord."


1. "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."

2. "It is finished."

3. "For this Thou hast redeemed us, O God of truth."

General Intentions. The spread of the faith; the Pope; the Church in France and in Spain; for the Church in Australia.

Personal Intentions. A happy death; fervour in administering the last sacraments; devotion to St. Joseph, patron of a happy death.

Special Intentions, For the sick poor of Ireland; for persons dying without the last sacraments; for those dying all alone; for dying sinners.


Origin. This Office dates from the eighth century at least. Pope Gregory II. (715-731) and Pope Gregory III. (731-741) ordered the monks to say this little Office in addition to their great Office. The practice was observed by St. John Damascene (676-787) and by St. Peter Damien (1007-1072).This usage was confined to monasteries only. At the end of the eleventh century the practice became almost universal. Pope Urban II. (1088-1099) besought the special aid of the Blessed Virgin in his crusade against the Turks and recommended all clerics to recite the little Office. Provincial councils prescribed its use and some canonists held it to be obligatory. However, the Bull Quod a nobis of Pope Pius V. (9 July, 1568) removed all obligation of the private recital of this Office, but he exhorted all to continue the practice and granted indulgences for its recitation.


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