De Can. Observ. 12: On the Ecclesiastical Chant

Proposition XII

The sung parts of the Divine Office must likewise be authentic and approved

Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly, in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God, to the Colossians, chapter 3.[1] Although these three terms—psalms, hymns, and canticles—had different meanings in former times, for our purposes here by hymns and canticles we mean whatever is sung in a raised voice in the divine praises. Now our discourse turns in particular to the manner of singing them in God’s Church.

a) History of Ecclesiastical Chant

In the beginning the Divine Office consisted entirely of the psalms, except for a few things that were chanted, and each psalm concluded with an Alleluia and an oration. Elegant orations of this type can be found in ancient psalters.

Two times per day the holy Fathers met to sing psalms: at night for Vigils and at the hour of the lucernarium for Vespers. Once the assigned number of psalms was finished, there followed lessons from the Old and New Testament, but on Saturday and Sunday only from the New. At Terce, Sext, and None they said a lesser number of psalms in their cells. As for Masses, the primitive custom in God’s Church was to read lessons from both Testaments and from the Gospel, without any chant.[2] Pope Celestinus ordered the psalms to be sung as well, as in the other offices.[3]

We read in the Historia Tripartita 3.8 that the blessed man Ignatius[4] saw angels in heaven singing antiphonally, and instituted the use of antiphons in the Church of Antioch, and thence the use of antiphons spread to the other churches. Hence Isidore, in book 3 of his Etymologies:

The term “antiphon” translated from the Greek means “reciprocal voice,” specifically when two choruses alternate in singing with their order interchanged, that is, from one to another. The Greeks are said to have invented this kind of singing.[5]

Chant was not introduced universally in God’s Church at this time, but later “in the days of Theodosius the Younger”—as we read in the Life of Saint Ambrose—chants and hymns began to be said frequently in the Church of Milan.[6] And at a later time public singing with metric hymns at Mass and the other divine hours was introduced among the Latins by Saint Ambrose. Hence we read in the Chronicles that “Ambrose was the first to bring over the rite of singing antiphons from the Greeks to the Latins.” He, moreover, “was the first after Hilary to compose hymns for singing.”[7]  For the Ambrosian Office has a strong and solemn chant, entirely different from the Roman, at Nocturns and Matins, a[2] s well at Vespers and Lauds and Mass, which today the clerics of the city and diocese of Milan cultivate with strong and sonorous voices. And from there, among the Romans, Popes Saint Gregory and Vitalianus received Roman chant, which they or others more clearly sweetened and ordered in the melodies and tones which are sung today, wherever it exists.

This Roman Antiphonary was sent to Francia by Pope Stephen in the days of Pepin, according to Walahfrid, and was promulgated in Germany in the days of Charlemagne. Thus Sigebert in his Chronicles, for the year 774:

King Charles, offended by the differences in ecclesiastical chant between the Romans and Gauls, and judging that it would be more just to drink from a pure font than a turbid river, sent two clerics to Rome so that they might learn authentic chant from the Romans and teach it to the Gauls. Through them the church of Metz and thence all of Gaul returned to the authority of Roman chant. Likewise on the year 790, Charles, attentive to ecclesiastical honor, diligently corrected the rule of lessons and psalm-singing, but realized that, again, the Gauls once again differed from the Romans in their singing, and even the clerics of Metz diverged a little due to their natural inconstancy. He therefore sent singers back to Rome to Pope Adrian and thus corrected the dissonance.[8]

Thus Sigebert.

b) Species of Chants

Now, ecclesiastical chant consists of antiphons under which the psalms are sung, which began with St. Ignatius; and in responsories that are tied to lessons, which the books say the Italians invented. So Isidore in the sixth book of the Etymologies:

The Italians handed down responsory singing; they called these chants “responsories” because when one breaks off the other responds. There is however this distinction between responsories and antiphons, that in a responsory one person says the verse, whereas in antiphons the choruses alternate in the verses.

For by the term “antiphon” we mean generally those chants which are commonly called antiphons, but the term also covers Invitatories—which Benedict calls “antiphons”—and the Introit, Offertory, and Postcommunion of the Roman Office, as well as the Psallenda, Ingressa, Antiphons after the Gospel, Offerenda, Confractio, and Transitorium of the Ambrosian Office. Responsories are joined to lessons in both offices—in the Ambrosian at Vespers and in both offices to the lessons at Mass.  In the Roman office, at Mass, they are called Graduals (Gradualia), and in the Ambrosian, Psalmelli. And because the chants of the Missal are seldom altered, let us discuss the chants of Vigils, Lauds, and Vespers.

First of all, note that the set of antiphons and responsories which belong to a single day or to an observation are called histories. All nations have generally uniform temporal histories, that is, of the temporal cycle, which match those in the Roman Antiphonary. But with respect to saints’ histories, that is, those said on saints’ feast days, the Italian churches conform more to the Roman [Antiphonary], because they admit fewer proper histories of saints. The French churches, then the English, and finally [3] the German churches have supplied themselves with abundant proper histories of saints. But with respect to the Roman Antiphonary, we must realize that the order of the responsories and their verses varies in divers nations and churches. For generally the verses are not alike, the responsories and antiphons are sung in a different order everywhere. Nay, I have often  that even the Roman books often vary. They are to be admonished, therefore, who scruple over the order of responsories and their verses, while at the same time permitting themselves a lax conscience with regard to Proposition X.[9]

c) Responsories in the temporal and sanctoral cycles

This has all been by way of a preface. Let us now touch briefly upon the histories of the temporal and sanctoral cycles until a more complete documentation shall have arrived from the City.

