As my intention in writing this book is, above all, to be practical, and to give what help I can for understanding the Office, I must now treat of the formation of the Liturgical prayer, and discuss the materials which the Church uses. A knowledge of these points is of capital importance for all who wish to enter intelligently into the mind of the Church, and to use rightly the great privilege of being her representatives. The more we know about the Church and her ways, the more shall we value everything she sets her seal upon. Psallite sapienter ("Sing ye wisely"), says the Psalmist [Psalm. xlvii. 7.] ; and wisdom is knowing.
Our Divine Master Himself has given us the form upon which all public prayer must be based. The Pater Noster is the simplest and most perfect expression of the relations between a creature and the Maker. Thus shall ye pray [Matt. vi. 9.] said He in answer to the disciples' petition Lord teach us how to pray [Ibid]. The Divine Wisdom having deigned to show us what manner of petition becomes us and is pleasing in His sight, it follows that every other prayer, to be profitable, must be laid on the lines of the Lord's Prayer; for, as St. Augustine says : If we pray rightly and fittingly, then, whatever words we may use, we offer no petition but those that are found in this prayer of our Lord's. The Office, then, is only the Pater Noster carried out into detail, expanded and commented upon.
From the earliest ages of the Church Christians were accustomed to meet together for religious exercises. Naturally they would take what was at hand and add to it certain features of their own. It is certain that the form of worship which prevailed in the synagogues (in contra-distinction to that observed in the Temple) and in which the earliest Christians were wont to join [Acts ii. 42, 46; iii. I; xv. 21.], consisted mainly of singing psalms, reading Holy Scripture, exhortation, and common prayer. These features the Christians retained what time they separated from, or were driven out of, the synagogues. To this liturgical form of prayer they joined, on the Lord's Day at least, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the New Law, and grouped their vocal prayer around this central act of worship. At early dawn and at eventide they assembled to sing praise to God. Pliny the Younger, writing [Book x., n. 97.] to Trajan, says of the Christians in his province of Bythnia, that they were a law-abiding folk, and did no harm ; their only peculiarity being to meet early in the morning of the first day of the week and sing hymns to Christ as to a God. Thus Lauds, the song of praise at day-break, and Vespers, the even-song, are the two original Offices of the Church. These two hours were to consecrate to God the whole day, the beginning and the end: And the evening and the morning were the first day [Gen. i. 5.]. David had said, To Thee do I watch at break of day [Ps. Ixii. i.]; and Let my prayer ascend to Thee, 0 Lord, like incense in Thy sight, and the lifting tip of my hands as an evening sacrifice [Ps. cxli. 2.]. In the service of the Temple, too, there were the morning and the evening sacrifices ; and so it was natural that at those two hours the sacrifice of lips praising His name [Heb. xiii. 15.] should be also offered. As time went on and Christians became more numerous, when the custom arose of keeping festivals at the tombs of martyrs on their anniversary, the pious lay-folk and the religious of that time used, out of private devotion, to keep vigil at the sacred spot ; and, by singing psalms and reading the Scriptures, pass the time until the bishop and his clergy arrived at dawn for the Lauds and subsequent sacrifice. These Vigils, which were in the beginning entirely voluntary and the spontaneous action of the laity and religious, were soon taken up by the Church and regulated ; while preserving their popular form of psalm and spiritual reading with singing of responsories, she turned this private and voluntary prayer into an official act of her clergy. Hence the Matin service, which to this day shows its origin by its close connection with Lauds. When the monastic system developed in the Church, the monks added, for their own private devotion, Prime, as a prayer before the day's work began ; and prayer at the Third hour, in remembrance of the descent of the Holy Ghost at that time ; prayer at the Sixth and Ninth hours in remembrance of the custom of the Apostles to pray at these times; Now Peter went to pray about the Sixth hour [Acts x.-9.] ; and— Now Peter and John went up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer; being the Ninth hour [Acts iii. 1.]. The Holy Father Benedict in the Rule, which has been the guide for so many millions of souls, and has perhaps done more to form the mind of the Church than any other book save the Bible, instituted the hour of Compline as the night prayer for his monks. Thus was the cycle of prayer completed ; and what was the private devotion of monks became in due time part and parcel of the Church's public prayer. The historical order then was : Lauds and Vespers; Vigils or Matins, Prime ; Terce, Sext, and None ; then Compline
