On the Psalms (ii)

In a previous post I mentioned some of the features of the pre-Pius X matins and the matins of the Anglican Breviary. We have seen that the Anglican Breviary follows the reforms under Pope Pius X and reduces the load of Sunday psalms by half and that the ferial load throughout the week is reduced from twelve to nine psalms. In order for the ferial psalter to be used more often rubrics have been implemented demanding that for many feasts the ferial psalter be used even if when three nocturns are said. The order of the psalms is basically according to numerical order (though with significant re-distribution) which is a feature shared by the new and older traditions. Though these changes have placed the post-Pius X Roman Breviary and the Anglican Breviary into a somewhat strained relationship with the what went before, it seems to me that the reforms were mostly beneficial. That does not mean that I believe the reforms had no damaging effects, it seems to me that they most certainly did harm the Divine Office, but on balance the reforms have been conservative and they maintain healthy roots in the tradition of the Church.

ii. The Vespers Distribution of Psalms in the Anglican Breviary

The way the older tradition distributed the psalms was arranged in such a way that the bulk of the psalter was recited between matins and vespers. This meant that the psalter can be divided in two large chunks: a matins portion 1 to 109 and a vesperal portion 110 to 147. In the Anglican Breviary this distribution has become (roughly) 1 to 107 for matins and (again roughly) 110 to 145 for vespers. Let us look at vespers a little more closely below.

The Sunday Vespers still begins with Psalm 110 (or 109 according to the LXX & Vulgate). This is very fortunate because the Sunday is, of course, the day that the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered with special solemnity compared to the ferial Mass. Psalm 110 is very much in step with this insofar as it puts before us the “priesthood of Melchisedek” which is none other but that of Jesus Christ (of whom Melchisedek is a type). The Sunday Vespers continues to remind us of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ via Melchisedek’s priesthood and continues to remind us of the sacrificial nature of both Mass and Divine Office. That is the Mass of the day forms one whole with the Divine Office of that (same) day and one sacrifice is offered (albeit in different ways). Sunday vespers continues with 111, 112, 113, 114 & 115 (as one psalm). This is Vespers according to scheme 1 and it follows the numerical order of the psalter.

For feast days the Sunday Psalms are sometimes used with a slight variation. The final Psalm can be 116ii, 117, 132, 138, 147ii depending on the feast. For the various feasts we can have vespers 2 (chiefly for martyrs), vespers 3 (Apostles & Holy Days in general), vespers 4 (chiefly for confessor bishops), vespers 5 (chiefly for the holy Angels), and vespers 6 (for the dedication). The festal vespers do not follow numerical order in the final psalm.

The older tradition for Sunday Vespers has the following order of Psalms: 110, 111, 112, 113, 114-115. The number of psalms was five and remains five in the Anglican Breviary. The Psalms used are identical as well. Very little has changed for Sunday Vespers. The main difference is that the festal vespers are added to the Sunday vespers under their respective numbers (as explained above). This shows clearly that the Sunday Psalms have a special place in the Divine Office, since they are used for feasts, and this feature has survived the reforms of Pope Pius X. The conservatism of the reformers is evident here.

The Monday Vespers begin with Psalm 116i and continue with 116ii, 120, 121, 122. The order is numerical in spite of the gap between psalm 116 and psalm 120. The older tradition also begins with Psalm 116i, continues with 116ii, but instead of jumping to 120 now it first continues with 117 and only now jumps to 120 to conclude with psalm 121.Psalm 117 is dropped in the Psalter according to Pian reforms and so is also not found in this position in our own Anglican Breviary. In spite of the gaps both the older and reformed Monday veseprs show the order of psalms is generally numerical for both.

The Tuesday Vespers in the Anglican Breviary follows this order: 123, 124, 125, 126, 127. The order is numerical. The reformed vespers begins with the Psalm that the older tradition ended Monday vespers with, 122. The psalms said in the reformed psalter are therefore not the same as in the older tradition. But the recitation of the psalms in their numerical order is retained in the reformed psalter. The older tradition and the reformed tradition both have five psalms as is usual. There is difference but not a complete break. The reformed psalter shows its conservatism again and its intention to keep the roots well established in traditional soil.

