17 February 2018


Those of you who keep an eye on the Saint Lawrence Press ORDO [how to get one? See below] will have noticed that, after None today, before Vespers, those strange words are printed. "The Spring Part of the Breviary begins". Why on earth didn't the spring volume start on Ash Wednesday, with the beginning of the new season of Lent?

In earlier days, the First Sunday in Lent was given the title CAPUT QUADRAGESIMAE ... the Start of Lent. Because for most of the first millennium, there was no Ash Wednesday! The Gesima period continued up to the First Vespers of the Sunday.


The Church began with just the Easter Fast, of Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

Then a fast of 40 days was prefixed to the Easter Fast. That got us back to the First Sunday of Lent.

Then all that background was rather forgotten; and people began to say that, since Sundays are not a fast days, that gave us only 36 days of fasting.

So they added, in the eighth century, four days before the First Sunday to make up 40 days. So the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, of Quinquagesima Week were grabbed by Lent.

But it still remained true that the distinctive things about the Lenten Office ... in particular, the Lenten hymns and all that sort of thing ... didn't begin until the First Vespers of the Sunday. They still don't. Such is the laudable conservatism of the authentic Roman Rite!

That's why the clergy still don't pick up their Lenten Breviaries until the eve of Sunday.

So, for more that a thousand years, the Breviary Office did not bring all its Lenten features into play until four days after Latin Catholics had put ashes on their heads, and fasted, on Ash Wednesday!

BEHOLD the amazing conservatism of the Roman Rite ... until the Age of Hannibal Bugnini and his elite squad of elephants!


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Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Dear Father, perhaps you might explain, and expand upon, the other interesting words on the same page of the Ordo: "Hodie et per totam Quadragesimam exceptis Dominicis Vesperae dicuntur ante meridiem." Why? and when did this begin?

Marc in Eugene said...

Rubricarius comments here on occasion; perhaps he will address the question. But will copy from his post on 28 February 2009 (at the St Lawrence Press blog [https://goo.gl/eF3ctB]):

"This practice, much criticised by the reformers of the twentieth century Liturgical Movement, was popularly associated with the practice of fasting. However, a contrary view, and one I share, would be that the practice represents a symbolic inversion of time as a consequence of the Fall, with the restoration of 'normality' with the victory of the LORD at Easter. The practice is not confined to the Roman (or other Western rites) as it is found in the East too. In the Slav-Byzantine typicon Vespers in the morning are prescribed not only in Lent but on many other penitential days too."

Marco da Vinha said...

Josephus, if I may venture to answer, I believe that has to do with the medieval "pastoral practice" of anticipating Vespers to the afternoon so that those fasting would not have to wait until sunset to eat. Of course, I'm sure Fr. Hunwicke can clarify better!

Marc in Eugene said...

(There is a very thorough explanation of this times business by a John Rotondi jr at Benedicamus Domino, from 2014, https://goo.gl/iRy8kH, if there is any interest in pursuing this here. Myself, I try to do what the ordo tells me without thinking too much about the whys and wherefores.)

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Thank you both very much. Marc - one may do as one is told, and still be interested in the why thereof, without scrupulousness!

Grant Milburn said...

Hannibal Bugnini and his elite squad of elephants!
That would be 500 drunken elephants, for those of you who have a Bible with Maccabees 3.