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.

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