[The public prayer in old Anglo-Saxon days in England is thus described by the learned Dr. Rook :— Like the rest of Christendom, then, seven times within the day did each church bell ring and bid its clerks—from the sub-deacon upwards—to come thither and sing God's praises, morning, noon, night ; and the parish priest who forgot either of these duties was liable to be punished by a fine. Amongst those most conspicuous for their learning or high position in the Church at that period, such men as Beda, Ecgberht, and Elfric, we find telling this country, each in his own time, of this ritual usage and how it ought to be followed. Beda's notice of the "hours " in general, or of some particular part in them, is curious; while the archbishop of York, and the abbat who was afterwards called to the primatial chair of Canterbury, both lay down the canon law upon this matter. So thoroughly do these prelates' opinions agree, that Ecgberht's Latin ordinance seems to have been put into Anglo-Saxon by .Elfric, who says:—' Seven canonical hours they (the first four general Councils) appointed for us to sing daily to the praise of our Lord ; as the Prophet David said in his prophecy, Septies in die, &c. Seven times, my Lord, said he, I have said my praise in one day, for the righteousness of Thy judgments,' The first canonical hour is uht-song (or matins), with the after-song (lauds) thereunto belonging. Prime-song, undern (terce) song ; mid-day (sext) song ; none-song, even-song, night-song (compline). These seven canonical hours ye should sing with great attention to the praise of your Lord, daily in church, always at the hour appointed, and in like manner celebrate Mass at the appointed time." Church of our Father, vol. iii., p. 2.]
Counting Lauds, with the preparatory vigils as one, we have seven hours of prayer ; " seven visits to the heavenly Court," as the saintly Cardinal Manning said in his " Eternal Priesthood" [p. 62.] Why was this number chosen ? It was not of fixed purpose from the beginning ; but having so developed, many reasons could be given why the number should not be exceeded. Seven is a very mysterious figure, and seems to represent God's dealings with mankind. Did He not make the world in six days and rest on the seventh ? Are there not seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; seven sacraments ; seven spirits standing before the throne of God [Apoc. viii. 2.] ; seven deadly sins ; seven virtues, theological and cardinal; seven petitions of the Pater Noster ; seven ages of man, all to be sanctified with prayer; seven scenes in our Lord's passion ; seven sorrows of Blessed Mary our Lady ? Did not David say, praise God seven times a day ? [Ps. cxviii. 164.] and did not Elias pray seven times before the heavens opened and rain fell on the drought-stricken earth ? [2 Kings xviii. 43.] and does not even a just man fall seven times a day [Prov. xxiv. 16.] ? There are many other like reasons why the Church cherishes the mystical number of seven and regulates her prayers thereby
[Christian ingenuity has loved to occupy itself with rinding out in the mysterious science of numbers something that recalls God and the spiritual life. Thus:— Otte (represents) the Unity of the Godhead; two, the two natures of our Lord ; three, the ever-blessed Trinity; four, the four evangelists (hence the preaching of the Gospel); five, on the one hand, a full knowledge of Christian mysteries (the doctrine of the Trinity, that of our Lord's two natures), on the other, the state of ordinary sinners, who break and observe half the law (compare the five brethren of Dives) ; (also naturally the five wounds}; six, the Passion, from our Lord's being crucified in the sixth hour of the sixth day ; also, temptation, from the peculiar reference to that contained in the sixth day of the Creation; seven, the sevenfold graces of the Holy Ghost, and later, the seven Sacraments (and seven sorrows of our Lady); eight, regeneration, as being the first number that oversteps seven, the symbol of the old creation ; nine, the angelic choir ; ten, the Law ; eleven, iniquity as transgressing the Law. And not only were simple numbers thus explained; compound numbers yielded a composite sense. Twelve was the Faith preached throughout the world—the doctrine of the Three dispersed into four quarters (by