The three layers of the old Antiphonale Romanum (i.e. the ancient core material, the primary additions, and the medieval additions) were more or less separated liturgically, and each liturgical section (the Psalter, de tempore, commune, old saints of the sanctorale, medieval Offices of saints) was provided with a set of antiphons rather homogeneous in style. Now the elements are different in style, age and origin and mixed throughout each section.

The new antiphons are texts singled out from the Bible by liturgical experts. And this observation leads to the most critical remark:

The Roman Office was the product of a service, celebrated in choir, shaped and polished by living practice. Its antiphons were chants, joint productions of theological reflection, liturgical tradition and musical inspiration. The typological character of ancient antiphons reflects a vivid and realistic singing practice.

In contrast, the Liturgia Horarum is a book to be read, constructed at an office desk. The “chants” are not chants in reality, they have been construed in the same way. The Liturgia Horarum is the first Office Book in the life of the Church without melodies. Consequently, the Liturgia Horarum is not a proper tool for the restoration of liturgical life, rather it furthers the decadence of recent centuries and fosters the process by which the Office, earlier sung in common, is turned into a private spiritual reading for priests.

Thirty years went by since its promulgation and the promised notated Roman Antiphonary has still not been produced. The music experts had to realize that the melodies cannot be adapted to the texts of the Liturgia Horarum, and only two possibilities exist: to compose new melodies for hundreds of new texts or to select antiphons from the old Antiphonary with the consequence that the “libretto” of the Office (Liturgia Horarum) and the sung variants will be totally different. This is something quite new and bizarre in the two-thousand-year old history of the liturgy. Now anyone may ask the question: which one is the Office of the Roman Church, the book to be read or the stuff we sing?

In the process of practical implementation most have simply neglected this crucial question and decided to rest satisfied with deplorable “solutions” such as: the people use the Liber Usualis for the sung Office, or local composers fabricate compositions to vernacular texts, or – in most cases – the Office is not sung at all.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The old system represented an ideal equilibrium: the stability of the Little Hour fitted to the conditions of the working day; the stable psalms of Lauds expressed day by day the main motives of the Hour (psalm 50: penitence at the beginning of the day; psalm 62: awaking to God; psalm 148- 149-150: solemn praise of God who created and redeemed us). One psalm of Lauds (with reference to light and morning) and the canticle changed according to the day of the week coordinated with a natural-biblical period of time (the week), a cyclic return within the grasp of the human mind. The rest of the Psalter was not forced into hardly comprehensible intellectual schemes, but was allowed to follow its own biblical sequence.

The insertion of NT canticles in Vespers is an innovation of the Liturgia Horarum. Its motivation might have been the analogy with the OT canticles of Lauds, and this idea was backed by the view of some scholars who suspect in some passages of the NT the traces of an old Christian hymnody. This hypothesis is not generally accepted, and, in fact, paragraphs from St. Paul’s letters or from the Apocalypse sound rather strange when transformed into a psalm. Moreover, this innovation has infringed upon the logic of the Hour, the ascent from the OT psalms (understood, of course, in their Christian interpretation) through the hymn to the Magnificat.

The new distribution of psalms resulted in a loss and contributed significantly to the change of character within the Hours. The association between the given Hour and its proper psalms was clear and natural in the Roman Office: the stable psalms identified some Hours, while the continuous psalmody was linked to the Vigil and Vespers forming two groups (i.e. psalms 1-108 and 109-147). This order now disappeared without being replaced by another. If the multifaceted upheaval of the psalmic order within the Liturgia Horarum follows any motive, this motive is a secret, unrevealed for those who pray it.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

Finally, it behooves us to recall that the Proper chants of the Mass are linked to the liturgical seasons and times, not just in a general fashion, but quite specifically, by virtue of their content. The oldest choir-books of the Roman liturgy eloquently testify that the overwhelming majority of these chants belonged to fixed days, and these assignments remained untouched up until 1968. The same texts were written in the Missals, and if they were not sung, then the priest prayed them. In doing so, the Church clearly expressed her desire that each chant stand in a fixed position, which simply means that on this day, at this liturgical position, this is the chant, and not any other.

Exactly when and how this “properization” of the Mass chants was achieved is an altogether different question. At this point, we are not interested in this question, nor in deciding whether or not the numerous speculations are true concerning the justification of the given position of a chant and its interrelationships with other parts of the daily liturgy through historical facts or spiritual reflections. We simply accept the fact that in the minds, hearts and memories of faithful Catholics there gradually emerged, over a period of 1200 years or more, a network of associations between the experience of a particular liturgical day and the chants “proper” to that day. Such associations were truly “catholic,” in other words universal within the Latin liturgy. All felt a part of it, anyone at will referred to it: the Sundays were named after their Introits (e.g. Laetare, Gaudete, Quasimodo); people dated their private letters by referring to the same chant; composers created music not to texts, but to the Offertory or the Introit of a given day. For a Christian who lived in and with the liturgy of the praying Church, this order of chants coalesced with the full liturgy of the day, and it contributed to the high degree of constancy in the Mass Propers (as opposed to the frequent variations in the Divine Office). So it is by no means an accident that certain chant forms were excluded from this uniformity. In spite of the unchanging stability of Introits, Graduals, Offertories and Communions, the Alleluja and the Sequence presented a wide field of opportunity for the creative forces of various geographic regions (tropes, sacred polyphony).

