De Canonum Observantia 17: On Saints’ Feasts

Proposition XVII

Various uses venerate God’s saints under different ranks; this is based partly on the Gospel; partly on the City; partly on general custom; partly on the country or place

Gather ye together his saints to him, who set his covenant before sacrifices.[1] God’s saints are gathered together with the God of Abraham, and their names are in the book of life.[2] Knowledge of their names and passions are collected in the Church’s Martyrology, but we are unable to venerate each one of them in the sacrifice of divine praise. Yet out of their number a certain few should be gathered and noted in a public register, that we may duly venerate them when their days occur. We call this public register a CalendarGather therefore for our God his saints in the Church’s calendar, who set Christ’s covenant before the sacrifices of their own praise, and we are by every means obliged to render this praise to him.

But as we gather such saints into this Calendar, those saints of God are to be chosen whom we are obliged to venerate by the Holy Gospel or the Roman office of St. Gregory, as well as those whom the general custom of the Church venerates and worships. These ones are to be written into everyone’s use and we have included them in the calendar placed at the beginning, though among the Romans Saints Bartholomew, Ambrose, Chrysogonus, Pope Martin, Eustachius, Linus, Chrysanthus and Daria, the Seven Sleepers, and several others are assigned to different days than they have among us. On this point the Apostolic See commands “let local custom be observed,” Extra, De observation ieiuniorum, Consilium[3] and De verborum significatione, Quaesivit.[4] Furthermore, every use should include in its proper calendar those saints who are especially venerated in their land or place. And in order to avoid errors in the redaction of a church’s calendar on these and other matters, the custom is to rely on the cathedral church. The statues of Cologne and Liège order as much. And saints whom we do not venerate in the office should not be noted in the calendar. Otherwise the calendars become complex and simple priests are furnished an excuse for omitting the ferial office. Moreover, none should be allowed to institute new saints by writing them in, giving them their own office in contravention of the aforementioned authorities. Having gathered and inscribed, therefore, those of God’s saints whom we are bound to venerate, let us see about their offices.

It is clear that we must not and cannot venerate all the saints equally, nor is it the general custom. Therefore some saints are classed as a simple commemoration, others as three lesson feasts, and others as nine. Those who must have nine lessons are:

First, the saints’ feasts celebrated by the clergy and people based on Roman or diocesan authority, and classed as double feasts must be observed with nine lessons. Further, let those saints’ days which episcopal statutes order be observed with nine lessons be so kept. Feasts of our Lord and his Mother, the Invention of the Holy Cross, the twelve apostles, the Nativity of John the Baptist, of St. Laurence, Michael, and the Dedication of a church are celebrated by the clergy and people based on apostolic authority; likewise general custom celebrates a church’s patron, the Conversation of Paul, the Chair and Chains of Peter, the feasts of Martin and Nicholas, Mary Magdalene and Catherine. In the statues of Cologne, moreover, the clergy and people are enjoined to celebrate Agnes, George, Pantaleon, the Decollation of John, the Exaltation of the Cross, Gereon, the twelve thousand virgins, Severinus, Cunibert, and Cecilia. The statues of Liège enjoin the celebration of Servatius, Lambert, Dionysius, and Hubert. And thus let each add the feasts important to their place. 

Likewise, according to the constitution of Pope Boniface VIII, the Church celebrates, “the principal feasts of the twelve apostles, the four evangelists, and the four doctors as double feasts.”[5] Further, by general custom the Apostle Barnabas, Pope Clement, Benedict, Dionysius, Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia, and the Division of the Apostles are kept as feasts of nine lessons. According to the statues of Cologne, Fabian and Sebastian, Giles, Lambert, Dionysius, Maurice, and Remigius; and according to the statutes of Liège, Dominic, Francis, Leonard, and the eleven thousand virgins have nine lessons in their places and dioceses. And similarly in other dioceses the bishop and his clergy must determine which feasts they should observe with nine lessons. For just as bishops determine the feasts to be celebrated by their people (as stated in De consecratione, distinction 3 chapter PronunciandumExtra, De feriis, chapter Capellanus), so they must also determine the festivities for their clergy.[6]

If a diocese has not determined the feasts, great discretion must be exercised so that the general and reasonable observance of the whole diocese is taken into account, hewing to the principle of moderation, that we should not admit too many feasts of nine lessons. For we find that the statues of the aforementioned dioceses assign nine lessons to only a few of their bishops even though they possess the bodies of many saints and have many local saints—such as the bodies of Saints Maurice and Ewald, and the local saints Eliphius, Heribert, and many others in Cologne; and Theodard, Remacius, Mono, Oda, and several others in Liège, for that church had over thirty canonized bishops. But the same bishops were moderate in instituting nine-lesson feasts. And according to Saint Bernard in his epistle to the canons of Lyons, festivities are not to be multiplied because “such a frequency of joys belongs to our fatherland, not to our exile, and the numerosity of feasts befits citizens, not exiles.”[7]

