The Holy Mass in the First World War: A Photo Collection

This article by Henri de Villiers was first published in 2014 on the blog of the Schola Sainte Cecile, to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Great War. It is translated and republished here and at New Liturgical Movement in honor of Armistice Day.

On 3 August 1914, Germany declared war on France, and Europe entered into a terrible four years of slaughter that would decimate believers on every side, wiping out the youth of thousands of towns and villages, and bringing about the loss of a great part of Europe’s Christian elite. In memory of this sorrowful centenary, we present a collection of photographs that testify to the faith of these men in the midst of the horrors of the front.

We shall remember them.

Requiem æternam dona eis Domine, & lux perpetua luceat eis.


“For the Lord will judge his people, and will be entreated in favour of his servants.” (Psalm 134,14)
Photo: Mass at the front in France during the First World War.


“The sorrows of hell encompassed me: and the snares of death prevented me.”
(Psalm 17,6)
Photo: Mass at the front for the French troops – New York Times, 14 February 1915


“I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.”
(Psalm 17,2-3)
Photo: 1915: A mass at the 43rd battery of the 29th artillery regiment between Oostduinkerke and Nieuport.


“My eyes have failed for thy word, saying: When wilt thou comfort me?”
(Psalm 118,82)
Photo: Holy Mass for the French troops on the front of Champagne in 1915 – Collection of Odette Carrez


“The Lord will give strength to his people: the Lord will bless his people with peace.”
(Psalm 28,10)
Photo: 1915- the sub-lieutenant Pape (sic!) says holy mass for the 262nd infantry regiment. Photograph by Henri Terrier (1887† 1918). Musee de l’Armee, Paris.


“With thee is my praise in a great church: I will pay my vows in the sight of them that fear him.”
(Psalm 21,26)
Photo: German troops assist at mass in the Belgian cathedral of Antwerp – New York Times, 21 March 1915.


“Salvation is of the Lord: and thy blessing is upon thy people.”
(Psalm 3,9)
Photo: Austrian soldiers receive benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in 1915 in Russian Galicia. New York Times, 23 May 1915.


“Praising I will call upon the Lord: and I shall be saved from my enemies.”
(Psalm 17,4)
Photo: a Russian priest celebrates the divine liturgy for Russian troops in 1915. The soldiers have formed a choir and are chanting the liturgy next to the altar. The War Illustrated Album DeLuxe, Vol. 1; Amalgamated Press, London, 1915.


“I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me.”
(Psalm 120,1)
Photo: a priest says mass for Italian troops on the Italo-Austrian front in the mountains of Tyrol – New York Times, 27 February 1916.


“And they shall call them, The holy people, the redeemed of the Lord. But thou shalt be called: A city sought after, and not forsaken.”
(Isaiah 62,12)
Photo: April 1916-Soldiers of the Russian expeditionary corps taking an oath and venerating the icon and cross at the monastery of Saint-Pantaleimon, Mount Athos, Greece. Photograph: Dubray.


“God is with us.”
(Isaiah 8,10)
Photo: April 1916-In the Mirabeau camp near Marseille, men of the first regiment of the first Russian brigade pose around their flag, decorated with the face of Christ and emblazoned with the motto taken from Isaiah and chanted at Byzantine Great Compline, in particular on Christmas Day: С нами Бог – God is with us.


“Behold, God is my saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear: O because the Lord is my strength, and my praise, and he is become my salvation.”
(Isaiah 12,2)
Photo: April 1916-gathered on the parade grounds of Camp Mirabeau near Marseille, the men of the first Russian brigade receive the blessing from Fr. Okouneff, chaplain of the regiment, before their departure for the front.


“And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor: a helper in due time in tribulation.”
(Psalm 9,10)
Photo: April 1916 – gathered on the parade grounds in Camp Mirabeau near Marseille, the troops of the second regiment of the first Russian infantry brigade celebrate Easter, with the divine liturgy celebrated by Fr. Okouneff, chaplain of the regiment. The soldiers have formed a choir and are chanting the liturgy next to the altar.


“The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will shew him the salvation of God.”
(Psalm 49,23)
Photo: 1916 – Renault car-chapel dedicated to St. Elizabeth, donated by a businessman from Anvers to serve the Belgian troops.


“In that day man shall bow down himself to his Maker, and his eyes shall look to the Holy One of Israel.” 
(Isaiah 17,7)
Photo: French soldiers assist at mass before going into battle – Source: Vive la France – William Heinemann, Londres, 1916.


“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.”
(Psalm 6,3)
Photo: Mass in an Austrian military hospital in 1916


“Thou shalt no more have the sun for thy light by day, neither shall the brightness of the moon enlighten thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee for an everlasting light, and thy God for thy glory.”
(Isaiah 60,19)
Photo: a priest, probably the famous Father Paul Doncoeur, S.J., celebrates mass at an altar – nicknamed the altar of Fr. Doncoeur  – carved into the 1st Zouave Quarry, in the quarries of Confrécourt in the Soissonais. Paul Doncoeur was a Jesuit who become a military chaplain in 1914. He participated in the battles of the Marne, Aisne, Champagne, and Verdun. He was seriously wounded at the Somme. Then he rejoined these regiments for the battles of Reims and Flandres. His bravery and dedication to assuring a Christian burial to soldiers who died on the battlefield earned him an immense renown: seven citations, the War Cross, the Legion of Honor. This altar was sculpted by the 35th and 298th infantry regiments in 1914. There is a patriotic inscription written below: “God save France.” On the right, a ladder gave direct access to the front lines.


“In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple: and my cry before him came into his ears.” 
(Psalm 17,7)
Photo: Mass celebrated for Austrian prisoners of war – Illustrated War News, Vol. 1, Illustrated London News and Sketch, London, 1916.


