Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Part II: The Middle Ages

Chapter I: The Formation of the Breviary in Its Early Stages

From St. Gregory to Charlemagne, 591-814

Section 4.—Some Peculiarities in the Office

The Roman Breviary: Its Sources and History

We have somewhat exceeded the limits of the period dealt with in this chapter, but before we leave the period (591-814) altogether, we must say a few words on the structure of the hours in the ninth century. The antiphons, psalms, and responds were almost the same as at the present day; still, a few peculiarities may be noticed. At Matins in Easter week the same psalms were not then recited daily during the Octave, but three were said each day, beginning with the 1st psalm and ending with the 18th or 24th. At Vespers on great feasts, according to Amalarius and Mabillon, the ferial psalms for Saturday were often employed. On festivals which for the most part fell on week-days, such as Christmas, Epiphany, SS. Peter and Paul, St. Lawrence, the Assumption, two Matins were recited, those of the feria and those of the feast. The former was a kind of Vigil composed only of the psalms of the feria and three lections without invitatory. One of the two offices for Christmas was afterwards transferred in a somewhat modified form to the 1st January, as an “Officium de B. Maria Virgine,” or “de Circumcisione vel Octava Domini,” and one of the two Epiphany offices was transferred to the 13th January. This explains the absence of the invitatory in the office of this festival, the 94th psalm occurring in the nocturns. According to Amalarius, it was only in his own day, during the ninth century, that the second office began to be transferred to another day. At Rome, where the canons of St. Peter’s had first to assist at their own night office and then in the morning went with the pope to celebrate the papal office in another basilica, the custom of double offices was observed for some time longer.

The recitation of the hours in choir and in church took up much more time then than now, owing to the length of the lections and the singing of the antiphons. Even if the psalms were no longer recited by one person as at first, the antiphons and second half of the verse being repeated by all together after each verse, still the custom of inserting an antiphon either after each verse or after every two or three verses, was maintained.

Other customs were also observed, such as frequent incensations, the insertion of tropes and sequences— methods adopted by the Church in order to appeal to the senses, to lift up the hearts of men towards heaven, and to give to the faithful in the house of God a foretaste of the joys and splendours of Paradise