Advent & the Office of the Dead


Questionable Rubrics?

Recently a question came up “why the Anglican Breviary prohibits the Office of the Dead in Advent?” That is a really good question to which the answer in the Anglican Breviary itself remains vague.

The entire Rubric, as given in the General Rubrics, governing the recitation of the Office of the Dead says:

1.As regards the Office of the Dead: in places where there is Obligation of Choir, it is considered obligatory that the Office of the be said in Choir each month on the first unimpeded Feria outside of November, Advent, Lent, and Eastertide. (If the Universal Kalendar be followed in its entirety, there will almost never be an unimpeded Feria on which the common Office of the Dead can be said according to the foregoing rule.)

2. However, the Office of the Dead may be said in Choir on all days upon which a Mass of Requiem is permitted; and the Antiphons are doubled on the Day of Death or Burial, on the day when the news of death is received; on the Third day’s Mind, on the Week’s or Month’s Mind, on the anniversary, and whenever the Office is celebrated solemnly.

So it is obligatory – in places where there is Obligation of Choir – that the Office of the Dead be said on the “first unimpeded Feria” of the month. An exception is made for the month of November, for Advent, Lent, and Eastertide. In other words the obligation explained above does not count for November, Advent, Lent, and Eastertide. Things are different at those times. But different how?

Liturgy and Death

Laurence Paul Hemming is worth quoting at length as he explains some features of the pre-1911 Catholic liturgy as it concerns Advent and the Office of the Dead:

The reform of 1911 substantially altered various other ways in which the calendar worked, which I will simply mention as adjunct to the complexity I have noted. To take a few examples: on each of the Sundays of Advent (and also in Lent) Vespers of the Sunday was to be followed immediately by Vespers of the dead.

Advent is a season with a very strong connection with the theology of death – not least in the collects and the tradition of the connection of the Sundays of Advent with the preaching of the last things, but also because Advent above all is the most eschatological of the seasons, the season that ties together the appearing of the Christ both before (historically), already (in the life of the Church), and yet to come (at the end of time): Advent points to the overcoming of death for the ordinary faithful in fulfilling all the hopes of the various comings of Christ.

These liturgical connections were suppressed in the 1911 reform. This commemoration of the dead is further fulfilled by a rubric requiring that on the first unimpeded day of January (i.e. the first non-festal day) the whole office of the dead is to be recited after the ferial (ordinary) office: the promises of Advent are fulfilled in the truth of the Incarnation, and this has a direct effect on the souls of the faithful departed.

Laurence P. Hemming, “Worship as a Revelation,” p. 135.

The shortcomings of the Pian reforms are also present in the Anglican Breviary because the latter took the Pian refoms as the basis for restoring the (Protestant) daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer to a (Catholic) daily Office while remaining – at least technically – within the lawful parameters of the post-Reformation Anglican tradition. If Hemming is right, and it seems to me that he is, what are we to do with the rubrics of the Anglican Breviary concerning the Office of the Dead?

Interpreting the Rubrics

The key to understanding the rubrics for the Office of the Dead as given in the Anglican Breviary is the phrase “the Office of the Dead may be said in Choir on all days upon which a Mass of Requiem is permitted” in paragraph 2 above. When are Requiem Masses permitted? If we can answer that we will also be a step closer – I hope – to understand how saying the Office of the Dead is different in (at least) Advent.

The Anglican Missal in the Altar edition contains a foreword with instructions and rubrics addressed to the Priest. I will quote the relevant passages:

On the first ferial day of each  month except in Advent, Lent, Eastertide, and the month of November, the Departed are to be commemorated at all private Masses which are not Requiems. However, if on this first ferial day an Ember Day or a Vigil, or if the impeded Mass of the preceding Sunday is to be resumed, the Commemoration is to be made on the next unhindered day.

On every Monday which is a Feria, except during Advent and Eastertide provided no Vigil occur, nor the impeded Mass of te preceding Sunday is to be resumed, this same Commemoration is also to be made at private Masses which are not Requiems.

~ Anglican Missal (Altar edition)

So – once again things are different in Advent. But different how? I am not yet convinced that the Office of the Dead is directed not to be said in Advent. Especially since there is an established, very fitting, tradition to the contrary. What to make of this? There is yet one more place in the Missal to consult. There is a section which deals with Funeral and other Masses of Requiem. Maybe the answer is contained therein.

Votive Masses for the Dead

I will again cite the relevant passages at length:

(a) On the first ferial day of each month (out of Advent, Lent, or Eastertide) the Conventual Mass should be, and on Monday of each week (if it be an unhindered day) the Principal Mass may be for the departed. If, however, there be any Office proper to that day, or the Mass of an impeded Sunday must be said, then the Mass should be of the day, or the Sunday, with Commemoration of all the departed.

Again the exception of Advent (and Lent, Eastertide, November) is mentioned but I am still unsure what this effectively should mean. Are there to be no Masses for the Dead in Advent at all? Or is the way the Masses of the Dead are said in Advent somehow different from other times not in being forbidden but perhaps more frequent? I am still not sure what to make of it at this point.

(b) In the presence of the body, Mass may be said for a burial on any day except I and II Class Feasts and during the last three days of Holy Week, but even on any of these days which are not Days of Obligation, a Low Mass may be said for a departed person, as if at the burial, at any time from two days before to to two days after the actual day, except upon a I Class Feast and a Day of Obligation.

The above rubric does not do much to explain what the difference is for a Mass of Requiem in Advent. But there is one more paragraph in the Missal which addresses when such Masses are permitted or prohibited.

(c) Anniversary Masses may be said either on the Anniversary of the day of death or burial. If this fall on a Double it should be kept either on the day before or the next vacant day after. The same rules apply to the Masses of the Third, Seventh, and Thirtieth Days after death or burial.

This last rubric also does not help much in determining what is to be different for Advet with regard to Requiem Masses and consequently the Office of the Dead.

At this point I opened up the American Missal (also an interpretation of the Roman Missal through the lens of the Book of Common Prayer) in the Lancelot Andrewes Press edition and consulted the rubrics contained therein. They are generally more detailed than the ones provided in the Anglican Missal. Having checked on the rubrics concerning Masses of requiem the same vagueness is found. There is something different about the Masses of the Dead in Advent (and Lent, Eastertide and the month of November). Consulting the rubrics for the Monastic Office as given in the Diurnal and the booklet of rubrics also did not solve my conundrum. Yet there was one thing of interest in the American Missal:

ADVENT: All weekdays in Advent are Greater Ferias, which must be commemorated on any Feast occurring, or in Votive Masses. The Collect, Secret and Post-communion of the first Sunday are to be used throughout the Season in making this commemoration of the Feria. If an Ember Day is to be commemorated, the Prayers of the Ember Day are said before those of the First Sunday. Note that this commemoration of the Season is omitted in Masses of the Dead. During Advent, Simple Feasts are observed with commemoration only.

Even though the American Missal contained the same instructions concerning Masses of the Dead that the Anglican Missal did, the rubrics seem nonetheless to presume that Masses of the Dead are in fact said during Advent! Finally a hint at what the rubrics might mean concerning the Office of the Dead as contained in the Anglican  Breviary. It may yet be that the Office is to be said but differently from how it is said the rest of the year. How do we find out how the Anglican Missal (and Breviary) are to be interpreted here? A clue is contained in the introductory material of both the Anglican Breviary and the Anglican Missal (Altar edition).

To be concluded.

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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