“But I, O Lord, have cried to thee: and in the morning my prayer shall prevent thee.”
(Psalm 87,14)
Photo: a chaplain preaching in a French church transformed into a hospital


“This hath comforted me in my humiliation: because thy word hath enlivened me.” 
(Psalm 118,50)
Photo: Mass for the troops in the region of Soissons


“By this I know, that thou hast had a good will for me: because my enemy shall not rejoice over me.”
(Psalm 40,12)
Photo: Mass at the front


“Offer up the sacrifice of justice, and trust in the Lord: many say, Who sheweth us good things?”
(Psalm 4,6)
Photo: French soldiers hear mass in a chapel in the trenches-New York Times, 25 February 1917


“Come and behold ye the works of the Lord: what wonders he hath done upon earth, Making wars to cease even to the end of the earth. He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons: and the shield he shall burn in the fire.”
(Psalm 45,9)
Photo: March 1917 – M. l’Abbé Louis Lenoir (1882-1917), military chaplain to the 4th colonial infantry regiment, celebrating holy mass for the troops at Gravena (Greek Macedonia), shortly before his death in May 1917.


“Turn away from evil and do good: seek after peace and pursue it.” 
(Psalm 33,15).
Photo: Mass on the Italian front in 1917


“Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the just wait for me, until thou reward me.”
(Psalm 141,8)
Photo: Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war assist at holy mass in a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy in 1917. British Library.


“Be thou mindful of thy word to thy servant, in which thou hast given me hope.”
(Psalm 118,49).
Photo: Abbé Even, chaplain of the 51st division. Photograph taken 10 September 1917 by Paul Castelnau (1880 † 1944). Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris.


“All the flocks of Cedar shall be gathered together unto thee, the rams of Nabaioth shall minister to thee: they shall be offered upon my acceptable altar, and I will glorify the house of my majesty.”
(Isaiah 60,7)
Photo: field altar for Mass in the open air, installed in the back of a car in 1917. Photograph: Georges Pila.


“All ye inhabitants of the world, who dwell on the earth, when the sign shall be lifted up on the mountains, you shall see, and you shall hear the sound of the trumpet.”
(Isaiah 18,3).
Photo: 22 June 1918 – blessing of Polish flags in the woods of Beaulieu, Aube. Photograph: Auguste Goulden.


“You shall have a song as in the night of the sanctified solemnity, and joy of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe, to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the Mighty One of Israel.”
(Isaiah 30,29)
Photo: Mass celebrated in Amiens Cathedral, where the walls have been reinforced with sandbags to protect them from bombardments – 1918.


“In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple.”
(Isaiah 6,1)
Photo: interior of Amiens cathedral, with sandbags to reinforce the building against shelling – 1918.

Novæ Mutationes: St Pius X’s New Office of All Souls

In previous posts, we have examined the origins of the Office of the Dead and All Souls, and the reforms All Souls underwent in the Neo-Gallican liturgies. These latter reforms influenced the new Office of All Souls that emerged from the liturgical reforms carried out under the reign of the Lord Pope St Pius X.

Poor Souls.jpg
Saint Gregory delivers the Soul of a Monk, Giovanni Battista Crespi, S. Vittore, Parese

Fr Pasquale Brugnani, one of the members of Pius X’s Commission to revise the liturgy, attests that it was the Lord Pope’s wish that All Souls become a full liturgical day1, as in the Neo-Gallican offices, and this was formally announced by the Apostolic Constitution Divino afflatu of 1 November 1911.

In the original Rubricæ project discussed by the Commission on 18 September 1911, Vespers of the Dead would continue to follow Second Vespers of All Saints. On 2 November, the Office of the second day within the Octave of All Saints would be omitted, and Mattins and Lauds of the Dead would be said in the morning.

In later discussions it was agreed that the lessons of Mattins of the Dead would be altered to make them more similar to the usual model for Mattins of feasts. Only the first Nocturn would retain the readings from Job; the same pericopes were picked as in the Neo-Gallican Parisian breviary. The second Nocturn would feature extracts from St Augustine’s De cura pro mortuis gerenda, like in the Dominican and Carmelite uses. The lessons of the third Nocturn, finally, were extracts from chapter 15 of St Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, identical to the selections of the Neo-Gallican Cluniac and Parisian breviaries. To bring Lauds into line with the new psalter, psalms 66, 148, and 149 were duly excised therefrom.

The Little Hours were originally to be supplied by saying the ferial psalms of the dead (from the reformed psalter) without antiphon, then the Lord’s Prayer, preces, and collect. As Brugnani explained, the intention was to imitate the Little Hours of the Holy Triduum to “underline the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and the fate of the deceased”. Comparisons between the Mass and Office of the Dead and those of the Triduum go back, in any case, at least as far as Amalarius2.

The commissioners soon realized, however, that if the ferial psalms were sung at the Little Hours, some psalms from Mattins might end up being repeated. Brugnani suggested following the Neo-Gallican rites and using the Sunday psalms, but another commissioner, Mgr Pierre La Fontaine, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, proposed that the Friday psalms be used. He noted that none of them were present in the other Hours of the Dead and, moreover, he explained that they expressed sentiments particularly appropriate for All Souls:

  • Psalm 21, “David’s anguished soul”,
  • Psalm 79, “a sad note”,
  • Psalm 81, “God’s justice”,
  • Psalm 83, “the soul’s impassioned cry to heaven”,
  • Psalm 86, “a good tie with the previous”,
  • Psalm 88, “a reminder of mercy”3

La Fontaine recalls that his counter-proposal kindled Brugnani’s wrath: “Yesterday evening when I returned to San Giovanni I mentioned the question of the Office of the Dead to Pasquale [Brugnani], who suddenly, furor sicut serpentis, protested that he had always been under the impression that the psalms ought to be of Sunday, and called everyone else dishonest beasts”4.

