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The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Flexible cover (Blue Leather), [3rd Edition]

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Item No:5401
Binding:Flexible cover (Blue Leather), [3rd Edition]
Pages:236
Size:4" x 6"
$ 29.95
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This is the first ever edition that includes the complete Gregorian Chant for the Little Office – in traditional four stave notation! The music for the Little Office has never before been gathered together in one volume. For many people the Gregorian chant of the Little Office offers an introduction to the beauty of the Church's traditional liturgical heritage. This volume will help you sing all the Hours of the Little Office.

Our edition includes a commentary on the rubrics and ceremonial by "A Master of Novices" (which was first published in the early twentieth century), and also includes a description of the indulgences with which the recitation of the Little Office has been enriched by Holy Mother Church.

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a shorter form of the Divine Office in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has long been the Church's daily liturgical prayer to Our Lady, and these hours of praise have been used by Priests, religious and the laity throughout the centuries. Lay people used to flock to the great Cathedrals to publicly recite The Little Office during the Middle Ages, and during the great persecution, when the practice of the Catholic Faith was illegal in Great Britain, Bishop Challoner commended The Little Office to his flock.

Through its psalms, antiphons, readings, responsorials, and prayers the Little Office stresses the role Our Lady played in salvation history, and how through her fiat the divine Word took flesh in her womb and achieved salvation for us all; and how Our Lord granted her the first fruits of the general resurrection in her holy and glorious assumption.

All Catholics are called to a consistent prayer life. For those who do not feel called to recite the Divine Office, but still wish to participate in the liturgical prayer of the Church, or for those who have a particular devotion to the holy Mother of God, there is no finer form of prayer than the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Features include:

  • Based on an edition published just after the Reform Act in 1850 (allowing English Catholics to openly practice the Faith).
  • English translation uses traditional language – with scripture taken from Bishop Challoner's version of the Douay-Rheims Bible.
  • Fully updated to comply with the editio typica of the Breviary (1961) permitted by the Holy Father's Motu Proprio 'Summorum Pontificum'.
  • The first ever edition to include the complete Gregorian chants for the Little Office.
  • Meditations before each hour from the mediaeval Mirror of Our Lady.
  • Preface by the Very Reverend Fr. Berg, superior of the FSSP.
  • Latin-English, red and black text.
  • Psalms from the Vulgate.
  • Flexible leather cover with stitched edge, gold gilding, 2 ribbons.

I am pleased to commend this new edition of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which adheres to the Editio Typica of the 1961 Breviary. Indeed, it is timely that this edition has been made available within a few weeks of Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio ‘Summorum Pontificum’, which permits a wider use of the traditional Roman Breviary.

Devotion to Our Lady is part of the spiritual life of the Church, and fulfils her words that all generations will call her blessed (Luke i. 48). The Little Office will help the Faithful to pray with even greater devotion to Our Blessed Lady, either privately or in groups.

Of particular note is the inclusion of the Gregorian chant, which will enable those groups who wish to sing parts of the Little Office to enrich their communal prayer in this way.

I hope that with the publication of this edition, there will be a renewed and increased devotion to Our Blessed Lady, particularly amongst those who, until now, may have been unaware of the beauty and reverence that the traditional worship of the Church offers.

Very Rev. Fr John Berg
Superior General of the FSSP

The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (“The Little Office”) is one of the breviaria parva. Simply, it is a shortened office taken from the Common of Our Lady in the Roman Breviary.  It includes Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. It was designed to meet the liturgical and devotional needs of many of the laity and a large number of religious communities engaged in the active apostolate. In general, we call these shortened offices “short breviaries”.

Some short breviaries are relatively recent. The more popularly known are by-products of the early and mid twentieth century Liturgical Movement. The Little Office, though it cannot claim to be the oldest of all short breviaries, can claim the honour of being the most popular of them.

It was the prayer of hundreds, perhaps thousands of religious communities, most of them in the active apostolate, though a few contemplative orders, such as the Visitation Nuns, used it as their principal liturgical office. And generation after generation, there were thousands of ordinary lay people, affiliated with religious orders either as tertiaries or oblates, who also prayed the Little Office daily.

The Little Office is seen in every century, from the handwritten Books of Hoursof the Middle Ages, to theprintedPrimersof the Reformation period and beyond, to the individually published stand-alone versions of the office.

Since 1568, after Pius V’s reform of the Liturgy, every printed edition of the Roman Breviary included the Little Office. The Pope had removed the obligation for clerics to pray the Little Office in addition to the Divine Office. This version was, with small changes here and there, the one that was reformed by Pius X in 1911 as part of his own reform of the larger Roman Breviary. For four centuries, it was Pius V’s version of the Little Office that most Catholics were familiar with.

*   *   *

The facts about the early history of the Little Office have not been easy to learn. There are many legends, but those who passed them on to us were too far removed from the sources to give us an adequate accounting of the development of this prayer form.

We can say that Benedict of Aniane, a monastic reformer of the tenth century, began a process in his monastery which added devotional offices to the daily Divine Office. In time, the Little Office came to be included there and in other abbeys and monasteries, and before long the Little Office was celebrated in every cathedral and church in western Christendom. It became an obligatory part of the Divine Office, but we can only guess at what point of the Middle Ages this occurred. Legend has it that Pope Urban II, at the Council of Clermont in 1095, which he used to call a crusade, also commanded all clerics to pray the Little Office. However, records from later years still suggest that the Little Office was an option for a number of years, though the obligation did become general at some time.

