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The Divine Office

 

We call the Divine Office the prayer of psalms that ascends to God all throughout the day, in the name of all the Church. It is chanted or recited by priests and religious communities during the time of Thérèse.

Today it is also offered to the People of God. In the 19th Century, the "Office" or more familiarly the breviary was composed of Psalms, hymns, short Biblical extracts.The Community chanted it or recited it, in response to Jesus’ invitation to pray God, his father, without ceasing as he himself did.

brev couverture
 
A breviary cover. Each volume measures 23,5 cm high and 15,5 wide,
for a total mean weight of 1 kilo 175 grams (very heavy).

Five years before the foundation of the Lisieux Carmel, dom Guéranger rebuilt the Benedictine monastery of Solesme in 1833. He wanted to create a model of a Christian community united around the liturgy of the Church. In doing this, he made the official liturgy (the Mass and liturgical hours such as lauds and vespers) the center of the cult. He redirected piety from many other services and devotions, such as novenas and stations of the cross that had proliferated in Catholicism since the middle ages (cf. John O’Malley: What happened at Vatican II, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008).

The times of community prayer favored union with God all throughout the day in communion with humanity in praise, supplication, adoration. Céline says in her Conseils et souvenirs that to recollect herself well, Thérèse imagined herself on a barren rock before the vastness and alone there with Jesus with the earth at his feet; she forgot all creatures and told him her love in terms that she didn’t understand, it is true, but it was enough for her to know it gave him pleasure. It is good to remember that until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Office was celebrated in Latin, a language that most sisters didn’t know! There was a Latin grammar grammar in the library, a little book of 146 pages with little appeal.

To sanctify the whole day, this prayer of the Church takes place at specific times where all the sisters assemble together in the Carmelite choir of the chapel to sing hymns, psalms, prayers, according to the established way. A time given freely to God. 

         
 tome1-mini  tome2-mini  tome3-mini  tome4-mini  tome5-mini
 

The Office included during the time of Thérèse included:

The four little hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None celebrated in the morning after prayer.

Vespers celebrated at the beginning of the afternoon.

The office of Compline, celebrated at the end of day after evening recreation.

Matins at the beginning of night, followed by Lauds.

You must read this list by looking at community's schedule during Thérèse’s time.

This liturgical prayer of the community follows rules to promote the prayer of all, recollection and the right order during the celebration. During Thérèse’s time the sisters entered the choir in procession and bowed deeply before the Blessed Sacrament two by two, before each on her side heading towards her place in the stalls.

The Prioress or whoever presided gives the signal to begin the office and the sisters recite recto-tono (meaning on the same note) the Psalms, hymns and other parts of the office. The Psalms’ verses alternate meaning that the sisters on one side recite the first verse and the second verse is recited by the sisters on the other side, etc.

Certain parts of the Office are read by sisters designated in advance each week: the   for the antiphons, cantors for singing Psalms or hymns, the chantress for singing the office and for concluding the prayer. Céline added in her Conseils that Thérèse loved to be hebdomadary to say the prayer out loud like priests at Mass.

Here is an outline of the general structure without the exceptions for Sundays, feasts and solemnities.

 Small hours

 Vespers

Compline

Matins

Lauds

Pater et Ave Maria in silence
opening
hymn
antiphon followed by 3 psalms
capitulum / responsory
oration
 
(idem for Terce, Sexte and None: Pater et Ave, hymn, and the same for the rest)
 
Pater et Ave in silence
opening
antiphon followed by 5 psalms
capitulum / responsory
hymn
verset
antiphon and Magnificat
Prayers and Our Father
oration
conclusion
Ouverture
short Biblical reading
pater
confiteor
antiphon followed by 4 psalms
hymn
capitulum / responsory
antiphon and Nunc dimittis
oration
antienne à la sainte Vierge
conclusion
Pater et Ave in silence
opening
invitatory
1er nocturne
hymn
antiphon followed by 8 to 12 psalms
3 Biblical readings
2e nocturne
antiphon followed by 3 psalms
3 readings of patristic or hagiography
3e nocturne
antiphon followed by 3 psalms
3 readings of patristic
absolution
hymn
Pater et Ave in silence
opening
antiphon followed by 4 psalms
antiphon followed by 3 psalms
capitulum / responsory
hymn
antiphon and Benedictus
conclusion

 

This brief overview gives a faint idea of the complexity of different sections of the Office's appointed headings. To get an idea, it is good to browse the same breviary. It is possible to read (courageously) here the entire Office of Sunday at Matins of the late nineteenth century.

vignette matines

 

Today, the structure of all Offices is different: see here the celebration of a contemporary Office.

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