The Commission’s ominously-named document Novæ mutationes of 25 September 1913, however, adopted neither La Fontaine’s nor Brugnani’s plan. Instead, it assigned psalms 27 and 37 split in half to Prime; 31, 55, and 69 to Tierce; 84, 85, and 87 to Sext; and 101 split into three to None. Yet the dispute over the psalms must have continued to rage, for the motu proprio Abhinc duos annos of 28 October 1913 ultimately assigned psalms 87, 27, and 31 to Prime; 37 split in two and 55 to Tierce; 69, 84, and 85 to Sext; and 101 split into three to None. Unfortunately, Honoré Vinck writes in his history of these reforms that he was not able to find any further documentation about the surely tempestuous discussions behind the ever-changing selection of psalms.

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The bizarre decision was also made to have Compline of All Souls on 1 November instead of Compline of All Saints. This had no precedent in the Neo-Gallican or mediæval rites. The idea was first suggested to the Commission by Fr Brugnani, who adduced three reasons:

  1. That since All Souls had become a full liturgical day, it ought to have its own Compline;
  2. That it would be inappropriate to sing the alleluia after Vespers of the Dead, as would happen in Compline of All Saints;
  3. It was a divine law that a liturgical day should have a full Office. A vespera ad vesperam celebrabitis solemnitates vestras, Brugnani wrote (cf. Leviticus 23:32).

His foremost argument, however, was that the poor souls would benefit from further prayers. “Above all else, O holy souls” he prayed, “inspire the Holy Father with what will be to your greatest benefit, and to the greater glory of God, the Church, and the Holy Father. Fiat, fiat5. His fervor ended up persuading the rest of the commissioners. Mgr Pietro Piacenza, who was initially opposed to the idea, claimed he was won over by the thought that, with this Compline, 120,000 priests would say an additional prayer for the souls in purgatory. He also agreed that singing the alleluia would be inappropriate after Vespers of All Souls, writing that, “In the Church’s solemnities, sad and doleful prayers are never mingled together with festal songs of exultation”6. The “sadness” of All Souls was also given as an explanation as to why this day, although of double rank, would end at None, unlike any other double feast but like fasting days.

The commissioners then forwarded the proposal to the Lord Pope, who wrote tersely on the margin, Vi sia la compieta. In imitation of Compline during the Triduum, this office would begin immediately with the Confiteor, followed by three psalms said without antiphon, originally from the feria, but then in the end 122, 141, and 142, and then the Nunc dimittis. As with the other hours, Compline would conclude with the Lord’s prayer, preces, and collect.

Thus the novel Office of All Souls was created, with little precedent in the Roman liturgical tradition. Piancenza reflected complacently on his commission’s handiwork, saying, “It is certain that parish priests and preachers will find in the Office of 2 November, thus well modified and enriched, new argument to confirm the people in the belief in purgatory”7. The conviction that the liturgy should be modified at will for didactic and pædagogical purposes would continue to heavily influence liturgical reform for the rest of the century, and was enshrined by the Lord Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei.

The new Office did not find immediate welcome in the Benedictine use, which only definitely adopted it in 1963. Even then, it was decided to say the ferial psalms in the Little Hours and Compline, rather than those picked by the commission. The other religious orders eventually adopted the Piodecimal Office as well.

When First Vespers of all but first class feasts were unaccountably abolished by the Lord John XXIII, the venerable custom of having Second Vespers of All Saints followed by Vespers of the Dead on 1 November, which even the Neo-Gallican liturgies had generally preserved, was discarded, and it was decreed All Souls would begin with Mattins and end with Compline on 2 November. It was, however, permitted to continue saying Vespers of the Dead on 1 November as a pious devotion in those places where its removal might unduly vex the faithful8.



1. Annuente Sanctissimo Domino Nostro Pio Papa X […] in posteros annos sit Officium eorundem Defunctorum pro quotidiano etiam Divini Officii penso recitare (cited in Honoré Vinck, Pie X et les réformes liturgiques de 1911-1914, p. 256).

2. Cf. Liber officialis III, 44.

3. Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260

4. Ieri sera nel ritonare a S. Giovanni accenai l’affare dell’Officio dei morti a Pasquale, cui subito furor sicut serpentis protestando che gli fu sempre d’avviso che i Salmi delle ore dev’essere della Domenica, e dando della bestia e del disonesto a tutti gli altri (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260).

5. E più di ogni altra cosa, Anime sante, ispirate al Santo Padre quello che sia al maggior vostro vantaggio e alla gloria maggiore di Dio e della Chiesa e del S. Padre. Fiat, fiat (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 259).

6. Nelle sollenità della Chiesa, non si confondono mai insieme preci flebili e meste con canti festosi di esultanza (ibid.)

7. E certo che i parroci ed i predicatori, troveranno nell’Officio del 2 Novembre, cosè ben modificato e arricchito, nuovi argomenti per confermare il popolo nella credenza del purgatorio. (Qtd. in Vinck, op. cit., p. 260)

8. Celebratio tamen Vesperarum defunctorum post II Vesperas diei 1 novembris, quae pro pietate fidelium peragi consuevit, continuari potest, una cum aliis piis exercitiis forsitan consuetudine traditis, tamquam peculiare pietatis obsequium (Variationes in Breviario et Missali Romano, 1960).

The Liturgical Vicissitudes of All Souls in the Age of Enlightenment

As we saw on Sunday, the Office of the Dead had ancient origins. Early in the Middle Ages it became an obligatory supplement to the cursus of the Divine Office on ferial days, as well as on All Souls, until the the former obligation was suppressed in the wake of the Council of Trent.

All Souls stood, after the Tridentine reforms, as an oddity in the liturgical calendar,  the sole day retaining double Vespers, Mattins, and Lauds. It is hardly surprising that its peculiar nature, even despite its venerable antiquity, made it the target of liturgical reformers.