The Carthusians, Cistercians, Preachers, and others have few particular or special festivities. The special feasts of the Carthusians are Anthony, Vincent, Barnabas, Bernard, Maurice, Dionysius, the eleven thousand virgins, Catherine, Thomas of Canterbury, and—on account of their Order—the two Hughs and the feast of Relics. If it be objected that the use of the Friars Minor keeps everything with nine lessons, we respond that, although the Romans have more festivities than other nations because of the great number of local saints, nevertheless the said Friars abusively go far beyond the ancient Roman use with respect to their nine-lesson feasts, and that their abuse is not to be followed, but rather altogether abominated, as, with God’s grace, I shall further explain in good time when my books arrived from the City, and say below in Proposition 22. 

Let this be, then, the great and foremost principle, which you must follow with decency and according to order, namely that your places receive local festivals of nine lessons only sparingly and on the weightiest authority. For we keep one festival of our Lord Jesus Christ, namely Sunday, followed by six ferias; that the feast days of his servants and private days should be in this proportion of one to six is a mystery we find in the Gospel. For every apostle our Lord put in a higher rank, he put six disciples in a lower, and when he chose the twelve apostles, he picked out six times as many disciples. For six times twelve makes seventy-two, which is the number of Christ’s disciples. “For his actions themselves are precepts: what he does without saying anything shows us what we must do,” according to a homily of St. Gregory.[8] So just as there are few Sundays and many ferias, few apostles and many disciples, so festivals should be few and ferias or saints’ days of three lessons many. And let the ultimate goal be to sing the entire psalter, which is the primary purpose of the Office, as shown above. If you count and order things well, there will not be as many festivals in the year as there are Sundays, since “the servant” should not be “above the master, nor the disciple above his master.” Be assured that it pleases God’s saints more in the end when the psalter, sacred Scripture, the Office of the Dead, the seven Penitential psalms, the fifteen Gradual psalms, and the like are kept in their right order, and there are few. For God’s saints do not seek undue praise, preferring that our “service [to them] be reasonable.”[9] Now that we have seen which saints ought to be venerated with nine readings, let us see which are to be venerated with three readings or a commemoration.  

Note especially that all the saints we have given a Mass for in the prefixed calendar have a proper mass in the Gregorian office and everywhere else, and every use venerates them with three lessons unless they coincide with a major festival, in which case they have a commemoration [in the Office] and should have a separate Mass. These saints especially, therefore, should be venerated with at least three readings on their days. For that reason our calendar lists them with three lessons and a Mass; several of them also have a proper history. 

Apart from these, the various uses differ over which saints they venerate with three readings, such as, among the Carthusians, Polycarp, Blaise, Peter Martyr, Cyriacus and Julitta, Leo, Margaret, Christina, Nazarius and companions, Germanus, Eusebius, Lucy and Euphemia, Thecla, Faith, Crispin and Crispinian, Eustace and companions, Brice, Columban, Linus, Vitalis and Agricola, Silas the Apostle, Saturninus, and Eulalia. Further, they keep Fabian and Sebastian, the Invention of the Holy Cross, the Invention of St. Stephen, Dominic, Remigius, and Francis with three lessons, though others keep them with nine. 

Others they keep with a commemoration, either because they coincide with a major feast or fall within major octaves, as Sylvester, Paul the First Hermit, Hilary, Alexander, and others, and the rest noted as commemorations. On days free of festivals or major octaves they keep any occurring saints of three lessons or the ferial office.  Some, such as the Preachers and their imitators, have saints of a lower class on such days, which they keep with only a commemoration in the temporal office. Such is the third way of commemorating a saint, if he be of lesser importance.  

