Prefatory Note

The General rubrics given below are an abbreviation, and in some respects an interpretation, of the corresponding Latin Rubrics. The latter are confusing to anyone who is not a rubrical expert, and the beginner can and should consult the work of Rubricists who deal with technical matters in greater detail if the principles set forth herein seem inadequate to solve his problems.

This note, however, ought to be read with special care by the beginner. And the first point which should be called to his attention is that he must first of all familiarize himself with the make-up of the Breviary as a book.

Exclusive of introductory material and an appendix, the Breviary falls roughly into four main divisions, viz., the Common and the Proper of the Season, and the Proper and the Common of the Saints.

The appendix consists of stuff for use in special places or on special occasions, but the introductory material, the Kalendar and these General Rubrics, both of which may sometimes be needed.

The first main division of the body of the book, The Common of the Season, is subdivided into Common Forms and The Ordinary, pages A1 and following, and The Psalter, pages B1 and following. These first three sections of the Breviary should be thoroughly studied by the beginner. They are to the Breviary what the Ordinary and Canon is to the Missal; in them the construction of each of the eight daily Hours is carefully set forth, with directions as to how the Office is ordinarily to be celebrated. From no other part of the Breviary can the beginner learn how to pray the Divine Office, and therefore the Rubrics contained in the first main division of the Breviary are also general Rubrics, for the so-called General Rubrics, as well as the particular Rubrics found elsewhere in the Breviary, do no more than interpret them, or adapt them to special occasions.

The worship of the Catholic Church began in an obedience to the divine command, Do this in remembrance of me. It is supposed that the watch of prayer which preceded the post-apostolic Eucharist was eventually organized into four parts, one of which remained as the Preparatory part of the Eucharist (the Proanaphora or Mass of the Catechumens); but the other three became respectively, Vespers for the later afternoon, Matins for midnight, and Lauds for the early morning. This group, nocturnal in origin, constitute the Greater Hours, and the other five, which are named below, the Lesser Hours. (Matins might be called the parent-Office, and Vespers and Lauds the Twins since they are identical in structure.)

Later the diurnal group of Terce, Sext, and None was instituted for the middle of the day. Being shorter than the other five, they are known as the Little Hours. (They might be called Triplets, for they are similar but not identical in structure.) Matins and Lauds were at first always said in the middle of the night, and therefore constitute the Night Office. From their long association with each other they have become practically one Office instead of two, and ought not to be separated in recitation without grave reason. It is to be noted also that Matins has Matins has a threefold form, for it is capable of division into three Nocturns except during Easter and Whitsun week.

Fitness demands that the Office of each day of the year be suited to the occasion, and hence there are three are three methods of celebrating the Office, known respectively as the simple, the semi-double, and the double rite. This is the subject of Rubric I below, and ought to be thoroughly mastered by the beginner as the key to the interpretation of many Rubrics in the first main division of the Breviary upon which attention has thus far been directed.

The second main division, The Proper of the Season, pages C1 and following, gives the liturgical formularies peculiar or proper to the various days of the Church Year, beginning with the First Sunday in Advent, and going on through the other Seasons until and including the last day in Trinitytide. The Church Year is an inheritance from the Jewish Church, and sets forth God’s redemption and sanctification of man from its inception to the present day. It is therefore based on an ancient Jewish lunar system wherein the number of months and their length varied from year to year. Hence the beginner must familiarize himself with the method used to shorten or lengthen the Season of Epiphanytide or Trinitytide, as the case may be in different years.

It should be noted that the Trinitytide Propers are divided into Part 1 and Part 2, for Trinitytide is reckoned in the terms of present-day solar system of  months as well as in weeks numbered after Trinity Sunday, and to bring the two into agreement Part 1 and Part 2 of Trinitytide must be interwoven.