The 1779 edition of the breviary of Cluny, which claims to be based on the Benedictine breviary from which it manifestly diverges

By the 17th century the Abbey of Cluny, that erstwhile centre of liturgical excellence, had become the vanguard for a rationalist liturgical movement whose most practical result was the production of a genre of reformed liturgies that later came to be called Neo-Gallican. These have been rendered somewhat infamous by the exhaustive critique to which they were submitted in Dom Proper Guéranger’s Institutions liturgiques. Guéranger censures the reformers for holding an “anti-liturgical heresy,” that consisted, in keeping with the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, to refashion the liturgy based on “rational” principles of their own devising without respect for inherited forms.

For example, amongst the more noteworthy characteristics of these Neo-Gallican liturgies were a rejection of the use of non-Biblical texts for Office antiphons and Mass propers (except hymns and sequences), the substitution of ancient hymns with new versions in a classicizing style, and a reduction in the number and rank of feasts to favour a re-arranged ferial psalter.

The earliest and most radical break with previous liturgical custom was the Neo-Gallican breviary adopted by Cluny in 1686. Dom Guéranger points out that it was not a reform, but the “complete and violent destruction of the entire corpus of the Gregorian offices”. In his own review of the material, Fr. Thiers wryly quips that it ought to have be called “The New Breviary” for all the connection it had with the old liturgy of Cluny.

In the novel breviary, the Office of the Dead itself was untouched except for the replacement of all non-Scriptural antiphons and responsories with new ones composed from Biblical texts. All Souls, however, became a proper liturgical day ending with None, but not following the precedent of uses like the Dominican; rather, the office was crafted almost entirely anew. All the antiphons and responsories were rewritten from Scripture. The readings from Job were excised from Mattins: thenceforth the first Nocturn had the readings of the occurring feria, the second Nocturn an excerpt from St Augustine’s sermon 127, and the third Nocturn a pericope from chapter 15 of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.

This responsory, derived entirely from Biblical texts, replaced the traditional Libera me as the last responsory of Mattins of the Dead in the Neo-Gallican Cluniac Office, and was later taken up by the Parisian and other Neo-Gallican uses. The version here is from a Parisian antiphonary and gradual published in 1827.

Hymns were composed to conform Mattins and Lauds to the normal scheme for feasts. They were composed by Jean-Baptiste Santeul, a Canon Regular of St Victor, whom Dom Guéranger accuses of having Jansenist sympathies and who, the Abbot of Solesmes superciliously notes, was better known for being a bon vivant than for his piety.

Canon Jean-Baptiste Santeul, composer of many hymns used in the Neo-Gallican liturgies, described by a contemporary as “most excellent company, a good dinner-guest above all, fond of wine and good cheer, but without debauchery.”

None of the other Neo-Gallican rites strayed as far from tradition as did Cluny. Most were modeled after the Parisian use, whose breviary underwent its final and definitive reform in 1736. In it, Second Vespers of All Saints is followed by Vespers of the Dead, reformed only by the removal of non-Scriptural elements. All Souls itself was a full liturgical day ending with None. Mattins and Lauds were again altered to replace texts not coming from Scripture, losing some of their most beautiful responsories, which were replaced by new compositions of dubious musical quality. The readings of the first Nocturn come from Job, and those of the second and third follow the arrangement in the Cluniac breviary. At the Little Hours, the psalms begin immediately after the silent prayers, and are taken from Sunday in the new Parisian psalter. They are followed by one of the new Scriptural responsories and finish with the Lord’s prayer, the usual preces, and collect.

The memorable propers of the Mass of the Dead were also doomed to revision, since none them derive from Biblical texts. New propers were duly composed, and in most Neo-Gallican rites they are the following:

Introit (from Ps. 73). Respice, Domine, in testamentum tuum; ne tradas bestiis animas confitentes tibi, et animas pauperum tuorum ne obliviscaris in finem. Ps. Ut quid, Deus, repulisti in finem; * iratus est furor tuus super oves pascuæ tuæ. ℣. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, * et lux perpetua luceat eis. Respice, &c.
Have regard, O Lord, to thy convenant; deliver not up to beasts the souls that confess to thee: and forget not to the end the souls of thy poor. Ps. O God, why hast thou cast us off unto the end: why is thy wrath enkindled against the sheep of thy pasture? ℣. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual life shine upon them. Have regard, &c.

Gradual (from Ps. 141). Clamavi ad te, Domine; dixi, Tu es spes mea, portio mea in terra viventium. ℣. Educ de custodia animam meam ad confitendum nomini tuo: me expectant justi, donec retribuas mihi.
I cried to thee, O Lord: I said: Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living. ℣. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the just wait for me, until thou reward me.

Tract (from Baruch 3). Domine omnipotens, anima in angustiis, et spiritus anxius clamat at te. Audi, Domine, et miserere, quia Deus es miséricors; et miserere nostri, quia peccavimus ante te. Domine omnipotens, Deus Israel, audi nunc orationem mortuorum Israel.
O Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, the soul in anguish, and the troubled spirit crieth to thee. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for thou art a merciful God, and have pity on us: for we have sinned before thee. O Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, hear now the prayer of the dead of Israel.

Offertory (from Micheas 7). Ad Dominum aspiciam, expectabo Deum salvatorem meum; audiet me Deus meus: consurgam cum sedero in tenebris, Dominus lux mea est: iram Domini portabo, quoniam peccavi ei: educet me in lucem, videbo justitiam ejus.
I will look towards the Lord, I will wait for God my Saviour: my God will hear me, I shall arise, when I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light. I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him: he will bring me forth into the light, I shall behold his justice.

Communion (from John 6). Qui manducat meam carnem, et bibit meum sanguinem, habet vitam aeternam, et ego resuscitabo eum in novissimo die.
He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

The sequence Dies iræ was preserved, but its first stanza was amended to suppress mention of the Sibyl, and the thirteenth to remove the suggestion that the sinful woman Our Lord absolved was St Mary Magdalene.