Behold, I give examples from the use of the Teutonic Knights of Prussia, who beyond the saints who have proper masses noted in the Calendar above, keep the following with three lessons: Anthony, Timothy, Chrysogonus, Blaise, Vitus and Modestus, Paulinus of Nola, Pantaleon and others, Germanus, the Octave of St. Laurence, Bernard, Giles, Lambert, and Remigius; and the following with nine: Maurice and companions, Cosmas and Damian; and with a commemoration in the ferial office: Maurus, Emerentiana, Polycarp, Vedastus and Amandus, Scholastica, Albinus, Perpetua and Felicity, Pudentiana and Petronilla, Nicomedes, Medard, Quiricus and Julitta, Christina, Donatus, Romanus, Eusebius, Rufus, Euphemia, Leodegar, Faith, Martha, Crispin and Crispinian, Narcissus, Quentin, Leonard, Pope Martin, Brice, Agricola and Vitalis, Bishop Saturninus, Eligius, Barbara, Sabbas, the Octave of Andrew, Damasus, and Lazarus. And since their name is Hospitalers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Jerusalem, they keep the following bishops of Jerusalem: Simeon and Alexander with three readings; and Matthias, Zacharias, and Mark with a commemoration. 

Now let us recall the reasons we venerate the saints. Saints are venerated with nine lessons either because they are celebrated by the clergy and people, or because they are classed as duplex feasts, or because they are so designated by episcopal statute or an equivalent authority. They are kept with three lessons either because they have a proper mass office in the Roman office, or because they have been raised to this level of honor in a particular use. They pass with only a commemoration either because they coincide with a greater festival, or fall within major octaves; at least, those are the two general conditions, though the low rank of the saint in a particular use is another cause. Many keep this rule, including the Liègois during Paschaltide for saints who do not have a Mass.   

Consider, my lords and brothers, how reasonably and almost identically the Carthusian brethren stationed in the desert and the Teutonic lords equipped for battle keep this “salutary worship” in their orders, namely, with regard to their saints, observing few of them as festivals or three lesson feasts on account of the temporal office of our High God; both of them, however, say a nocturn on all feasts of three lessons, in accord with Proposition 10. The majority of secular churches abandon the temporal office on ordinary days when a saint occurs. The Cistercians, on the contrary, similarly to other uses, keep but a rare few festivals of twelve lessons. All other saints they keep with a simple commemoration. In this matter, the Carthusians are exemplary.


[1] Psalm 49:5.

[2] Philippians 4:3.

[3] CJC, Decr. Greg. III, 16.2—Frdbrg II, 630

[4] CJC, Decr. Greg. V, 10.14—Frdbg. II, 915. Cf. Prop. 19.

[5] CJC, Sexti Decr. III. 22 – Frdbg. II, 1059.

[6] CJC, Decr. III, 3.1 – Frdbg. I, 1353; Decor. Greg. II, 9.4 — Frdbg. II, 272.

[7] Saint Bernard, Epistula CLXXIV (PL 182:334 ff.)

[8] Gregory, Homilia XVII in Evangelia, Luke 10:1–9 – ML 76:1159.

[9] Cf. Romans 12:1

De Canonum Observantia 21: On the Penitential and Gradual Psalms

Proposition XXI

In many praiseworthy uses other particular offices, such as the penitential and gradual psalms and in Lent the whole psalter and others, are kept in certain seasons

We spoke in praise of the seven penitential psalms above in Proposition 9, and will now say how to do them fittingly. The psalms begin immediately[1] and each is said with Gloria Patri. At the end of the last, Alleluia or Laus tibi; the versicle Intret oratio; then Kyrie eleison while lying prostrate; the greater preces with the psalm Inclina and the orations used for this office: of all saints, for the pope, for peace, for the bishop, for the emperor, against heretics, for benefactors, for travelers, for the people, for sins, for serenity, for the living and the dead, and for necessities of this sort. The use of Liège has thirteen orations. This office must be said after Prime on days of three lessons outside of Eastertide and major octaves. This is the general custom, as I saw stated in a Roman ordinary. Innocent III, however, ordered his chaplains to say it only in Lent,[2] and the Friars Minor follow suit.

The fifteen gradual psalms are said in three parts: the first five for the dead, under one Requiem aeternam with Pater noster, versicle, and collect; the last five are said for all the faithful in the same way as the second five. The aforesaid religious say this office before Matins on three-lesson days, but few of those who say them also bother to say the seven penitential psalms. But other religious and seculars, acting with better reason, fulfill both offices by saying the fifteen gradual psalms in succession at the five little hours of the daily office of the Holy Virgin, saying the seven penitential psalms on the requisite days, thus lightening the day’s service without omitting the seven psalms. The orations which are said with the fifteen gradual psalms at Prime and after the seven penitential psalms have already been discussed. But on days when the principal service is of theBlessed Virgin, it fittingly takes the places of the fifteen gradual psalms.

