Lift up thy voice with strength (XIV)

CHAPTER XIV. How the Night-Office is to be said on Saints’ Days
17 Feb. 18 June. 18 Oct.

On the Festivals of Saints, and all other solemnities, let the Office be ordered as we have prescribed for Sundays: except that the Psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said. Their number, however, shall remain as we have appointed above.

Only a few hours ago we celebrated the Night Office of Saint Luke the Evangelist. The Office was, in fact, ordered as Saint Benedict prescribes for the Night Office of Sundays. There were also, as Saint Benedict lays down, “psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day.”

One of the impoverishments suffered in the redaction of the choir books in use is that many elements proper to the feasts of saints were eliminated with a view to keeping the books of a manageable size and reasonable cost. A certain pragmatic philosophy held sway; this approach can be traced back to the emergence of the first portable breviaries in the 13th century. The mendicant friars, understandably, required an abridgement or a kind of digest of the resources contained in the variety of choir books favoured by those who were attached to a particular church by the vow of stability, that is, by monks and canons.

Although some abbeys preserved the traditional monastic approach of drawing upon many books according to the diverse parts and attributions of the Divine Office, and also of several monks singing from one single book, little by little a certain “breviary” mentality came to supplant the more capacious and diversified approach to the Divine Office. Elements of great richness and beauty were thereby set aside. Some of these found a new assignation and use in the Processionale. Others may be found in Abbot Guéranger’s Liturgical Year and in Blessed Schuster’s Sacramentary. It is a great pity that we are thus deprived of ancient texts and melodies of remarkable beauty and theological content. Take, for example, the magnificent collect for Saint Luke in the Cluniac Office:

Deus, qui beato Lucæ medico corporum, Evangelium Filii tui nobis tradendum credens, eum etiam effecisti medicum animarum; fac nos cœlesti verbi tui medicinae semper intentos, quae noxia esse demonstrat, fugere, and quæ utilia saluti, fideliter apprehendere.

O God, who by means of blessed Luke, the physican of bodies, didst hand on the Gospel of Thy Son to us who believe, and didst also make him the physician of souls; make us ever intent on thy healing heavenly words, fleeing from what they show to be hurtful, and faithfully laying hold of what they show to be healthsome.

Ancient collects such as this one ought not to replace the collect given in the Antiphonal and the Missal, but might profitably be used along aside it, either in lectio divina and private devotion, or at one or another of the Hours.

Again, for example, the redactors of the 1934 Antiphonale Monasticum send us for the feast of Saint Luke to the Common of Apostles. The 2007 Antiphonale Monasticum, composed of several volumes, offers proper antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat. These are at least worth meditating, even if, in present circumstances they cannot be sung.

At the Benedictus:
Get thee up upon a high mountain, thou that bringest good tidings to Sion: lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem: lift it up, fear not. (Isaias 40:9)

At the Magnificat:
Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, and that preacheth peace. (Nahum 1:15)

We have, I think, to consider Saint Benedict’s injunction “that the psalms, antiphons and lessons suitable to the day are to be said,” even if we are limited by the resources available to us. This is certainly what Abbot Guéranger and Blessed Schuster suggest by providing us in their books with texts that, by reason of the vicissitudes of history, have fallen out of use and risk being forgotten altogether.