The Liturgical Vicissitudes of All Souls in the Age of Enlightenment

As we saw on Sunday, the Office of the Dead had ancient origins. Early in the Middle Ages it became an obligatory supplement to the cursus of the Divine Office on ferial days, as well as on All Souls, until the the former obligation was suppressed in the wake of the Council of Trent.

All Souls stood, after the Tridentine reforms, as an oddity in the liturgical calendar,  the sole day retaining double Vespers, Mattins, and Lauds. It is hardly surprising that its peculiar nature, even despite its venerable antiquity, made it the target of liturgical reformers.

The 1779 edition of the breviary of Cluny, which claims to be based on the Benedictine breviary from which it manifestly diverges

By the 17th century the Abbey of Cluny, that erstwhile centre of liturgical excellence, had become the vanguard for a rationalist liturgical movement whose most practical result was the production of a genre of reformed liturgies that later came to be called Neo-Gallican. These have been rendered somewhat infamous by the exhaustive critique to which they were submitted in Dom Proper Guéranger’s Institutions liturgiques. Guéranger censures the reformers for holding an “anti-liturgical heresy,” that consisted, in keeping with the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, to refashion the liturgy based on “rational” principles of their own devising without respect for inherited forms.

For example, amongst the more noteworthy characteristics of these Neo-Gallican liturgies were a rejection of the use of non-Biblical texts for Office antiphons and Mass propers (except hymns and sequences), the substitution of ancient hymns with new versions in a classicizing style, and a reduction in the number and rank of feasts to favour a re-arranged ferial psalter.

The earliest and most radical break with previous liturgical custom was the Neo-Gallican breviary adopted by Cluny in 1686. Dom Guéranger points out that it was not a reform, but the “complete and violent destruction of the entire corpus of the Gregorian offices”. In his own review of the material, Fr. Thiers wryly quips that it ought to have be called “The New Breviary” for all the connection it had with the old liturgy of Cluny.

In the novel breviary, the Office of the Dead itself was untouched except for the replacement of all non-Scriptural antiphons and responsories with new ones composed from Biblical texts. All Souls, however, became a proper liturgical day ending with None, but not following the precedent of uses like the Dominican; rather, the office was crafted almost entirely anew. All the antiphons and responsories were rewritten from Scripture. The readings from Job were excised from Mattins: thenceforth the first Nocturn had the readings of the occurring feria, the second Nocturn an excerpt from St Augustine’s sermon 127, and the third Nocturn a pericope from chapter 15 of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.

This responsory, derived entirely from Biblical texts, replaced the traditional Libera me as the last responsory of Mattins of the Dead in the Neo-Gallican Cluniac Office, and was later taken up by the Parisian and other Neo-Gallican uses. The version here is from a Parisian antiphonary and gradual published in 1827.

Hymns were composed to conform Mattins and Lauds to the normal scheme for feasts. They were composed by Jean-Baptiste Santeul, a Canon Regular of St Victor, whom Dom Guéranger accuses of having Jansenist sympathies and who, the Abbot of Solesmes superciliously notes, was better known for being a bon vivant than for his piety.

Canon Jean-Baptiste Santeul, composer of many hymns used in the Neo-Gallican liturgies, described by a contemporary as “most excellent company, a good dinner-guest above all, fond of wine and good cheer, but without debauchery.”

None of the other Neo-Gallican rites strayed as far from tradition as did Cluny. Most were modeled after the Parisian use, whose breviary underwent its final and definitive reform in 1736. In it, Second Vespers of All Saints is followed by Vespers of the Dead, reformed only by the removal of non-Scriptural elements. All Souls itself was a full liturgical day ending with None. Mattins and Lauds were again altered to replace texts not coming from Scripture, losing some of their most beautiful responsories, which were replaced by new compositions of dubious musical quality. The readings of the first Nocturn come from Job, and those of the second and third follow the arrangement in the Cluniac breviary. At the Little Hours, the psalms begin immediately after the silent prayers, and are taken from Sunday in the new Parisian psalter. They are followed by one of the new Scriptural responsories and finish with the Lord’s prayer, the usual preces, and collect.

