Friday, February 1, 2013

Why St. John Bosco doesn't rate the entire Common of Pastors

I got this question from someone on Google+:

Today is 31 Jan, which is the memorial of St. John Bosco. The St. Joseph Guide for the Liturgy of the Hours says that I should take the Psalmody from the Psalter (the usual Week III for this week) for Vespers. I just checked the Divine Office Web site (www.divineoffice.org) and they have also taken the Psalmody from Week III of the Psalter.

Why would I not take the Psalmody from the Common of Pastors?

Few things about the breviary  are more confusing than figuring out what to do on a saint's day. If you use a digital breviary exclusively, you don't worry about this--everything is laid out for you. But if you use a breviary, questions arise. Especially if its a day for a saint that you really like, and want to honor with an office that is tailor made for him/her.

Saint's days come in several varieties, and these have an order of precedence: solemnities, feasts, and memorials (this last having a subdivision of obligatory and optional memorials). The more important the day, the more likely it is to have either it's own unique office from start to finish, or else many prayers unique to the  day plus generous  use of the  common. (Commons are "generic" offices for particular categories of saints: pastors, religious, apostles, martyrs, holy women, etc.) 

The General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours explains which days use which parts of the psalter, propers and commons. It's pretty confusing. The one-volume Christian Prayer breviary has a very handy little list on page 37, titled  "Format of the Offices" which distills all this for greater clarity. 

So yesterday, the feast of st. John Bosco, was a memorial.  Memorials use the regular psalter for the psalmody, then have the option of either sticking with the psalter for everything else except the closing prayer(which comes from the saint's day proper), OR switching to the proper for the remainder of the office, concluding with John Bosco's closing prayer. In his case, the common chosen could have been pastors or holy men / teachers. 

Why doesn't the Church let us use the entire common, or even an evening prayer I for every saint that we like?  According the the General Instruction (I'm very roughly paraphrasing) the Church has a preference for the four-week psalter and for the yearly cycle of scripture in the Office of Readings. The Church does not want us to lose our familiarity with the psalter and the flow of the scriptural cycle by constantly switching over to commons of saints. This is doubly true during the liturgical seasons of advent, Christmas, lent, and Easter. 
This was also the rationale, by the way, for the Church dropping so many saints days off of its Universal Calendar after the Second Vatican Council.  Contrary to popular belief, the Church did not declare that Saint Christopher, Philomena, and others did not exist, or were no longer saints. It just removed them from the General calendar in order to encourage us to pay attention to the normal liturgical cycle, which was designed to draw our attention to specific truths about Christ over the course of the year. These saints are still on the local calendars of many countries. St. Christopher, for example, is still on the liturgical  calendar of Spain. I attended his feastday mass as a student there in 1979.  (And for the rest of the day endured the constant honking of car horns. One of the Spanish folk customs for the patron of drivers is for the young people to go cruising around town all day, honking frequently.)

One more piece of trivia: all the above ceases to apply if the saint in question is the founder of the religious order or a patron of an organization or institution you are affiliated with. In these cases the saints day is celebrated either as a feast or a solemnity. This would have been the case with the Salesians yesterday. 


13 comments:

  1. So a question: If you, in your own domestic church, have a specific family devotion to a feast or a saint, how okay is it to upgrade what might normally be only an optional memorial?

    After all, even parish churches have local solemnities.

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  2. Yes, parishes, have local celebrations. Although this is by permission, I think, of the diocesan bishop. Now, here is a relevant text from the General Instruction:

    252. Everyone should be concerned to respect the complete cycle of the four-week psalter. [7] Still, for spiritual or pastoral advantage, the psalms appointed for a particular day may be replaced with others from the same hour of a different day. There are also circumstances occasionally arising when it is permissible to choose suitable psalms and other texts in the way done for a votive office.

    This would seem to approve your decision to do a full office for any saint to whom you are really attached. You would still be bound by the rules in # 244-250. #247 in particular lists lots of days when you would not be permitted to do this.

    Now, you an I know that we are free to say any prayers on any day simply speaking, but our concern here is what we can do and still be doing an act of liturgy rather than devotion. Since the quote from #247 above refers to pastoral reasons, that might imply there has to be a pastor to make that judgment. So I am not 100% certain that we should first ask our bishop or our pastor for permission to do these enhanced celebrations of optional memorials. (Although if I approached my pastor this way he'd probably think I was being obsessive and legalistic). One of these days I am going to find a priest who is an expert in these things and ask him. For now, I am about 90% certain that you could legitimately ramp up a memorial office to a feastday office for a favorite family patron. . At the same time, I don't think a domestic church whose members are crazy about lots and lots of saints should do this for every single one of them, given the respect we are supposed to give to the normal liturgical cycle.

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    1. errata: correct a sentence above to read: "So I am not 100% certain that we should NOT have to ask our bishop or pastor, etc."

      and add the words "without asking permission" to the end of the sentence begining "For now, I am about 90% certain..."

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    2. Heh, I wouldn't dare ask my pastor either. I'd just get that look. But I was thinking mostly about family feasts, our anniversary is on a really delightful optional memorial which would be nice to celebrate with a little more liturgical pomp.

      This is probably one of those things that only comes up for ginormous liturgy nerds anyway.

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    3. I think anyone who follows and comments on this site is almost by definition a liturgy nerd!

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    4. Liturgy Nerd: one more thing to put on the resume! ha ha. Thanks for this post; I've always wondered about saints' days and optionals.

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  3. Query: When a Saint is a Doctor--I get really confused. as I understand it, the common of Doctors is used, but it says to use the common of Pastors, except for what is from the common of Doctors! (This is similar to Holy Men/Women: religious) So it's two commons that supplement each other, the readings/prayers from the common of Saint and the regular Psalter Psalms, unless it's a Feast or higher. I get page lash! Is there something I am missing? ( And no, I use paper--no iBreviary. etc.)

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    1. Yes, wasn't that a mess on St. Francis de Sales last week? You sound like you're doing it right.

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    2. On paper I may have it right. In reality, I usually realize that I'm not in the right Psalms or common in the middle of praying the Office! Yikes!

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  4. I love Salesian spirituality and Don Bosco so yesterday I used complete Common of holy men, for teacher. If anyone in Catholic Church deserved to have Office for holy teachers, it is saint John Bosco, ''father, teacher and friend of youth'', as bl. John Paul II called him.
    I have one question about tomorrow, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Are we supposed to use Vespers for Feast or First vespers of Sunday?
    I find your blog very interesting and useful! Greetings from LOTH-lover from Croatia!

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    1. Greetings back to Croatia. I'm happy to have a reader from so far away. First vespers of Sunday takes precedence over Vespers for the Presentation.

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    2. Daria, actually the Vespers of the Presentation take precedence because the Presentation is a feast of the Lord, and higher in the table of Precedence. Even if they were equal in precedence, the Vespers of the Day always take precedence over First Vespers of another day.

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    3. You know, R, I think you're right. I was confusing EP I with EP II. Evening Prayer I is not said unless the feast of Our Lord occurs on Sunday. The Presentation was on Saturday. I was reading the text of the General Instruction but didn't think to look at the table.The format chart on p. 37 of the one-volume didn't address feasts of Our Lord occurring on Saturday. Thanks for setting us straight.

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