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.

Introducing Gemma Animae, Book 3

After the Mass commentary of Book One, and his commentary on the Divine Office in Book Two, the third book of Honorius’ Gemma Animae comments on the feasts and practices of the liturgical year, beginning with Advent.

Ch. 1
On the Lord’s Advent

This is as much as we wanted to say about the Hours. It remains to offer a few observations about the solemnities.

We celebrate the Lord’s Advent for three reasons. First, to recall the time when he was foretold by the ancient saints. Second, we “come before his presence with thanksgiving” when he we know he will come to each of us at the end of our lives. Third, we commemorate the time when we hope that he will come as Judge. In the Lectionary and Evangeliarium, five Sundays are assigned to the Lord’s Advent because all the centuries have foretold his Advent throughout the five ages of the world. In the Antiphonary and Gradual books, it is given four weeks because Christ’s Advent was announced by the Law, the prophets, the psalms, and by the books of the Gentiles. In this season the Gloria in excelsis and Te Deum laudamus are not sung, because the just men before Christ’s Advent were trapped in the sadness of hell. In addition, the dalmatic and tunicle are not worn, because the garments of innocence and immortality were given to us by Christ. We also forego using these things so that we may receive them back with more joy at our Lord’s Nativity, and so that we may perceive how much the grace of the New Testament is more excellent than the Old.

On the Responsory Aspiciens.

The Responsory
Aspiciens a longe is sung in the person of John the Baptist, who “peering from afar,” i.e. from earth into heaven, announces that “God’s power,” i.e., divinity, is “coming” in the flesh, and “a cloud covering the whole earth,” i.e. the faithlessness that smothers all Judea. He said “Go out to meet him” when he prepared the way of the Lord. Three verses are sung in this responsory because all of this was foretold through the Law, prophecy, and psalmody. For there are three times understood, namely the time before the Law, under the Law, and under grace, in each of which Christ’s coming was declared. Therefore we sing in the third verse Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and the one who is to rule shall enter in. Again, three verses are sung in adoration of the Trinity, and for the same reason the Gloria Patri is added. The Responsory is repeated because Christians expect Christ’s Advent a second time. As in Aspiciens we honored Christ’s divinity, so in Aspiciebam we honor his humanity. Thus we sing: Behold on the clouds of heaven the Son of man is coming.” Just how the divinity became incarnate is shown by the third responsory Missus est Gabriel angelus who told the virgin, Ave, Maria, gratia plena.[?].  is confirmed by the prophecy that said: “Listen to the word of the Lord: Behold a virgin shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14). It is also proven by the Law, when Moses said “I beseech thee, Lord,” and then, because he is coming, said “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.”

On Lauds

The morning Lauds celebrate Christ’s two advents. The first advent is on that day when the “mountains” of the apostles preached “sweetness” and the hills of the doctors “flowed with the milk and honey” of doctrine.
Then the “daughter of Sion,” i.e., the Church of the Jews, “rejoiced greatly,” and the “daughter of Jerusalem,” i.e. the Church of the Gentiles, “shouted for joy”. The antiphon Ecce Dominus veniet celebrates his second advent; the antiphon Omnes sitientes, praises his first advent, when the faithful came to the water of Baptism. Ecce veniet propheta magnus praises his second advent, when Jerusalem will be made new. The antiphons Spiritus sanctus and Ne timeas, Maria praise his first advent. The ferial antiphons are the various prophecies.

CAP. I. – De Adventu Domini.

Haec utcunque de horis diximus, nunc restat de solemnitatibus pauca perstringamus.

Adventum itaque Domini ob tres causas celebramus: Primo, quia illud tempus recolimus, quo eum ab antiquis sanctis praenuntiatum cognovimus. Secundo, faciem eius laudibus praeoccupamus, quo eum unicuique nostrum in fine vitae adventurum non ignoramus. Tertio, illud commemoramus quo eum adhuc adfuturum iudicem speramus. In Lectionario et in Evangeliario quinque hebdomadae Adventui Domini adnotantur; quia per quinque aetates saeculi Adventus eius a saeculis praenuntiabatur. In Antiphonario et in Graduali libro, quatuor septimanae ei attitulantur; quia per legem, prophetas, psalmos et gentilium libros Christi Adventus praeconabatur. In hoc tempore, Gloria in excelsis, et: Te Deum laudamus non cantantur, quia iusti ante Christi Adventum in tristitia inferni tenebantur. In hoc etiam dalmatica et subtile non portantur, quia vestes innocentiae et immortalitatis nobis per Christum reddebantur. Haec cuncta ideo etiam intermittuntur, ut in Nativitate Domini festivius amplectantur, et ut gratia Novi Testamenti praestantior Veteri cognoscatur.

De Responsorio Aspiciens.