The memorable propers of the Mass of the Dead were also doomed to revision, since none them derive from Biblical texts. New propers were duly composed, and in most Neo-Gallican rites they are the following:

Introit (from Ps. 73). Respice, Domine, in testamentum tuum; ne tradas bestiis animas confitentes tibi, et animas pauperum tuorum ne obliviscaris in finem. Ps. Ut quid, Deus, repulisti in finem; * iratus est furor tuus super oves pascuæ tuæ. ℣. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, * et lux perpetua luceat eis. Respice, &c.
Have regard, O Lord, to thy convenant; deliver not up to beasts the souls that confess to thee: and forget not to the end the souls of thy poor. Ps. O God, why hast thou cast us off unto the end: why is thy wrath enkindled against the sheep of thy pasture? ℣. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual life shine upon them. Have regard, &c.

Gradual (from Ps. 141). Clamavi ad te, Domine; dixi, Tu es spes mea, portio mea in terra viventium. ℣. Educ de custodia animam meam ad confitendum nomini tuo: me expectant justi, donec retribuas mihi.
I cried to thee, O Lord: I said: Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living. ℣. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the just wait for me, until thou reward me.

Tract (from Baruch 3). Domine omnipotens, anima in angustiis, et spiritus anxius clamat at te. Audi, Domine, et miserere, quia Deus es miséricors; et miserere nostri, quia peccavimus ante te. Domine omnipotens, Deus Israel, audi nunc orationem mortuorum Israel.
O Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, the soul in anguish, and the troubled spirit crieth to thee. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for thou art a merciful God, and have pity on us: for we have sinned before thee. O Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, hear now the prayer of the dead of Israel.

Offertory (from Micheas 7). Ad Dominum aspiciam, expectabo Deum salvatorem meum; audiet me Deus meus: consurgam cum sedero in tenebris, Dominus lux mea est: iram Domini portabo, quoniam peccavi ei: educet me in lucem, videbo justitiam ejus.
I will look towards the Lord, I will wait for God my Saviour: my God will hear me, I shall arise, when I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light. I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him: he will bring me forth into the light, I shall behold his justice.

Communion (from John 6). Qui manducat meam carnem, et bibit meum sanguinem, habet vitam aeternam, et ego resuscitabo eum in novissimo die.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

The sequence Dies iræ was preserved, but its first stanza was amended to suppress mention of the Sibyl, and the thirteenth to remove the suggestion that the sinful woman Our Lord absolved was St Mary Magdalene.

The Neo-Gallican introit for Masses of the Dead. The melody follows that of the traditional Introit.

This was the state of the Office of All Souls throughout most of France—even whilom conservative Lyons eventually chose to forsake its traditions and ape the Parisian use—until Dom Guéranger began his efforts to replace the Neo-Gallican rites with the Roman, imagining that Rome—surely Rome!—would prove a bulwark of tradition. It is intensely ironic, then, that St Pius X’s reform of the Roman breviary broke with the very tradition Dom Guéranger cherished, and did so considerably influenced by the Neo-Gallican experiments. We will discuss this final chapter in the saga of All Souls on Friday.

3 thoughts on “The Liturgical Vicissitudes of All Souls in the Age of Enlightenment

  1. For all their disastrous novelty, certain individual aspects of these Neo-Gallican liturgical books do seem legitimate and even desirable.

    In some ways they anticipate the *better* instincts of the Pauline liturgical reform, such as daily patristic readings, a much expanded euchology (mostly culled, untouched, from ancient sources), and (in the Missals) Epistles and Gospels far better suited to individual saints’ days.

    The overhaul of the antiphons, responsories, introits, graduals, etc. is unforgivable, but even here, the choice of biblical texts reveals a rather thorough assimilation of patristic and medieval style typological exegesis, thus making the propers, mostly useless for actual liturgical purposes, really engaging lectio divina material.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Certainly a few aspects of the Neo-Gallican liturgies can be salvaged. The inclusion of ferial Epistles & Gospels for ferial Wednesdays & Fridays and of additional Epistles & Gospels for days within octaves are also praiseworthy (although this was a preservation & expansion of a preëxisting practice in the traditional local French uses, rather than a complete innovation).

    Nevertheless I do think (much as in the case of the post-Conciliar liturgy) that these few legitimate elements are almost overwhelmed by the infelicitous ones, nearly all of which stem from a seldom-disguised disregard, nay more, contempt, for the Church’s liturgical heritage. Usually, those things that are laudable in the Neo-Gallican rites are preservations or developments of old traditions, like the expanded use of orations from the old sacramentaries, which you mention.


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