De Can. Observ. 13: On the Hymns, Short Chapters, and Orations

Having discussed in Proposition 12 what antiphons and responsories are to be sung at Mass and hours of the Divine Office and at what moments, Radulph of Rivo now turns to the hymns, short chapters, and orations. 

Radulph’s discussion of the metrical hymns of the Divine Office are especially interesting. Unexpectedly, he neglects to mention that the Roman Church long resisted the introduction of metrical hymns into the hours, even as the Ambrosian, Hispanic, and monastic rites enthusiastically adopted them, supported by the authority of the holy doctors Saints Hilary and Ambrose. Rome instead remained loyal to the discipline codified by the Council of Braga in 563: Nil poetice compositum in ecclesia psallatur, sicut et sancti praecipuunt canones (Let no poetic composition be sung in Church, as the holy canons prescribe). The Roman ordines do not mention the singing of hymns in the Office, and neither do Amalarius of Metz or the Micrologus.

The first Urban book to mention metrical hymns is the 12th-century antiphonary of St. Peter, which states that the Te lucis is to be sung and Compline and the Nunc sancte at Terce. But the monastic office had by then established certain fixed hymns to be said at all the minor hours as well as both ferial and seasonal hymns for Vespers, Lauds, and Matins. Across the Alps many uses of the Roman rite had adopted these and other metrical compositions.

Faced with the absence of an authoritative list of what hymns should be sung, and to oppose certain idiosyncratic practices like splitting up the festal hymns to distribute them across the minor hours, Radulph provides his readers with a list of the “authentic” hymns for ferial and seasonal Vespers, Matins, and Lauds which he found in “ancient hymnaries” at Rome (but exactly how ancient, it is impossible to know; one wonders if any precede the 12th century) or in the Ambrosian books. It is fascinating to see that Radulph includes many hymns that do not appear in the Tridentine breviary. 

The same lack of a clear Roman authority is even more evident in the short chapters said in the Office, and Radulph states what chapters are said depends on the use, for there is little overall agreement between them. Our liturgist in fact berates those who wax scrupulous about what chapters ought to be said while abridging the number of psalms to be said at certain hours. Radulph’s concern for liturgical authenticity, therefore, does not imply a desire for liturgical uniformity. He is happy to allow for variety in the limited situations when no ancient authority exists; where it does exist, withal, it must be followed rigorously. 

The Compline hymn Te lucis as it appears in the 12th-century Antiphonary of St. Peter’s (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Arch. Cap. S. Pietro B.79, fol. 48r).

Proposition XIII

Ecclesiastical hymns, short chapters, and orations used in the Office must be authentic

a) Hymns

“With respect to singing hymns, we have the example of our Savior and the apostles,” de consecratione dist. 1, cap. de Hymnis.[1] “For the Lord himself is said to have sung hymns, as the Apostle Matthew says: And a hymn being said, they went out unto mount Olivet.”[2] The Apostle Paul wrote about singing hymns to both the Ephesians and the Colossians, as above in propositions 8 and 12.

“A hymn is a praise of God with music,”[3] such as the hymn Gloria Patri said at the end of psalms, and the hymn Gloria in excelsis which the angels sang when Christ was born, and the hymn Te Deum laudamus, composed by Ambrose and Augustine, as declared in the proëm to the Milleloquii,[4] and the other metrical hymns, “which the most blessed doctors Hilary and Ambrose composed,” according to cap. de Hymnis.

