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.”

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