This universality and continuity in space and time bore rich fruit, and brought great blessings. Over and above the psychological associations, such universality nurtured a feeling of stability and promoted the reverence of which a long tradition is worthy. It radiated, and thus taught, discipline; it made palpable a kind of “impersonal anonymity” which cannot be achieved simply by concealing the authors’ names. My university students were always shocked to open Dom Hesbert’s Antiphonarium Missarum Sextuplex or the 11th-century Gradual of the Roman basilica of St. Cecilia, only to find there, on the same days, the same Proper chants than the ones printed in the Liber Usualis of 1950. And without any coaching from me, their first question after the initial surprise was, “Then why should we sing different ones instead of these?”

Why, indeed…?

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The blurring of the Hour’s character is the consequence of the diminution of daily psalmody and of the new distribution of psalms. The reform at the beginning of the 20th century gave up in great part the 1500-year-old system, as well as the basic principles of distribution. Two generations of priests had grown up without any personal experience of the Roman psalmic order, and, their majority simply did not know about its existence. The Liturgia Horarum – with a more radical resolution – went much further down the path opened 70 years before.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

I summarize the most important innovations and add some remarks. The solution of the problems will be discussed in the third chapter.

1. The character of the Hours

The Vigil Office (or: “Matins”) was transformed into an “Hour of Reading” with three psalms and two long lectios. This Hour can be read at any time of the day.

The structure of Lauds and Vespers has been changed: the hymn was placed at the beginning, the number of psalms was reduced to three, the last psalm of Vespers was replaced by a NT canticle. At the close of these Hours the oratio (collecta) is preceded by invocations modeled after the “oratio fidelium.”

Prime has been abolished. The other Little Hours were replaced by one single Hour (Hora Media), which can be said at any time of the day. In the time of the two other Little Hours some psalms are proposed for prayer ad libitum.

Compline starts with the hymn and has only one psalm.

The Invitatory was moved over from the Vigil to the Hour prayed first on the calendar day.

There is no difference between the structure of the Office on Sundays, feasts or weekdays.

The daily portion of psalms (respectively psalm divisions) is reduced from 40 to 11.

The difference between the Hours became blurred. Each Hour consists of three psalms. The former lengthier, contemplative psalmody of the Vigil, the solemn psalms of Lauds and Vespers, the short psalms of the Little Hours (well suited to the rhythm of daily activity) has been equalized in accordance with new rule of prayer: more or less the same portion each day and for each Hour.

The disposition of the Hours became uniform: they all start with the hymn; only the inclusion of the canticle (and of two long readings in the “Hour of Reading”) sets the Minor and Major Hours apart.

This dull uniformity derives not from the inherent structure of the Office but from the mentality of the producers who composed a book of private readings and prayers rather than a vivid and dramatic choir-Office. Perhaps they did not even have any personal experience of the characteristic differences between the Hours made evident by their proper effect and construction. The organic and characteristic differences of the old Office gave a well-shaped arch to the single Hours as well as to the whole day, while the new order simply multiplied the Hours.

The Vigil has been transformed into an “Hour of Reading” which can be read in any time of the day. The aim was purely practical: this way the priest can read this Hour whenever he finds place in his daily schedule for it. Thus an essential element of liturgical spirituality has been ousted. The theology and mystical meaning of the Vigil had frequently been the subject of contemplation and exposition for the spiritual Masters. No doubt, its observance demanded some self-denial from the participants but they were fairly compensated by the special spiritual blessings of this particular time of the day. The length of the Vigil — the lengthier psalmody with its contemplative atmosphere and the quiet reading in the silence of evening or night – corresponded well to this spirit. The “Hour of Reading” is based not on the tradition of Christian prayer, but on the modern techniques of time-saving.

The Invitatory likewise became the victim of misunderstanding. The genuine motive of this responsorial psalm is not the commencement of our daytime, but rather it is a solemn overture to the liturgical day, even if it is prayed the evening before or at night.7

For the construction of the “Hora Media” the starting point was the Breviary of St. Pius X and not the original structure of the Roman Office. This Breviary transformed the Little Hours into lengthier services and thus effaced the very function of the Little Hours by the use of changing psalms. While it was easy to pray the authentic “Little” Hours in the course of the day, and they were in complete harmony with the spiritual intention of these Hours (they regularly interrupted the day’s profane activity with prayers and consecrated these “holy times”), it was precisely the “modern” Breviary that made them “burdensome.” The Liturgia Horarum should have returned to the original idea, the practice of horae minores instead of reducing the three Hours to one. In actual fact, it created another hora major (or to use a more suitable name: hora of medium size), and annihilated the spirituality of the horae minores.