Pope Saint Telesphorus established that three masses should be celebrated on the night of our Lord’s Nativity, and in them that the angelic hymn Gloria in excelsis should be said, de Consecrat. dist. 1, cap. Nocte sancta.[5] The Pope Symmachus, a Sardinian, and Stephen III, also a Sicilian, established that on every Sunday and on feasts of apostles and martyrs, the aforesaid angelic hymn Gloria in excelsis should be sung at Mass. The authority of the holy Fathers, therefore, has assigned this hymn only to feasts; in the seasons of sadness—Advent and Septuagesima—it should be omitted. Pope Leo IX does not exempt any feasts from this omission, de consecratione, dist. 1, cap. Hi duo hymni.[6] Since the hymn Te Deum laudamus resounds the praise of the Holy Trinity just as the hymn Gloria in excelsis, the Roman observance introduced the rule that the hymns must be sung together—one at Lauds and the other at Mass—or omitted together, as Pope Innocent III lays down in Extra, de celebratione Missae, cap. Concilium, near the end.[7] In the same passage, this Pope lays down another authoritative rule: just as on our Lord’s and saints’ feasts falling within the specified seasons these two hymns should be sung, within those same seasons, in diebus profestis, i.e., outside of feasts, namely on diebus privatis, when three lessons are said, the two hymns must not be sung “in order to make clear the difference between a commemoration and a solemnity.” Whoever  loves the beauty of God’s house must so observe[8] For just as it is becoming to say them on feasts, it is becoming to omit them on private days. For when we suppress these glories on private days, we take them up the more joyously on feasts. And this seems to befit your Order, for many religious orders do likewise. And if it is written that they should not be sung outside of Sundays and feasts, let them not be sung, following the precept of the Rule.

With respect to metrical hymns, much care must be taken that you sing only those approved and promulgated, as said above. The spurious ones may be recognized for the most part because either they are not in general use or their meter is corrupt.

According to the Roman custom, the usual hymns at Prime, Terce, Sext, and None do not change and in smaller communities should be sung to a simple tone. As a general rule, the five minor hours should be sung with lesser solemnity and the three major ones more festively. For this we have the authority of Saint Benedict, who allowed the psalms of the minor hours to be said directanee in smaller congregations.[9] Some communities, however, sing the hymns of the [minor] hours to the melodies of feasts and sing an alternate final verse, and other uses have the hymn Agnoscat at Prime, Terce, Sext, and None during Christmastide, which is found in Roman hymnaries. But those who omit the customary hymns on feasts and at the minor hours divide the festal hymn do so on no authority or example, but commit a grave abuse. Your humble community must, therefore, not imitate them, but rather sing what is most humbles.

The hymn Agnoscat, marked to be sung at Terce on Christmas in a 12th-century antiphonary from St. Mary’s Church in Utrecht (Universiteitsbibliotheek, Ms. 406, fol. 24v).

Those who at Compline say the hymn after the chapter act contrary to Roman authority and the order of Saint Benedict, in which offices it is placed immediately after the psalms, just as in the other four minor hours the hymn is said before the psalms. In the Ambrosian rite it is said before the psalms at both Compline and the rest of the minor hours.

Moreover, in the Ambrosian office two hymns are always said at Matins, one at the beginning and the other at the end. Likewise, in the Roman and Benedictine offices one hymn is said at Nocturns and another at Lauds, and all religious observe this, as well as the Italians, the French, and the English. The Germans, however, have fallen away with respect to this, for they say no hymn at Nocturns and seldom one at Lauds. From the aforegoing, it is plain whom you must follow.

You would do well by observing the following hymns: in Advent, at Vespers, Conditor; at Nocturns, Verbum; at Lauds, Vox clara; and at Compline, according to some, Veni Redemptor, which is an Ambrosian hymn for our Lord’s Nativity.

Likewise on Christmas, at Vespers, A solis; at Compline, Fit porta; at Nocturns, Corde natus; at Lauds, Christe Redemptor; at the minor hours, Agnoscat, as said above.

On Epiphany, at Vespers and Lauds, Hostis Herodes; at Nocturns, A patre unigenitus or the Ambrosian Illuminans altissimus.