And because during holy Lent the holy Fathers wished to augment the Church’s office with other good works in sundry ways, as said above in Proposition 16, hence, for the augmentation of the divine worship in that season, on ferial days of Lent without nine-lesson feasts, after Prime the psalter is read in the following manner. After a prostration, the priest begins: Deus in adiutorium, Gloria, Laus tibi. Then each day are read ten psalms from the psalter, two by two under one Gloria. After the last one, Laus tibi, the versicle Intret, then the entire litany, after which all prostrate themselves and say the greater preces with the aforesaid seven psalms and orations. At Per Dominum, all rise. Others, however, observed other particular offices both during Lent and during private days. But the offices we have mentioned always seem fitting and devout.

Moreover, on vigils of feasts which they wish to solemnize, the Romans perform a certain office in the evening, which they call a “vigil,” in the following way. After the bells toll, they begin the office with the antiphon and say three psalms with three antiphons, a versicle, the Pater noster, and three lessons and responsories, as in one Matins nocturn. Having sung the Te Deum or Te decet, they conclude with an oration and Benedicamus Domino. On the Vigil of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this office is celebrated at Saint Peter’s with nine lessons and their responsories. Ancient Roman antiphonaries, on the aforesaid vigil and the Vigil of Christmas, have nine antiphons with their psalms and nine responsories assigned for this office.[3] In the Ambrosian custom, the office of this sort of vigil is richly supplemented with a proper processional chant. This is the reason why on vigils in many collegiate churches parish priests sing Matins in the evening. Other particular offices, such as processions, both festive and of Rogations, blessings of various objects for ecclesiastical use and other things of this sort, are common and well known.


[1] I.e. without any introductory verse or antiphon.

[2] Mohlberg: This provision of Innocent III is quoted by liturgists after Radulph. See G. Catalani, Rituale Romanum commentariis illustratum, vol. 1, pg. 341 (Rome, 1757); B. Gavanti, Thesaurus sacrorum rituum, vol. 2, pg. 249 (Venice, 1749); V. Thalhofer-Eisenhofer, Handbuch der katholischen Liturgik, vol. 2, pg. 628 (Fribourg, 1912).

[3] On this Roman “double office” on certain solemnities, see Joseph Dyer, “The double office at St Peter’s Basilica on Dominica de Gaudete,” in Terence Bailey and Alma Santosuosso, eds., Music in Medieval Europe (Aldershot, 2007): 200–219, who writes, “How long any of the double offices persisted anywhere in Rome after the twelfth century is a question beyond the scope of this chapter. Radulph de Rivo (d. 1403), something of a liturgical antiquarian, gives the impression that a double office was still observed on some feasts.[…] His historical description is well informed, but he may have been reporting on an admired, idealized past.”

De Canonum Observantia 20: On the Offices of Our Lady and of the Dead

Proposition XX

The Office of the Dead and the Office of Our Glorious Lady are obligatory and everyone must observe them

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins (2 Machabees 2:46). And “there is no doubt but that whatever praise is worthily given to God’s Mother applies to God himself,” as Saint Jerome says in the letter that begins Cogitis.[1] This is the reason why not only the apostolic constitutions, but also the general custom of all nations urge us to celebrate the offices of both God and his Mother must be celebrated according to the appropriate seasons. Extra, De celebratione Missarum, chapter Cum cantatur gives instructions on the Office of the Dead.[2] About the Office of Our Lady, on the other hand, we read in the Chronica that Urban II—who added to the nine older prefaces a tenth one of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as shall be said below—celebrated a council in Clermont when he went to France in November of the year of Our Lord 1096. In this council, it was established that the hours “of the Blessed Virgin Mary are to be said daily and her office on Saturdays is to be celebrated solemnly.”[3]

First let us make a few remarks about the Office of the Dead, about which we should note that according to universal custom it has Vespers, Vigils, and Lauds but not the remaining hours, as well as a Mass office. The same antiphons and psalms are used at Vespers everywhere, but in the Magnificat antiphon local custom prevails. Vigils has nine antiphons, nine psalms, and nine lessons. There is some discrepancy of customs with regard to the psalms of the third nocturn. The Romans, Ambrosians, Benedictines, and almost all other uses are in agreement over the lessons, except for some variation of the ninth lesson, and there is also some discrepancy in the responsories. So let each keep his own custom. There is a slight difference in Lauds. The general use of many is that Vespers and Vigils of the Dead are said on the previous day and Lauds on the next day after Matins, each of the three stated hours ending with its own preces, psalms, and orations. But some join Vespers and Vigils together under one conclusion. All three offices have prostrations whenever the principal office has them. Some Germans seem to be the only ones not content with the universal readings and their responsories, and try to keep other readings with contrived responsories. But religious men ought not to follow such singular novelties, since it behooves them to observe what is common and simple. On the days when these three hours are to be said, there should be a conventual Mass of the Dead. The Office of the Dead is omitted when it would be incongruous to say it, as in Easter week and the three days before it; and sometimes on account of the day’s feast, as on all nine-lesson and major feasts; and in some uses during Paschaltide and in major octaves. In this, you may use your discretion. To make this observance easier, some have the custom of singing the psalms and antiphons recto tono on ordinary days, while singing the lesson and responsories. In Lent and Advent one should say the nine lessons and their responsories. Outside these seasons let three lessons and their nocturns be said according to the day of the week. On days of burial and anniversaries of the dead, nine lessons should be said. If any should wish to subtract from the aforesaid, let him do so at his own discretion.