The Lord’s Day has a more excellent supply of solemn histories in the Roman office than in the Ambrosian. For every Sunday in Advent and from Septuagesima to Easter are adorned with proper histories. Proper histories are assigned to Eastertide every two weeks,[10] and as many as necessary to fill the time after Epiphany and Trinity and then, beginning in August, in monthly sets. They are also assigned to the known feasts of our Lord, the three feasts of the Glorious Virgin, of the angels, both feasts of the Holy Cross, of the Baptist, of Peter and Paul, Andrew and John the Evangelist, Stephen, Laurence, Clement, Sebastian, Innocent, John and Paul, and Maurice the martyr; of the confessors Martin and Nicholas; the virgins Agnes, Cecilia, Agatha, and Lucy; of Eastertide and the common of apostles, of martyrs, of one confessor, and of one virgin all boast proper histories in the ancient Roman Antiphonary, albeit some of them are incomplete. Our countrymen in the Gallican Church have borrowed from the French Church proper histories for Saint Remigius, and Dionysius, and proper Lauds for St. Brice. Stephen, bishop of Tongres, composed proper histories for the invention of St. Stephen and the feasts of St. Lambert and of the Holy Trinity—as Sigibert states in his book De illustribus viris—both of which are commonly observed in these parts. The monks have a history of St. Benedict taken from St. Gregory’s Dialogues, sung according to the Roman tone and in the Roman Antiphonary. Most religious orders have antiphons † a history of St. Augustine taken from his Confessions but the seculars do not have these two histories at all.[11]

Of the aforementioned histories, some are taken from Sacred Scripture according as the words are appropriate. Two are from the Psalter, namely Domine ne in ira[12] and Si oblitus.[13] Others are taken from the lessons or passions read at the time. Others are from the saints’ sermons or sayings, as many responsories and antiphons of Christmas and of the Blessed Virgin. But all these histories seem to possess authority from the ancient Roman books, several copies of which I have brought back with me, while more are on the way as I have explained.

The Carthusians, on the other hand, admit only responsories and antiphons taken from Sacred Scripture. It is no surprise that the Friars Minor often do not have the antiphons or the ancient secular responsories received from the Romans, because they have cut out from their use many things found in Roman books. Also the Matins antiphons of the three days after Christmas and of Saints Peter and Andrew, which the seculars sing, do not come from the Roman antiphonary, which has others that are briefer and simpler; they are claimed to have been composed by the French.

In the office of the Blessed Virgin, the seculars have the antiphons Ecce tu pulchra and the others for Matins, and the long antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat taken from the Song of Songs.

Even if all the antiphons and responsories for which no certain authority may be found were to be cut out, there would remain a sufficient number for a small community. And so your Order should consider very carefully which responsories and antiphons it wishes to include, since in this matter it is not right to trust one’s mere inclination.

The temporal histories are rather abundant in responsories, so that there are often too many for the ferial days.But there are religious, the Preachers for example and their imitators, who have cut out the ferial responsories and repeat the Sunday ones over the days of the week. In the Roman use the first Sunday responsory is never repeated during the week; once all are used, it begins again from the second. Should this arrangement please anyone, let him see the Friars Minors’ melodies.

Likewise, at Rome the old books indicate the Gloria Patri of the responsories was sung in its entirety to the melody of the tone, as we do after the Introit. And since it did not please posterity to sing them in their entirety, they are cut up and sung to one of the eight tones until the Sicut erat. The Carthusians, the churches of Cologne, Liège, and many solemn churches sing it thus. After the Gloria Patri, less of the antiphon should be repeated than after the verse; the Romans and the Carthusians do it this way.

The Divine Office also has short responsories which in the Roman Office are said at the minor hours, namely Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Compline, and they are taken from the psalms except at Prime.[14]  The minor versicles, which in the Ambrosian Office and in ancient books are called Little Chapters (Capitula) should also be taken from the psalter. The Benedictine Office has versicles for the minor hours; and for Lauds, Vespers, and the sole summer lesson [at Matins] it has a short responsory.

Further, responsories should never be said with Alleluia except from Easter to Pentecost, and on this point many contravene the holy and beautiful Roman use by abusively using the celestial Alleluia in the short responsories; the holy Fathers were of the mind that it should be said without intermission during Eastertide, but did not permit its use in any other season.


[1] Colossians 3:16.

[2] See Justin, Apologia 1.67.

[3] See Liber pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, I, Sp. 230. Cf. Amalarius, Liber officialis 3.5 and Alcuin, De divinis officiis liber 39 (PL 101:1244)

[4] Died A. D. 108.

[5] Isidore, Etymologies VI.xix.7, trans. Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof (Cambridge, 2006), pg. 147.

[6] Cf. Walafridus Strabo, Liber de exordiis, c. 26. Cf. Paulinus’s Life of St. Ambrose.

[7] Sigebert, Chronica, anno 391, MGH, SS, lib. 6, p. 303; PL 169:69.

[8] Sigebert, Chronica, anno 790, MGH, SS, lib. 6, p. 335ñ PL 169:150

[9] Moral theology names several species or states of conscience (true, erroneous, doubting, probable, lax, scrupulous, and perplexed). Radulph mocks those who scruple over the proper placement of responsories and their verses while brazenly curtailing the ferial office as discussed in Proposition 10.

[10] The same set of responsories is sung for two weeks in Eastertide.

[11] The text here is corrupt.

[12] Second Sunday after Epiphany

[13] Dom. 4 post Pascha.

[14] The Prime brief responsory, Christe Fili Dei vivi, is non-Scriptural.


De Can. Observ. 10: On the Distribution of the Psalter

Proposition X

At the night office, let eighteen psalms be said each Sunday, nine on feasts, and twelve psalms whenever three lessons and responses are said, save for the weeks of Easter and Pentecost. The rest of the psalter is distributed over the remaining hours.

Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel: the pleasant psaltery with the harp,[1] and praise ye the Lord, because psalm is good. So that to our God be joyful and comely praise,[2] let us give the stated proposition a cogent proof, for it is principally on account of it that the previous ones have been set forth.

At the outset, it must be observed that the psalter has two parts. The first part contains all psalms up to Dixit Dominus, and is used in the night office. The second, for the day office, includes all the rest.