On ordinary Sundays, at first Vespers on Saturday, Deus creator, which is the daily Ambrosian vesperal hymn, as Augustine mentions in book 7 of his Confessions, when sleep cured him of the anguish and grief his mother’s death had caused him.[10] The Friars Minor and many others wrongly omit this hymn, which is authentic and very beautiful. At Nocturns in winter, Primo dierum, and at Lauds, Aeternae rerum conditor, which in the Ambrosian office is said every day at the beginning of Matins. Likewise, at summer Nocturns, Nocte surgentes, and at Lauds, Ecce iam noctis. At second Vespers on Sunday, Lucis creator.

On Monday, at the Nocturn, Sermo; at Lauds, Splendor paternae, which is the Ambrosian temporal [hymn] at the end of Matins; at Vespers, Immense.

On Tuesday, at the Nocturn, Consors; at Lauds, Ales diei; at Vespers, Telluris.

On Wednesday, at the Nocturn, Rerum creator; at Lauds, Nox et tenebrae; at Vespers, Coeli Deus.

On Thursday, at the Nocturn, Nox atra; at Lauds, Lux ecce; at Vespers, Magnae Deus.

On Friday, at the Nocturn, Tu Trinitatis; at Lauds, Aeterna coeli; at Vespers, Plasmator.

On Saturday, at the Nocturn, Summae Deus; at Lauds, Aurora iam spargit.

All of these ferial hymns have a single simple melody in the Roman use. Some of our Germans, however, omit the nocturnal hymns, such as the church of Cologne; others omit the proper hymns of Lauds and sing the nocturnal hymn at Lauds, such as the church of Liège; others omit all the ferial hymns and repeat the summer Sunday hymns during the ferias, such as the Preachers. The safer policy is to follow the Roman custom.

During Lent, the hymns are: [at Vespers], Audi benigne; at the Nocturns, Ex more; at Lauds, O Nazarene.

On the second fortnight: at Vespers, Nunc tempus; at the Nocturn, Clarum decus; at Lauds, Iam Christe; at Compline for the entire month, Christe, qui lux, which is Ambrosian. Different Lenten hymns are found in other uses, since uses seldom accord among themselves over hymns.

In Passiontide, at Vespers, Vexilla; at Compline, Cultor Dei; at Nocturns and Lauds, Pange lingua, since it has a division.

On Easter, the hymns are: [at Vespers], Ad coenam agni; at Compline, Iesu nostra; and Aurora lucis with verses, which can be split between Nocturns and Lauds, as the Preachers do. The Romans have [the hymn Rex aeterne] at the Nocturn and at Lauds they say the hymn Aurora in its entirety. There is also the Ambrosian hymn Hic est dies verus.

On the Ascension, Festum nunc celebre, Aeterna caeli gloria, and Hymnum canamus, and the Ambrosian Optatus votis.

On the Holy Ghost, Veni creator; at the Nocturn, Iam Christus astra, which is Ambrosian; at Lauds, Beata nobis.

On the Holy Trinity, at Vespers, O lux beata; at the Nocturn, Tu Trinitatis; at Lauds, O nate de nullo.

On John’s Nativity, Ut queant laxis, which is long and can be split up between Nocturns and Lauds; in the Ambrosian office, Almi prophetae.

For the apostles Peter [and Paul], Aurea luce and Felix per omnes, of which the Minors have some verses, cutting out the rest; the Ambrosian is Apostolorum passio.

For Saint Laurence there are many: En martyris; Martyris Christi, which is Sapphic; and the Ambrosian Apostolorum.

On the Assumption, O quam glorifica and Gaude visceribus. And for any [Marian] feast, at Vespers, Ave maris stella; at the Nocturn, Quem terra, and at Lauds its section O gloriosa; and the Ambrosian Mysterium Ecclesiae.

For Saint Michael, at Vespers and Lauds, Christe sanctorum; at the Nocturn, Tibi Christe; and the Ambrosian Mysteriorum.

For Saint Martin, you have many local hymns. The Ambrosian office has Bellator armis.

For the Dedication of a church Urbs beata is commonly used, and can be divided. The Ambrosian office has Christe cunctorum.