The Neo-Gallican introit for Masses of the Dead. The melody follows that of the traditional Introit.

This was the state of the Office of All Souls throughout most of France—even whilom conservative Lyons eventually chose to forsake its traditions and ape the Parisian use—until Dom Guéranger began his efforts to replace the Neo-Gallican rites with the Roman, imagining that Rome—surely Rome!—would prove a bulwark of tradition. It is intensely ironic, then, that St Pius X’s reform of the Roman breviary broke with the very tradition Dom Guéranger cherished, and did so considerably influenced by the Neo-Gallican experiments. We will discuss this final chapter in the saga of All Souls on Friday.

Sundry Remarks on the History of the Office of the Dead

From a Flemish Book of Hours

In the Tridentine liturgical books, as in most of the mediæval rites that preceded their promulgation, 2 November was liturgically the second day in the Octave of All Saints. The commemoration of the faithful departed was, as it were, a supplement to the day within the Octave, consisting in an obligation of saying the Office of the Dead in addition to the office of the day, and of saying a Mass of the Dead.

Supplementary offices, although they have fallen into desuetude after the liturgical revolutions of the 20th century, were an ancient element of the Roman rite. Indeed, the origin of the term “double” (duplex) to describe major feasts in the Roman calendar before the reforms of John XXIII seems to hark back to the pre-Carolingian practice in Rome of having a “double office” on major feast days. Originally, in the Roman basilicas only the dominical and ferial offices were sung. Offices in honour of a saint were celebrated at the respective tomb on the saint’s feast day as part of a vigil rite which comprised Vespers, three Nocturns, and Lauds.

When offices in honour of saints first began to be sung in the basilicas, they were a supplement to the ferial office, resulting a double office. Eventually, both began to blend together. Pierre Batiffol analyzes some passages from Amalarius of Metz about the antiphonary of Corbey, attributed to Pope Hadrian I, and explains:

It results from these two passages that the most solemnly observed festivals of the saints had, at Rome, two nocturn offices, one at nightfall, without invitatory, and the office in the middle of the night, with invitatory. I conjecture that the office celebrated at nightfall without invitatory was the proper office of the saint, the vigil office of the festival; and the office with invitatory celebrated in the middle of the night was the ferial office, now transformed into the office of the saint.

But this ferial nocturn was destined in the end to be ousted even from the precarious position which had remained to it: every vestige of duality of the office, of the joint celebration of the offices of the feria and the Saint’s day, was effaced: there was no longer more than one nocturnal office, and that office was altogether given up to the saint.

A vestige of the old system of double offices seems to have survived, however, in the Office of the Dead. It appears first in the 8th century, as attested by Amalarius, the Ordo Romanus X, and other sources. By this time a vigil had developed as part of the funerary rites, akin to the vigil primitively kept in honour of a saint’s feast. Upon someone’s passing, his body was borne to St Peter’s Basilica and received at the door with the singing of the psalm Miserere with two antiphons. After the body was taken within, the vigil began; like a saint’s vigil, this office comprised Vespers, three Nocturns, and Lauds. Mass would then be sung in the morning, followed by the Diaconia, later called Absolutio, and the burial.

The beginning of Vespers of the Dead, from a 15th century French Book of Hours

The structure of this Office is of the primitive Roman form. Vespers and Lauds have no hymn or short lesson and conclude with the Kyrie eleison and Lord’s prayer, and the Nocturns begin without an invitatory, like in the vigils of saint’s days. The readings of the Nocturns were taken entirely from the book of Job.

It was thus brought over by Bl. Charlemagne across the Alps, and although at first the recitation of this Office was only attached to actual funeral Masses as part of the obsequies, it soon began to be said in attachment to any solemn Mass of the Dead, and as these multiplied, especially in monasteries, so did its accompanying Office. The spirit of the monastic reform of St Benedict of Aniane, so partial to the singing of supplementary offices, surely helped fillip its diffusion.

Already in the 9th century Amalarius reports that Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the Dead were sung daily in certain places, except on feasts. Such was the custom in Cluny and its daughter-houses, where on ferias and simple feasts Vespers and Lauds of the Dead were sung in choir after Vespers and Lauds of the day, and Matins of the Dead was sung after supper.  

Cluny was also responsible for setting aside 2 November as a day particularly devoted to prayer for the poor souls in Purgatory. Around the beginning of the 11th century, having been told by a pilgrim that the poor souls earnestly yearned for the prayers of his monks, Abbot St Odilo ordered that the day after All Saints be devoted to prayer for this purpose. Liturgically, of course, this involved the celebration of the Office and Mass of the Dead.

Part of the Office of the Dead, from a Flemish Book of Hours.

The custom quickly spread throughout northern France and England, and reached Rome by the 13th century. The Ordo Romanus XV, describing the papal liturgy at the time of Martin V, states that, on the evening of 1 November, after Second Vespers of All Saints, the Pope would preside over Vespers of the Dead, incensing the altar at the Magnificat, and then at Matins and Lauds of the Dead. During the day, he would attend a Requiem Mass sung by one of the cardinals.

By the 16th century, St Benedict of Aniane’s ideals had triumphed insofar as the obligation to say the Office of the Dead on all ferias and simple feasts—as well as the Little Office of Our Lady, the Penitential Psalms and Litany in Lent, and the Gradual Psalms in Advent and Lent—had become general for all the clergy. The spirit of the age was, however, far from St Benedict’s own, and the recitation of these supplementary offices were widely considered too onerous. Pope St Pius V acquiesced to remove the obligation to say them with his bull Quod a nobis, although the rubrics of the Tridentine breviary do suggest that the Office of the Dead continue to be said on the first day of the month not impeded by a nine-lesson feast, as well as on Mondays of Advent and Lent similarly unimpeded. When said in choir, the old rule would remain that Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the dead would follow Vespers, Matins, and Lauds of the day. The only supplementary office that did remain obligatory was the Office of the Dead on All Souls.