Ambrose divided the first part into ten nocturns, leaving no psalm out. In the vulgar tongue of the city, they are called digurias. The first diguria contains sixteen psalms, the second fourteen, while the next seven have ten each and the last has eight. The Ambrosian office goes through these ten digurias every fortnight year-round. That is to say, on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of one week they say the first five digurias, and during the next week they say the other five. On Saturday and Sunday the Ambrosian rite uses a number of canticles. The digurias are said even on feasts except for three or four feasts of our Lord and excepting the week before Christmas, and the week before and the week after Easter. The second part of the psalter is distributed throughout the day hours of Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, as in the Roman Office.

(a) Matins

We may believe that Jerome imitated Ambrose in this regard. But the venerable fathers Jerome and Benedict, gathering from their study of the holy fathers that the entire psalter should be recited integrally every week, divided the psalter differently. Reserving certain psalms for some of the day hours, they distributed the remainder into seven nocturns: Jerome assigning eighteen psalms to the Sunday and Benedict twelve, and both giving twelve psalms to each feria. Saint Benedict appointed the same number of psalms for feasts and Sundays, as in ch. 33,[3] while Jerome halved the number of psalms with respect to Sunday, allotting only nine psalms to feasts, although three psalms ought to be added, which are said according to Roman custom in the evening on the vigils of feasts, as I shall state in proposition 21.

But in the distribution of the second part of the psalter, Benedict differs from Ambrose and Jerome. One can read about his division in his Rule. Nevertheless, in both divisions, despite their differences, the entire psalter is said fully every week unless a feast occurs. Hence Saint Benedict concludes chapter 33 thus:

Above all, we recommend that if this arrangement of the psalms be displeasing to anyone, he should, if he think fit, order it otherwise; taking care especially that the whole psalter of a hundred and fifty psalms be recited every week, and always begun afresh at the Vigils on Sunday. For monks would show themselves too slothful in the divine service who say in the course of a week less than the entire psalter with the usual canticles; since we read that our holy fathers resolutely performed in a single day what I pray we tepid monks may achieve in a whole week.[4]

Thus Benedict.

The reason Saint Benedict assigned twelve psalms to every night, both de tempore and de sanctis, and Saint Jerome likewise  to the first nocturn of Sunday and to ferial nights, was of divine, not human, invention. See Cassian, Institutes 2.4:

So, as we said, throughout the whole of Egypt and the Thebaid the number of Psalms is fixed at twelve both at Vespers and in the office of Nocturns, in such a way that at the close two lessons follow, one from the Old and the other from the New Testament. And this arrangement, fixed ever so long ago, has continued unbroken to the present day throughout so many ages, in all the monasteries of those districts, because it is said that it was no appointment of man’s invention, but was brought down from heaven to the fathers by the ministry of an angel.[5]

And in chapter 5, he says:

And when each man in proportion to his own fervor—and unmindful of the weakness of others—thought that that should be appointed which he judged was quite easy by considering his own faith and strength, taking too little account of what would be possible for the great mass of the brethren in general (wherein a very large proportion of weak ones is sure to be found); and when in different degrees they strove, each according to his own powers, to fix an enormous number of Psalms, and some were for fifty, others sixty, and some, not content with this number, thought that they actually ought to go beyond it—there was such a holy difference of opinion in their pious discussion on the rule of their religion that the time for their Vesper office came before the sacred question was decided; and, as they were going to celebrate their daily rites and prayers, one rose up in the midst to chant the Psalms to the Lord. And while they were all sitting (as is still the custom in Egypt), with their minds intently fixed on the words of the chanter, when he had sung eleven Psalms, separated by prayers introduced between them, verse after verse being evenly enunciated, he finished the twelfth with a response of Alleluia, and then, by his sudden disappearance from the eyes of all, put an end at once to their discussion and their service. Whereupon the venerable assembly of the Fathers understood that by Divine Providence a general rule had been fixed for the congregations of the brethren through the angel’s direction, and so decreed that this number should be preserved both in their evening and in their nocturnal services.[6]

Thus Cassian. But today many, especially the secular clergy, scorn to keep the rule of the Holy Roman Church and the constitutions of the holy Fathers regarding the aforesaid number of psalms and the psalms to be chanted at night Vigils on all simple feasts. And so that no one may be able to plead ignorance on this matter, as much has been included in the jurists’ Decretals, de consecratione distinction 5, chapter In die,[7]  and written in a most sacred canon of that great man Gregory VII given at a general holy synod. And lest this canon be unheeded in your Order, it appears word for word in the letter to the bishop of Maguelon mentioned above.[8] And all those who wrote on the Divine Office were accustomed to put it in their works and often to insist that the said number be kept. This is its tenor:

From Easter Sunday until Saturday in Albis, and on Pentecost Sunday until the Saturday of the same week, in accordance with ancient custom we sing and read only three psalms and three lessons at night. On every other day in the year, if it be a feast, we say nine psalms and nine lessons. On other days, we recite twelve psalms and three lessons. On Sundays, we celebrate eighteen psalms—except on Easter and Pentecost—and nine lessons. Those, however, who on weekdays only seem to read three psalms and three lessons, are proved to do so not from the rule of the holy fathers but out of weariness and negligence. The Romans, however, began to do differently, especially from the time when the rule of the Roman Church was given over to the Germans, and we established that the ancient custom of our Church should be done, as we noted above, in imitation of the ancient fathers.

Thus the canon. Lay up these words in your hearts and minds, and hang them for a sign on your hands, and place them between your eyes. Teach your children that they meditate on them.[9] For this is ‘a manner of living suitable to those who walk in God’s way, down which each[10] now hastens to go as he pleases, though few walk rightly. This is true especially among the secular clergy, but also for many religious.

Therefore, eighteen psalms must be said every Sunday of the year when there is not a feast, even in Paschaltide, save on Easter and Pentecost day, and likewise on all Sundays within major octaves such as that of Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Assumption and Nativity, and Peter and Paul. Likewise on every day of three lessons, whether it be from the temporal or sanctoral cycle, and throughout major octaves, and even in Paschaltide save for the two said weeks, for the night office we must say a twelve-psalm ferial nocturn. That is the practice of the monasteries of your Order in Italy and the more northern parts of the West, and everywhere else, as Durandus observed in his Rationale divinorum, where he speaks of the seven days of Easter.[11] The same is kept by the secular churches of Italy and, with the exception of a few days, by the churches of Germany, and by many religious, such as the Lords of the Teutonic order. The Carmelites preserve more or less this custom. Further, in keeping with St. Benedict’s distribution, the same is kept by the Carthusians, Cistercians, and the other monastic orders. 

