Vadstena 6

The Brigittine Office

Introduction to The Brigittine Office – Cantus sororum

Office is the collective term for the eight canonical hours, the sequence of daily prayers that form the framework of monastic life. They are moments for reading, prayer and songs of praise at specific times of day. At the original Brigittine monastery, the divine service of the monks was followed by the Marian service of the nuns. The daily order of the Office begins with Matins early in the morning and ends with Compline in the evening. The actual times of the canonical hours could vary from one monastery to another and according to the time of year.

  • Matins: early morning prayers before sunrise, c. 03.00; matutina = ‘morning’
  • Nocturns: night prayers
  • Lauds: prayers at sunrise; laudes = ‘thanks’
  • Prime: first hour of the day, 06.00
  • Terce: third hour, 09.00
  • Sext: sixth hour, 12.00
  • None: ninth hour, 15.00
  • Vespers: evening prayers, 18.00
  • Compline: last prayers of the day, 21.00; completorium = ‘completion’

The Brigittine weekly cycle

Psalms play a major role in the Office, and all 150 psalms are sung each week. The Brigittine Office makes no exception in this respect. In the Cantus sororum, each day of the week is assigned a theme, and the structure of the Office with its readings and chants remains the same from one week to the next, independent of the festivals of the ecclesiastical year.

This liturgy forms a systematic presentation of the entire story of Redemption from the perspective of the Virgin Mary. The week begins with contemplation of Mary before her birth, in relation to the world not yet created and to the Trinity, the angels and the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament. From Wednesday onwards, we follow Mary as she is compared to the breaking dawn and the star that will give birth to the Sun, Christ. The rest of the week is dedicated to the passion of Christ and the compassion of Mary, and then the Resurrection of Christ and the Assumption of Mary. The weekly order is as follows:

  • Sunday (Dominica): The Trinity and Mary called out of eternity by God
  • Monday (Feria secunda): The angels and Mary
  • Tuesday (Feria tertia): The patriarchs and the prophets
  • Wednesday (Feria quarta): Birth and youth of Mary
  • Thursday (Feria quinta): Birth of Christ
  • Friday (Feria sexta): Passion of Christ and compassion of Mary
  • Saturday (Sabbato): Resurrection of Christ and Assumption of Mary

Chants in the Office

The chants in Cantus sororum are divided into various types according to their function in the Office.

Invitatory (invitatorium): An introductory chant (‘invitation’)

Antiphon: An alternating chant, specifically the brief ‘refrain’ that frames a psalm chant; from the Greek antifonos, ‘sounding against’.

Hymn (hymnus): A chant of praise; from the Greek húmnos.

Short responsory (responsorium brevis): Short response; from the Latin respondeo ‘to respond’.

Long responsory (responsorium prolixum): Long response, used after the reading of lessons.

Canticle (canticum): A term used for particular chants of praise, such as the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:22–33) and the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55); (‘song’).

Benedicamus: An exhortation to blessing; benedicamus Domino (‘let us bless the Lord’).

A day with Cantus sororum

Structure of the Office

Each morning begins with an invitatory and Psalm 95 (Psalm 94 in the Vulgate): Venite exultemus Domino (‘O come, let us sing unto the Lord’). For an overview of how a day in the life of the convent was structured, the services of the first day, Sunday (Dominica), are listed below. The Nocturns included a reading or chanting of three out of the 21 lessons in the Angelic Discourse. The response to these was one of the long responsories (responsorium prolixum). Several of the Sunday chants are given on the websites as examples of their type – some with adapted text in Swedish. Before and between the chants there would have been versicles, blessings, the Credo, readings and chants of praise.

Matins (Ad matutinum):

  • Invitatory: Trinum Deum (‘Three-personed God’) – Psalm 94
  • Hymn: O Trinitatis gloria (‘O glory of the Trinity’)

Nocturns (Ad nocturnum):

  • Antiphon: O amabilis Virgo (‘O lovable Virgin’) – Psalm 2
  • Antiphon: O susceptor (‘O guardian’) – Psalm 3
  • Antiphon: Interveniente te (‘Thy intervention’) – Psalm 4
  • First lesson (Lectio prima) – Great responsory: Summae Trinitati (‘To the most high Trinity’)
  • Second lesson (Lectio secunda) – Great responsory: O Maria, dignissimum vehiculum (‘O Mary, most dignified vessel’)
  • Third lesson (Lectio tertia) – Great responsory: Maria, summae Trinitatis (‘Mary, to the most high Trinity’)
  • Te Deum

Lauds (Ad laudes):

  • Antiphon: Domum tuam, Domine (‘Thy house, O Lord’) – Psalms and Canticle 92, 99, 62, 66, Daniel 3, 148, 149, 150
  • Hymn: Alme Pater cui Filium (‘Merciful Father’)
  • Antiphon: Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel (‘Blessed the Lord God of Israel’) – Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68–79): Benedicamus Virginis Filio (‘Let us bless the Son of the Virgin’)

Prime (Ad primam):

  • Hymn: O veneranda Trinitas (‘O venerated Trinity’)
  • Antiphon: O speciose (‘O precious’) – Psalms 44, 118
  • Short responsory
  • Prayer
  • Benedicamus Domino

Terce, Sext, None (Ad tertiam, Ad sextam, Ad nonam):

These contained antiphons, psalms and short responsories as for Prime.

Vespers (Ad vesperas):

  • Antiphon: Beati metuentes (‘Blessed are they that fear’) – Psalms 110, 111, 112, 147
  • Hymn: Lux Deus (‘God is the light’)
  • Antiphon: Patrem cum Filio (‘To the Father with the Son’) – Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55)
  • Benedicamus

Compline (Ad completorium):

  • Antiphon: Iucundum est eis (‘Joyous it is for them’) – Psalms 131, 132, 133
  • Short responsory: In manus tui Filii (‘In the hands of thy Son’)
  • Hymn: In Genitore Genitus (‘Born of the Birth-giver’)
  • Antiphon: O Regis pacifici (‘O untouched Mother of the King of Peace’) – Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29–32)
  • Marian antiphon: Alma redemptoris Mater (‘Merciful Mother of the Redeemer’)

Performing the chants

Saint Birgitta laid out detailed rules for singing praises to God. Her most significant guideline was to sing with utter humility (per omnia humilis). Humility is the highest duty of the Brigittine Order overall. Saint Birgitta’s instructions for singing were written particularly with nuns in mind. She wrote:

Let the singing not be lazy, nor weak, nor indifferent, but noble, solemn, unified and delivered with utter humility. Saint Birgitta E 4
For the soul is not blameless if the singer delight herself more with the notes than with the content of what she is singing, and it is wholly forbidding in the eyes of God if the singer raise her voice more for the sake of the listeners than for the sake of God. Saint Birgitta E 4
By Sofia Lindroos