As found in the Tridentine breviary, the Office of the Dead has generally preserved its ancient structure, lacking the Deus in adjutorium, a hymn, and a short lesson. The Kyrie eleison has dropped out, however, and after the Lord’s prayer some preces are said consisting of the versicles A porta inferi, Requiescat in pace, Domine exaudi orationem meam, followed by Dominus vobiscum and the collect. The office concludes with the versicles Requiem æternam and Requiescant in pace.

The Tridentine breviary codified the practice that had arisen in the later Middle Ages of saying only one of the three Nocturns when reciting the Office of the Dead outside the more solemn context of a funeral or All Souls, and distributes the Nocturns across the days of the week: on Monday and Thursday the first Nocturn is said; on Tuesday and Friday the second; and on Wednesday and Saturday the third. On days when only a single Nocturn is said, psalm 145 is sung without an antiphon the Lord’s prayer at Vespers and psalm 129 similarly at Lauds.

In the course of the Middle Ages, various customs arose for solemn celebrations of the Office of the Dead, especially on All Souls. As mentioned above, the Office of the Dead originally had no Invitatory at Matins, but the Invitatory Regem cui omnia vivunt begun to be sung in the Abbey of St Gall in the 9th century on more solemn occasions, and became relatively widespread in the 13th century. In the post-Tridentine books, the Roman and Norbertine breviaries call for this Invitatory to be said with psalm 94 whenever the full three Nocturns are said, and the Carmelite breviary only on All Souls, but it is absent from the Cistercian, Carthusian, and Dominican books. The traditional use of Lyons has the Invitatory In manu tua instead, borrowed from Wednesday Matins.

Some uses also began to modify some of the readings of Mattins of the Dead on All Souls’, replacing the ancient readings taken from Job with pericopes from St Augustine’s Enchiridion and De cura pro mortuis gerenda. The Parisian use, for instance, reads Job for the first two Nocturns and and St Augustine on the third. The Dominican use reads St Augustine on all three Nocturns, and the Carmelite use reads Job on the first Nocturn, St Augustine on the second, and, rather unusually, an excerpt from chapter 15 of St Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians on the third.

From an English Book of Hours

Indeed, some dioceses in northern France, including Paris, All Souls was actually transformed into a full liturgical day by providing the Little Hours missing from the Office of the Dead, and this practice was retained by the Dominican use. All Souls still began by saying Vespers of the Dead after Second Vespers of All Saints, but the following day was devoted exclusively to All Souls, rather than to the second day within the Octave of All Saints.

After the usual silent prayers, Prime, Tierce, Sext, and None begin immediately with the three psalms in the psalter for that feria said without Gloria Patri, with Requiem æternam at the end of the triplet, as a simple verse in the Parisian use but as an antiphon in the Dominican use. In the Parisian use, this is followed by one of the responsories sung at Mattins: Qui Lazarum resuscitasti at Prime, Credo quod Redemptor at Tierce, Hei mihi at Sext, and Ne recorderis at None. Then comes the collect, and the verse Requiescant in pace to conclude. In the Dominican use, however, after the antiphon Requiem æternam the hour concludes with the the preces that begin with the verse A porta inferi, as in Vespers and Lauds of the Dead (the Confiteor is said between the antiphon and the preces at Prime).

Outside of the Parisian and Dominican uses and those akin thereto, then, All Souls was the last relic of the ancient practice of saying double offices, and the only remaining day with an obligatory supplementary office. As we shall see in a future post, the following centuries saw various efforts to alter the Office of 2 November to bring it into line with other liturgical days, which culminated in the reforms of St Pius X.

Cardinal Sarah’s September message to the Association Pro Liturgia

From the Silence of the Soul United with Christ, to the Silence of God in His Glory

The following message was delivered on behalf of His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah this September at the General Assembly of the Association Pro Liturgia, a group founded in 1988 to promote the correct application of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council. It was first published in French by L’Homme Nouveau; this English version by the authors of Canticum Salomonis is translated and published with his Eminence’s permission. Also published at New Liturgical Movement.


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Dear friends of the Association Pro Liturgia,

I am happy to deliver this message of encouragement and gratitude to you on the occasion of your General Assembly. With assurance of my prayers for the intentions that are dear to your hearts, I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to your president, M. Denis Crouan, and to each of you for your determination to defend and promote the liturgy of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite in the Latin language, even despite obstacles that stand in your way in this undertaking. This defense must not be mounted with weapons of war, or with hatred and anger in your hearts, but to the contrary, “Let us put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” May God bless your meritorious efforts and ever make them more fruitful!

I would like us to reflect together on one of the essential elements of Gregorian chant, namely sacred silence. At first it might seem paradoxical, but we shall see that if Gregorian chant, which you defend and promote with so much zeal, has great importance, it is due to its indispensable capacity to draw us into the silence of contemplation, of listening to and adoring the living God. From the silence of the soul that is united to Jesus, to the silence of God in his glory: this is the title of this brief message that my friendship and support extends to you today. In fact, we shall see that Gregorian chant and its splendid visible raiment, the illuminated manuscript of the liturgical book, is born out of silence and leads back to silence.