For example, it was not optional in Paris at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The laity would not come for the Divine Office, but they would come for the Little Office. Clearly, the canons who chanted the office and the laity who attended found the Little Office familiar and intimate and comforting. It was a remarkable period of devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Pius V, charged by the Council of Trent with reforming the breviary, removed the obligation for all clerics to pray the Little Office, but did authorize the inclusion of the Little Office in all printed editions of the new Roman Breviaryfor those who wished to pray it from devotion. Some religious Orders, however, kept the Little Office as obligatory for its members, at least for some years.

Pius V permitted Orders and locations which could prove more than 200 years of the use of their particular format of the Little Office (and Divine Office and Mass as well) to continue their rites and usages (such as the Carthusian, Dominicans and Carmelites). However, he encouraged everyone to adopt the new Roman Rite Breviary, wherever that was possible.

In 1599, we see the first post-Tridentine English translation of the Little Office. In time, The Little Office extracted itself as one part of the Primer and was published as a book either in Latin, or in Latin and English, or in English alone. (This was also true for other languages).

With the Restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Victorian Britain the Little Office of Our Ladywas brought back into print by James Burns in a Latin and English version. Although the date of this edition is uncertain it was published at some point before 1860. It is on that version that the English translation in this volume is based.

In 1911, Pius X reformed the Roman Breviaryagain, and with it, the Little Office, which continued to be reprinted in the complete breviary as well as on its own. Thus it continued to be a popular form of liturgical prayer.

In 1953 Augustin (later Cardinal) Bea developed, at the request of a community of Swiss Franciscan Sisters, a Little Office that included, among other things, three additional seasons, added prayers and readings, feasts of Saints, etc. This version was approved by Pius XII and he allowed any community that wished to change to the new form to do so at will.

In 1955, the Congregation for Religious in Rome asked the Benedictine Monks of En Calcat Abbey in Dourgne, France, to prepare a version that would satisfy those who sought more variety in the Little Office. The monks did, and issued their first (French/Latin) edition of the Office of Our Lady in 1958. The difference between the Office of Our Lady and the previous versions of the Little Office was that:

(a) The entire Psalter was used;
(b) There would be a separate Matins reading for every day of the year;
(c)  The seasonal elements of the office were developed;
(d) Some feasts were included which emphasized the role of the Blessed Virgin in the economy of salvation, as well as other principal feasts celebrated by the Church internationally.

Despite these developments the Roman Breviarycontinued to contain the form of the Office as revised by Pius X. While a few changes were made to it in this period (such as suppressing the Hail Mary previously said silently before the Office and removing the Commemoration of the Saints after the final collect) these were only minor alterations, which were made to reflect the changes made to the Liturgy of the Hours itself. Indeed, the most radical change to the Little Office found in the Breviary was that some editions followed the Psalter of Pius XII.

So, by the 1960’s, the Church offered several versions of the Little Office for its people:

(a) The original, simplest form, as printed in the Roman Breviary;
(b) Cardinal Bea’s version with its six seasons;
(c) The Office of Our Lady, edited by the monks of En Calcat Abbey in France.

But, with the liturgical changes that followed later that decade the latter, more recent, forms were entirely abandoned and even the traditional Little Office fell into disuse. Most religious that had previously used a little office moved over to using the Liturgy of the Hours, as revised under Pope Paul VI. However, among many of the laity the original Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary still remained a popular devotion. It appears that its popularity was not just limited to Ecclesia Dei communities, but still held a wide appeal for many of the faithful. It is the traditional Little Office with its long history, which is found in the pages that follow.

*   *   *

Finally, there is a question of the attraction to the Little Office. Why is it so popular?  First, it is a question of Marian devotion. People who are devoted to Mary as Mother of God and Mediatrix of Grace find the Little Office an easy approach, simply and direct, much like the Rosary, though the Little Office is a liturgical form. Second, the daily repetition of the Little Office is a familiar comfort. This familiarity opens a door to confidence, and with that confidence the person who prays the Little Office comes that much closer to understanding more of the meaning of the psalms, readings, hymns and prayers as time goes on. This also allows those who sing the Little Office, to become familiar with the plainchant that enriches its hours, and thus it provides an excellent introduction to the use of Gregorian chant in the liturgical life of the Church.

There is something more to be said for daily repetition. When the Canons of the Cathedral of Paris in the thirteenth century prayed the Little Office, it was the form of liturgical prayer the people attended. It was also the prayer that the Canons were most familiar with on a daily basis. Their confidence in their prayer to the Blessed Mother must have inspired the laity who attended. Hearing the same words and music day after day must have been a comfort to all present. The Little Office didn’t require a huge change in mind set each day, as the words were the same. One might say: easy to pray.

The Little Office is a happy blend of intense Marian devotion, a love for the liturgy of the Church, and a fountain of private and common prayer that has satisfied thousands of Catholics over the centuries, and will, no doubt, do so in the future.

Theo Keller.
Feast of St. Andrew, 2006.

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