Responsorium, Aspiciens a longe, in persona Ioannis Baptistae cantatur, qui aspiciens a longe, scilicet a terra ad coelum, potentiam Dei, id est divinitatem in carne venientem praeconatur, et nebulam totam terram tegentem, scilicet infidelitatem totam Iudaeam operientem: Ite obviam ei dixit, quando viam Domini praeparavit. Tres versus ideo ad hoc responsorium canuntur, quia per legem, et prophetiam, et psalmodiam hoc totum praenuntiabatur. Tria enim tempora, scilicet ante legem, sub lege, sub gratia intelliguntur, in quibus singulis hoc futurum praedicabatur. Unde et in tertio versu, Tollite portas principes vestras, et introibit qui regnaturus est, cantatur. Tres enim versus ideo cantantur, quia Trinitas in hoc etiam adoratur. Ideo et Gloria Patri adiungitur. Responsorium denuo repetitur, quia adventus Christi denuo a fidelibus exspectatur. Sicut autem in aspiciens Christi divinitas, ita in aspiciebam honoratur eius humanitas. Unde cantatur: Ecce in nubibus coeli Filius hominis venit. Qualiter divinitas incarnata sit, tertium responsorium ostendit, Missus est Gabriel angelus qui ad virginem dixit, Ave, Maria, gratia plena, hoc per Apostolum confirmatum, Salvatorem exspectamus, per prophetam quoque roboratur qui dixit: Audite verbum Domini. Ecce virgoconcipiet (Isa. VII): per legem nihilominus comprobatur, ut Moyses ait: Obsecro, Domine, et quia iam venit, ideo laetentur coeli, et exsultet terra.

De laudibus.

Matutinae Laudes utrumque Christi adventum sonant, primum in illa die quando montes apostoli dulcedinem praedicabant, et colles doctores lac et mel doctrinae fluebant. Tunc iucundata est filia Sion, id est Ecclesia de Iudaeis, tunc exsultavit filia Hierusalem, id est Ecclesia de gentibus. Secundum eius adventum antiphona: Ecce Dominus veniet. Primum antiphona: Omnes sitientes, quando fideles ad aquam baptismatis veniebant. Secundum Ecce veniet propheta magnus, quando Hierusalem renovabitur. Primum adventum eius antiphonae sonant Spiritus sanctus. Ne timeas, Maria. Feriales antiphonae sunt diversae prophetiae.

Ch. 2
On the Second Sunday in Advent

On the second Sunday in Advent the preaching of the prophets concerning Christ’s advent in Jerusalem is signified, and we sing Hierusalem cito veniet, Civitas Hierusalem, and Hierusalem, surge.

CAP. II. – De secunda Dominica in Adventu.

Secunda Dominica praedicatio prophetarum de Christi adventu ad Hierusalem denotatur, ubi cantatur, Hierusalem cito veniet, et Civitas Hierusalem et Hierusalem, surge.

Ch. 3
On the Third Sunday in Advent

On the third Sunday Christ’s second advent is foretold, and we sing Ecce apparebit Dominus, et cum eo sanctorum millia.

CAP. III. – De tertia Dominica.

In Dominica tertia secundus Christi adventus praenuntiatur, ubi cantatur, Ecce apparebit Dominus, et cum eo sanctorum millia.

Ch. 4
On the Fourth Sunday in Advent

On the fourth Sunday the call of the nations through Christ’s advent is proclaimed, when we sing in the person of the apostles Canite tuba in Sion, vocate gentes, and intuemini quantus sit qui ingreditur ad salvandas gentes and “Radix Jesse qui exsurget regere, in eum gentes sperabunt.”

On the Week before the Lord’s Nativity

The next week before the Lord’s Nativity is called the preparation, and in it the [history] Clama in fortitudine is sung along with six [matutinalibus = antiphons at Lauds] because a people was being prepared for his advent throughout the six ages of the world, and we are prepared for his [second?] advent through the six works of mercy.

CAP. IV. – De quarta Dominica.

In quarta Dominica vocatio gentium per Christi adventum declaratur; ubi in persona apostolorum cantatur, Canite tuba in Sion, vocate gentes, et intuemini quantus sit qui ingreditur ad salvandas gentes. Et radix Iesse qui exsurget regere: in eum gentes sperabunt.

De hebdomada ante nativitatem Domini.

Hebdomada proxima, quae ante Nativitatem Domini praeparatio nominatur, et in ea historia, Clama in fortitudine, cum sex matutinalibus laudibus cantatur, quia per sex aetates mundi populus ad adventum praeparabatur, et nos in adventu eius per sex opera misericordiae praeparamur.