The Roman solar calendar of twelve unvarying months was later adopted by the Church as the basis for the Proper of the Saints; that is, the solar calendar is used for Feasts in honour of certain divine mysteries not sufficiently emphasized by the Church Year (such as the Transfiguration) and for the commemoration of historic events of special interest (such as the careers of the Saints). The Kalendar in the forefront of the Breviary, and its consequent Proper of the Saints, is arranged according to this solar system of months. But some of its observances are more conveniently placed in the Church Year than in the Proper of the Saints, and hence during Christmastide (Dec. 25th through Jan. 13th) all Feasts of the solar calendar are to be found in the Proper of the Season. Also there are a few other Holy Days which, because they are not easily dated by the solar calendar, are put into the section called Proper for Certain Moveable Holy Days, D1 and following.

But the aforesaid D section should really be classified as belonging to the part which follows it, the third main division of the Breviary, The Proper of the Saints, pages E1 and following, wherein are to be found Propers for the immoveable Feasts of the Kalendar.

Always before Vespers and sometimes before Matins and Lauds reference should be made to the Proper of the Season or of the Saints whether or not there are any directions concerning the Office of the day, for all such Rubrics interpret, and sometimes set aside, the directions given in the Ordinary and Psalter.

Furthermore, may directions in the Common and the Proper of the Season, and in the Proper of the Saints, make reference to the fourth main division of the Breviary, The Common of the Saints, pages F1 and following, wherein are to be found the liturgical formularies common to many of the Feasts contained in the Proper of the Saints.

Of the rest of the Breviary, two sections are closely related to the Commons, and might well be described as part of them, viz., The Office of the B.V.M., pages G1 and following, and The Office of the Dead, pages H1 and following, but the remaining sections are in the nature of an appendix of formularies for occasional use.

An understanding of certain matters which the Breviary takes for granted is of assistance in interpreting rubrical directions, and hence mention of them will now be made. The character of the day’s Office is usually implied by its title-line in its Proper; that is, its rite is indicated if it be a Double or Semidouble, but there is ususally no indication of rite if it is a Simple; if it be a Saint’s Day, the Common to be used is indicated by the style of the Saint (Apostle, Martyr, Confessor, and the like), but lest there should be uncertainty the appropriate Common is specified when necessary.

It is always to be taken for granted that the Collect used at Lauds is to be used at the other Hours of the same Office except Prime and Compline, and likewise that the Little Chapter to be used at Lauds is always to be used at Vespers and Terce of the same Office, unless there be a direction to the contrary.

When the Psalm Antiphons for Prime, Terce, Sexth, and None are taken from Lauds, they are taken in proper sequence omitting the fourth, so that the fifth is used at None.

Those who are careless as to details are often guilty of mistakes in regard to the Salutation, the Bidding, and the Ending of Collects. It should therefore be noted that every collect is prefaced with the Bidding Let us pray except in those few instances where a Rubric or the typographical set-up plainly indicates that the Bidding is to be omitted. In Common Forms and The Ordinary the use of the Salutation, and the Ending of Collects, is made perfectly clear; nevertheless Officiants at the Divine Office are often negligent in these niceties, and need to be reminded that reverence is not primarily a matter of feeling pious, but rather of taking pains.

Mention has been made above of the fact that the Church follows two calendars simultaneously. First in the order of time and importance is the Church Year, in celebration of redemption, and derived ultimately from the Jewish lunar system. With this must be integrated the Feasts of the Proper of the Saints, which as aforesaid, are arranged according to the Julian solar calendar.

To avoid undue interruption of the Office of the Season it is important to retain as much as possible of its Office on Feasts of the Saints. Hence the ordinary rule for Feasts of the Proper the Saints is that they take their essential parts from the Office of the Season, and only their accidental parts from the Proper or the Common of the Saints.

Roughly speaking, the elements composing the Divine Office can be classified as the common parts (cf. Common Forms and the Ordinary), the essential parts (i.e., the Psalms with their Antiphons and at Matins, the Nocturn Versicles also, as given in the Psalter, and the occurrent Scriptural Lessons with their Responses, as given in the Proper of the Season), and the accidental parts (i.e., those parts which furnish a special character to the Office of the day, and must be selected from the Ordinary or the Propers or Commons).

