Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Part II: The Middle Ages

III. The Roman Breviary from the End of the Fourteenth Century to the Middle of the Sixteenth

Section 1.—The Effects of the Schism

The Roman Breviary: Its Sources and History

I. The Liturgy in general:—The consequences of the schism were deplorable as far as the liturgy is concerned. As we have said, it was impossible for the liturgy to be performed in a manner worthy of itself at the pontifical court of Avignon. When Christendom was divided into two obediences, the liturgical functions at Avignon were at times even ridiculous, as may be seen from reading, for example, in the Gesta Benedicti XIII.1 the account of the celebration of the Purification.

Still, Peter de Luna was one of those who attached the greatest importance to the observance of the liturgy during this melancholy period. Things were little better even in Rome. The 167th chapter of the Ordo Romanus XV. gives us to understand that the cardinals were anything but easy to manage, and showed great disinclination to take part in the ceremonies of the divine office whenever an order of the pope or master of ceremonies did not suit their convenience.2 It was inevitable that the text, the rites, and the formulas of prayers should suffer in consequence. A papal decision called forth by particular circumstances could easily be transformed into a universal law. Thus, Pope Urban VI., in 1389, having celebrated the festival of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist on a Sunday, and so displaced the Sunday office, it soon became an established rule that a feast, with certain responds proper to itself, like that of the 29th August, was to take precedence of the Sunday (see the Ordo Romanus XV., ch. 124).3 The special object of the Ordo Romanus XV. is not to set out the rules and regulations of the ceremonial performed at the papal curia, but to give a series of notes on how this ceremonial was carried out under such and such a pope under given circumstances. Just because Rome laid down no hard and fast rules, many local churches, in adopting the Breviary of the curia, continued at the same time to keep to their ancient customs and their ancient liturgical texts. Thus the offices of national or local saints were introduced into the setting of the new Roman office, while customs belonging to particular localities found their way into the office de tempore and into the festivals of our Lord.

2. Lastly, the recitation of the canonical hours was attended with much uncertainty and disorder. No one knew exactly what rule to follow, and everyone set about drawing up an ordo according to his own ideas. An edict of Pope Clement VI. gave rise to a new regulation, according to which a great number of saints, who had hitherto been commemorated by a memorial only, had now an office of their own, and also certain festivals gained the privilege of being transferred when necessary.4 Thus, in the fifteenth century, we find the beginnings of those abuses of which the theologian John de Arze, consultor of the Council of Trent, was to complain later on. An enumeration of these abuses shows into what a condition the divine office had fallen:—

(1) The suppression almost entirely of the Sunday and ferial offices; the consequent impossibility of reciting the psalter in the course of a week; the total omission of certain psalms.

(2) The multiplication of different offices on the same day, throwing into the shade the chief features of the special celebration, and interfering with the pleasure which might have been given by the simple office de Tempore. It has to be remembered that the little office of our Lady, the office for the Dead, and the penitential or gradual psalms regularly followed the ferial office.

(3) The substitution of legends, apocryphal stories, and certain other texts of doubtful value for Holy Scripture in the antiphons, hymns, and responds.5 Doubtless, the increase in the number of festivals of saints did not fail to benefit those who had to recite the Breviary; still, as canonizations became very numerous during these centuries, as may be seen from a study of the Bullarium, the increase in festivals must have obscured the character of the liturgical year, which represents the teaching, sufferings, and triumph of the God-Man.

Humanism, which we shall see patronized by some popes, such as Nicholas V. and certain of his successors, had also its influence upon the divine office—an influence not always conducive to piety. The supernatural beauty of the formulas was imperilled by the rejection of the rough and inelegant form in which they were cast. Attractiveness of outward form went for everything, no importance being attached to what lay beneath the surface; the connection between the natural and the supernatural was disregarded; a dislike of the spiritual nourishment offered by the Holy Scripture became general.

1 Muratori, Rerum italicarum scriptores, iii. 177 and 800.
2 Migne, Patr, Lat., lxxviii. 1368.
3 Ibid., lxxviii. 1344.
4 Ordo Romanus XV., ch. 101 and 123. Migne, Patr, Lat., lxxviii. 1339, 1344.
5 Compare the complaints of Raoul of Tongres mentioned above, p. 101.