On the Monastic Cursus (GA 2.65-68)

The Monastic Distribution of the Psalms

Ch. 65
On the Monastic Cursus

Image result for monastic breviary manuscript
Stowe Breviary, 1322-1325

One may ask why St. Benedict ordered the hours for monks in a way that differs from the custom of the Church, and why the eminent pope Gregory approved this order with his authority. In my opinion, what is intended in this most wise distribution of the Psalms made by that man “full of the spirit of all the saints,” is that the contemplative life should be distinguished from the active life by office just as by habit, and by this privilege the observance of monastic discipline is to be commended. So St. Gregory, endowed with all wisdom, seeing that that “man full of God” had ordered all these things by this principle, duly confirmed them by his own authority. Though he altered the psalms, he ordered the office with the same meaning in mind. For because we work for six days in this life, just as mankind has worked for six ages in the vineyard, and just as we rest on the Lord’s day, so in the seventh age we will receive the denarius of eternal life. For this reason he is thought to have instituted the psalms of Prime for the six days of the week which tell of the just men], who worked in the Lord’s vineyard throughout six ages of the world, as if for various hours of the day (Matthew 20).

CAP. LXV. – De cursu monachorum.

Quaeritur cur sanctus Benedictus aliter monachis horas ordinaverit quam mos Ecclesiae habuerit, vel cur praecipuus apostolicorum Gregorius hoc sua auctoritate probaverit. Sed sciendum est hoc sapientissima dispositione provisum, ut puto, a viro pleno spiritu omnium iustorum, scilicet ut contemplativa vita, sicut habitu, ita etiam officio ab activa discerneretur, et monasticae disciplinae religio hoc privilegio commendaretur. Unde beatus Gregorius omni sapientia praeditus, perpendens virum Deo plenum cuncta sub praedicta significatione ordinasse, iure legitur ea sua auctoritate roborasse. Licet enim psalmos permutaverit, cuncta tamen sub eadem significatione posuit. Nempe quia sex diebus in hac vita, quasi sex aetatibus in vinea laboratur, ut sicut in Dominica requies, ita in septima aetate denarius vitae recipiatur. Ideo sex diebus psalmos de illis iustis ad primam instituisse consideratur, qui sex aetatibus quasi diversis horis in vinea Domini laborasse memorantur (Matth. XX).

Ch. 66

Sunday Prime

For instance, on the first day he assigned Beatus vir (Psalm 1) along with the others, because it signifies Abel and the other just men who entered the Lord’s vineyard in the first age, as if in the morning.

Monday Prime

On the second day, he chose Domine, Deus meus (Psalm 7) to be sung along with the others, because it tells of Noah and the other saints who worked in the Lord’s vineyard in the second age, as if at the third hour of the day.

Tuesday Prime

On the third day, Exsurge, Domine, non confortetur homo (Psalm 9 II) is sung, in which Nimrod, who was the first to introduce idolatry, is understood. He also expresses the Antichrist who is praised above all the false gods. In Domino confido (Psalm 10) is also sung, which portrays Terah, and Salvum me fac (Psalm 11), which portrays Abraham, who toiled in the vineyard in the third age.

Wednesday Prime

He assigned Usquequo, Domine (Psalm 12) along with the rest to Wednesday, for they signify Joseph and the sons of Israel wayfaring in Egypt, who bore the weight of the day and heat in the fourth age, as if at the sixth hour.

Thursday Prime

He wanted Conserva me, Domine (Psalm 15) and the others to be sung on Thursday, because they express the priests, judges, and kings who in the fifth age, as at the ninth hour, began to work in this vineyard under the Law.

Friday Prime

On the sixth day, Cum sancto sanctus eris (Psalm 17) is sung, in which John the Baptist is understood, and Coeli ennarant (Psalm 18), which signifies the apostles, and Exaudiat (Psalm 19), which signifies the martyrs, who in the sixth age, as at the ninth hour, cultivated this vineyard.

On the Hours

The same St. Benedict decided to have some of the fifteen gradual psalms sung at three hours, namely Terce, Sext, and None, because he wanted to teach that we approach the Trinity through the fifteen grades of charity. He wanted Vespers to be celebrated with four psalms, teaching to obtain the denarius through the four Gospels. He gave Compline three psalms because all things reach their consummation in faith, hope, and charity. He is said to have received this order of psalms from St. Ambrose. Moreover, on Sunday he designed the hours based on the psalm that signifies God’s Law, i.e. charity, because in the resurrection God, who is charity, will be the rest and reward to all those who labor in this world, being obedient to his law through charity.

CAP. LXVI. – Prima Dominica.

Prima quippe die Beatus vir (Psal. I) cum reliquis instituit, quia Abel et alios iustos designant, qui prima aetate quasi mane vineam Domini intrabant.

Feria secunda.