The Office of Our Glorious Lady, on the other hand, has, according to universal custom, seven hours, just like the main Office, and the following is a suitable way to observe it: at Vigils, during the night, let the sweet invitatory Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum and the hymn Quem terra be said. In the Roman use, three nocturns with their nine antiphons are split up according to the day of the week, i.e, on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday the first nocturn is said; on Tuesday and Friday the second; and on Wednesday and Saturday the third. In this  arrangement the nocturns of the Little Office are fittingly said twice while not impeding the Saturday Nocturn. There is much diversity of practice about the three Matins lessons. Some read the passages In omnibus requiem from Ecclesiasticus; others three short lessons from the Sermons of Augustine; others three short ones from an unknown author which begin Sancta Maria, piarum piissima. It seems more appropriate for religious to reject these and follow the Carthusians, reading three lessons from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke: the first from In mense autem sexto missus est angelus Gabriel until Dixit autem, the second from there until Exsurgens autem Maria, and from there let the third finish with Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo, salutari meo, but add Mansit autem Maria cum illa quasi mensibus tribus et reversa est in domum suam at the end. The three responsories are almost universal. There should be no Te Deum, as was demonstrated in Proposition XIII. In the Roman use, Lauds has five antiphons: Assumpta est Maria and the others. For the short chapters, orations, and hymns, let the local use be followed. 

It is a praiseworthy custom to say a certain compensation in this office. In the Ambrosian and Benedictine offices, the litany Kyrie eleison is said at each hour, but we say it daily only at Compline and Prime. And so let them be supplied in this office, such that at the minor hours, following the Benedictine office, after the short chapter the versicle is said, with no responsory, and at each hour before the collect let Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, Dominus vobiscum or Domine exaudi, and Oremus be said, following the Roman custom. But the suffrages at Lauds and Vespers may be said according to devotion. The Romans say suffrages of their patrons Peter and Paul and of all the saints. Others out of  devotion add three orations of the Blessed Virgin, of the Holy Ghost, and of all the saints to the little hours. Hence at Prime, Terce, Sext, and None it is appropriate to put the verse Veni creator before the hymn.[4]

It is fitting to distribute the fifteen gradual psalms over the five minor hours; this holds especially for those who do not say them before the night Vigils.[5] And the Benedictines, because they say these same psalms at the main hours of certain days, invert the order, saying at Prime, Terce, Sext, and None of the Office of the Blessed Virgin those psalms which we say at those same hours in the main Office.[6]

At Vespers, five antiphons—Dum esset rex and the others—are said with the usual five psalms,[7] as was stated in Proposition X and as the Romans do. And if any commemorations were omitted in the main Office for some reason, they can be supplied in this Office. 

Moreover, in the Roman use, this Office has special antiphons and other proper elements at Lauds, Vespers, and the little hours in Advent and after Christmas, which you can find in the use of the Friars Minor. And in Eastertide the antiphon Regina caeli is said with the three Evangelical [canticles].  

This Office is sometimes omitted when it would be incongruous to say it, as in Easter week and the three days before it; sometimes, when the main service is of the glorious Virgin and on a few major solemnities, lest it seem the Little Office is being said for their sake. In this matter we must have recourse to the use of the Carthusians and of similar religious, and not to the writings of Friars Minor, which depart exceedingly from what I saw written at Rome. 

Likewise, in many uses, each hour of this Office, whether they be said in choir or outside of it in private, is said before the main hour, except Compline, which is said after the main hour. But according to the use of the Friars Minor, so-called “Roman,” Matins and Vespers are said before the main hour and the little hours thereafter. 

