The Daily Office in Holy Week

Initial Considerations

The disposition of the Daily Office in Holy Week is perhaps the single most complex area where the current shape of the ’79 BCP must be reconciled with the practices of the historic Western liturgy. Three major factors are in play here:

  1. The simplifying principles of the BCPs and post-conciliar liturgies in general
  2. The shifting of Passion Sunday from Lent 5 to Lent 6
  3. The renewed emphasis upon Triduum in post-conciliar liturgies

The Offices of Holy Week in the Tridentine breviary are some of the most unusual and irregular of the year. On one hand, it reverts back to a more primitive shape of the Office that drops a number of usual features, most notably the Opening Versicles and the Invitatory. On the other, it adds a new layer of liturgy and ceremonial appropriate to the events of Triduum. The “Tenebrae” services celebrated in many mainline protestant churches involving a set of readings and a progressive extinguishing of candles is an adaptation of these offices wherein Vespers was dropped and Matins and Lauds were anticipated on the evening before.

Due to the simplifications of the previous Books of Common Prayer, the changes and elaborate ceremonial involving the hearse (a triangular wooden candelabrum containing 15 candles) were dropped. Furthermore, the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite with its simplification of the Liturgy of the Hours has left these liturgies in an ambiguous state. The General Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH) directs that Evening Prayer not be said on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday by those who participate in the proper liturgies of these days (GILH 209). It advocates a public celebration of the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer (GILH 210). Exactly how or if the ceremonial of the older form is retained is left to the discretion of the celebrant. One method is described in Appendix Seven of +Elliott’s Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year.

Perhaps the more significant issue is the reversion to a primitive form. Part of the simplification of the Books of Common Prayer is that they maintain a constant form of the Office that does not change. Thus, occasional reversions to primitive forms as in this case are silently removed for the sake of simplicity. That having been said, not all Anglicans have retained this simplicity and have chosen to cleave more closely to primitive practice; Ritual Notes, 11th ed. provides a model for adapting the 1662 Office to historic liturgical norms while the Order of the Holy Cross’s A Monastic Breviary offers a contemporary adaptation based on the precursors to the ’79 BCP.

The second issue regards the movement of Passion Sunday. Under the previous perspective where Lent had been seen as a tiered period of increasing penitence, the shift into Passiontide adds an additional grade up with Holy Week and Triduum providing the final steps before Easter. The leveling of Lent included the shift of Passion Sunday off Lent 5 and combining it with Lent 6/Palm Sunday. There is a useful pastoral rationale here, namely that those who do not or cannot attend mid-week public services do not go straight from the Triumphal Entry to the Empty Tomb thereby skipping the passion, death, and burial of Christ. This shift impacts the Office as a few reversions to the primitive form had historically occurred on Passion Sunday. Specifically, the Gloria Patri was removed in some places—the Opening Versicles, the Responsary Prayers, and the Invitatory—but not others—it was still said following the psalms and canticles.

The third issue reflects the intention of the Liturgical Renewal Movement concerning the importance of Triduum. This emphasis suggests that changes to the liturgy to highlight this time would be appropriate and in line with the priorities of the ’79 BCP.

Triduum Recommendations

Based on the core principle of using the ’79 BCP in continuity with the historic Western liturgy, I think that it would be most appropriate to abridge the Offices during Triduum for the sake of contituity. The alterations suggested by A Monastic Breviary serve as my main model, being a respectful attempt to incorporate the historic patterns into the contemporary Offices.

Therefore, in Triduum:

  • Offices begin with the Psalms (and antiphons if used) except for Compline; Compline begins with the Confession and Absolution, then jumps to the Psalms.
  • All Gloria Patris are omitted.
  • A penitential responsory replaces the 1st canticle at Morning and Evening Prayer
  • All hymns are omitted
  • The Offices conclude early. After the Gospel/second canticle of Morning and Evening Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect of the Day are said at which point the Office ends. At Noon Prayer the Lord’s Prayer and Collect of the Day complete the Office immediately after the Psalm(s). At Compline, the Nunc Dimittis without Antiphon follows the Psalms, then the Lord’s Prayer and Collect conclude the hour.

It would also be my recommendation to omit the Gloria Patris during the first four days of Holy Week as well.


The Angelus, should you use it, is said through Wednesday in Holy Week.

Two Opening Sentences are provided for Morning Prayer in Holy Week. Presumably the first is for the first four days and the second is for Triduum. If Opening Sentences are omitted during Triduum, however, either may be used.