Gregorian chant rests on two inseparable foundations: Sacred Scripture, which is the basis for its texts, and cantillation. It is well known that from the shadow of their cloisters and their silent meditation on the Word of God, Benedictine monks in the course of the centuries developed, for the needs of the prayer of the Divine Office chanted in common, a cantillatory phrasing for each verse of the Bible that had to be proclaimed, beginning with the Psalms. What they did was to cloth the most holy Word of God, so delicate and subtle to the ear and eye, those double doors of the soul, with the very humble dress of a modal melody at once simple, elegant, and refined, and that respects the rhythm of the prosody. The ear, and also the eye, I said. For in fact, the monk chants and contemplates what he sings: from the first medieval manuscripts to the incunabula of the early Renaissance before the advent of printing (the Gutenburg Bible appeared in 1455), Psalters and Antiphoners, then Lectionaries and Gospel Books were progressively covered with ornaments and illuminations. The ornate letters used for the titles of works and principal divisions took on a great variety of forms: Gothic ornaments, crests, initials in gold…They depict characters of that age as diverse as the laborer, the artisan, the minstrel, the lady of the manor spinning wool at her wheel, but also plants, fruits, and animals: birds of many colors soaring toward heaven, fish sporting in the nourishing tide of the river…The hall where the monk-copyists worked was called the “scriptorium.” Like Gregorian chant in the slow and patient course of its genesis, the work of the copyists was a fruit of their silent meditation, for they were required to work in silence and in intimate contact with God. This is why, lest they should be disturbed, only the abbot, the prior, the sub-prior, and the librarian had the right to enter their room. The librarian was charged with giving them what they had to transcribe and furnishing them with all the objects they might need.

“The men and women who pray in silence, in the night, and in solitude are the supporting pillars of Christ’s Church.” (The Power of Silence)

And thus, to pray is to sing, to make the vocal cords of the heart speak: a monastic prayer that always begins in the privacy of the cell and continues unabated into the abbey sanctuary. Only the quality of each monk’s silence and personal prayer can make the community’s prayer deep and sublime. It is thus a prayer that has become eminently communitarian and unanimous, pronounced in a loud voice, with full lungs, during eight hours each day: an exhausting labor, but one that regenerates and sanctifies…This praise is the Gregorian chant that mounts up to the altar, to the stone of the Holy Sacrifice. The Catholic liturgy thus unfolds in a very slow dance, like that of King David before the Ark, throughout the whole interior space of the Abbatial Church, between the columns and down the length of the nave. It leads the chant to stroll as if in procession, making  a majestic round about the altar…In front of the altar of the Holy Sacrifice, after the offices of Vigils or Compline, before returning to his cell where absolute silence reigns, the monk remains alone, on his knees near his stall, his hand sometimes placed on the misericord, as he contemplates the Cross. In fact, the Gregorian chant we find in the illuminated manuscripts is actually the heavenly liturgy, identical to the one that is represented, prefigured, accomplished, and actualized here below in the monastic liturgy, a genuine anticipation of the real presence, visible, tangible, and substantial, of the invisible Reality par excellence, of the Lamb standing as it were slain. A silence where God lets himself be seen in the flashing rays of his Glory through the beautiful rituals of the liturgy of the Church on the road toward her consummation. In fact, in a number of abbeys, such as Sénanque, Bonneval, or Quimperlé, the crucified Jesus appears sovereign even in his crucifixion. He is represented not as? dead but with his eyes open, not naked but clothed in a royal vestment, like Christ the Pantocrator in Byzantine art. The Crucified and Risen One embraces the whole universe in a grand gesture.

If I have taken the liberty of recalling briefly the origin of Gregorian chant and its visual medium, the illuminated manuscript, it is to allow us to observe the criteria par excellence of liturgical chant: it gushes out from the silent contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus on this earth, the Incarnation and the Redemption, and leads us into the silence of adoration of the living God, the Most Holy Trinity: the Father sitting on his Throne of Glory made of jasper—a shining and transparent color—and sardius—a purple color—, surrounded by the rainbow of God’s fidelity; the sacrificed lamb haloed with the uncreated Light, He who alone is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise; and the Holy Spirit, spring and river of living water rushing from the Throne and the Heart of the Lamb unto eternal life. This criterion, which as we have seen prevailed during the slow, progressive elaboration of Gregorian chant, is the ultimate key that admits us into a profound understanding of the exceptional and incomparable place given to it by Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, in the often-lauded paragraph number 116: “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” This eminent, even primary place is not only due to its historical precedence, but above all to the Church’s recognition of the unequaled intrinsic value of this chant, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the model for the development of other forms of music and liturgical chant. Later, the same number 116 speaks precisely on this subject: “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action”.

Let us take one example: rhythm. It is clear that the syncopated rhythm—which consists of starting a note on the weak beat of a measure or on the weak part of a beat and continuing it on the strong beat of the following measure or on the strong part of the following beat—so typical of contemporary music, especially of commercial music, ever since the appearance of jazz, is little suited to meditation that leads from silence to adoration of the living God. Someone who does not perceive this is likely already tainted by this blindness and deafness that are a result of our immersion in a profane and secularized world, without God and without faith, saturated with noise, agitation, and barely-contained fury. Therefore, musical rhythm tends to disclose an undeniable reality: the presence or absence of contemplation. In other words, it is symptomatic of the manner in which liturgical singing flows or does not flow from silence and prayer. In fact, there exists a “body language of silence” and the rhythm of liturgical song? is this body language: silence as a condition of the Word. The Word of God, that is, and not the loose verbiage produced by one who walks after the flesh, and thus silence is a condition for authentic liturgical singing: “In the beginning, God made the heaven and the earth…”: It is out of the interior of silence that God speaks, that he creates the heaven and the earth by the power of his Word. Further, the Word only takes on its own importance and power when it issues from silence…but the opposite is equally true in this case: in order for silence to have its fertility and effective power, the word must be spoken out loud. St. Ignatius of Antioch adds: “it is better to be silent and to be than to speak and not to be.” Hence the “sacred” silence prescribed by the Church during the holy liturgy. “At the proper times all should observe a reverent silence,” as Sacrosanctum Concilium affirms (no. 30).