In the general use of everyone, on Saturdays, when there is no proper Mass, the Mass of the glorious Virgin is sung, which office is contained in all missals according to the season of the year. About this Mass it is written that neither Gloria in excelsis nor Credo are to be said, as was explained above in Proposition XIII. On the question whether on Saturdays the main service should be of the Blessed Virgin when there is no major feast, however, there is divergence; for the more solemn churches and religious do not do so, lest they repeatedly omit the Saturday Nocturn. They are supported by the reasoning of Pope Alexander III—Extra, De feriis, chapter 2, towards the end—that every day praise be given to the glorious Virgin in a private Office.[8] And these churches and religious say the psalm and antiphon of the three Nocturns in the same private Office, as I said above. But there are others who disregard the omission of the Saturday Nocturn and on said days say the main service of the Virgin with nine antiphons and psalms, and they uniformly say the private Office throughout the year. Even if saying it as the main service is fitting out of devotion, nevertheless it does not seem that the Saturday Nocturn should be omitted according to what was said above in Proposition X. And then this service can be done without prostrations, the seven [penitential] psalms, and the rest, as is done during Eastertide and within major octaves. 

Although on vacant weeks the Mass of the patron can be said, do not let these praises be extended to the main hours, lest the ferial office suffer too much detriment. We have no writing or example that this can be done licitly. 


[1] Pseudo-Jerome, Epistula IX ad Paulam et Eustochium (ML 30:126). This letter, a veritable sermon on the Assumption of Our Lady, was actually written in the 9th century by Paschasius Radbertus for the abbess of Soissons, Theodrada, and her daughter.

[2] This canon makes no reference to the Office of the Dead.

[3] Cf. Minorite of Erfurt, Chronica Minor (MGH, SS. Bd. 24, p. 191) and the Flores temporum (MGH, SS. Bd. 24, p. 246).

[4] In many uses, at all the minor hours, the hymn Memento salutis auctor was prefaced by the first stanza of the Veni Creator. The custom was continued in places into at least the 18th century.

[5] It was customary to say the 15 gradual psalms as a sort of extra “office” before Mattins, usually on Wednesdays (cf. proposition 21). They were said in sets of five with preces and a collect in between the sets. Radulph means that those who do not say this “office” of the gradual psalms should at least say those 15 psalms as part of the Office of Our Lady. The other option would be not to say them except as part of the normal cursus of the main office (at Tuesday and Wednesday Vespers).

[6] This is no longer the case in the Monastic Breviary of 1612, in which the Little Office of Our Lady is identical to that of the Roman Breviary of 1568.

[7] The usual Vespers psalms of feasts of Our Lady, i.e. 109, 112, 121, 126, and 147.

[8] The quotation is incorrect. This canon says nothing about the Office of Our Lady.

De canonum observantia 19: On Vigils and Octaves

Proposition XIX

Major solemnities are sometimes preceded by a vigil office, and sometimes extended through an octave

As Pope Alexander III, who began to rule on the year of Our Lord 1159, says (Extra, De feriis, chapter II): “Although it is written, From evening until evening you shall celebrate your sabbaths, nevertheless the beginning and end of feasts must be considered according to their kind and the custom of the several regions. And just as the importance of the day demands that it be begun earlier and ended later,”[1] the regulars, following the authority of Sacred Scripture, place the start and end of feasts from Vespers to Vespers. But based on their importance they precede them earlier with a vigil office and extend them longer with an octave office. Let us therefore discuss these two.

Vigil offices precede feasts of Our Lord, two feasts of his mother (namely the Assumption and, following a constitution of Gregory XI promulgated when he returned to Rome,[2] the Nativity of Mary), and the days of John the Baptist, Laurence, and, as Innocent III says in De observatione ieiunii chapter 2, “the vigils of all the apostles are to be celebrated with a fast except the vigils of the apostles Philip and James and John the Evangelist, because the feasts of the former pair are celebrated within the solemnity of Easter, and the latter within Christmas.”[3] As Alexander III says in De verborum significatione, chapter Quaesivit, “on the Vigil of Blessed Matthew, unless it fall on a Sunday, fasting is observed.”[4] Vigils on which there is fasting consequently also have a Mass. In the antiphoner which I brought from Rome, the vigil office for the Assumption of Mary begins with Matins, as we shall see for Christmas. In the Ambrosian Office, the major solemnities of the place, such as Gervase and Protase, Nazarius and Celsus, Nabor and Felix, Simplicianus and Dionysius and other local saints also have a proper Mass office on the vigils. Other nations are also accustomed to do this for their patrons and similarly important saints, such as for Saint Lambert in Liège and Saint Martin in Utrecht.