the twelve Apostles); forty or eighty-eight, the struggle of the regenerate with the old nature; five into eight, or eleven into eight; sixty~six t the extreme of wickedness ; six, in the sense of temptation, into eleven (and compare this with the number of the Beast in the Apocalypse xiii. 18, the quintessence of all temptation). And even still more remarkably were numbers compounded; as in the 153 fishes, which in so many sermons (Migne, P. L., vol. xxxviii., p. 1170) St. Augustine always explains in the same way of the whole congregation of the elect. Seven stands for the Spirit, ten for the Law, seventeen is therefore the fulfilment of the Law by the works of the Spirit: sum the progression, 1+2 + 3 + 4. . . .16+17 and you get 153. Cf. Neatts Commentary on the Psalms (ed. 1860), vol. I, pp. 390-1. ]
And this seven-fold praise of God through our Lady is particularly suitable. The pious author of the " Myroure of Our Ladye " applies them in this manner : " Now in case ye think that these are good causes why God should be served in these hours, but since all your service is of our Lady ye would wit (know) why her service should be said in these same hours. And as to this ye ought to think that it is full convenient (that) her holy service should be said in time according to His, for her will was never contrary to His blessed will. And furthermore some say that for at matin time there appeareth a star in the firmament whereby shipmen are ruled in the sea and bring themselves to (a) right haven, and for our merciful Lady is that star that succoureth mankind in the troublous sea of this world and bringeth her lovers to the haven of health ; therefore it is worthy that she should be served and praised at matin time. At prime time there appeareth a star before the sun, as if it were the leader or bringer-forth of the sun, and our Lady came before and brought forth to mankind that Son of Righteousness that is our Lord Jesus Christ. At (the) hour of terce labourers desire to have their dinner, and our Lady hath brought forth to us Him that is the Food and Bread of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, comfort and refection to all that labour in His service. At (the) hour of sext the sun waxeth more hot; and by means of our Lady the everlasting Son hath showed the heat of His charity more largely to mankind. At (the) hour of none the sun is highest; and the highest grace and mercy that ever was done to man on earth was brought in by means of our Lady. At evensong time the day faileth much ; and when all other succour faileth our Lady's grace helpeth. Compline is the end of the day; and in (the) end of our life we have most need of our Lady's help, and therefore in all these hours we ought to do her worship and praising" [pp. 14-15.].
The chief and oldest part of the Office consists of the Psalter, or book of Psalms; and, in the mind of the Church, the whole one hundred and fifty should be gone through once a week. It is on this portion of the Office we shall chiefly spend our time. The Author of the Book of Psalms is the Holy Ghost, who made use of David, the royal singer, and of others, to write the collection which has come down to us under the general title of the Psalms of David.
[It is admitted by all now-a-days that David is not the author of the whole collection. The first fifty and most likely others are credited to him. Solomon and Esdras are among the other authors.].
They have ever been the favourite formula of prayer for both the Jewish and the Christian Churches, and are our most cherished heritage. Says St. John Chrysostom : " If we keep vigil in the Church, David comes first, last and midst. If early in the morning we seek for the melody of hymns, first, last, and midst is David again. If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of the departed, if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last, and midst. O, marvellous wonder ! Many who have made but little progress in literature, nay, who have scarcely mastered its first principles, have the Psalter by heart. Nor is it in cities and churches alone that at all times, through every age, David is illustrious. In the midst of the forum, in the wilderness and uninhabitable land, he excites the praises of God. In monasteries, amongst those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, last, and midst. In the convent of virgins where are the bands of them that imitate Mary; in the deserts where are men crucified to this world, and having their conversation with God, first, midst, and last is he. All other men are at night overpowered by natural sleep. David alone is active, and congregating the servants of God into seraphic bands, turns earth into heaven and converts men into angels."
