Anciently the Vigil of St. Lawrence was restricted to Mass only. Relatively late (around the time of the council of Trent) did this Vigil begin to leave traces in the Divine Office. In the Sarum Kalendar the Feast of the Transfiguration and that of the Holy Name were introduced bringing significant changes to the Sarum Kalendar. One of these changes concerns the character of August 9th. This was previously dedicated the martyr Romanus. Butler’s multi-volume Lives of the Saints tells us the following:
HE was a soldier in Rome at the time of the martyrdom of St. Laurence. Seeing the joy and constancy with which that holy martyr suffered his torments, he was moved to embrace the faith, and addressing himself to St. Laurence, was instructed and baptized by him in prison. Confessing aloud what he had done, he was arraigned, condemned, and beheaded, the day before the martyrdom of St. Laurence. Thus he arrived at his crown before his guide and master. The body of St. Romanus was first buried on the road to Tibur, but his remains were translated to Lucca, where they are kept under the high altar of a beautiful church which bears his name. St. Romanus is mentioned on this day in the Antiphonary of St. Gregory, and in ancient Martyrologies.
So that essentially the great martyr Lawrence (or Laurence) was introduced in the kalendar via a soldier who was part of his guard. The soldier – upon Lawrence’s witness – became a Christian was baptized and subsequently paid for his faith with his life. Romanus’ martyrdom is a very fitting introduction to the feast of St. Lawrence and invites meditation. The change in character – making Romanus’ day that of the Vigil of St. Lawrence – increases the emphasis on St. Lawrence feast the next day, but it also diminishes the unique witness of Romanus’ to Lawrence martyrdom as powerful witness. A witness (a martyr is a witness ! ) which brought a prison guard to conversion and baptism fully conscious it would cost him his life. In that sense the introduction of the Vigil in the Office was unfortunate.
It must be said that before the 1911 reforms of the Breviary there were Octaves being kept at this point in the Kalendar. The feasts mentioned above, Transfiguration and the Holy Name, pushed the Vigil into a mere commemoration since the August 9th was first and foremost a day in the Octave of the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. As was indicated above, it was not always so. Before the introduction this was St. Romanus’ day. However the Octave of the Holy Name is no longer present in the post-1911 Breviaries and did therefore also not find its way back into the Anglican Breviary.
But there is another Octave missing from the post-1911 Breviary. The Octave of St. Lawrence. This Octave has antiquity and fitting-ness to recommend it though. At least, in my estimation. St. Lawrence is one of the most venerated martyrs in the Christian sanctoral cycle, he is present in the Canon of the Mass, and even in the devotions after the Mass we remember this saint. Perhaps restoring his Octave is not so much archeological fetishism but much more a genuine restoration of tradition. Certainly the destruction Thomas Cranmer brought upon the liturgy and the Catholic faith was also done under the pretense of antiquity, but that seems to have been more an archeological fetishism than genuine restoration. Cranmer seems to have been a victim of his age in the sense that “things Medieval” were despised for not being “classical.” This was a thoroughly secular spirit which invaded theology and liturgy via Cranmer’s Prayer Book.
The Anglican Breviary is a companion to the Anglican Missal. The grace of God has restored the Mass to us via the wide use of this Missal in Anglo Catholic (not just Anglican Catholic) circles. The Anglican Breviary finds much less use among Anglo Catholics (and Anglican Catholics) which is a terrible shame. It is also quite understandable. Using the Anglican Breviary correctly is not easy. Most of us have to learn to use it on our own. We cannot simply go to Church and pray with the Priest & Choir and so, as a child learns its first language, learn the Breviary. For that the Breviary must become much better understood – part of why this blog exists – and much more widely used in Churches.
Saint Romanus pray for us and the ongoing recovery of our Catholic witness!
Fr. Gregory Wassen