Blessed Virgin Mary
Beatae Mariae Virginis
The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not the oldest of the short breviary texts; it can, however, claim the honor of being the most used and popular of them all. Its history is long, and separating the facts from legend can be difficult.
the Second Vatican Council, it was the liturgical prayer of hundreds of
religious communities, mostly active, (and a few contemplative orders,
as well), several Third Orders (lay members of the Carmelite, Dominican,
Augustinian and other Orders and Congregations, for example), Oblates attached
to Benedictine abbeys and convents, and thousands of other lay people,
not affiliated with any Order, made use of it century after century. From
its inclusion in the earliest hand written and illuminated Book of
Hours in the early and high Middle Ages, to the printed Primers
of the Reformation period and beyond, it was seen in every century. Prior
to the Second Vatican Council (1963). Every printed edition of the
Roman, Monastic, Carmelite, Dominican breviaries (before the Council) included
a version of the Little Office. And some locales maintained their own versions
(such as the diocese of Braga in Portugal).
(Taunton, for example, who quotes Cardinal Bona quoting a 12th century
writer, Peter the Deacon) say there was an Office of the BVM at the Benedictine
Abbey of Monte Cassino mandated by Pope Zachary (whose papacy covered 741
through 752. But it is possible that it might have an even earlier history.
What is of interest is that it was of monastic origin.
many monasteries, additional prayers were gradually added to the Divine
Office, in part because there was more time for choir monks (lay brothers
and others took much of the burden of manual labor from them). In addition
to praying for their benefactors, monks added votive offices of the Dead,
of All Saints, and only later, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin
and the Office of the Holy Cross.
Peter Damian, a Camaldolese, (+1072) encouraged his monastic acquaintances
to use the Little Office, and some say he even composed a form of it. From
the monasteries, the devotion spread to the active (secular clergy), and
gradually, to lay people who could read and afford the cost of a hand made
of Hours (which contained the Little Office, generally,
and perhaps the Office of the Dead and some of the other
Little Offices, and some additional prayers).
1095, Pope Urban II, in a Council at Clermont called Christians to undertake
the Crusades. At the same time, he ordered all clerics to add the
Little Office of the Blessed Virgin to the Divine Office. And,
for the first time, we see a Pope encouraging lay people to recite the
Little Office. The clerical obligation remained in force until 1568, after
the Council of Trent.
There was no single version of the Little Office. Each locale had its own "use", as did many of the religious Orders. There was a "Sarum" use (England), a "Parisian" use, a "Dominican" use, a "Carmelite" use, a "Cistercian" use, a "Carthusian" use, a "Braga" use, and of course, a "Roman" use, , among others. And there was a "Bridgettine Office of Our Lady" « though it is important to note that the Bridgettine text is not a "Little Office" but a complete office chanted in Choir, as a canonical obligation, by Bridgettine Nuns ». It should also be said that some of these uses never called their office the "Little Office", but simply, the Office of Our Lady. It was not until Pius V in 1568, that most of the uses were abolished and the Roman use took on the shape it retained until the Second Vatican Council. Pius V also released the clergy from the obligation of the Little Office (though some of the Orders retained the obligation for their own members).
By this time, the new invention of printing had become part of life, and lay people readily bought copies of the Little Office, sometimes printed alone, or sometimes included in a Primer (a devotional manual for lay people). In 1496, the Venetian Ambassador to England reported (in "A relation of the Island of England"):
active communities of Sisters and Brothers emerged, they, for the most
part, prayed the Little Office. Most contemplative Orders of Nuns were
in "solemn" vows and mandated to pray the Divine Office. The Visitation Nuns, founded by St. Francis De Sales, are one exception and prayed the
Little Office. Benedictine Nuns and Dominican Nuns who came to America from Germany in the
19th century attempted to maintain their contemplative focus with a busy
and active life of teaching, nursing work and other pastoral obligations.