According to the pious and religious custom of the more solemn churches, whenever fasting is observed on the vigil, and the de tempore service is celebrated at the hours with a commemoration of the saints, if any occur, as we do in the fasting seasons of Advent and Lent. And they say this should be piously observed likewise on other vigils of saints for which Mass is said but on which there is no fasting obligation.

The vigil Mass is said in ferial fashion on account of the fast, and—according to Micrologus chapter 55—“this, too, is appropriately observed on all vigils, namely that if None is postponed until after Mass, it should be said of the future feast. In other words, once we have begun the feast after Mass, let us not introduce any dissonance into the office at None, since the holy Fathers especially strove to avoid such dissonance in their arrangement of the offices.” And if the vigil falls on a Sunday, the Sunday office, which is greater, is not changed on account of it, and the Mass of the vigil should be said as the Sunday morrow mass, or on Saturday, or at some other apposite time.

Now that we have spoken about vigils, by which feast days are “begun earlier,” we must speak about octaves, by which they are “ended later.” In the first place we must note that according to the more approved uses such as that of the Carthusians and others, and as written in many liturgical commentaries, octaves are of two sorts: major and minor. In major octaves the first and eighth day as well as the intervening Sunday have nine lessons, while the rest have three. The office of the first and eighth day are identical to that of the feast. But the Sunday Mass is celebrated within the office borrowed from the feast day, because both Vespers use the psalms of the feast day, and at Vigils the Invitatory, hymn, nine responsories are from the feast, and likewise Lauds and the rest are of the feast itself. Further, the three nocturns use the Sunday psalms under three or nine antiphons, depending on how many the feast has; six of the readings are taken from the history that is being read at that time, along with the Sunday homily and the Te Deum; at both Vespers and at Lauds there is a commemoration of the Sunday; at Prime the psalms Deus in nomine, Confitemini, etc. The Mass of the Sunday is celebrated with a commemoration of the feast. On private days, the Invitatory will be brief and in the ferial tone, while the hymn is of the feast, the nocturn of the feria, recited under one antiphon from the festal nocturns, whichever is most appropriate, the lessons from the current history, the responsories from the feast in proper order, omitting the first according to Roman custom, and, once they are used up, beginning again from the second. Neither Te Deum nor Gloria in excelsis should be said, as shown in proposition 13; at Lauds use five antiphons over the common psalms; at Vespers five antiphons from Lauds over the ferial psalms, unless the ferial antiphons are used. The rest of the office is of the feast.

In minor octaves, the solemnity is not mentioned on any day before the octave day, which is kept with three lessons like any simple feast of three lessons. Hence we read in Micrologus chapter 44:

According to Roman authority, we must not observe the octaves of any saints unless we have a certain tradition to that effect from the holy fathers. And during those octaves which we do celebrate, there should be no daily commemoration on the days intervening, because we have no authority for such a thing, except for the Virgin Mary and for St. Peter, both of whom we never cease to commemorate even in other times.

We find the same in the commentary called Gemma Ecclesiae:

“Saints’ feasts of nine lessons within major octaves and to be kept with a commemoration of the octave. Let other saints be only commemorated; but if they should have a proper mass, let it be sung with Ite missa est.[5]

Christmas, Epiphany, the Ascension, Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Assumption, the Nativity of Mary, and Peter and Paul have this sort of major octave. Andrew, Laurence, and Martin, and, according to the Carthusians, John the Baptist have minor octaves. And note that private days within major octaves are regarded as if they were within Eastertide. Hence on those days there are no prostrations, preces with Miserere, and other things of that sort which are omitted on Eastertide; even the Carthusians observe this. Based on this consideration, many Germans on these days say only three psalms with three antiphons at Matins, as they are accustomed to do in Eastertide, but this practice was castigated above in Proposition 10.


[1] CJC, Decr. Greg. II, 9, 2 – Frdbg. II, 271.

[2] Pagi, Breviarium Rom. Pont, p. 1? in Greg. XI, Nr. 32; cf. Benedict XIV De festis BMV, pars II, 138, and O. Raynaldus, Annales Ecclesiastici, ed. J. D. Mansi, t. 7, 297 (Lucca, 1752)

[3] CJC, Decr. Greg. III, 46, 2 – Frdbg. II, 650–51. See proposition 17 and ML 215, 810.

[4] CJC, Decr. Greg. V, 40, 14 – Frdbg. II, 915 and proposition 17.

[5] If he refers to the Gemma anime (which often appeared under the title Gemma ecclesiae), then this passage is either a later addition or belongs to a tradition of unedited Gemma manuscripts.