Let us try and get an exact idea of the purpose of the Psalms, and then we shall be able to deduce certain principles of interpretation which will be of use to us hereafter. Whose voice do we hear in the Psalms ? It is a three-fold voice. David, or the other authors ; Jesus Christ in His own person ; and our Lord speaking in the person of His creatures. The first voice is clear, and, generally speaking, can be recognised easily. But David spoke in prophecy; and he himself was the type of Him who deigned to be called the Son of David. So the literal and first meaning which applies to David only finds its full significance in our Lord, Who is the real speaker in the Psalm. St. Augustine says : " Let us commend oftener and oftener, and it does not weary us to repeat what is useful to you to know, that it is our Lord Jesus Christ Who frequently speaks in His Own Person as our Head : often in the person of His Body which is ourselves and His Church ; yet as that the words seem to come from the mouth of but one man, we may understand that the Head and the Body are integrally one and cannot be separated : as that union of which it is said: They shall be in one flesh [Gen. ii. 25.]. If therefore we acknowledge Him in one flesh let us acknowledge Him in the one voice " [Migne, P. L., vol. xxxvi., p. 453.].
" Thus do we explain," says the learned Sulpician, M. Bacquez, " what the holy doctors teach : the Psalms are full of Jesus Christ; they are His instrument, His voice, His language, they are the language of the members as well as of the Head. It is a single, yet at the same time a manifold, Voice in which are expressed and mingled all the blessings of heaven and earth, all the yearnings of love, all the tones of gratitude, all the prayers of the needy. In this way can we also understand what our Lord says so clearly, that He is the object of the Psalms, and that they speak of Him [Which were written in the Psalms concerning me (Luke xxiv. 44).]. This also explains why He makes such frequent use of them, particularly on the Cross, and applies their words to Himself [Matt, xxvii. 46 ; Luke xxiii. 46 ; John xv. 25.]. . . . . Thus we see the aim, the object, the Divine reason of the Psalms. We hold the key to them, and bear in hand the torch that sheds light upon all their difficulties. We know now how to search out their depths, measure their breadth, and comprehend their variety, harmony, and general meaning. It is always Jesus Christ, the Mediator, the great High Priest, the only worthy Adorer of His Father Who stands before the Throne. It is always He Who prays, He Who speaks through us. As the sweet Psalmist of Israel said : The spirit of the Lord spake by me and His Word was through my tongue [2 Kings xxiii. 2]. Sometimes it is in His own name exclusively as the only Son of God ; on these occasions His words taken literally apply to Him alone, and His members can only appropriate them so far as their union with their Head makes them sharers in His greatness and destiny. Thus He Himself explains His eternal generation, His birth in time, His priesthood, His kingdom and His different mysteries. More frequently He speaks in the name of the Church and of all her children, as the Head of the Body whose members are ever undergoing the vicissitudes of their mortal life. The voice of His words like the voice of a multitude [Daniel x. 6.]. Then His thoughts expand and generalise as His language approaches ours. Sometimes He seems to be referring to one nation only, or limiting His words to some special circumstance or event. But in truth His thought goes beyond His words. What seems the object is only an image, a symbol or a type of the widest significance. Israel means all God's faithful people ; Jerusalem, seated on a mountain and set upon a rock, means the Church; Sion, where the tabernacle was, the holy of holies, is Heaven, the eternal sanctuary wherein the Lord dwells and is ready to listen to our prayers [The generality of mystical writers takes those two, however, in the opposite sense; Jerusalem, the " vision of peace," meaning heaven ; and Sion, the fortified rock, the Church Militant.], He echoes every feeling and prayer and places Himself in every possible relation. One moment He humbles Himself before the Majesty of the Father, and groans in sorrow bewailing our sins, and beseeches pardon and forgiveness. He is the World's Penitent, bearing the weight of our sins, and His mighty Heart is broken for our repentance. Then, at the thought of the goodness of God Whose mercy is without end, He breaks forth into cries of joy and gratitude. Never weary of thanksgiving, He calls upon all to rejoice with Him. Then, mindful of our weakness, seeing our poverty and knowing our needs and dangers, He implores help from above, beseeching His Father to listen to His cry. For there is none other to fight for us, save only Thou, 0 Lord [Ant. pro. pace.]. Every Psalm is a picture of the Soul of Jesus in Himself, and in His Mystical Body. As M. Olier says, the Divine Word hidden in the Church (which He has taken for His Spouse in order to further His design and help Him to praise God) expresses through her the beauty of God which she bears within herself. He clothes Himself with her to praise God more tenderly ; and she clothes herself with Him in order to praise Him truly ; so that the Word and the Church are one single praise of God, and the Word and the Church are like a voice repeated by as many echoes as there are saints. It is a wonderful Word and a marvellous Praise; a Harmony and a Voice beyond understanding. Oh, that I may be lost in lost in thee, O Divine Word !" [The Divine Office, pp. 106-108]
This exalted view of the Psalms sets them far above every other formula of prayer, and explains why for so many thousand years God's people have found in them the food of their souls. Says an old writer : " If you are sad the Psalmist weeps with you ; if you are joyful he gives your joy wings that lift you up to heaven ? Do you mourn ? he is ready to comfort you. Are you depressed, betrayed, forsaken, or ill treated ? he is by your side ever ready to meet your want." And is this any wonder when we remember they are the words, the expression of the Sacred Heart, of Him Who was acquainted with sorrow, and like to us in all things except sin ?