They were ordered to adopt the Little Office after a short time. The Bridgettine
Nuns, who are also contemplatives in solemn vows, continue to have their own version of an Office
of the Blessed Virgin. Some of the active communities began their life
in common with the full Divine Office (e.g., the School Sisters of Notre
Dame and the Corpus Christi Carmelite Sisters); the massive work undertaken
by some communities soon prevented the complete celebration of the Divine
Office, and the Little Office, or some other devotional form, was adopted.
it was popular and much used, the Little Office had one drawback, i.e.,
no real variety. There were seasonal adjustments for 3 seasons only, but
primarily, it was the same office every day. For many religious (and lay
people), especially in the years of 20th century liturgical renewal and
interest, this was not enough. In 1953, Augustin Bea, SJ (later Cardinal)
prepared a version which he called "amplior"; he expanded the seasons from
3 to 6, and added 28 feasts which had their own particular antiphons and
prayers. The Pope (Pius XII) encouraged communities to adopt this edition.
Even so, several permissions were given by Roman authorities to adopt one
of the other short breviaries.
For religious communities which had a distinctly Marian focus in their spirituality and who wanted more variety than even the Bea edition of the Little Office provided, in 1955, the Congregation for Religious encouraged the use of a new Office of Our Lady, a full breviary, prepared by the Monks of the Abbey of En Calcat in France. This Office of Our Lady included the entire Psalter prayed over two weeks, a full seasonal and sanctoral cycle, and very importantly, daily readings. (See "Office of Our Lady")
Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council added a new dimension
to the Little Office(s). The Little Office(s), whether prayed out of obligation
or out of devotion, were now to be classified as liturgical prayer,
and those who prayed them would be participating in the official liturgy
of the hours of the church. By 1966, however, religious and
lay people were encouraged to adopt at least the Morning and Evening Prayer
from the Divine Office. This was the beginning of the end of the Little
Offices. Interest in, and use of, the Little Office(s) virtually died.
When the Liturgy of the Hours was published, beginning in 1973, it did
not include a version of the Little Office of the BVM.
versions of the Little Office, based on the structure of the new Liturgy
of the Hours, began to appear. The Calced Carmelites in England published
the Little Office of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in 1974, and it has been reprinted
twice, the most recent time in 1991. In the United States, an entirely
new edition of the Little Office was prepared by Fr. John Rotelle, an Augustinian;
it appeared in 1988. Some older editions (pre-Council) were reprinted several
times, due to demand, and continue to be popular.
future of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin (and the other Little
offices) is unknown. For the moment, it appears that the Liturgy of the
Hours, in one of its short forms (in the Americas, Christian Prayer or
Shorter Christian Prayer) has replaced them.
The Shape of the Little Office
version of the Little Office reformed in Pope Pius V's breviary was used
until 1911. Glenn Gunhouse has provided the text, both in Latin and in
English, at his Hypertext
Book of Hours site. It is different from other Little Offices
(e.g., Holy Cross) in that it is a complete office, with all
the elements of the Divine Office: psalms, antiphons, canticles, readings,
prayers, hymns, versicles, etc. Some of the other offices which use
the "Little Office" name do not one or more of these elements, e.g., psalms.
Eric Steinhauer has published some of them at his Liturgia
Horarum site, as has Michael Martin, at his site, Orationes
Pius X's 1911 Breviary reform, the Little Office was also reformed, though
it continued to be based on the text of the office of the Common of the
Blessed Virgin Mary in the Divine Office. That basic shape was retained
until the Second Vatican Council's breviary reforms.
the older other "uses", only a few remained, and several of these were
variations of the Roman Rite: lay affiliates ("Third order" members) of
the Dominicans and Carmelites prayed their own versions of the Little Office.
The Benedictines had a "monastic" version of the Little Office, which was
also very similiar to the Roman use; the Cistercians had their own use,
and chanted the Little Office in choir, in addition to the Divine Office.
The Carthusians, by statute, pray the Office of Our Lady in the privacy
of their cells, though it is prayed with the same care and ceremonial as
is used in choir for the Divine Office in the monastery church. The Bridgettine
Office, similar to the Little Office, was different, however. Among other
things, psalms and antiphons varied from day to day, as did the readings
at Matins, which were portions of the Sermo Angelica (the revelations
by an angel to St. Bridget of Sweden while she was in Rome). The internet
offers even more information in various uses.
version has its own purpose - while praising God, it honors the Blessed
Virgin's place in the Church and in the life of those who pray the office
Little Office contained Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers
and Compline. After Pius X's reform in 1911, the structure followed
the pattern on the new Psalter: each hour, except for Lauds and Vespers,
had three psalms (Lauds having 4 psalms and an OT canticle, and Vespers
having five psalms)