For the apostles, at Vespers, Exsultet; at the Nocturn, Aeterna Christi munera, a long Ambrosian hymn which the Romans split between the Nocturn of apostles and the Nocturn of martyrs; on the apostles, at Lauds, Ortu Phoebi.

For one martyr, at Vespers and Lauds, Martyr Dei; at the Nocturn, Deus tuorum, which is Ambrosian. But since it is long some prefer to say the other two: for martyrs, at Vespers, Sanctorum meritis; at the Nocturn as above; at Lauds, Rex gloriose.

For one confessor, Iste confessor. There are two others, Jesu Redemptor omnium and Jesu corona celsior, which is Ambrosian.

For one virgin, at Vespers and Lauds, Jesu corona virginum, which is Ambrosian; at the Nocturn, Virginis proles.

All the aforesaid hymns and many others are found at Rome in the ancient hymnaries and some in the Ambrosian office. The necessary and authentic hymns must be said, and it is a sounder policy to take hymns from the commons rather than to say local and apocryphal compositions. We shall speak below in Proposition 14 about where at Lauds and Vespers the hymns should be sung.

b) Short chapters

Now let us discuss short chapters. Long lessons are read at the night Vigils, but at Lauds and Vespers and at the five minor hours short lessons or lectiunculae are read.[11] In his Rule, Saint Benedict calls them lectiones,[12] and they are often so-called in many sources. In common secular usage, however, they are called capitula. But in the Ambrosian office and in some ancient books the short versicles, which are taken from the psalms, are called capitella, as in De consecratione, distinction 5, ch. Convenit.[13]

Taking the former acceptation of the term, the usual Roman custom on Sundays and feasts is to have only three proper short chapters, i.e., at Terce, Sext, and None, the first of which is repeated at both Vespers and at Lauds. This custom is taken from Ambrose, who assigns proper short chapters of this sort—albeit few—to Terce, Sext, and None only. And this manner of saying and repeating short chapters is very common around the world among Italian, French, and English religious orders. And just as the nocturnal lessons are not the same everywhere, likewise agreement about these short chapters is rare, for different places use different short chapters. But these chapters are everywhere taken—as well they should be—from Holy Writ, and, according to Saint Benedict, they ought to be recited from memory.

In Germany, however, many do the chapters another way. For many German churches have six proper short chapters and orations in their offices, namely at both Vespers, Lauds, Terce, Sext, and None. A prime example is the Capitulary of Stephen, bishop of Tongres [† 920].[14] This bishop, as Sigibert says in his book De viris illustribus, “wrote a book of chapters for Robert, bishop of Metz,” where he was brought up; in it he brought together short chapters and orations for each Sunday and feast in the course of the entire year. Many churches in these parts use these short chapters and orations, some integrally, but others with variations, such as the church of Maastricht.[15] Others are content with a single oration and only took from it the short chapters, such as your brethren in Groenendael.[16] And because the universal custom is to use the short chapters found in the books of the local church, nor is there uniformity in them, as there is not with respect to the Matins lessons, it seems that your brethren from Eymsteyn might, legitimately and without scruples, have retained the Capitulary of Groenendael, whose author we have just mentioned.[17] For it seems an indiscriminate scruple to inform one’s conscience about which chapter, responsory, verse, and the like one should say—as long as they are Roman and authentic as explained above—while omitting sometimes the integral psalter without shame, as treated above in Proposition 10. For I have seen it often in monastic and less frequently in secular books that several short chapters are provided for a single Sunday or festal office, with none of them assigned to any hour in particular. Many Germans, too, say a single chapter at every hour, just as in the Roman office a single oration is said. Nevertheless, this manner of doing the chapters lacks both authority and example.