Nay, in their obedience to the aforesaid holy Canon and in their fidelity to the Rule of St. Benedict’s prescription for saying the psalter every week, there is no difference between canons and monks. For when the monk says the nocturn according to the monastic division, on the same day the canon is bound to say the nocturn according to the Roman division. While the monks have not yet strayed from their Rule, however, many canons in divers nations have departed from the said Canon in myriad ways. First, many nations argue that only three psalms and three lessons are said throughout Eastertide, and thus they say them, alleging that “Alcuin, the teacher of Charlemagne and his son Louis, ordained it thus at the request of Boniface, archbishop of Mainz,”[12] with the approval of the Council of Mainz. But William rejects this practice in the passage cited, and says that the opposite “must be deduced from the feast of Our Lord’s Ascension, where there are nine responsories and nine psalms with their antiphons.”[13] But this institution must not and cannot stand without doing harm to Apostolic authority, especially as it runs so much contrary to the statutes of the holy fathers. For “constitutions against the canons and decrees of the Roman prelates or good custom, are of no moment,”  dist. 10 Constitutiones.[14] We must therefore oppose without hesitation whatever we see so evidently contrary to Apostolic authority, whence we have received the beginning and form of the entire Christian religion and order, since it is a safer policy to maintain what a provident antiquity and authority have established rather than that which an ill-considered novelty or weakness have concocted.

There are other seculars who on saints’ feasts outside of Eastertide never say the single nocturn, but prefer to say the nine psalms of the same saints, and so they do. But neither authority nor reason approves their saying these psalms in that case. And “you should not presume to do through an invented superstition what is not sanctioned by the decree of the holy fathers,” de translatione, Inter corporalia.[15] Nay, according to the above, it must be rejected altogether. Nor should your houses defend themselves on the basis of a recently received privilege.[16] For just as an oath is not a bond [for the performance of] iniquity, nor must it foster sin, neither should a privilege do so, De privilegio, ch. Ex tuarum.[17]

Even if secular canons, to whom this saying is hard,[18] went back and do not wish to walk any more[19] with this canon, will you also go away?[20] Consider it most certain that you who lead the canonical life lying somewhere in between that of the religious and the secular clerics, must hold with the monks, who have not gone astray. For Pope Nicholas says that “religious canons are not separated from the company of monks” (question 20, chapter 3,Praesens clericus, near the end)[21] even if irregular canons “observe a laxer rule” (De statu monachorum, Quod Dei).[22]

Take ye up, therefore, the Lord’s sweet yoke[23] which the holy Roman See lays upon you, even though it seem unbearable, as is written in distinction 19:[24]

In memory of the Apostle Saint Peter, let us honor the holy Roman Church and the Apostolic see, so that she who is for us the mother of the priestly dignity might also be the teacher of ecclesiastical reason. Wherefore it must be kept with all meekness and humility. And even if that holy see imposes a scarcely bearable yoke, let us nevertheless bear it and endure it with pious devotion.

Nay even further, as Bernard says in his Liber de praecepto et dispensatione:

Perfect obedience knows no law. It can be held within no limits. Not content with the narrow bounds of obligation, it spreads to the fullness of charity, carried by its generous will. Eager for every order in the strength of its free and ready spirit, it considers not the measure, but reaches out in boundless liberty.[25]

Although the aforesaid canon imposes the obligation to say the Sunday psalms on Sundays of Easter and those falling within major octaves, nevertheless at Prime let [only] the five Dominical psalms be [1] recited on account of the joy of the season. And likewise although in Eastertide the ferial nocturn is said on ferias and saints’ feasts of three lessons, at Lauds the customary [Sunday] psalms are read.[26] With respect to the number of psalms at Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, the nations are in general agreement, except that outside Eastertide, seemingly out of pure indolence, some omit the said five psalms of Sunday Prime that follow the eighteen.[27] But following the Ambrosian custom, the psalm Confitemini[28] should be added on every Sunday even if a feast be celebrated and during Easter week.

(b) Vespers

The Vespers psalms must be said continuously up to the end of the psalter, except that in the Roman Antiphonal Christmas, the Apostles, and Saint Stephen have proper psalms and antiphons, and the Sunday psalms are said throughout the weeks of Easter and Pentecost and on the Ascension. For Second Vespers of feasts, the use of the Friars Minor has the Sunday psalms at second Vespers, except that the last varies according to the feast. The French, moreover, solemnize major feasts with the Laudate psalms;[29] the Germans, wherever possible, keep the ferial psalms.

(c) Antiphons

c.1: Major hours

Now let us add something in general about the antiphons of the psalms. Note that the three main hours—namely the Vigils, Lauds, and Vespers—should be sung with a higher degree of solemnity, and the five minor hours with a lesser.[30] [2] Hence according to the Roman Order in the psalms every time in the aforenamed hours that the doxology of Holy Trinity Gloria Patri is sung, the antiphon must follow. For the antiphon pertains to the psalms that are sung. And thus Saint Gregory arranged antiphons for each of the psalms of these hours. But some perverted this elegant arrangement, sometimes at Lauds, sometimes at Vespers, whereof more shall be said hereafter.[31]

c.2: Minor hours At the minor hours, however, the psalms should be said under one antiphon. Indeed, in the Ambrosian office they are said without an antiphon[32]. And Benedict allows smaller congregations to say these psalms “directanee without an antiphon.”[33] And the antiphons must be intoned before the beginning of the psalms, as the Romans and Ambrosians do. In both the Ambrosian and Roman customs the end of the psalm verses are sung according to the tones. But the Ambrosians sing the middle of the verse recto tono regardless of the tone. The Roman office, on the other hand, has several mediants, according to the sundry customs of  the various churches and nations, but at Rome I saw mediants in ancient books that are quite similar to our German use.