There is another principle in reference to the Psalms to be drawn from the doctrine of the Mystical Body, viz., that if the words are absolutely true of our Lord they can also, in measure, be referred to us who are His members. In measure, I have said. For in proportion as we approach to Him and the more we are likened to Him in all things, the clearer will be the application of the Psalms to us and the nearer shall we be to having the same mind that was in Christ. Following out this thought and bearing in mind these other words :— For whom He foreknew He hath predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son [Rom. viii. 29.]—we may ask who, out of all creation, has been predestinated to a higher union with Him, and who bears the closest resemblance to Jesus ? Surely, it is She who bore Him, who nursed and tended Him, who cared for Him during all His mortal life, who kept all His words in her heart, who stood by His Cross, and was the object of His last love and care. Mary, our blissful Mother and most gracious Lady, is the example of what a creature can become by grace. She, as the Mirror of Justice, shows to what a perfection a creature can attain, and how far he can become an image of the Word made flesh. If Jesus bears in His human form her likeness, so that He can be recognised as the Son of Mary, His mother bears His mark as being the chief work of the Author of Grace, His very masterpiece. She is the great Sign appearing in the heavens — a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars [Apoc. xii 1.] ; the wonder of all God's creatures, who marvel that anyone can be raised so high, that anyone can be so great and glorious, and yet remain what they are themselves, a mere nothing in comparison with her Maker. To Mary, then, we can make such application of the Psalms as can be referred to the highest of all creatures ; and what is true of the Mystical Body of Christ will be especially and more appropriately true of her who is described as the Neck which joins the Body on to the Head—or, as Wordsworth says, " Our tainted nature's solitary boast."
It must be remembered that, according to the mind of the Church, the Office is a choral service : that is, a public service sung or recited with a certain ceremonial. This should be borne in mind carefully by those who, for any reason, are prevented from joining in the recitation in choir. As regards the Psalms, the practice of singing them antiphonally, that is, by two choirs, each taking a verse in turn, is said to have been first introduced by St. Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch, on account of a vision in which he had heard angels praising the Blessed Trinity in alternate choir [Amalarius De eccles Off., iv. 7.]. Compare the vision of Isaias : / saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple. Above it stood the Seraphim . . . and they cried one to another and said : Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts: all the earth is full of His glory [Isaias vi. I, 2, 3.]. The custom appears to have been introduced into the West by St. Ambrose at Milan [Rabanus Maurus, Migne, P. L., vol. vii. p. 363.].
After the Psalms comes spiritual reading ; and this (as far as concerns the Little Office) is from the Sacred Scripture. This follows the same course of interpretation as the Psalms, being, like them, the Word of God. Jesus is again the explanation of the Scripture, both Old and New; for they both refer to Him. He was looked forward to in the Old and set forth in the New. Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things that you see and have not seen them [Matt. xiii. 17], He said ; and once more : Search ye the Scriptures .... for the same are they that give testimony of Me [John. v. 39]. And what is true of Him is, in due measure, true of His members, and principally of our ever dear and blessed Lady. We need not, at present, linger over the consideration of the extracts from the Scriptures to be found in the Office, as they will be treated fully in their proper place.
