Tomorrow is All Souls, noted in the BCP kalendar as Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. I’ve written on the importance and place of All Saints and All Souls before but, a quick scan of the archives turns up only one brief piece from 2005 (!) and a more poetic piece from the Cafe. I think a new piece on this topic may be needed…
In any case, I’m becoming increasingly convinced—and you will be hearing more about this in coming days—that one of the Episcopal Church’s main theological problems is a poverty of ecclesiology. One way to act against this trend is the proper observation of All Souls alongside All Saints. Naturally, we’re having a parish All Souls mass tomorrow but the question of the Office is a live one.
All Souls only ranks as an Optional Observance in the BCP meaning that, in most methods of saying the Office, it rates only a proper collect. In traditional Western practice, the usual offices for the day are the Offices of the Dead. As the Anglican Breviary notes, the Offices of the Dead retain some of the primitive characteristics of the early Office in like fashion to the Offices of Triduum. (On their antiquity, a quick scan of Taft (Liturgy of the Hours in East and West) and Vogel (Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources) turns up nothing, raising a topic for later study.) Thus, the Offices of the Dead are unlike regular Offices since, due to their primitive character, some of the usual options are dropped. As in the case of Triduum, Anglican traditionalists must ask just how much the offices should be altered.
Looking back at the Tridentine form of the Vespers and Lauds Offices we note the following:
- All initial verses and responses are dropped; the Office begins with the first psalm antiphon.
- The psalms are proper and appropriate antiphons have been drawn out of those proper psalms.
- All gloria patris are replaced by: “O Lord, grant them eternal rest, and let light perpetual shine upon them”
- The psalms are followed by a Scriptural v/r only (viz.: Answer. I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me : Verse. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. [Rev 14:13]).
- The Gospel Canticle follows immediately.
- After the Gospel Canticle is the Lord’s Prayer, then Ps 146 or Ps 140. [This is omitted on days of death, burial, and on All Souls, though.]
- A brief litany concludes with the collect which ends the Office..
- The Canticle of Hezekiah takes the OT Canticle slot in the Lauds Psalter.
Glancing at the Anglican Breviary and the Monastic Diurnal, they follow the Tridentine Offices.
Moving to the Anglican side of things, the English Office uses the structure of the Tridentine Lauds/Vespers. While the Lauds psalms are different (with correspondingly different antiphons) it is in other respects similar. The major difference is the usual change—the insertion of two full-length Scriptural readings and an additional morning canticle. The lessons chosen here are Wis 4:7-20, 1 Cor 15:35-58 || Job 19:21-27, 1 Thess 4:13-18. The Canticle of Hezekiah is used after the first lesson.
A Monastic Breviary from the Order of the Holy Cross (the first attempt to do a breviary based on the ur-text of the ’79 BCP) omits the opening material, uses one of the traditional antiphons but with the psalter for the day and replaces the gloria patri with the “Rest eternal.” The first Canticle of MP is replaced by a Respond drawn (as usual) from among the traditional Matins responds. A second Respond (composed de novo, I believe) replaces the hymn. The Office then proceeds as usual except that it ends after the collect using a brief verse-response. The readings are Eze 37:1-14, 1 Cor 15:35-49 || 2 Sam 12:15b-23, 1 Thess 5:1-11.
Galley’s Prayer Book Office retains a regular prayer book structure with the allowance for dropping the Prayer for Mission. Proper psalms are given—the evening two taken from the traditional Vespers. The readings given are Job 19:21-27a, Rom 8:14-19, 31-39 || [Lam 3:22-26, 31-33], John 14:1-6. The canticle after the first reading is Canticle 11 (Surge, Illuminare).
As I look back at my own efforts (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer) I’m still satisfied with the choices that I made. I abridged the Office following the Tridentine structure more closely in the same way that A Monastic Breviary did. My decision on the readings was, in keeping with the traditional Matins readings, to stick with Job texts. In fact, I think I simply took the texts from the three nocturns and squished them together in order to produce three readings (so there’s one missing from Evening Prayer).
I think what I’m doing to do for the St Bede’s Breviary is to leave the structure as is with the proper collect and Gospel canticle antiphons. However, I am going to try and get up the Office for the Dead in SSB format so that those who desire that can use it.
What are your thoughts—especially those of you who use the breviary?