The Confession of Sin should be used on the first four days of Holy Week. If opening matter is omitted during Triduum, this should be omitted as well.

The Invitatory and Psalter

“Alleluia” after the opening versicle is not said when the Versicle is used.

Holy Week does not receive its own Invitatory Antiphon. You may either use the text provided for Lent or omit the antiphon altogether.

The Daily Office Lectionary appoints Psalm 95 as the Invitatory for Good Friday and Holy Saturday in place of the Venite.

When “Alleluia” appears in the psalter during Holy Week it is omitted.

The Gloria Patri may be omitted during Holy Week at your discretion.

The Lessons

Palm Sunday and Good Friday use the almost the same lessons in both years. Four readings are appointed; two are designated for Morning Prayer and two for Evening Prayer. For the Palm Sunday Texts, the first two are “Palm” readings and the second two are “Passion” readings, mirroring the division in the prayer book’s Palm/Passion Sunday liturgy. The morning’s Zechariah text contains the prophecy of the king of Zion riding triumphant, victorious, and humble on a donkey rather than a war-horse and presents the paradox of a large prosperous nation without weapons. The second lesson from 1 Timothy includes one of the few instances of Paul appealing directly to a Jesus narrative, reminding Timothy of Jesus’s confession before Pilate. The evening lessons carry a darker tone, presenting another prophecy from Zechariah concerning “him whom they have pierced” and describing the weeping and mourning of Jerusalem. The second reading alternates by year between Matthew and Luke’s rendering of the Cleansing of the Temple which, in the Synoptic timeline, follows upon the morning’s palm procession.

Four readings should be used on Good Friday but five options are given. The preferred morning first reading is from the Book of Wisdom which describes the wicked speaking together, plotting against the righteous one, with heavily prophetic overtones. For those with allergies to the Apocrypha, the other option is the typological sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis 22. The second reading for the morning is Peter’s insistence to Jesus that he will remain faithful and Jesus informing him that he will deny three times before the cock’s crow. The first reading for Evening Prayer comes from 1 Peter and speaks of the sufferings of Christ, exhorting the faithful to obedience and holiness. The second reading is from John describing the giving of Christ’s body to Joseph of Arimathea.

For the rest of the week, Year One retains the use of Jeremiah, following medieval tradition, and uses the second half of Philippians until Triduum. The Gospel is from John, following his account of the triumphal entry and the following dying seed discourse with the Last Supper/High Priestly Prayer for Maundy Thursday. Year Two uses Lamentations, which in medieval tradition was read over Triduum, and provides the opening portions of 2 Corinthians until Triduum. The Gospel follows Mark’s narration of the entry and last days including his Last Supper account for Maundy Thursday. Holy Saturday appoints Hebrews 4 for the morning on account of its description of God’s rest on the seventh day; Romans 8 is appointed for the evening foreshadowing the Vigil.

If first canticles are used, the Kyrie Pantokrator is most appropriate with the Gospel Canticles for the second.

The Prayers

The American 1928 BCP appoints the Collect for Palm Sunday to be read following the Collect of the Day from until Good Friday. While this option is not mentioned in the ‘79 BCP, it seems a good practice in keeping with this book’s heightened emphasis on the seasons of the liturgical year.

The Marian Anthem is used Through Wednesday of Holy Week.

9 thoughts on “The Daily Office in Holy Week

  1. Paul Goings


    Very interesting. Some initial thoughts:

    1. Your interpretation of the abridgement of Passiontide as a season means that the great Passiontide hymns, Vexilla regis, Pange lingua, and Lustris sex, get much less use, as hymns are dropped for the Triduum. I see no reason not to use them starting from Lent V, even if it’s preferred not to call it Passiontide. I believe that there’s some justification for this in the modern Roman rite.

    2. Likewise, I would advocate using the proper Invitatory from Lent V. I don’t believe that the antiphons in the B.C.P. are meant to constitute an exhaustive corpus.

    3. You say that, “There is a useful pastoral rationale here, namely that those who do not or cannot attend mid-week public services do not go straight from the Triumphal Entry to the Empty Tomb thereby skipping the passion, death, and burial of Christ.” Perahps I’m reading too much into this, but you should be aware that the Passion (according to S. Matthew) was always read on Palm Sunday, in both the Latin and Prayer Book traditions.

    4. “It would also be my recommendation to omit the Gloria Patris during the first four days of Holy Week as well.” All of them?