From an early time, at least from that of St. Ambrose, hymns were introduced into the public prayer of the Church. St. Hilary of Poitiers (368) is the earliest hymn-writer in the West. St. Benedict makes use of them in his Office. Hymns in the Office are employed to rouse the soul by their cheerfulness and jubilation. St. Augustine gives this definition of a hymn : " A song in praise of God; if it be not addressed to God it is no hymn, nor is it a hymn except it set forth His praise." The three hymns in our Office of our Lady answer well to that definition ; for in singing the praises of God's sweet Mother-Maid we are praising Him Who hath done such mighty things to her [Luke. i. 49] and has made her all she is. The three hymns we make use of, the Ave Maris stella, Quern terra, pontus, sidera, and 0 gloriosa Virginum, are sometimes attributed to Fortunatus, of Poitiers, who died 600. In the form used at the present day the two last have suffered from revisions made in the time of Urban VIII., and have lost something of their old rugged beauty. For thirteen hundred years they have been sung in God's Church, and are hallowed by the memories of countless saints and servants of God who have greeted Christ's Mother in their sweet strains. They seem to sum up in their short, concise, lines thoughts too deep for expression, thoughts that will only bear the slightest expression. We seem to treat her as she treated her Son ; in all simplicity indicating her want. She said : They have no wine [John. ii. 2, 3.] ; we say, Bona cuncta posce, Ask for us all good things.
Other features which need a word of explanation are : the Antiphons, the Invitatory, the Responsories, the Versicles and Responses, and the Prayers. "The object of the Invitatory is to kindle within us the spirit of prayer by fixing our thoughts upon Him Who is the object of our adoration and praise. It is to the Office what a text is to a discourse, the primary thought to which everything else is subordinated. We repeat it many times, so that we may thoroughly understand it, grasp all its shades of meaning and be penetrated deeply with it. . . . The 94th Psalm is the development of the Invitatory ; as this is the refrain of the psalm and its special application. . . . . In it we hear Jesus inviting us and calling upon us to bless with Him our Sovereign King. To kindle our fervour He recalls the works of God and His infinite perfections, and awakens in our heart reverence and love, two sentiments which react one on the other and are essential to the spirit of religion. The first part of the Psalm inspires a lively desire to praise God, and the second cautions us against indifference and heedlessness in His service" [Bacquez, pp. 336-8]. The Invitatory, as its name implies, is an invitation or a calling. Its form, consisting of a psalm (the 94th) with a short phrase repeated between each verse, is an interesting survival of the oldest way of singing a psalm. The verses of the psalm were sung by a lector, or cantor, and the people, who neither had books, nor, at night-time, light, contented themselves with listening to what he sang and repeating, after ;every verse, the phrase which, as it were, gave the key to the whole psalm and kept up the fervour of the listeners. In the case of the Little Office the Invitatory is, Ave Maria gratia plena, Dominus Tecum, " whereby," says the devout author of the Myroure, " each of you stirreth and exhorteth others to the praising of God and of our Lady"
[P. 83, " After certain verses of the psalm the Invitatory is repeated entire; and after others, imperfectly, because although all are thereby invited to the praise of God, yet some accept this invitation perfectly, and some imperfectly. It is said six times in its entirety because they receive the invitation entire who render perfectly praise to God. Because six is the first perfect number, being formed by I, 2 and 3, therefore it is repeated six times entire. And it is repeated three times imperfectly on account of those three sorts of men who did not accept the invitation to supper, viz., the covetous, the haughty, and the unclean, or by reason of our three-fold imperfection of heart, word, and deed." Durandus, Rationale, Lib. V., cap. III.].