[1] Psalm 80:3

[2] Psalm 146:1

[3] Cf. Rule, 33.

[4] Benedict, The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, ed. by Justin McCann (London: Burns, Oates, 1952).

[5] Cassian, Institutes, 4.

[6] Cassian, Institutes 5-6.

[7] CIC, Decr. III 5.15— Frdbg. I, 1416.

[8] Cf. Proposition 7.

[9] Deuteronomy 11:18-19.

[10] Cf. the prefatory letter.

[11] G. Durandus, Rationale, lib. VI, c. 89, nr. 5

[12] G. Durandus, Rationale, lib. VI, c. 111, nr. 6

[13] Ibid., nr. 7

[14] CIC Decr. 1.10.4, Constitutiones — Frdbrg. I, 20.

[15] CIC, Decr. Greg. 1.7.2  — Frdbrg. II, 98.

[16] Cf. Prop. IV, in fine.

[17] Actually CIC, Decr. Greg. 2.24.27, Sicut nostris — Frdbrg. II, 371. Cf. CIC, Decr. 2.22.4.22 — Frdbrg. I, 881.

[18] John 6:61

[19] John 6:67

[20] John 6:68

[21] CIC, Decr. II 20.3.4.— Frdbrg. I, 850.

[22] CIC, Decretalium 3.35.5 — Frdbrg. II, 598.

[23] Matthew 11:30

[24] CIC, Decr. 1.19.3 — Frdbrg. I, 60.

[25] Bernard of Clairveaux, Book on Precept and Dispensation 5, trans. Conrad Greenia, in The Works of Bernard of Clairvaux 1 (Collegeville, 1970), 114.

[26] Namely 92, 99, 62, 66, the Canticle of the Three Young Men, 148, 149, and 150.

[27] Pre-Tridentine Prime consisted of a unit of five psalms (53, 117, the two first parts of 118, and the Athanasian Creed), to which on Sundays were added the psalms 21–25, i.e. the five psalms after the eighteen included in the first nocturn of Sunday Matins (Psalms 1–20 with the omission of 4 and 5, said at Compline and Lauds respectively). During Easter, these extra five were omitted due to their penitential character (propter temporis iucunditatem). Those whom Radulph reproaches here omit these five psalms even outside of Eastertide.

[28] Psalm 117

[29] Namely 112, 116, 145, 146, and 147.

[30] For a more precise notion of the “humility” (“humilitas”) of lesser days, see LOE ??: “Humiliationes voco, quando officium horarum fit sub humilitate et quia pulsantur nolae seu campanae minores & dicuntur vigiliae et Missa pro mortuis … Et sub humilitate pone tibi humiliter regulam, quia cotidie diebus ferialibus agendum est officium sub humiliatione vel feriale officium vel de sancto… Sed desides et pigri extra Adventum et Ieiunium hoc humile Christi officium fugiunt, ubi possunt.”

[31] See Proposition 15.

[32] Breviarium Ambrosianum, ed. Gaisruck, Rubricae generales, § 15, 17, 18, pg. XXVIII f., Ad Primam, pg. 14, Ad Tertium, pg. 22, etc. (Pars Aestivalis).

[33] St. Benedict, Regula, c. 17


De Can. Observ. 7: On Authority Against Novelty

Proposition VII

Therefore the Divine Office must be ruled by our Fathers’ authority, not by private judgment

This proposition is proved from what has gone before and furthermore is handed down explicitly in the Rule of Canons, where we find these words: “And do not sing anything but what is noted to be sung; and what is not so noted is not to be sung.”[1]

Here the venerable Hugh of St. Victor says in his Explanation of the Rule:

It is not right that the church singing should be varied according to the ideas of different persons. It should be steadily maintained according to the written and traditional use of those that have gone before us. In the same way all other customs of the convent ought to be regulated by authority and discretion. And if aught is to be changed or newly established, this should not be hastily or lightly decided upon, nor yet merely on the opinion of two or three. But the matter should be arranged as the chief part of the chapter shall judge best, when all have been gathered together to consider it. We must know that ecclesiastical authority is always to be followed before private reasoning. For authority is ever the safeguard of humility and obedience, whereas reason not unfrequently leads to presumption. This principle is always to be regarded in a religious order if it is to shine by maturity and gravity. St Paul says of himself: “Did I use lightness . . . that there should be with me, It is and it is not?” (2 Cor. 1:17) For it is becoming, and especially in keeping with the religious state, to refrain from easily or lightly introducing change.[2]

And in the eleventh distinction Pope Julius says: “Do not wander, my brethren, do not be led astray by new and alien doctrines; keep the institutes of the apostles and apostolic men and the canons”;[3] and “do not, against the Apostle’s desire, be carried about with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14),” in the twelfth distinction, chapter De his.[4]

Pope Gelasius II, in an Epistula ad fratres regulares, orders canons “that the divine offices in their houses should be celebrated according to the common custom of the Catholic Church.”[5]

When Norbert founded a new order of canons under the Rule of St. Augustine, Walter, bishop of Maguelone and one of your Order, said the following in a Letter to the regular brethren of Chamousey[6]:

Lord Norbert may be a religious and holy man, boasting many divers virtues, well-versed in the holy scriptures, a paragon of preachers. Yet still we ought not put as much faith in him as in our holy fathers whose names are written in the book of life, who performed famous miracles, who support and enrich the Church daily with their examples, and whose zeal causes the canonical order to flourish and bear fruit today. Though people regard Norbert as a good man, it is not known whether he be one of the elect before God. Further, we declare that the novel form of the canonical office he promoted, with its antiphons and psalms alternating in a cycle of three seasons, runs afoul of the sacred canons and of St. Augustine himself.[7] For if we are called canons and profess the canonical life, then we must embrace the canons given to us by our mother the Roman Church, especially in what pertains to the Divine Office, for we have received our very name from them. Nay, he who invents false or new opinions against her and persists in following them is judged a heretic. In order to show us with what great presumption we stray in altering the Office, we call our holy Fathers to witness. They are our defense and yours against this unsanctioned religious innovation.[8]

Then after citing and quoting the chapters Si instituta[9] and Quis nesciat[10] in the eleventh distinction, both referenced earlier, the chapter In die in De consecratione distinction five,[11] [Inferius sollemnizando,][12] the chapter Observetur,[13] the chapter Illa autem in the twelfth distinction,[14] the chapter In his rebus in the eleventh distinction,[15] and the chapter Illud te breviter in the twelfth distinction,[16] he concludes: “Behold with what authorities and customs we dispense your religious order, nay, the entire Church, from those vain institutions.” And he ends: “And so we desire, beseech, and counsel you to depart from these contentions which kindle schism and give rise to scandal among God’s people.”