The Wednesday Vespers arrange the psalms as follows: 128, 129, 130, 131, 132. The order is, again, numerical. The ancient order of psalms is, likewise, numerical but uses different psalms. The total number of psalms is, as always for vespers, five.

The Thursday Vespers is as follows: 133, 136,i, 136ii, 137, 138. The order is numerical. There are five psalms in total. The older tradition is likewise numerical but has different psalms.

The Friday Vespers is as follows: 139i, 139ii, 140, 141, 142. The order is numerical, the total number is five psalms. It is very fortunate that psalm 141 & 142 have been retained as vesperal psalms. They are very appropriate to this office. The psalms as we have them in the Anglican Breviary and the older office are the same in number but are not identical. The older tradition begins, for example, begins with 138 which was the last Psalm in the Anglican Breviary for Thursday vespers. Psalms 141 & 142 are common to both the older and the reformed tradition. Once again we see the general conservatism at work here. Though there are differences in which psalms are said on what day, the differences are relatively small.

In conclusion the Saturday Vespers has the following order of psalms: 144i, 144ii, 145i, 145ii, 145iii. The numer of psalms totals five ans the order in which they are said is numerical. These features stablish continuity we have also seen with the older tradition with the other days of the week. The older tradition concludes with psalm 145 rather than 147. The beginning of the older and the reformed office is the same with psalm 144. The Anglican Breviary divides psalms that are not divided in the older office and in this way gets to five psalms for vespers even though it concludes with psalm 145 rather than 147.

We have seen that the older office of vespers and the vespers as we know it in the Anglican Breviary are very similar, but not identical. The reforms in the office of vespers are minimal and conservative. The psalms not said in their numerical position are said elsewhere in the Divine Office during the liturgical week. It is no longer true to say that the bulk of the psalter is accomplished between matins and vespers as it was in the older tradition (pre-Pius X). It remains true that the psalms are recited in, roughly, numerical order for both matins and vespers. The most obvious changes have been made in the office of matins. The number of palms recited in the old and reformed matins is very different. 18 for the old Sunday scheme and only 9 in the reformed office. twelve psalms are recited every other day of the week (when the ferial psalter is recited) whereas in the Anglican Breviary we only find nine ferial psalms for every day of the week. The result of this is that matins is significantly altered, but becomes much more manageable. The changes made in the office of vespers are, by comparison, minor. On balance the Anglican Breviary can be said to have great similarity to the ancient offices, but not to the point of being identical. Still, in reciting the offices of matins and vespers with the Anglican Breviary, we are standing in the long established tradition of the prayer of the Church.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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2 Responses to On the Psalms (ii)

  1. Brian + says:

    As I recall the older office was hardly ever said due to its crushing onus. Votive offices as well as festal were used instead. Hence the rationale behind Papa Sarto’s reform.

    Actually I would prefer the Liturgia Horarum style if they had restricted themselves to the traditional material. Almost a perfect Cranmer, IMHO!

    • Father Gregory says:

      There is no denying the sanctoral cycle needed to be scaled back. The reforms under Pope Pius X were supposedly “pastoral.” What this really meant is that the office was to be adapted to man rather than man being adapted to the level of the office. Reform was necessary but, at last as I see it, it should have been far more limited. The LOTH, like the BCP, show their “new learning” and the desire to give this new doctrine liturgical form. To me that is a big no-no.

      Laszlo Dobszay provided some very good suggestions for the reformation of the sanctoral cycle as well as the burden of the ferial psalms. His suggestions have the distinct advantage that the ferial office regain its proper place in the recitation of the psalter while providing three different ways to recite the office. All three forms are related to the “full form” (18 psalms for Sunday and 12 for the weekdays) but the second and third forms reduce the burden. Other reforms are also suggested. Dobszay’s insights are very much worth the effort to engage.

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