Rupert of Deutz on the Entrance to the Altar

As the priest makes his way up to the holy altar, he himself and the entire Church present must expand their souls and cherish in the ample bosom of faith the memory of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s incarnation, nativity, passion, resurrection, and ascension, as well as the memory of all the holy men who from the beginning of the world awaited these things in hope, prefigured them with deeds, and prophesied them with words or writings. As they contemplate, let them break out into speech, singing the antiphon called the “introit.” 

For just as the priest’s entrance manifests the Son of God’s entry into this world, so the antiphon called “introit” manifests the voices and expectation of the patriarchs and prophets. As the priest enters, therefore, the aforesaid antiphon is sung at least once with a pomp that is most suitable to the reality signified. Forth first go the flaming candles as a symbol of the joy that irradiated all the earth at the Savior’s birth, of which the angel told the shepherds: I bring you good tidings of great joy.[1] Two ministers go before the priest, not together or side by side, but the subdeacon first, then the deacon. For these two signify the Old and New Testaments, the Law and the Gospel: the Law prior in time, but the Gospel greater in dignity. And the Savior brought with him these two salvific dispensations, for he brought the Gospel, and came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.[2] These two are the feet of the angel who came down from heaven, clothed with a cloud, and set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth.[3] For when John the Baptist and our Lord were teaching, the people listened calmly to the Law’s moral teaching, but against the worshipful Gospel and the plain doctrine of the faith, their tempestuous and salty hearts swelled with rage as the wonderful surges of the sea,[4] as when, for example, he said, “I and the Father are one,”[5] and “Before Abraham was made, I am.”[6]

The subdeacon carries the Gospel book precisely because the law bears witness to Christ, as he said to the Jews: If you did believe Moses, you would believe me also, for he wrote of me.[7] He carries it closed because before the slain Lamb had opened the seven seals, the mystery of his Passion was hidden in the book of the Law.


De antiphona ad introitum

Sacerdote tandem ad sanctum altare ingressuro debet tam ipse sacerdos quam et tota praesens Ecclesia dilatare animam suam et amplo fidei sinu tenere memoriam incarnationis, nativitatis, passionis, resurrectionis et ascensionis Iesu Christi Domini nostri et memoriam omnium sanctorum, qui eum ab initio mundi votis exspectaverunt, gestis praefiguraverunt, dictisque aut scriptis prophetaverunt, et in eorum contemplatione in voces erumpere, praecinendo antiphonam, quae dicitur ad introitum. 

Nam sicut introitus sacerdotis ingressum Filii Dei in hunc mundum, sic antiphona, quae dicitur ad introitum, voces et exspectationem praefert patriarcharum et prophetarum. Ingreditur ergo antiphona praedicta non minus quam semel decantata cum eiusmodi pompa quae significatae rei aptissime congruit. Praecedunt flammantes cereoli, videlicet in signum gaudii, quod in ortu Salvatoris omni mundo effulsit, de quo angelus ad pastores: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum etc. Praeveniunt sacerdotem ministri duo, non pariter, neque a latere incedentes sed ante subdiaconus, post diaconus. Signant enim hi duo Vetus et Novum Testamentum, id est legem et Evangelium, quorum lex tempore prior, Evangelium vero dignitate maius est. Haec namque duo salutis ministeria Salvator invexit, qui Evangelium quidem attulit, legem vero non solvere, sed adimplere venit

Isti sunt duo pedes angeli, qui, ut supra dictum est: Descendit de caelo amictus nube, et posuit pedem dextrum suum supra mare, sinistrum super terram. Legalis enim moralitas, Ioanne baptista vel ipso Domino docente, tranquillitus audita est. Contra evangelicam vero dignitatem, id est manifestam fidei doctrinam, verbi gratia cum diceret: Ego et Pater unum sumus, et: Antequam Abraham fieret ego sum, veluti mirabiles elationes maris fluxa et salsa corda tumuerunt. 

Subdiaconus quoque praefert textum Evangelii, quia profecto lex testimonia continet Christi, sicut ipse dicit Iudaeis: Si crederetis Moysi, crederetis forsitan et mihi; de me enim ille scripsit. Portat vero clausum quia videlicet antequam Agnus occisus aperuisset signacula septem, clausum erat in libro legis sacramentum eius passionis.


[1] Luke 2:10

[2] Cf. Matthew 5:17

[3] Apocalypse 10:1–2

[4] Psalm 92:4

[5] John 10:30

[6] John 8:58

[7] John 5:46