12 March 2011

They still can't tell the time

Well, dear Rubricarius is persistent, you can give him that. His riposte to the Pimpernel's post What time is vespers this morning? proudly announces that "Today, and for the rest of Lent with the exception of Sundays, Vespers are not sung at the usual time in the afternoon but are sung before lunch." You may read the rest of his admittedly erudite and utterly-out-of-touch-with-liturgical-or any-other-sort-of-reality post here.

The Pimpernel will be praying Sext before lunch in Lent, with the rest of the Church, and None and Vespers afterwards.

Not all twentieth century reforms were bad gentlemen. Some may even have been logical, sensible and good.


  1. Vespers before lunch is not a bad idea. I can say compline after lunch and take a siesta until the next the morning.

  2. Pimplenel,

    As always you are too kind!

    Roman Deacon, I trust the good people of the Eternal City still greet each other with Buona Sera after the noon Angelus. I take a siesta when 'working' liturgically during the Triduum. Compline I prefer just before Mattins - but never in the Byzantine form of Grand Compline which avoid like the proverbial plague.

  3. One of the most orthodox and traditional diocesan priests I know says Vespers and Compline back to back, in the late evening, all year long. He even recommended this practice as a penitential discipline! The notion that everyone, including the laity and secular clergy, have to strive to emulate monastic hours is ridiculous. Leniencies, such as Good Pope John's 1961 removal of the requirement that priests say Lauds before morning Mass, are of great benefit to the parish clergy. Often parish priests are completely frazzled all day long. It's not like they can halt a meeting, whip out their Breviary, and say a little hour.

    Question: can secular priests who pray the 1961 Breviary say Matins at any time of the day? The "Office of Readings" can be said at any time of the day. Does this new rubric extend to the old office as well?

  4. Dear L.P.,
    I grant you, this is a provocative topic for those interested in the Sacred Liturgy. This is what I find disedifying, though: the characterization of this ancient practice as something "out of touch with liturgical or any other kind of reality."
    What is the point of a criticism like this? Does it advance knowledge of why this custom was kept for so many centuries? Does it do anything whatsoever to convince anyone that it truly is senseless? You might as well say, by this kind of logic, that Mass must be celebrated after sunset; otherwise, why light candles at Mass? Why use torches? After all, there can be no other reason for anything done during the Liturgy except that which is according to a contemporary way of understanding things.
    Finally, having followed your posts for a little while now, it seems to me that your rationale for assessing what should or should not be part of the Liturgy is, in essence, that of the twentieth-century reformers. If something seems out-of-date or obscure in its origins, then do away with it, or change it--you seem to advocate--rather than accept the things that have been handed down to us. This is pretty much, it seems to me, the standard that Msgr. Bugnini, et al., followed. This, however, is just arguing about the details. In short, a reform following such a rationale has already been carried out. Why wrangle about the particulars of the reform if you already accept its principles?
    --Fr. Capreolus

  5. Fr Capreolus, the Pimpernel does not fall into the trap of “all that the 20th C. reformers did is good”. The Pimpernel looks at each reform and evaluates them on their merits. Vespers is vesperal. Vigils are nocturnal. Returning their celebration to the proper time of day or night is sensible. Praying evening prayers in the morning etc. is not sensible. Vatican II’s Liturgy Constitution got that one right. Some of the things handed down to us, like celebrating the Easter Vigil early on Saturday morning, take away from the meaning of the rites themselves. They may have had good reasons to adopt those practices, but if they are contrary to the meaning of the rite itself, correcting them is a good thing.

    Sortacatholic, of course frazzled parish clergy must do what they can when they can. You are right to say that parish clergy can’t celebrate the hours like monks. But those times still remain the norm to be followed unless that is impossible. To propose that Vespers “are sung before lunch” by monks, parish clergy and communities or anyone else as a liturgical norm, ideal or virtue is preposterous. It is makes an idol of a practice in spite of its historical origin or the meaning of office itself.

    Rubricarius, try compline just before going to sleep at night. You may discover something about its meaning that is spiritually helpful.

  6. Dear L.P.,
    Thank you for your reply. I too strive to avoid falling into traps; in this case, the trap of "petitio principii." To say that we are to judge practices by whether or not they are "contrary to the rite itself" surely implies that one discovers this by an historical investigation of some kind, right?

    In this matter of Vespers on penitential days (or the hour for the Easter Vigil, for that matter), one looks at ancient evidence. But what was done perhaps in the early days was not handed down; therefore, it is not, by definition, a tradition. No, another principle is invoked, as I said, namely the application of our current way of understanding things. If one nowadays thinks of evening as the late afternoon twilight, then to say "Vespers is vesperal" implies that it must be done at this later hour. However, it is not necessarily what was traditionally understood of the nature of Vespers.

    In any event, the principle is more or less the same as that of the 20th-century reformers: let us judge not according to what has been handed down to us but by our way of understanding how these things should be. And, as I said, the rest is simply disputing the details, as you seem to imply when you say, "Vatican II's Liturgy Constitution got that one right."

    As a further indication of what I mean: is Compline meant to be said before going to bed at night? Invariably in the hymn of Compline we pray "ante lucis terminum," i.e. "before the end of day." Perhaps a consideration of even these three words would help us discover when Compline is meant to be prayed?

  7. Dear Capreolus,

    You make a number of very interesting points. 'Te lucis ante terminum' refers to the last glimpses of light before nightfall. Though it may no longer, in most cases, be practical to go to bed precisely after that moment in time, the symbolism of these words - pointing to the loss of light (and therefore the 'activity of life') and the ever growing darkness - certainly retains its spiritual value at the 'end of the day'/preparation for the night, which this hymn, as found in the current 'Breviarium Romanum',at least, clearly refers to, including its references to nocturnal pollutions ! Examining other portions of Compline, as well as its history, would indicate that it is the last prayer of the day before one goes to sleep. This should remain our ideal, which we should put into practice, allowing, of course, for exceptions, which the Church, as a wise mother, is clearly aware of ; i.e. a little common sense. Fr. A.M.