    5. With reference to altering the Prayer Book offices for the Triduum, you might take note of a certain Cistercian monastery (I can’t recall which; I’ll find out) that during the 1940’s compiled and had approved a proper office for the Triduum strictly according to the Rule, which, as you know, says nothing of omitting/altering various elements. So Gloria Patris, hymns, etc. were all restored. One might analogously want to respect the integrity of the Prayer Book offices, and use them as they are set out in the Book of Common Prayer.

    As I said, just some initial thoughts for you to consider.

  2. Paul Goings

    “…these offices wherein Vespers was dropped and Matins and Lauds were anticipated…”

    Not so. Before 1955 Vespers were recited before noon on all of the weekdays of Lent, including the Triduum. On Maundy Thursday it occurred between the Procession to the Repository and the Stripping of the Altars; on Good Friday at the end of the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, and on Holy Saturday after the distribution of Holy Communion, with the Collect at Vespers serving as the Postcommunion of the Mass.

  3. Derek Olsen

    Thanks, as always, for your corrections, Paul!

    1. I’d agree and that’s how I’ve done it at the breviary.
    2. So, use the Holy Week 1 from Lent V and Holy Week Two from Palm Sunday through Wednesday? That could work…
    3. You are reading too much into it; the issue is with the RCL and modern traditions. When I taught the liturgical year at a Methodist seminary this was often a live issue.
    4. Yes—as a recognition of the shift. It is simply a recommendation.
    5. I wasn’t aware of that.

    Before 1955 Vespers were recited before noon on all of the weekdays of Lent, including the Triduum.
    ?? I’d never heard of this before yet, on checking, I see on C209 of the Anglican Breviary “On this day and thereafter until Holy Saturday, except on Sundays, Vespers is, by ancient rules, said before the principle meal of midday, even on Feasts.” Likewise, the Tridentine Breviary has on the Saturday before Quadragesima (2.227) “This is the first day on which Vespers must be said before Supper.”

    As I said, I’ve never heard of it and it doesn’t appear in the early medieval customaries I’m familiar with. Nor have I found it in the Use of Sarum. Is this one of your new-fangled High Medieval innovations? Anybody have more data on this?

  4. Derek Olsen

    I’ve been thinking about the “noon” thing…

    If I’m not mistaken and if I’ve interpreted the rubrics in the TB and AB correctly, this is seems to be less of a point concerning when the Offices is said/sung than when food is taken in penitential seasons. When approached from this perspective it makes a bit more sense.

    Thus in RB 41 when the times for the brother’s meals are being discussed, Benedict writes:

    “From the thirteenth of September to the beginning of Lent [liturgical Winter] they always take their meal in midafternoon. Finally, from the beginning of Lent to Easter they eat towards evening (In quadragesima vero usque in Pascha, ad vesperam reficiant). Let Vespers be celebrated early enough so that there is no need for a lamp while eating, and that everything can be finished by dailight. Indeed, at all times let supper or the hour of the fast-day meal be so scheduled that everything can be done by daylight (Sed et omni tempore, sive cena sive refectionis hora sic temperetur ut luce fiant omnia). (RB 41.6-9)

    In commenting on this section Smaragdus refers to both Isidore and the Rule of the Master noting that our Lord did not have dinner (a noonish meal) but supper (an eveningish meal) then quotes the RM as it cites Matt 26:21:

    When Scripture says: ‘When evening (vespere)came, Jesus reclined at table with the twelve apostles, and while they were having supper he said to them’. It has been laid down that the fast is to be broken every day at the ninth hour, so that something more extended may be added in the days of Lent, that is, they fast till the evening.

    Benedict isn’t explicit but it seems implicit from the comment about light at eating that the single meal occurs after Vespers than before it. On the strength of that, I’d conclude that the principle was that the meal of the day should follow Vespers. How this got morphed into Vespers during Lent should be said before noon sounds to me like an attempt to keep the letter of the ascetical law while missing the spirit of it.

  5. Paul Goings


    You are quite correct. The original idea was to fast (in the primitive sense) until late afternoon, celebrate Vespers, and only then eat the day’s one meal. But the meal kept getting pushed back towards noon, and Vespers with it, and this became enshrined in law. It is anachronistic, but really no more so than any number of other liturgical customs.

  6. Gillian Lander

    I’m an Anglican (High Church) musicology student writing on medieval hymnody of Divine Office at present. I need a translation of Palm Sunday’s ” Lustris sex”.. (of Lauds) Can anyone help? Not one of the popular ones tday.

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