Secunda die Domine, Deus meus (Psal. VII) cum aliis censuit cantari, qui Noe et illos sanctos praeferunt, qui secunda aetate in vinea Domini laboraverunt.

Feria tertia.

Tertia die Exsurge, Domine, non confortetur homo (Psal. IX) canitur, in quo Nemrod, qui primus idololatriam instituit, intelligitur: per quem Antichristus exprimitur, qui supra omne, quod dicitur Deus, extollitur. Canitur etiam In Domino confido (Psal. X), qui Thare, et Salvum me fac (Psal. XI), qui Abraham demonstrat, quia tertia aetate in hac vinea desudabant.

Feria quarta.

Quarta die, Usquequo, Domine (Psal. XII), cum reliquis instituit, qui Ioseph et filios Israel in Aegypto peregrinantes insinuat, qui quarta aetate velut sexta hora pondus diei et aestus portabant.

Feria quinta.

Quinta die Conserva me, Domine (Psal. XV), cum aliis decantari voluit, qui sacerdotes, iudices, reges exprimunt, qui quinta aetate, quasi nona hora, sub lege huius vineae operari instituerunt.

Feria sexta.

Sexto die, Cum sancto sanctus eris (Psal. XVII), canitur, in quo Ioannes Baptista intelligitur, et Coeli enarrant (Psal. XVIII) , qui apostolos, atque Exaudiat (Psal. XIX) , qui martyres designant, qui sexta aetate quasi hora nona hanc vineam excolebant.

De horis.

Ad tres horas, scilicet Tertia, Sexta, Nona, psalmos de quindecim gradibus cantari statuit, quia per quidecim gradus charitatis Trinitatem adiri docuit. Vesperas quaternis psalmis celebrari decrevit, quia per quatuor Evangelia denarium adipisci monuit. Completorium tribus psalmis terminari censuit, quia cuncta in fide, spe, charitate compleri voluit. Hunc autem ordinem psalmorum traditur a beato Ambrosio accepisse. Porro in Dominica die de illo psalmo horas instituit, qui legem Dei, scilicet charitatem innuit, quia in resurrectione Deus, qui est charitas, omnibus hic pie in lege per charitatem laborantibus praemium et requies erit. Ad Primam autem quaterna, ad reliquas vero horas novena capitula psalluntur, quia per quatuor virtutes ad novena angelorum agmina hic in Christo laborantes perducuntur.

Ch. 68
The Benedictine Office

Image result for Stowe Breviary, 1322-1325
Psalter of Henry VI


We find the same in the office of St. Benedict. On Sunday we commemorate the Conception, where we say “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and the King of Glory shall enter in” (Psalm 23); at Vespers: “who maketh a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children” (Psalm 112).


Monday is the baptism, and we say “By the word of the Lord the heavens were established” (Psalm 32), and “the waters of the sea as in a vessel”; at Vespers: “the Jordan was turned back” (Psalm 113).


On Tuesday it is the Nativity, and we say “the Lord of armies is with us” (Psalm 45), and  “As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of hosts” (Psalm 46), and “We have received thy mercy, O God” (Psalm 47); at Vespers: “of the fruit of thy womb” (Psalm 131).


On Wednesday is the betrayal: “They have thought to cast away my price” (Psalm 61), and “They that sat in the gate spoke against me” (Psalm 68); at Vespers: “O daughter of Babylon, miserable: blessed shall he be who shall repay thee” (Psalm 136), and “the Lord will repay for me” (Psalm 137).


On Thursday, we recall the eating of his body, as in: “He gave them the bread of heaven” (Psalm 77); at Vespers, as in: “Let my prayer be directed as incense” (Psalm 140).


Friday is his Passion, as in: “O God, the wicked are risen up against me, and they have not set thee before their eyes” (Psalm 85) and “thou hast not assisted him in battle” (Psalm 85); at Vespers, as in: “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, and there was no one that would know me” (Psalm 141).


Saturday is his burial, as in: “The sun knoweth his going down” (Psalm 103); at Vespers, as in: “His spirit shall go forth” (Psalm 145).


Sunday is the day of his resurrection, as in: “To him my soul shall live” (Psalm 21); at Vespers, as in: “A light is risen up” (Psalm 111). The fact that he interposed a Gloria Patri in certain psalms comes from the Hebrews, who put a diapsalma in certain psalms where they perceive a deeper meaning.

CAP. LXVIII. – Dominica.

Eadem in officio sancti Benedicti notantur. In Dominica Conceptio, ut ibi: Tollite portas, principes, et introibit rex gloriae (Psal. XXIII). In Vespera: Habitare facit sterilem in domo matrem filiorum laetantem (Psal. CXII).

Feria secunda.