The Antiphons are to the Psalms what the Invitatory is to the Venite; they give the key to the application of the Psalm. Durandus thus discourses on the Antiphon : "It is begun before the Psalm, signifying action; and this sets forth the bond of charity or mutual love without which labour avails not and whereby labour has its merit. Rightly, therefore, according to its melody is formed the tone of the Psalms ; because love shapes our words. So the Psalm is intoned according to the melody of the Antiphon, and the hand works according to that which the spark of love hath excited. . . . The Antiphon is said imperfectly before, and perfectly after the Psalm, because Charity here below is imperfect; here it is begun ; but in heaven, our true country, it is made perfect by good works which flow from love, according to the words of Isaias : The Lord Whose fire is in Sion and His furnace in Jerusalem [xxxi. 9.]. Yet in the greater of our feasts the Antiphon is said entire before the Psalms also, to teach us that in those times we should shew ourselves more perfect in good works. It is begun by one of one choir and ended by many of both choirs ; first because love begins from one, that is Christ, and through Him is perfected in His members. As He saith in St. John's gospel : A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another [St. John xiii. 34.]. God first loved us, and therefore we must correspond in common to His love. Moreover, the Antiphons after the Psalms are sung by all in common, because from common love ariseth joy. The song is of two choirs alternately to signify mutual love or charity, which cannot exist among fewer than two. Thus the Antiphon joins the two choirs as love joins two brothers by good works. Isidore saith the Greek word "Antiphon " signifies a reciprocal voice, because two choirs answering each other alternate the song of the melody as the two seraphims and the two Testaments call one to another. Wherefore clerks singing Antiphons turn not to the altar, but towards one another, which manner of singing was introduced by the Greeks and is from them derived " [Of. cit., cap. II.].
The Responsories are the complement to the Lessons. " It is a return of the soul or a lifting up of it to God on account of what has been said. The Responsory is to the Lesson what the Antiphon is to the Psalms; but it has a more practical motive. It serves to fix the soul upon the special object of the Office, and it suggests useful application of the words. It recalls an important truth, viz., it is not sufficient to hear God's word, we must keep it, meditate on it, and try to fathom it, and put it into practice." In the Office of our Lady they form beautiful prose hymns in her honour and are full of a peculiar sweetness. "The Responsory is added to the Lessons; and by it is signified that by good works we must respond to the doctrine, that we may not be cast into outer darkness with the slothful servant who hid his Lord's money. They are, as it were, spiritual songs ; for those things are called songs which are sung; and they are spiritual because they proceed from the jubilation of the spiritual mind. But they are sung that in the recitation of the Lesson our minds may be lifted up to the heavenly Fatherland, and therefore Gloria Patri is inserted [St. Benedict seems to have been the first to introduce the Gloria Patri into the Responsories. ]. The Responsory is begun by one, to be joined in by others, whereby we understand the mutual exhortation of brethren to serve God. It is repeated imperfectly after the verse, to signify that those who cannot attain to the Mountain, that is, to the state of perfection, may yet be saved in Zoar, that is in another way and in a state of imperfection [Gen. xix. 22.]. It is also repeated imperfectly to signify that what we do while being in this world is imperfect . . . but on festivals it is again repeated perfectly to signify the joy and perfection of the saints [Durandus, loc. cit.].
The Lessons said at Matins in the Office of our Lady are three in number, and are followed by Responsories. The same pious author says respecting the Lessons: " Three things are needful to the common health of man. The first is that the understanding be enlightened with knowledge of the truth to know what is good or what is evil. And for this knowledge is had by reading and hearing of wholesome doctrine, therefore is it understood by the Lessons. The second is good use of the free will that the will assent to love that is known (to be) good, and to hate that that is known (to be) evil. And for the will answereth thus to the knowing : therefore it is to (be) understood by the Response, that is as much (as) to say, an answer ; for it answereth in sentence to the Lesson as is before said. The third is work, so that that thing that the understanding knoweth (to be) evil, and the will hateth, be fled indeed, and eschewed. And that thing that the understanding knoweth (to be) good and that the will ruled by grace loveth, be done indeed. And this is understood by the Verse that is as much (as) to say as a turning, for the knowledge and will ought thus to be turned into deed ; and after the Verse a part of the Response is sung again. For as good will causes good deeds, so good deeds help to establish and to strengthen the good will.
" The Lessons are heard and the Response are sung sitting, for knowing of truth and right ruling of the will may not be put in a restful soul. But the Verse is sung standing, for good deeds may not be done without labour. The Response is sung of all, for every man may have a good will that is understood by the Response. But the Verse is sung but of a few, for all folk may not fulfil their good wills in deed, that is understood by the Verse, so much so as the holy Apostle St. Paul saith that he might not do the good that he would [Rom. vii. 15.]. The Lesson is read of one and heard of all, in token that each congregation ought to live under one governor that shall teach them and rule them after God's Law. For each man, namely religious, ought not to do after his own wit or knowing, but after the obedience and teaching of Holy Church and of his sovereign " [Myroure, pp. 114-5. ]
The Versicles and Responses are short ejaculations which help us by a sudden change to recover our recollection if our minds have wandered during the psalmody or after a long hymn [The word Versicle, a little verse, means a "turning" of the mind to God.].
