The first article of this series focusing on St. Pius X dealt with this intervention in the field of liturgical music, which enabled him to lay the cornerstone of the Liturgical Movement: to restore the liturgy to its full glory, and, by this means, to revive the true Catholic spirit. The second dealt with decrees on frequent communion and children’s communion. This third article examines the reform of the breviary and the liturgical calendar carried out by St. Pius X.
What Is the Breviary?
The Latin term breviarium means means summary or abbreviated. The breviary is a book that brings together the prayers that monks and clerics must recite every day.
From the beginning of the Church, Christians, especially monks, had the habit of praying seven times a day and adding a night prayer. This habit settled into what was called the canonical hours: Matins said at night, Lauds early in the morning, Prime, Terce (which monks recited before mass), Sext around noon, None and Vespers before supper, and Compline before bedtime.
These prayers are essentially composed of Psalms, antiphons (formulas which introduce the Psalms), passages from Holy Scripture, summaries of the lives of the saints, hymns of praise, responses (a sort of dialogue between the cantor and the choir), and finally oratio which are prayers of request made to God. These elements vary according to the day of the week, the times of the liturgical year such as Advent, Lent, Easter time, etc., the temporal cycle; but also according to the feasts of saints, the sanctoral cycle.
These prayers were gradually brought together in large volumes: antiphonaries, graduals, psalters, hymnals, and responsorials which enabled several monks to read or sing the divine office together. It was difficult, if not impossible, to carry this material when traveling. The printing press made it possible to make smaller-sized books and to make more copies of them. Thus, the breviary was born.
The word passed from describing the thing to its content: the term therefore designates not only the book as such, but the set of prayers that make up the Divine Office and their arrangement in canonical hours as well as the structure of each hour in particular.
There are several breviaries. For instance, many religious orders have their own. In the history of the Church there have been many diocesan breviaries in addition to the Roman Breviary. What they always have in common is the eight hours and the general structure. On the other hand, they are distinguished by the internal arrangement of the hours and the diversity of certain parts: Psalms, texts from Holy Scripture, or different hymns.
“Choir” religious must sing or recite the Divine Office together in church. Clerics, beginning from the reception of the sub-diaconate, are required to recite the breviary in full each day, together or separately.
The Vicissitudes of the Breviary
We are only dealing here with the Roman breviary since the Council of Trent. This holy council asked Pope St. Pius V to publish a new edition of the Roman Breviary. It was a matter of correcting certain elements, such as Latin errors or erroneous data found in the accounts of the lives of the saints. This edition was produced and promulgated in 1568.
The St. Pius V Breviary reflects the finished state of the recitation of the canonical hours in use in Rome. It owed much to the liturgy of Innocent III (1198-1216), enriched by the influence of the Franciscans, and imposed around 1270 when religious life in Rome was reorganized.
For three and a half centuries, from St. Pius V to St. Pius X, the Roman Breviary remained unchanged, with the exception of the addition of several saints to the Church calendar and some accessory pieces. However, ten popes and nine commissions worked on the breviary and made many proposals for its reform. The only result was the development of breviaries “parallel” to the Roman Breviary, like the Parisian Breviary.
At the First Vatican Council, a number of the council fathers had expressed grievances and asked for changes of more or less importance. The complaints concerned the bad Latin of certain hymns, the distribution of the Psalms, the considerable inflation of the sanctoral cycle which progressively obscured the temporal cycle, and the length of the offices—particularly for priests having the charge of souls, and especially the Sunday offices.
The main complaint, which was not new, concerned the gradual disappearance of the temporal days because of feast days replacing the Sunday offices. In some dioceses there were only ten or so Sundays celebrated outside of Advent and Lent. And sometimes this number was even smaller. For example, there was only one temporal day in a certain French diocese, and that one was threatened incidentally by the establishment of the solemnity of St. Joan of Arc.
As for the psalter, composed of 150 Psalms, the disparity was flagrant. For example, in 1902 in Rome, Psalm 4 was recited 532 times during the year, and seven other Psalms 365 times! Twenty-three Psalms were recited more than 100 times, the rest were reduced to a few rare cases. Seven Psalms were never recited.
Finally, the complexity was so confusing that specialists were needed to establish the ordo of the offices throughout the year.
The Principles of St. Pius X’s Reform
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) had created a reform commission at the beginning of the twentieth century, which ceased to function on his death. At the request of some of its former members, St. Pius X restarted it in July 1911. He gave it the goal of carrying out a reform which took into consideration the requests of the fathers of First Vatican Council, especially since several bishops had already taken them over. In particular, there was a request to allow for the recitation of the entire psalter during the week, to shorten the duration of the office due to the increase in the apostolate, to restore the preference of the temporal cycle and the Sunday office, which consequently led to a reform of the liturgical calendar.
The holy pope followed the project closely. He provided concrete instructions written with his own hand. Throughout the work, he intervened a hundred times.
Results of the Reform
On November 1, 1911, debuted the Apostolic Constitution Divino afflatu, on the new disposition of the psalter in the Roman Breviary. It accomplished an essential work by reforming the structure of the office with a new distribution of the Psalms, and by establishing a new balance between the temporal and the sanctoral cycles.
It was then necessary to put this constitution into practice. Until December 1912, St. Pius X supervised the instructions to coordinate the calendars specific to each diocese, and to correct many texts.
Thirdly, St. Pius X gave permission to further enhance the offices of the temporal cycle, and to reduce the calendar of saints. On October 23, 1913, the decree Abhinc duos annos was published. Finally, on March 25, 1914, the Pope authorized the printing of the “editio typica,” to serve as a model and reference for publishing houses accredited by the congregation of rites. The breviary of St. Pius X was born.
Reception of St. Pius X’s Liturgical Reform
The reform was fairly well accepted, but it was also the subject of much criticism, in particular for having modified offices which had existed for centuries.
On this subject, the authors of the Paul VI’s new mass and new breviary, now baptized as the Liturgy of the Hours, did not fail to invoke the example of St. Pius X—and that of Pius XII for his Holy Week reforms—to justify their own reforms. They even wanted use it as a mark of continuity. So they did not hesitate to quote the Holy Pope in Abhinc duos annos, which justifies the reform of the breviary through the call to restore the Roman liturgy, in order to restore it to its original purity and to liberate it from the “grime of time.”
Pius XII responded to these audacious people. There is a vast difference between the spirit of the reform of St. Pius X and the modern liturgies. The latter attach themselves to the past as a kind of ideal, so as to get back to an ancient unity. They only consider the form and not the spirit of the liturgy, its tradition. Pius XII gave it a name: archaeologism or attachment to what belongs to a bygone past.
In addition, the Liturgy of the Hours decreased the breviary of John XXIII, who had already pared down the St. Pius X Breviary, quite apart from the obligation being reduced to the recitation of only three canonical hours during the day. This reduction to a shadow of itself well illustrates the spirit which animated the authors. Finally, the new liturgical calendar wrecked havoc on part of the temporal cycle structure, which had been the object of great concern for St. Pius X.
In conclusion, even if this aspect of the liturgical activity of St. Pius X only relates indirectly to the mass, through the calendar and the adaptation of certain rubrics of the missal, it is important to get an overview of it. It allows for a better understanding of what the sainted pope had in mind for the liturgical movement to which he gave his letters patent.