In feria secunda baptismus, ut ibi: Verbo Domini coeli firmati (Psal. XXXII), et sicut in utre aquas maris (ibid.). In Vesperis, ut ibi: Iordanis conversus est retrorsum (Psal. CXIII).

Feria tertia.

In feria tertia Nativitas, ut ibi: Dominus virtutum nobiscum (Psal. XLV) ; et ibi: Sicut audivimus, sic vidimus in civitate Domini (Psal. XLVII). Et iterum Suscepimus, Deus, misericordiam tuam (ibid.). In Vespera, ut ibi: De fructu ventris tui (Psal. CXXXI).

Feria quarta.

In feria quarta traditio ibi: Pretium meum cogitaverunt repellere (Psal. LXI). Et ibi: Adversum me loquebantur qui sedebant in porta (Psal. LXVIII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Filia Babylonis misera, beatus qui retribuet (Psal. CXXXVI) ; et ibi: Dominus retribuet pro me (Psal. CXXXVII).

Feria quinta.

In feria quinta, corporis eius comestio, ut ibi: Panem coeli dedit eis (Psal. LXXVII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum (Psal. CXL).

Feria sexta.

In feria sexta Passio, ut ibi: Deus iniqui insurrexerunt super me, et non proposuerunt te in conspectu suo (Psal. LXXXV); et ibi Non ei auxiliatus es in bello (Psal. LXXXVIII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Considerabam ad dexteram, et videbam, et non erat qui cognosceret me (Psal. CXLI).


In Sabbato sepultura, ut ibi: Sol cognovit occasum suum (Psal. CIII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Exibit spiritus eius (Psal. CXLV).


In Dominica resurrectio, ut ibi: Anima mea illi vivet (Psal. XXI). In Vespera, ut ibi: Exortum est lumen (Psal. CXI). Quod quibusdam psalmis Gloria Patri interposuit, hoc secundum Hebraeos fecit, qui quibusdam Psalmis diapsalma interponunt, ubi altiorem sensum intelligunt.

Additional Verses of the Libera me Responsory

libera me.jpg
The Libera me responsory in the Vatican edition of the Graduale Romanum.
Some additional verses of the Libera me responsory. Click here to see the full document.
℟. Libera me, Domine, de morte æterna in die illa tremenda, quando cæli movendi sunt et terra, dum veneris judicare sæculum per ignem.

℣. Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo, dum  discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.

℣. Dies illa, dies iræ, calamitatis et miseriæ, dies magna et amara valde.

℣. Quid ego miserrimus, quid dicam vel quid faciam? cum nil boni perferam ante tantum Judicem?

℣. Plangent se super se omnes tribus terræ: vix justus salvabitur, et ego? ubi apparebo?

℣. Nunc Christe, te deprecor, miserere peto: qui venisti redimere, perpetim veni salvare.

℣. Tremebunt Angeli, et Archangeli: impii autem ubi parebunt?

℣. Commíssa mea pavesco, et ante te erubesco: dum veneris judicare, noli me condemnare.

℣. Vox de cælis: O vos, mortui, qui jacetis in sepulcris, surgite! et occurite ad judicium Salvatoris.

℣. Creator omnium rerum Deus, qui me de limo terræ formasti, et mirabiliter proprio sanguine redemisti: corpusque meum licet modo putrescat, de sepulcro facias in die judicii resuscitari: exaudi, exaudi, exaudi me Deus, ut animam meam in sinu Abrahæ patriarchæ tui jubeas collocari.

℣. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.


℟. Deliver me, O  Lord, from eternal death in that awful day: When the heavens and the earth shall be shaken: When Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.

℣. I am seized with fear and trembling until the trial shall be at hand, and the wrath to come.

℣. That day, a day of wrath, of wasting, and of misery, a great day, and exceeding bitter.

℣. What will I, most wretched, what will I say, or what will I do? Since I have accomplished nothing good to proffer before such a mighty Judge.

℣. All the tribes of the earth shall mourn for themselves: the just shall scarce be saved, and I? Where will I appear?

℣. Now, Christ, I beseech Thee, I beg Thee, have mercy: Thou who camest to redeem, come to save forever.

℣. The Angels and Archangels shall tremble: but the wicked, where shall they appear?

℣. I dread my misdeeds, and I blush before Thee: when Thou shalt come to judge, do not condemn me.

℣. A voice from the heavens: O ye dead, who lie in your tombs, arise! And hasten to the judgement of the Saviour.

℣. God, creator of all things, Who formedst me of the slime of the earth, and wondrously redeemedst me with Thy own blood: although my body should now rot, Thou shalt make it rise again from the tomb in the day of judgement: hear me, hear me, hear me, O God, that Thou mightst command my soul to be placed in Abraham’s bosom.