The Liturgical prayer of the Church always ended with the special petitions of those present. This was either in silence, or with the Pater Nosier as St. Benedict orders ; or after an interval of silence, heralded by the word Oremus —let us pray ; the one who presided collected, so to say, the aspirations and petitions of all present into some short and comprehensive formula, which he, in their name, presented to God. Hence the name of Collect
[Most of the Collects in the Missal (whence those of the Breviary are taken) are the arrangements of St. Leo the Great (461), St. Gelasius (496), and St. Gregory the Great (604). A recent writer says : " The Collect form, as we have it, is Western in every feature, in unity of sentiments and severity of style ; in its Roman brevity and majestic conciseness, its freedom from all luxurious ornament, and all inflations of phraseology."]
often given to these prayers. They are beautiful examples of vocal prayer, short, pithy, and to the point. There is not much speaking [Matthew. vi. 7.] in them. That wonderful series of collects in the Sunday Masses throughout the year, is a very mine of sweetness and serves admirably as a foundation for mental prayer in its true form. The form of a collect is simple in the extreme; it embraces but one main petition, and consists of only one sentence : " Ordinarily we address God the Father, because He is the origin of all things, and all things flow from Him even in the Blessed Trinity ; then He is only invoked through the Son according to our Lord's recommendation, Whatsoever ye ask ask in My Name [St. John xiv. 13]. We never directly invoke the Holy Ghost because we consider Him as dwelling in the Church and praying by the mouth of her ministers" [Bacquez, p. 414.].
These collects are models for our own private prayers. The long addresses to God, so much affected in modern books of devotion, seem to savour of that much speaking reprobated by our Lord. In the prayers of the Church there is no false sentimentality, no exaggeration; but a sober, simple statement of our want without going into close particulars, and a mention of the grounds upon which we base our prayers.
" Orisons (Collects) are said at the end of each hour; for the Apostles, whenever they were together, they knelt down on their knees and prayed ere they departed asunder. And she that sayeth the orison standeth turned to the East; for Paradise, from whence we are exiled, is in the East, and therefore, thinking what we have lost, and where we are, and whither we desire, we pray turned towards the East " [Myroure, p. 134.].
Having thus treated of the general materials used in the Office of our Lady, we proceed to indicate the form in which they are used.
First as to Matins : after the introductory versicles and invitatory with the hymn, three psalms, changing with the day of the week, together with their own antiphons, are said or sung. Then follow three lessons with responsories. The third lesson, however (out of Advent), being followed by the hymn Te Deum. Then follows Lauds, which is composed of the usual Sunday psalms of the Divine Office. These are of immemorial use at this hour. There are eight psalms altogether sung under five antiphons. These are followed by the little chapter, or short lesson, which is in turn succeeded by the hymn. After a short versicle, the Gospel canticle Benedictus Deus is chanted, together with its own antiphon. Then follow the prayers. The four Little Hours are based on another plan. After the introductory versicles a hymn, then three psalms under one antiphon. A short lesson, versicles, and prayer. Vespers is developed on the same lines as Lauds, but with only five psalms. The formation of this hour shows its ancient connection with Lauds as being with it the original public prayer of the Church. Compline stands by itself; special introductory versicles, three psalms, without any antiphon, as in the Benedictine use, a hymn, a canticle, with its own antiphon, which is followed by versicles and prayer. Needless to say that the formation of these hours is taken mainly from the Roman pattern of the Office. It will be noticed how the number three runs through the whole Office. In it we may see our worship to the Blessed Three in One, or an incitement to praise God for the threefold relationship of our Lady, as Daughter of the Eternal Father, Mother of the Eternal Son, and Spouse of the Eternal Spirit; or as the expressions of our Faith, Hope and Charity.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907