Thursday, June 08, 2006

tract 75 and some thoughts on the daily office / unreformed breviary, &c

The following is from J.H. Newman's Tract 75: ON THE ROMAN BREVIARY AS EMBODYING THE SUBSTANCE OF THE DEVOTIONAL SERVICES OF THE CHURCH CATHOLIC. I've been reading said tract. Very interesting. To me anyway.

For those who don't know, John Henry Newman was a bulwark of the Oxford Movement (a.k.a. the Tractarian Movement) in the Church of England in the middle of the 19th century, which sought, in a way, a counter-reformation of Anglicanism, to turn the Church of England from some of the excesses of Reformation, to the theological and devotional pattern of the ancient, universal Church.

Newman later became a Roman Catholic, and was made a cardinal. He was declared "venerable" by the Roman Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in 1991.

Tract 75, its title notwithstanding, is indicative of the superiority of certain elements of the Anglican Daily Office to that of the Roman (at least as it stood before Vatican II; I don't know much about the current Liturgy of the Hours). Namely, that in Anglican usage, emphasis is placed on the reading of Scripture, which is gone through (nearly) entire every two years. Likewise, all 150 Psalms are gone through every month (if the original, in-course Psalmody scheme of 1662 is used). This too, incidentally, constitutes a superiority of the Prayer Book Daily Office over the Anglican Breviary. In this respect at least the Anglican Daily Office is more in keeping with the Breviary prior to, say, the 12th or 13th century.

Don't get me wrong: I love the Roman Breviary, and the sevenfold (or eightfold, depending on whether you count Matins and Lauds as a unit) Daily Office. But there was during the Middle Ages a fairly dramatic inflation of feasts and devotional accretions, the net effect of which was to diminish the original purpose and one of the great strengths of the Daily Office: the sanctification of one's life and time by way of an intentional and ordered pattern of devotion grounded in Holy Scripture. In other words, as saints legends, proper psalms for feast days, and Marian antiphons (terrific in themselves) were added to the Office, they displaced the in-course, weekly psalmody as well as the regular and healthy dosage of Scripture readings.

Incidentally, I would be very interested to see Cardinal Quignon's reformed Breviary, printed during the time of Paul III, which seems to be a reform of the Roman Breviary very much in the spirit of the 16th century Anglican Reforms of the Ante-Reformation Breviary (chiefly, I suppose, Sarum).

Here then is an excerpt from Tract 75. It is an interesting demonstration of the continuity between the Breviary (and by, implication, the Prayer Book Daily Office) and early Christian and (earlier) Jewish patterns of daily prayer. Read the whole thing here.

Gregory VII. did but restore and harmonize these offices; which seem to have existed more or less the same in their constituent parts, though not in order and system, from Apostolic times. In their present shape they are appointed for seven distinct seasons in the twenty-four hours, and consist of prayers, praises, and thanksgivings of various forms; and, as regards both contents and hours, are the continuation of a system of worship observed by the Apostles and their converts. As to contents, the Breviary Services consist of the Psalms; of Hymns, and Canticles; of Lessons and Texts from inspired and ecclesiastical authors; of Antiphons, Verses and Responses, and Sentences; and of Collects. And analogous to this seems to have been the usage of the Corinthian Christians, whom St. Paul blames for refusing to agree in some common order of worship; when they came together, every one of them saying a Psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation, an interpretation. On the other hand, the Catholic seasons of devotions are certainly derived from Apostolic usage. The Jewish observance of the third, sixth, and ninth hours for prayer, was continued by the inspired founders of the Christian Church. What Daniel had practised, even when the decree was signed forbidding it, "kneeling on his knees three times a day, and praying, and giving thanks unto his GOD," St. Peter and the other Apostles were solicitous in preserving. It was when "they were all with one accord in one place," at "the third hour of the day," that the HOLY GHOST came down upon them at Pentecost. It was at the sixth hour, that St. Peter, "went up upon the house-top to pray," and saw the vision revealing to him the admission of the Gentiles into the Church. And it was at the ninth hour that "Peter and John went up together unto the temple." being "the hour of prayer." But though these were the more remarkable seasons of devotion, there certainly were others besides them, in that first age of the Church. After our SAVIOUR'S departure, the Apostles, we are informed, "all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren:" and with this accords the repeated exhortation to pray together without ceasing, which occurs in St. Paul's Epistles. It will be observed that he insists in one passage on prayer to the abridgment of sleep; and one recorded passage of his life exemplifies his precept. "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto GOD, and the prisoners heard them." Surely it is more natural to suppose that this act of worship came in course, according to their wont, and was only not omitted because of their imprisonment, somewhat after Daniel's pattern, than that they should have gone aside to bear this sort of indirect testimony to the Gospel.


First Apostle said...

This is a most interesting and useful post, Father.

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

I wasn't aware of this tract before now--thanks!

The preface to the 1549 BCP sums it up nicely--the original system was a yearly read-through. Historically speaking, both Newman and Cranmer are quite correct. Ordo XIII (8th cent. or so) gives the substance of the readings for the Night Office and the whole round is completed in a year (with supplemental readings in the refectory for the bits missed in choir. A native English "fact on the ground" is the near replication of this scheme by Aelfric of Eynsham, abbot, in his *Letter to the Monks at Eynsham*; at the very end he details the readings to be used. (Tangentially, this work is excellent stuff for any student of English historical liturgy and the modern editor/translator did a *fantastic* job with it.)

I'm quite enamored of the 1662 scheme which also seeks to read through most of the OT once in a year and the NT three times during the Offices but have never actually tried it.

This scheme is really important for our Anglican spirituality though most people don't know about it. Essentially, this is why the Mass lectionary *can* be so spotty--it can focus on the mysteries of the Redeemer because the totality of Scripture is covered in the Offices...

mmbx said...

Good history of fixed hour prayer, Father.

Paul Goings said...

This too, incidentally, constitutes a superiority of the Prayer Book Daily Office over the Anglican Breviary.

The Divine Office is not a Bible study. This is a pernicious idea which came out of the Reformation.

The prominence of the in-course recitation of the Psalter was restored by Pope S. Pius X in 1913 (somewhat to the detriment of the structure of Lauds, but that's another story).

father wb said...

PG -

I commend Cassian's "Institutes of the Coenobia" to your attention, particularly the following pernicious passage, wherein he describes the practice in late 16th century Geneva, which Cassian has apparently mistaken for 4th century "Egypt":

"So, as we said, throughout the whole of Egypt and the Thebaid the number of Psalms is fixed at twelve both at Vespers and in the office of Nocturns, in such a way that at the close two lessons follow, one from the Old and the other from the New Testament. And this arrangement, fixed ever so long ago, has continued unbroken to the present day throughout so many ages, in all the monasteries of those districts, because it is said that it was no appointment of man's invention, but was brought down from heaven to the fathers by the ministry of an angel."