Breviary of Metz, 1302 (Verdun, Bibl. mun., ms. 0107, fol. 103).

c) Orations

It remains to discuss orations, with respect to which the general custom is to use the same one at all the hours. The Ambrosian office says many orations, including many proper ones in the office. The monks likewise have many, and the Germans even more. Regarding the authority of the orations, a certain short Rationale called the Micrologus (ch. 5) speaks in these terms:

Moreover, they rarely admit orations other than the ancient Gregorian ones, favoring especially the ones they find in the more ancient and corrected sacramentaries. For the eighth council of the province of Africa, attended by Augustine and 214 fathers, established the following in chapter 12: “Let no prayers or orations or missae or prefaces or commendations or impositions of hands be said except those approved in council.” Likewise the third council of Carthage, which Augustine also attended, in chapter 23: “Let no one at the altar name the Father in place of the Son or the Son in place of the Father, but let him always direct the oration to the Father and use only approved orations. Indeed, our Lord himself commanded us to direct our prayer to the Father. Thus he instructed his disciples when they asked him how they should pray, saying “When you shall stand to pray, say ‘Our Father.’”[18]

Thus far the Micrologus.

In the Capitulary mentioned above, Stephen of Tongres assigned one oration to each of the short chapters, and took very many of them from the Ambrosian and the monastic offices. At Rome, moreover, I saw books with the orations Veneranda nobis and Supplicationem servorum tuorum for the collecta at Saint Hadrian’s,[19] as well as many others which the Friars Minor omit. I say this lest it be believed that the Franciscans keep the whole Roman Office. More on this point in proposition 22.

Regardless of the use in question, however, all orations about which there is no certitude are to be rejected as apocryphal according to the aforementioned councils. Fewer orations suffice, as I shall explain in Proposition 23.


[1] CIC, Decr. III, 1.54 — Frdbrg. I, 1308.

[2] Matthew 26:30.

[3] Durandus, Rationale, lib. V, c. 2, nr. 23

[4] The Milleloquium veritatis S. Augustini is a collection of excerpts from the works of St. Augustine arranged in an alphabetical list of over 1000 subjects. Its author was the fourteenth-century Augustinian Hermit, Bartholomew of Urbino (d. 1350).

[5] CIC, Decr. III, 1.48 — Frdbrg. I, 1306.

[6] CIC, Decr. III, 1.55 — Frdbrg. I, 1309.

[7] CIC, Decr. Greg. III, 41.4 — Frdbrg. II, 636.

[8] Ps. 25:8

[9] Benedict, Rule ch. 17.

[10] Augustine, Confessions 9.12 (PL 32:777).

[11] Cf. Durandus, Rationale 5.2.50: “Diurnae vero lectiones a quibusdam, eo quod breves sunt, ‘lectiunculae’ nuncupantur, a pluribus vero capitula…”

[12] Benedict, Rule 13, 17.

[13] CIC, Decr. III, 5.15 — Frdbrg. I, 1415.

[14] Bishop Stephen’s lost work and its prefatory letter to the bishop of Metz are discussed in Mohlberg, Spuren eines verlorenen Liturgiebuches, des “Liber capitularis” Stephanus von Tongeren, in Mélanges d’histoire offerts à Charles Moeller, 1, 1914, p. 350-360.

[15] Like Tongres, Maastricht belonged to the diocese of Liège, a city 30 km away.

[16] On 7 May 1413, this important Augustinian house, of which John of Ruysbroeck was a founding member, was absorbed into the Windesheim congregation.

[17] Founded in 1382, Eymsteyn was a house of Augustinian canons to which the first sixth Brothers of the Common Life were sent to learn the canonical way of life. Apparently these founders had at first used the Capitulary of Groenendael, but put it aside for scrupulous reasons.

[18] Bernold, Micrologus 5 (PL 151:980c).

[19] Pope Sergius I appointed the church of St. Hadrian as the place of the collecta for the procession before Mass on the four feast of our Lady (Candlemas, Annunciation, Assumption, and Nativity). Cf. Proposition 23 for his complaint that the collect Veneranda nobis is used as the collecta for the Assumption in the oldest Roman books but omitted in the Franciscan books.

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