℣. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Although most of the great responsories of Matins have only a single verse, it was not uncommon in the Age of Faith to augment the more solemn instances of this repertoire with additional verses. The poignant Libera me responsory in particular enjoyed a remarkable wealth of verses already in the 10th century. It is the ninth responsory of the Office of the Dead when all three nocturns are sung (when only the third nocturn is sung, it is replaced by another responsory that also begins Libera me), and is also chanted after a Requiem Mass at the beginning of the Absolution at the bier. Additional verses were surely composed to provide additional solemnity for major funerals and for the special commemoration of the dead on 2 November, and also because this responsory was also frequently sung during funerary processions.

The verses TremensDies illa[1]Quid ego (or its variant Quid ergo), and Plangent appear in the earliest MSS; the Tridentine books have only preserved the former two. In the Dominican use on 2 November, the verses Quid ego and a variant of Nunc Christe[2]are sung in addition to the verses in the Roman books, while the Norbertine use has preserved the verses Quid ergo, Plangent, and Nunc Christe on 2 November and on the Office of the Dead sung upon the passing of a member of the community.

The prolix verse Creator omnium, with its beautiful melisma on jubeas, first appears later in the Middle Ages to be sung in procession after Requiem Masses, and it has been retained for this function in the Dominican rite.

The Libera me responsory in the Cod. Sang. 391.

Around the 15th century, a set of three rhythmic verses began to be sung with the Libera me responsory. Each stanza has seven verses of ten syllables with a cæsura after the fourth, and all three stanzas are sung to the same melody. Whereas the previous verses speak in the name of one of the dead begging for mercy on the Last Day, these rhythmic verses take up the voice of a narrator describing the Last Judgements, quoting Our Lord Himself as he separates the dead as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. Our Lord’s words in praise of the saved and in condemnation of the damned are put to the same melody, with striking effect.

The first stanza of the rhythmic verses of the Libera me responsory, as published by Dom Joseph Pothier in the Revue de Chant grégorien, 1895, no. 4. The other verses follow the same melody.
℣. Quando Deus filius Virginis
Judicare sæculum venerit,
Dicet justis ad dextram positis:
Accedite, dilecti filii,
Vobis dare regnum disposui:
O felix vox! Felix promissio!
Felix dator, et felix datio!

℣. Post hæc dicet ad lævam positis:
Nescio vos, cultores criminis:
Vos decepit gloria sæculi;
Descendite ad ima barathri,
Cum Zabulon et suis ministris.
O proh dolor! Quanta tristitia!
Quantus luctus! Quanta suspira!

℣. Jam festinat Rex ad judicium,
Dies instat horrenda nimium;
Et quis erit nobis refugium?
Nisi Mater Virgo, spes omnium,
Quæ pro nobis exoret Filium.
O Jesu Rex, exaudi poscimus
Preces nostras, et salvi erimus.

℣. When God the Son of the Virgin shall come to judge the world, he will say to the just on his right hand: Come, my beloved children, I have prepared a kingdom to give unto you. O happy word! Happy promise! Happy giver, and happy gift!

℣. Hereafter he will say to them who on his left: I know you not, workers of wickedness! The glory of the world hath deceived you! Go down to the depths of the abyss with the devil and his ministers. Alas! Oh, how much sadness! How much grief! How much sighing!

℣. Now the King hastens to judgement. That day exceeding terrible is nigh, and who shall be our refuge? None but the Virgin mother, the hope of all. May she pray for us to her Sun. O Jesus, our King, hearken, we beseech thee, to our prayers, and we shall be saved.


[1] The text of this verse manifestly inspired the sequence Dies iræ; even the first notes of the latter are based on the melody of the verse.

[2] Nunc, Christe, te petimus, miserere, quæsumus; qui venisti redímere perditos, noli damnare redemptos.

On Vespers, the Little Office, and Compline (GA 2.62 – 64)

Ch. 62
On Vespers

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The Church makes a solemn celebration of Vespers because Abraham and the other patriarchs before the Law, and the priests and prophets under the Law, all offered sacrifices in the evening; and the Lord gave his Body to his disciples while dining in the evening. The five psalms of this hour signify the five wounds of Christ who sacrificed himself for us in the evening of this world. The verse indicates this meaning: Let my prayer rise to your presence as incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice (Psalm 140). With the twelfth hour the day comes to a close, and when the work is done the laborers receive their denarius (Matthew 20). Further, it can be understood as the end of each person’s life, when each will be given the reward he merited.

On the Five Psalms of Vespers

Five psalms are sung because the five senses will be rewarded for their labor. The hymn that follows is understood to be the praise of victory, because just as the laborers in the Gospel gave thanks after receiving their reward, so the saints will be glad in eternal glory after the world has been defeated. The chapter spurs them to rise and meet the coming Lord. In the following verse, it is as if they knock on the door and ask to be let in. Having lit the lamps of good works they enter into the joy of their Lord with the five virgins (Matthew 25).