Let us return to the letter of the Rule: ‘Do not.’ Speech in the imperative mood falls under precept, as in the Clementinae 5, tit. 11 De verborum significatione, cap. Exivi, Ut autem haec, where it speaks of the office of the Friars Minor.[17] There the Lord Pope says that these words of the Rule of St. Francis, “Let the clerics perform the Divine office according to the order of the holy Roman Church”[18] are a matter of precept which “the friars are obliged to observe.” It follows that “those who violate this precept are guilty of mortal sin.”[19] Thus, “A rule is an order, and what is ordered must be done; if it is not done, there are grounds for punishment. One who offers advice does so at his own discretion; one who orders obliges obedience,” according to St. Gregory, as found in the thirteenth distinction, question 1, Quod praecipitur.[20]

The Rule continues: ‘Sing.’ This word is generally understood to refer to all the psalmody, reading, and chants said in the divine offices, for all serve the same purpose, and in common parlance are called “song.”

It continues, ‘Except what is noted in approved writings.’ For the holy Doctor has nothing to say about spurious writings. Going on, “But what is not so noted.” This phrase might seem superfluous, since he just forbade “what is not noted,” and therefore cannot be read, to be sung. But he was referring above to the sung texts themselves; now he prescribes the manner of singing, saying that what must be sung should be sung in no other way or manner than as they are noted. Deuteronomy, chapter 10 at the end: “What I command thee, that only do thou to the Lord: neither add any thing, nor diminish.”[21]

Thus the Rule prescribes three things: that what is noted should be observed, that what is not noted should be rejected, and that what is noted should be sung just as it is noted. Thus supposes, as is true, that everything is in fact written down. The Rule does not say “what seculars do by custom,” or “what jurists recommend,” or “what the pope commands,” but “what is written,” what is prescribed, what is instituted should be read, sung, and observed in the office. But what is not noted or done by universal custom must be rejected, as above in the second Proposition.

But if a person should object to the contrary that one should leave aside the canons, bishops’ statutes, and general customs and follow the metropolitan church’s manner of singing, since as much is written in the twelfth distinction, chapter De his;[22] in De consecratione distinction 1, Altaria;[23] and in the second distinction, chapter Institutio,[24] we would respond that these chapters pertain to matters which have not been determined by canons, statues, or general custom; such things are blown hither and thither by the wind of doctrine,[25] as written in the cited chapter De his. But in certain things, we must follow what is certain and determined.


[1] St. Augustine, Regula ad servos Dei, c.3 — ML 32:1379 (Augustine of Hippo, Epistola 211 (CSEL 57: 361).

[2] Hugh of St. Victor, Expositio in regulam sancti Augustini 3 — PL 176:892. The English translation of the work, which is considered Victorine but not by Hugh, is Explanation of the Rule of Saint Augustine by Hugh of St. Victor, trans. Dom Aloysius Smith, C.R.L. (London, 1911), 30.

[3] CJC, Decr. I, 11.3 — Frdbg. I, 23.

[4] CJC, Decr. I, 12.13 — Frdbg. I, 30.

[5] See Frédéric de Reiffenberg, “Chartes inédites communiqués par M. le baron de Reiffenberg,” in Compte rendu des séances de la Commission Royale d’histoire, vol. 9 (1844), 102–103.

[6] For a modern edition, see Charles Dereine, S.J., “Saint-Ruf et ses coutumes aux XIe et XIIe siècles,” in Revue Bénédictine 59 (1949):1-4, 167–174.

[7] The ancient text circulating under the name Regula secunda or Ordo monasterii (OM) and attributed to Augustine divided the year into three periods, each allotted different numbers of nocturnal psalms and lessons. Cf. an analogous arrangement in a contemporary customary of the Augustinian abbot Richard of Springiersbach, Charles Dereine, “Les Coutumiers de Saint-Quentin de Beauvais et de Springiersbach,” in Revue Bénedictine 43 (1948):439-440. Elsewhere, Dereine argues that the “contentions” Walter mentions toward the end of his letter resulted from Norbert’s attempt to apply the OM in early Norbertine houses, “Le premier Ordo de Prémontré,” in Revue Benedictine 58 (1948): 84–92.

[8] Gualterius (Walter), bishop of Montpellier (r. 1104–1128). See P. Gams, O.S.B., Series episcoporum (Regensburg, 1873), 579 — Gallia christiana, vol. 6, pg 745–48 —- Hurter, Nomenclator, vol. 2, pg. 61, Innsbruck, 1906; Trichemius, De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, no. 402 — The Premonstratensian Kloster Roggenburg, in Chamousey, France. Cf. Gallia Christiana, vol. 13, pg. 1419ff. For an account of the early controversy over the Premonstratensian office, which was defended by Jacques de Vitry, see Archdale King, Liturgies of the Religious Orders (1955), pp. 167.

[9] Ivo, Decr. IV, 67 — PL 161:282.

[10] CJC, Decr. I, 11.11 — Frdbg. I, 26.

[11] CJC, Decr. III, 5.15— Frdbg. I, 1416.

[12] This Latin text is not found as a canon title, Mohlburg’s apparatus ignores it, and Walter’s letter in fact passes directly from In die to Observetur.