Liturgical chant is there to make us pray, and in our day its primary objective, even before leading us to meditation and adoration, is to soothe the inner maelstrom of our passions, of the violence and divisions between the flesh and the spirit. Rhythm is therefore a very important, even essential element of our pacification, of this inner piece that we recover or acquire by hard labor, in tears and toil. Syncopated rhythm breaks the silence of the human soul; rising from a strident and discordant melody, it comes against us like an aggressor, to tear apart our soul with axe blows and leave its pieces scattered all about, panting, in tatters. This is the suffering that so many faithful express when they come out from certain Masses, using words like “scandal,” “boredom,” “suffering,” “desacralization,” “disrespect,” etc. Yes, it is a genuine assault, a violent intrusion, a break in to the house of the soul, the place where God entreats with his creature as a friends speaks with a friend. Our contemporaries are right to be concerned about human rights; they should also reflect on this violation of an essential right: the soul’s right to privacy and its unique and ineffable relation with its Creator and Redemptor. Now, I affirm that certain forms of music and chant heard in our churches run counter to this elementary right of the human person to encounter his God, because it disturbs the interior silence of the soul, which breaks like a dike under the force of a mudslide. For this reason I do not hesitate to protest with insistence and humility; I beg you, if a form of singing breaks this interior silence, the soul’s silence, that you give it up now, and restore silence to its proper place! In this domain the responsibility of bishops, priests, and their collaborators, in particular in parishes and chaplaincies, is immense and crucial, both from the point of view of choice and selection of liturgical songs based on the criterion that we have presented, and with regard to the formation of seminarians, novices, and of course the faithful as well. Many of these people feel more and more the necessity of a strong liturgical formation, in particular choir directors, choristers, musicians, and members of liturgical groups that are often responsible for the choice of liturgical music under the direction of their parish priest. To tolerate just any sort of music or chant, to continue to debase the liturgy, is to demolish our faith, as I have often recalled: “Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

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Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven, by Paul Gauguin (1888), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

To illustrate my point in a positive way, let us take two examples of beautiful liturgical chants besides Gregorian chant in your country, France, and on the African continent. In France, I am thinking of the songs in the Breton language that I have heard at Christmas in some parishes in which the rector, outside the church and dressed in his soutane, teaches the dance of his Celtic ancestors to the young children. There was no hesitation in his genuine zeal to transmit this immemorial patrimony to young people, who are too often disinherited and deracinated, and thus become strangers to their own culture. This priest from the countryside of Vannes shows them that the rhythm of the Breton dance in triple-time, which has nothing impure about it, unlike the well-known Viennese waltz, but rather resembles the breathing of a farmer tilling a field, or the swaying of cattle as they saunter toward the fields after milking, or the gentle rocking of the young spouse bearing her newborn and singing him a lullaby she learned on her own mother’s knee. The rhythm is in triple time without syncopation, which corresponds to human nature in both its most ordinary and its most noble activities: the toil of plowing and pasture-work or the weaning and education of a child. For the third beat, which closes the ternary rhythm, come from the natural “trinity” deeply inscribed in the soul of every person like a seal. It accords with the foot grounded on the earth, in the soil of our world, and thus the reality of a glob of clay endowed with an immortal soul, of a person created in the image of the Trinitarian God. This is the same rhythm that, on Christmas night, punctuates the songs intoned by the whole people with unparalleled fervor, to the silence of the adoration of the newborn Jesus, the Incarnate Word, in the splendid creche of a Breton church, where the eyes of all the children, big and small, converge: “Kanomb Noel; Ganet eo Jesus hur salver”: “Sing Noël, Jesus our Savior is born.” Such is the authenticity of a rhythm that respects human nature, respects the soul in its silent, loving relation with God its Creator and Redeemer.

There is another example on the African continent in the liturgy of the monks of the Senegalese Abbey of Keur Moussa, founded by Solesmes in 1962, or, in my native land of Guinea, the Benedictines of the Monastery of Saint-Joseph of Séguéya, itself a daughter-house of Keur Moussa in 2003, whose chant is accompanied by a marvelous plucked string instrument, the kora, which is the African lute, and also the balafon, also called a balani, which is a sort of xylophone that usually has between sixteen and twenty-seven notes produced by keys of wood that are struck with sticks. For centuries the kora has been the sacred appanage of the griots, those musician heralds, storytellers, poets, historians, and chroniclers, repositories of the cultural memory of Africa and its oral tradition. When the African peasant works he sings following a natural ternary rhythm, with this third beat that recalls the foot firmly planted in the soil and dust of our earth.

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Father Luc Bayle, a monk of Keur Moussa and successor of Brother Michel Meygniot in the direction of the workshop, where he was responsible for the making of koras until 2007, says that “the kora is not in the foreground of liturgy. It is like a tide that carries the voice, facilitates the chant, and deepens its relation to God.” And it is true that the kora’s ternary rhythm, which induces a light swaying motion, gives the psalms life, permits them to express joy or sorrow, creates the desire to sing, to praise…sounds of a crystalline purity, with a translucent lightness, which leads us to the silence of adoration. Ah, wonder of creation! Oh, the splendid variety in the unity in God of the cultures that the Gospel has penetrated and transfigured, in a chant of a million voices for the Glory of the Eternal! Yes, from the shores of Brittany to African Guinea, there is only one step, and only Christ can help us learn it, so that we may enter into this unbreakable and luminous communion that is the Catholic Church, a dwelling place for diverse peoples. It has nothing in common with the artificial assembly, that formless magma cleaving to the world and dominated by money and power, a result of the leveling so typical of the profane and secularized world.

In conclusion, let us recall the meeting between Jesus and Zachaeus. Our Lord never ceases to speak, in the depths of our soul, this word he addressed to that small man perched on the sycamore: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk. 19:5). This “coming down” that Jesus mentions, is it not the expression of his desire to join us in the intimacy of our soul, to scrap away all the dross of our sins, namely our refusal to love God and our neighbor? In silence, we can welcome God and have the ineffable experience of Heaven on earth. Yes, we carry heaven in our souls. And our singing, united to that of the angels and saints, gushes forth from a sacred silence that leads us into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.