On the “Magnificat” Canticle

Thus their “souls do magnify the Lord” with the canticle of Holy Mary, and their “spirit rejoices in the Lord who has done great things for them,” whose mercy endures forever.

On the Collect

The collect that follows is a blessing by which each receives the Lord’s blessing. When Vespers of the preceding day is being sung, then it denotes the time of the present life, because from the beginning of the world the day has preceded and the night has followed, signifying that the joy of paradise came first and then—alas!—death has pursued man ever since. But when it is Vespers of the following day, it signifies the happiness of the coming life, because ever since Christ’s resurrection night has gone and the day follows, signifying that after their death in the flesh believers will be granted the day of eternal life.

CAP. LXII. – De Vespera.

Vesperam ideo Ecclesia solemniter celebrat, quia Abraham et alii patriarchae ante legem, sacerdotes et prophetae sub lege, sacrificia ad vesperam offererant; et dominus in vespera coenans corpus suum discipulis tradebat. Quinque autem psalmi huius horae quinque vulnera Christi significant, qui se vespera mundi pro nobis sacrificabat. Hoc et versus insinuat. Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum in conspectu tuo. Elevatio manuum mearum sacrificium vespertinum (Psal. CXL). Duodecima hora dies clauditur, et operariis iam peracto opere denarius dabitur (Matth. XX). Finis autem uniuscuiusque intelligitur, cum pro transacta vita merces cuique redditur.

De quinque psalmis ad Vesperas.

Ideo quinque Psalmi canuntur, quia pro labore quinque sensus remunerabuntur. Hymnus qui subiungitur, laus victoriae accipitur; quia sicut illi post laborem adepta mercede gratulantur, ita isti post devictum mundum pro aeterna gloria iucundantur. Hos capitulum excitat, ut surgentes venienti Domino occurrant; per versum, qui sequitur, quasi ostium pulsant, et sibi aperiri postulant. Accensis autem bonorum operum lampadibus in gaudium Domini sui intrant cum quinque virginibus (Matth. XXV).

De cantico « Magnificat. »

Unde cum cantico sanctae Mariae anima illorum Dominum magnificat, et spiritus illorum in Domino exsultat, qui fecit eis magna, cuius misericordia est in saecula.

De oratione.

Oratio quae sequitur est benedictio qua quisque a Domino benedicitur. Cum vespera de praecedenti die cantatur, tunc praesentis vitae tempus denotatur; quia ab initio mundi dies praecessit, nox sequebatur, significans quod gaudium paradisi praecessit: mors hominem, heu! sequebatur. Cum vero de sequenti die celebratur, tunc futurae vitae laetitia designatur, quia a Christi resurrectione nox praecedit, dies sequitur, designans quod post mortem carnis dies vitae dabitur credentibus.

Ch. 63
On the Little Office of Mary

We sing the Office of Our Lady or of All Saints out of devotion, not because any law obliges us, so that, because like worthless servants we have carelessly discharged the service we owe, we offer gifts to the friends of Our Lord, so that through them we might render our service acceptable and obtain grace from Our Lord.

On the Blessing of Food and the Table Reading

The custom of blessing food and giving thanks after a meal began with Our Lord who blessed five loaves and said a hymn after the Last Supper. Reading at table was instituted by Augustine, who desired that our minds should be refreshed along with our bodies, because man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God (Matthew 4).

On the Collation

That religious gather for the collation is a custom that comes from the holy fathers, who used to come together in the evening to discuss the Scriptures. The discussions they had were called collationes, and thus these texts, similar to their discussions, are read at the collation.

CAP. LXIII. – De cursu sanctae Mariae.

Cursum de sancta Maria vel de omnibus sanctis nulla lege constricti, sed ob devotionem canimus, ut, quia servi inutiles debitum servitium negligenter persolvimus; munera amicis Domini nostri offerimus, ut per eos obsequium nostrum acceptabile faciamus, et gratiam Domini nostri obtineamus.

De benedictione cibi, et lectione.

Consuetudo cibum benedicendi, vel post cibum gratias agendi ab ipso Domino coepit, qui quinque panes benedixit, et post coenam hymnum dixit. Legere autem ad mensam sanctus Augustinus institituit, qui mentes cum corporibus refici voluit, quia non in solo pane, sed in verbo Dei homo vivit (Matth. IV).

De collatione.

Quod religiosi ad collationem conveniunt, hoc a sanctis patribus acceperunt, qui in vesperis solebant in unum convenire, et de Scripturis insimul conferre, et quae ipsi tunc invicem contulerunt, collationes dicebantur, et haec his similia ad collationem leguntur.