[13] Cf. Isidore Mercator, Collectio Decretalium Decretum Damasi — PL 130:665. But the text is cited under the title Observetur in Polycarpus 3.20.8 and Anselm of Lucca, Collectio canonum 4.47.

[14] CJC, Decr. I, 12.11 — Frdbg. I, 29.

[15] CJC, Decr. I, 11.7 — Frdbg. I, 25.

[16] CJC, Decr. I, 12.4 — Frdbg. I, 28.

[17] CJC, Clementine V, 44.1— Frdbrg. II, 1194f.

[18] St. Francis, Rule 3.

[19] See Bernard, Book on Precept and Dispensation, ??. [ch 1.2]

[20] CJC, Decr. II, 14.1.3 — Frdbrg. I, 733.

[21] Deuteronomy 12:32.

[22] CJC, Decr. I, 12.13 — Frdbg. I, 30f.

[23] CJC, Decr. III, 1.31 — Frdbg. I, 1302.

[24] CJC, Decr. III, 2.31 — Frdbg. I, 1324.

[25] Eph 4:14.

De Can. Observ. 6: In the Divine Office novelties must be avoided altogether

Proposition VI

In the Divine Office novelties must be avoided altogether

“Keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding the profane novelties of words,” the First Letter to Timothy, toward the end of the last chapter.[1]

“A deposit is what is given to another for safe-keeping. It is derived from the word ponere, to place, and the preposition de adds to the meaning of the term, and indicates that everything which pertains to the safe-keeping of the article in question is entrusted to the good faith of the party,” ff. Depositi, 16.3.1.[2]

Now the sacred canons must be safeguarded (Extra, De constitutionibus cap. 1),[3] but the Roman Church has committed them in a special way to you who take from them your name of ‘canons’—in Greek—or ‘regulars’—in Latin—not for the benefit of the giver, but of the receivers.[4] Safeguard ye therefore the holy canons, for you are bound to keep this deposit in strictest custody and to repay it, or else be guilty of a minor offense.[5]

By the “profane novelties of words” we here refer to new chants, new histories, new readings and orations, and other such novelties which were not part of our forefathers’ worship, and which we shall discuss more amply later on. The Apostle urges us to avoid these profane novelties of words  because “in determining matters anew, there ought to be some clear advantage in view, so as to justify departing from a rule of law which has seemed fair since time immemorial,” ff. De constitutione princ.1. In rebus.[6]

Novelties should not be introduced without cause because change is dangerous and rightly blamed for opening the door to novelty, distinction 11, Quis nesciat.[7] And “novelty adopted in church ritual is the mother of temerity, the sister of superstition, and the daughter of levity,” according to Saint Bernard in his Epistle to the Canons of Lyon.[8]

Hence Augustine says in the epistle mentioned above,[9] “Mere change of custom, even though it may be of advantage in some respects, unsettles men by reason of the novelty.”[10] And Pope Nicholas wrote to Hincmar, bishop of Rheims, saying, among other things, “It is ridiculous and a quite abominable disgrace that we suffer the ancient traditions we have received from our father to be infringed,” distinction 12.[11] And Saint Maximus in a certain sermon On martyrs:[1] 

How dangerously you tread if, after the prophets’ oracles, the apostles’ testimonies, and the martyrs’ wounds, you presume to discuss the ancient faith as if it were something new, and if after the martyrs’ great toils you quarrel over religious truths with otiose contentiousness.[12]

And Pope Zosimus to the church of Narbonne  (distinction 25, question 1): “No authority, not even this See, can establish or change anything against the statutes of the fathers. For here thrives, with untorn roots, that antiquity which our Fathers’s decrees have bidden us to reverence.”[13] And Saint Gregory to Master Maurentius on behalf of Theodorus: “It is a very grave offense for priests to take the law into their own hands;” and “every custom that antiquity has established should be preserved inviolate.”[14] And Leo IV writes to a judge in Sardinia: “It was neither an established practice nor a recently introduced custom of our church for our predecessors to presume new or unusual things contrary to the statutes of the canons.”[15] And St. Gregory to Bishop Felix, in the twenty-fifth distinction, question 2: “If I were to tear down what our ancestors built, justly would I be judged not a builder but a demolisher, convicted by the voice of Truth which said: Every kingdom divided against itself shall not stand, for every science and every law divided against itself will be destroyed.” The same holy pope says: “Far be it from me to transgress our ancestors’ statues with my priests in any church. I do injury to myself if I disturb the laws of my brethren,” in the same question.”[16]

Even the infidels and pagans did not permit an ancient cult to be altered, deciding rather to alter legacies set aside for an unusual and illegal ritual so that they could be put to a purpose both legal and honorable, as in the civil law, ff. De usufructu legato,lex Legatum, which says:

A legacy was bequeathed to a town, so that from its income an exhibition might be given there every year for the purpose of preserving the memory of the deceased. It was not lawful for the exhibition to take place there, and I ask what opinion should be given with reference to the legacy. Modestinus answered that, as the testator intended the spectacle to be exhibited in the town, but it was of such a character that this could not be done, it would be unjust for the heir to profit by such a large sum of money as the deceased had destined for this purpose. Therefore, the heirs as well as the first citizens of the place should be called together in order to determine how the trust could be changed so that the memory of the testator might be celebrated in another and a lawful manner.[17]

This secular law confutes those of our countrymen who compose new feasts, which it is not legal to celebrate to the detriment of the temporal office.[18]


[1] 1 Timothy 6:20: “Depositum custodi, devitans profanas vocum novitates.”

[2] Dig. 16.3.1 pr.: “Depositum est, quod custodiendum alicui datum est, dictum ex eo quod ponitur: praepositio enim de auget depositum, ut ostendat totum fidei eius commissum, quod ad custodiam rei pertinet” (Mommsen, 209) (Scott translation)

[3] CJC, Decr. Greg. 1.2.1 — Frdbg. II, 7.

[4] This etymology of the word canonicus was generally accepted in the Middle Ages. See Peter Damian, Contra clericos proprietarios (PL 155:482).