However, there are certain Feasts and Holy Days which, because of their importance or their special character, are an exception or partial exception to the ordinary rule. Excepted Feasts take both their essential and accidental parts from their respective Proper or Common, whereas the partially excepted Feasts take Vespers and Lauds, and Matins in whole or in part, from their respective Proper or Common, and the rest of their Office is said as on non-excepted Feasts. Always the Rubrics of the Proper indicate in each case how the Office is to be arranged on excepted and partially excepted Feasts, but the beginner must know exactly how to recite the Office of Feasts which follow the ordinary rule, and therefore this question is discussed in detail in Rubric II below, and also in the Rubrics placed immediately before the Proper and the Common of the Saints.

The Church’s Liturgy is given much devotional content by this simultaneous observance of two calendars, but therefrom also arises the problem of constant adjustments between the two, which is treated below in Rubric III and some of the following Rubrics.

However, a constantly recurring problem arises from the fact that Vespers came into existence as the opening as the opening Hour of the following day, and thus a Feast may have Both Vespers, that is, I and II Vespers. Naturally there often be a clash between outgoing II Vespers and incoming I Vespers, and this is know as Concurrence. But when two liturgical observances occupy the same space of time (as, for example, when the Feast of an Apostle falls on Sunday), the resultant clash is called an Occurrence.

The problem of Occurrences, and consequent Concurrences, is magnified if the Kalendar adopted be of an elaborate character, such as the so-called Universal Kalendar. The simpler the Kalendar, the easier the solution of these problems. Hence the most important question for the beginner is the form of the Kalendar to which he is bound; but this is a question which cannot be solved by these General Rubrics.

The Divine Office began as a song to God. In these latter days there seems to be less Christian joy than in earlier and more vigorous times of Christian witness. However, the Office is still primarily a song to be sung, and certain diacritical marks have been inserted which will be easily understood by those who know the authentic chant of the Office. In this connection it should be observed that liturgical punctuation is not according to grammatical rules, but rather is meant to assist public recitation; in Lessons the reader should breathe or pause at every colon and semicolon, as well as at every period; the syllable before a comma should ordinarily be elongated.

The division of Antiphons into parts by the use of the dagger and star should be disregarded by those who set the Antiphons to the original melodies; and all other diacritical marks, are of course, subject to revision if any musical editor should find it necessary. In particular it should be noted that in the Matin Responses, when sung to their original melodies, the first phrase is precented by a Cantor (as is done with Antiphons), after which the whole choir joins in, so that the star is then used for the beginning of the repetition; but when not sung to proper melodies, it is easier if the Choir does not join in before the star.

Also it should be remembered that Collects of the Office are inflected, or sung recto tono, according to the rite of the Office or its dignity, and therefore the presence or lack of musical notations is not a sufficient guide as to whether musical inflections are to be used or not.

Some ceremonial Rubrics are to be found in this Breviary, and these are an attempt to interpret Latin authorities in the terms of English usage, but for details of ceremonial, reference must be made to books of ceremonial. It should be remembered, however, that rules as to reverences made at Doxologies or Names must be interpreted by the English text, which does not always reproduce the phraseology of the Latin text upon which the Latin authorities are commenting. These reverences seem to have developed from the original Hebrew reverence for the ineffable Name of God (i. e., Jehovah, Jah, etc.), and hence the principle should be applied (as is herein done) to the English reproduction of Hebrew terminology, which reproduction is often more explicit than the Latin rendering thereof. N. B. Reverences are not usually made during Antiphons or Responses except at the Gloria or at the words Jesus or Mary or the name of the Saint of the day.

To avoid constant mention during the following Rubrics of a certain matter of precedence, it must be mentioned here. According to the Latin Secular Breviary, whenever an ordinary Sunday occurs with a double Feast of the Lord, the Feast takes precedence, and the Sunday is reduced to a Commemoration, but thereby rules for the order in which Commemorations are to be made on certain occasions become very complicated; for which usage Roman rubrical authorities should be consulted. The editors of this Breviary recommend that the Benedictine usage be followed in this respect, whereby the Sunday Office is preferred to every Feast whatsoever except I and II Class Doubles; and the following Rubrics therefore do not agree with the modern Roman usage in this respect.

N.B. A phrase much used in Rubrics is according to the Rubrics. This means that the statement given is subject to the modifications given elsewhere in the Rubrics.


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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  1. Pingback: The General Rubrics « The Anglican Breviary

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