Ch. 65
On Compline and theEvening and Morning Confession

Image result for monks at night

We make the confession at Compline to wash away whatever sin we have committed during the day. We do it at Prime to punish whatever sins we committed during the night. It is called Compline because it brings our daytime service to a close. Since during the night our body is bereft of the human senses, so in this hour we commit it more earnestly to God. We sing four psalms because we are composed of the four elements.

On the Hymn “Te lucis

In this hymn we ask for victory over the phantasies of the night. In the verse we seal ourselves, as the apple of his eye, with the sign of divine protection.

On the “Nunc dimittis

In the Nunc dimittis we desire God’s peace and light.

On the “Pater noster

In the Lord’s prayer and the symbol of faith we strengthen ourselves against our enemies.

On the “Credo

We say the Pater noster and Credo at Prime because we begin all our works through Christ in whom we believe. We say the same prayers at Compline, because we conclude our daily works in him. Compline, which is sung at the time when day is taken away by night, recalls to our mind the time when our life is taken away by death. We begin with Converte nos so that we may be converted from evil and God’s anger may be turned away from us. And because we put no trust in our merits, we invoke God through the verse Deus, in adiutorium meum intende.

On Compline

Then we sing the psalm Cum invocarem (Psalm 4), which sings of the Lord’s death on Holy Saturday, so that when we fall asleep in death, we may rest in the peace that is Christ. Next we sing In te, Domine (Psalm 30), which Our Lord sang from the cross, when he breathed his last and commended his spirit into his Father’s hands, so that he may be pleased to receive our spirit when we die. Next we add Qui habitat (Psalm 90), in which we sing of the temptation and passion of Our Lord, so that the Lord may save us during the night from the temptation of the asp and the basilisk, and deliver us from the attacks of the lion and the dragon. Next we sing Ecce nunc (Psalm 133), so that we may be blessed in the house of the Lord. In the hymn, chapter, and verse we ask for victory, so that we may triumph in Christ who has conquered the world. In the canticle of Simeon we ask for peace, so that just as Simeon entered the peace of eternal life after he saw Christ the light (Luke 2), so after the light of faith we may enter into the peace of eternal rest.

CAP. LXIV. – De Completorio et de confessione sero et mane.

Ad completorium ideo confessionem agimus, ut quidquid in die commisimus, diluamus. Ad primam vero ideo agimus, ut quidquid in nocte peccavimus, puniamus. Completorium inde dicitur, quod diurna servitus nostra per hoc completur. Et quia corpus nostrum in nocte ab humanis sensibus destituitur, ideo per hanc horam intentius Deo committitur. Ideo autem quatuor psalmos, quia ex quatuor elementis subsistimus.

De hymno « Te lucis.»

Per hymnum victoriam de nocturnis illusionibus rogamus: per versum nos signaculo divinae custodiae quasi pupillam oculi sigillamus.

De « Nunc dimittis. »

Per Nunc dimittis pacem et lucem Dei optamus.

De « Pater noster. »

Per Dominicam orationem et symbolum fidei nos ab hostibus firmamus.

De « Credo. »

Ad Primam ideo Pater noster, et Credo in Deum dicimus, quia cuncta opera per Christum incipimus, in quem credimus. Ad Completorium eadem dicimus, quia diurnas operationes in eo concludimus. Per completorium enim, quod tunc canitur cum dies a nocte excipitur, illud tempus nobis ad memoriam reducitur cum vita nostra a morte praecipitur. Ideo per Converte nos inchoamus, ut a malis convertamur, et ira Dei a nobis avertatur. Et quia de meritis desperamus, Deum per versum Deus, in adiutorium meum intende invocamus.

De Completorio, « Cum invocarem.»

Tunc psalmum Cum invocarem (Psal. IV), qui de morte Domini in Sabbato sancto psallitur, cantamus, quatenus in morte dormientes in pace, quae est Christus, quiescamus. Deinde In te, Domine (Psal. XXX) scilicet canimus, quem Dominus in cruce cantavit, cum iam exspirans spiritum in manus patris commendavit, ut tunc spiritum nostrum suscipere velit. Hinc Qui habitat (Psal. XC) subiungimus, quem de tentatione vel passione Domini canimus, quatenus tempore nocturno ab aspidis et basilisci tentatione Dominus nos eruat, et a leonis et draconis incursione eripiat. Deinde Ecce nunc (Psal. CXXXIII) psallimus, quatenus in domo Domini benedici possimus. In hymno, capitulo et versu victoriam poscimus, ut in Christo, qui vicit mundum, triumphemus. In cantico Simeonis pacem rogamus, ut, sicut Simeon (Luc. II), postquam lumen Christum vidit, pacem vitae intravit, ita nos post lumen fidei intremus pacem requiei.