Another misunderstanding stands behind the abolition of Prime. It was falsely stated that the Roman Office duplicates the morning prayer (Lauds – Prime). The character, function, content of these two Hours is totally different. Lauds greets the day of the history of salvation, a new day of the Cosmos, of Creation and the rise of Easter anew every day. Prime on the other hand (concluded by the praxis-oriented “officium capituli”) sanctified the working day of the laboring man. Or we can say, the importance of Lauds lies in its dogmatic and communal nature, while Prime affects the moral and private sphere.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The reforms of St. Pius X considerably diminished the “burden of the day.” But for the clergy this was not enough. They found the one or one-and-a-half hour that the daily Office demanded too long. The main point of the further reforms requested from Vatican II was again a radical shortening of the Office. Another aim was a kind of “rationalization” in the spirit of Quignonez and the Neo-Gallican reform breviaries. A lot of other (sometimes right, otherwise wanton) changes completed the package of new reforms. Having the Liturgia Horarum in hand, one is frequently inclined to ask what is the “true spiritual benefit” of a particular modification, given the fact that the Constitution on the Liturgy defined this benefit as the main criterion of any legitimate change.

The Council dealt with the Office mainly from a theological, spiritual and disciplinary point of view, but some principles for its reorganization were also laid down. A new Latin version of the psalms was wanted (practically, a return from the Pianum to the Vulgate), and similarly a restoration of the hymns (return from the “modernized” version of the 17th century to the original medieval texts). The Constitution abolished Prime, conceded to make only one of the daytime Little Hours obligatory; stipulated that the Psalter be distributed within a longer (undefined) period instead of its weekly recitation. The realization was left to a Committee to be set up.

The Committee under the leadership of Msg. Bugnini (practically following his will, or, if the reports are true, a will from outside the Church) did not reform the Roman Office, but created a new breviary. It was sent to the bishops’ conferences to solicit their opinion. This was, in fact, no more than a formality. No time was left for a thorough analysis; the clergy was unprepared for a well-founded response; and, the Committee was resolute to carry the changes through whatever reply would come from “outside.”

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

The process — started in the Middle Ages — of making the normal form of the Office (prayed in chorus) an exception and the exceptional form (private breviary of the priest) a norm, continued in this period. The consequences badly influenced even the most recent events. The singing of the Office survived though part of the daily service of some monasteries and cathedrals; Vespers celebrated along with the congregation continued to exist in some regions (the peasant population of Hungarian villages sang Vespers in Latin or in Hungarian until the end of the 20th century!); and the liturgical movement sought to re-introduce lay people to singing Vespers (of course, in Latin). For the clergy the Office remained something to be read, an obligation of the priestly life; in a good case, daily food for the soul, in a bad case, the onus diei, the burden of the day.

This attitude at the beginning of the 20th century led to the dissolution of the centuries old structure of the Roman Office. The demand became stronger and stronger to diminish the obligations of the priests overburdened by pastoral work. Since the custom of praying the whole Psalter weakly remained in effect, the basic principle of psalm distribution (the combination of selected psalms and the psalmodia currens), the most powerful factor of the Roman Office had to be given up. A great advantage (in the eyes of the reformers: a great disadvantage) of the old system was the daily repetition of some psalms. This repetition was the remnant of the ancient “Folk office” and was justified by theological, practical, psychological and spiritual arguments. The new Roman Breviary published under the reign of St. Pius X put over half of the 12 nocturnal psalms into the Little Hours, and replaced the stable psalms of Lauds by others, changing them on a daily basis. So the pensum of the Vigil was considerably diminished. The longer psalms were divided, the daily portions became more or less equal. The number of psalms (psalm sections) in the Vigil became invariably nine (even on weekdays), instead of the traditional twelve. The new distribution diminished the daily burden without giving up the principle of the “entire Psalter each week” But it was a victory of questionable value.

The first loss was that the order of the antiphons was disturbed: many new antiphons were needed because of the new place of psalms and psalm divisions. The new texts (many times worded in a style different from the old ones) required new melodies. The old system of selected psalms expired. The daytime Hours got different psalms for each day and these Hours became nearly as long as Vespers. The Little Hours lost their original character and meaning. Lauds was deprived of its stable psalmody based on good theological and historical grounds. Practically 35 psalms entered in a puzzling order to this Hour. Compline also lost its stability and the close contact between its psalms and the night time.

The practice of psalmodia currens, the continuous psalmody also came to an end. About half of the “nocturnal psalms” 1-108 disappeared from the Vigil, went over to an “empty” Hour of the same or another day. As regards the number of psalms, the Vigil became the same on weekdays and feasts with the single difference in the number of readings. The greatest damage was the change that the new Breviary effected in the minds of the priests. Those generations that grew up on this Breviary have lost their sense of the life-inspired order of the Office. They forgot what a Little Hour was for, or what they should have thought about it was contradictory to what they actually prayed. The emotional relationship of the soul to individual psalms, which was the result of an association between the given text and the Hour in which it was prayed, was now all but gone with the displacement of the psalms.

This was also the first time in the long history of the Church when the clergy was left with the impression that one can “freely” dispose of 1500 years of Roman tradition (all the more so when the psalm texts were radically changed in the “Psalterium Pianum”). And so the clergy became, as it were, prepared for the rejection of the Roman liturgy as a whole.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)