[5] Radulph seems to refer to the category of levis culpa (“minor offense”) under which some choir faults were classified. The Windesheim Constitutions were edited by Marcel Haverals, Les Constitutions Des Chanoines Réguliers De Windesheim = Constitutiones Canonicorum Windeshemensium (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014). According to Haverals, “The commission which in 1392 was charged with drawing up the Constitutions of Windesheim consulted above all the prescriptions of the Carthusians and the rules of the canonical abbeys of St. Victor and St. Genevieve, also taking into account the particularities of the devotio moderna” (15).

[6] CICiv, Dig. 1.4.2 pr.: “In rebus novis constituendis evidens esse utilitas debet, ut recedatur ab eo iure, quod diu aequum visum est.” Translation Watson, 2011, vol. 2, pg. 15.

[7] CIC, Decr. 1.11.11 — Frdbg. I, 26.

[8] Bernard, Epistola 174 (PL 182:336).

[9] In Proposition 2.

[10] Augustine, Ad inquisiones Januarii, book 1, ep. 54, ch. 5, n. 6. Translation by J. G. Cunningham, The Works of Aurelius Augustine, vol. 6, p. 202, Edinburgh, 1872.

[11] CIC, Decr. I, 12.5 — Frdbg. 1, 28.

[12] Maximus of Turin, Sermo 88 (PL 57:707)

[13] CIC, Decr. II, 25.1.7 — Frdberg I, 1008.

[14] Ivo, Decr. IV, 199? — PL 161:309?.

[15] Ivo Decr. IV, 196— PL 161:308?.

[16] CJC, Decr. II, 25.2.4—Frdbg. I, 1013?.

[17] Digest 33.2.16 (Mommsen, 461). Translation Scott.

[18] On the dignity of the Sunday office, see also Proposition 15.


Christmas Message from the Fraternity of St. Vincent Ferrer

A Christmas Message from the Prior of the Fraternity of St. Vincent Ferrer: 

On the Subject of the Motu Proprio

O Emmanuel!

December 23, 2021

French original.

Dear friends,

In fervent expectation of the Savior, I feel the need to speak to you about a subject that concerns us all. I will do so with words that come from the heart of a priest who has celebrated the traditional Mass with deep joy for more than forty-four years.

The Motu proprio Traditionis custodes of July 16, 2021, and the Responsa ad dubia of the Congregation for Divine Worship of December 18, 2021, raises a question for us: should the Institutes of Ecclesia Dei adopt, as they are invited to do, the celebration of the Mass and the sacraments according to the missal and rituals of Paul VI? In other words, should these Institutes begin a process of abandoning the liturgical books that predate the 1969 reform?

As the founder of one of these Institutes, I answer without hesitation: “The traditional liturgy is our very being! To ask us to abandon it is to recommend that we kill what has shaped our spiritual being for decades. The traditional Latin liturgy is part of the immemorial wealth of the Church; it cannot disappear because it is part of its unalienable patrimony. To want to eliminate it from the ‘visible horizon of the Catholic Church’ (as Jean Madiran used to say) is an impossible endeavor because it is contradictory to the essence of Tradition. Finally, for those of us who have made vows in institutes whose Constitutions are steeped in traditional liturgy, it is to invite us to reject ‘the form in which God wants us to be holy,’ as Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity said of her Rule.

By remaining faithful to our vows, we are in full obedience to the Church. The Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of June 28, 1988 states in article 107: “The Congregation for its part takes care that institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life grow and flourish according to the spirit of their founders and healthy traditions, faithfully follow their proper purpose and truly benefit the salvific mission of the Church.”

Now, what is the spirit of our founders and what are our proper purposes? Our spirituality, apostolate, liturgy, and discipline are guided by fidelity to the Apostolic See intimately united with attachment to the Latin tradition.[1] This includes the ability to celebrate according to the liturgical books in use in 1962. To abandon this aspect of our religious life in the crucial area of the liturgy would be for us contrary to obedience and to the spirit of the Church. 

There is another reason why abandoning it is impossible: the honor of the Holy See. The Holy See has assured priests and faithful who are respectful of hierarchical authority, but for whom the liturgical reform constitutes a real difficulty, that: “All measures will be taken to guarantee their identity in the full communion of the Catholic Church.”[2] It has written these provisions into the decrees of erection of our institutes and has confirmed our constitutions. These solemn texts clearly express our attachment to the traditional pedagogies of the faith, especially in liturgical matters. According to the principle of pacta sunt servanda,[3] the Supreme Authority of the Church cannot go back on its word. 

Moreover, it is impossible for members of our institutes to abandon our liturgical customs. The religious men and women and priests who belong to them have taken vows or made commitments according to the specifications of the decrees of erection and the constitutions which bind them to the liturgical forms of the earlier Latin tradition. In this way, trusting in the word of the Supreme Pontiff, they have given their lives to Christ to serve the Church. According to natural law and the classical theology of obedience, anything contrary to this essential specification cannot therefore bind them.[4]

Finally, such a process of liturgical mutation would be gravely damaging for a significant number of the faithful. Already they do not understand the restrictions placed on the celebration of the traditional Mass. Their distress at the loss of a liturgy that nourishes their interior life would be immense. And how could they stand by and watch this treatment of hundreds of priests, religious men and women, and seminarians who—with clear consciences and trusting in the word of previous pontiffs—have remained faithful to the Catholic hierarchy for thirty-three years, sometimes at great sacrifice? 

Fidelity to the traditional liturgy is for us a duty and a joyful way to contribute to “the Church’s mission of salvation.”[5]

May the Child of the Manger and his Immaculate Mother bless you, my dear friends, and keep you in Hope!

Br. Louis-Marie de Blignières

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[1] The motu proprio Ecclesia Dei of July 2, 1988 mentions these earlier expressions of the Latin tradition in nn. 5a, 5b and 6a.

[2] Informative note of the Holy See of June 16, 1988, Documentation Catholique, n° 1966, p. 739.

[3] “Conventions must be respected.”

[4] Cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 601, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 104, a. 5, ad 3.

[5] Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, art. 107.