the Carmel

The divine office

We call divine office the prayer which goes up towards God throughout the day, and which is made in the name of the Church. In Thérèse's time, it was sung or recited by priests and by certain religious communities. Today, it is also offered to everyone, because it is the prayer of the people of God. In the 19th century, "the Office" or more familiarly the breviary as they said then, included psalms, hymns, short biblical passages. The community sang and recited it in the name of the whole Church, in response to Jesus' invitation to pray unceasingly to God, his Father, as he himself did.

A breviary cover. Each volume is 23,5 cm high and 15,5 wide, for a total average weight of 1 kilo 175 grams (very heavy).

Five years before the foundation of the Carmel of Lisieux, Dom Guéranger refounded the Benedictine monastery of Solesme in 1833. He wanted to create a model of Christian community united around the liturgy of the Church. In doing so, he made the Church's official liturgy (the Mass and the liturgical hours such as Lauds and Vespers) the center of worship. He diverted piety from those many other services and devotions, such as novenas and Stations of the Cross, which had proliferated in Catholicism since the Middle Ages. (cf. John O'Malley: The Vatican II event; Lessius editions, 2011). These times of community prayer favored union with God throughout the day, in communion with humanity, in praise, supplication, adoration. Céline tells in her Tips and Souvenirs that in order to recollect herself, Thérèse then saw herself in her imagination on a desert rock, before the immensity, and there alone with Jesus, having the earth at her feet, she forgot all creatures and repeated her love to him in the terms that she did not understand, it is true, but it was enough for her to know that it gave her pleasure. It is good to remember that until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Office was celebrated in Latin, a language that most of the sisters did not know, even if there was a latin grammar, a small book of 146 pages unattractive. 

For the whole day to be sanctified, this prayer of the Church is distributed at very specific times, when all the sisters gathered together in the carmelite choir from the chapel to sing hymns, psalms, prayers, according to the established manner. This time is given to God, free of charge.

The office therefore included in Thérèse's time:

The 4 small Hours of Prime, Third, Sext and None, celebrated the morning after prayer.

Vespers celebrated in the early afternoon.

Office of Compline, celebrated at the end of the day after the evening recreation.

Matins early in the night, followed by Lauds.

You have to read this list by consulting here community schedule in Theresa's time.

This liturgical prayer of the community obeys rules to promote prayer for all, recollection and good order during the celebration. In Thérèse's time, the sisters entered the choir in procession and bowed deeply before the Blessed Sacrament 2 to 2, before going each on their own to their place in the stalls.

The Prioress or the one who presides gives the signal for the beginning of the office and the sisters recite double-tono (i.e. on one note) the psalms, hymns and other parts of the office. The psalm verses are alternated, i.e. the sisters on one side recite the first verse and the second verse is recited by the sisters on the other side, etc.

Certain parts of the Office are proclaimed by sisters designated in advance each week: the versicular for antiphons, singers to intone psalms or hymns, theweekly to intone the office, and to conclude it with prayer. Céline adds in her Tips that Thérèse liked to be there every week to say her prayer aloud, like priests at mass.

Here is a sketch of the general structure, without the exceptions of Sundays, feasts and solemnities:

 small hours VespersComplineMatinsLauds
Padre et Ave Maria in silence opening hymn antiphon followed by 3 psalms capitulum / response oration (same for Tierce, Sexte and None: Pater et Ave, hymn, and all that follows)Padre et Ave silently
opening antiphon followed by 5 psalms capitulum/response hymn verse antiphon and Magnificat Prayers and Our Father oration conclusion

Short reading opening pater confiteor antiphon followed by 4 psalms hymn capitulum / antiphon response and never resign antiphon prayer to the Blessed Virgin conclusion

Padre et Ave in silence inviting opening 1er nocturne hymn following the time antiphon followed by 8 to 12 psalms 3 Bible readings 2e nocturne antiphon followed by 3 psalms 3 patristic or hagiographical readings 3e nocturne antiphon and 3 psalms 3 readings of patristic absolution hymn
Padre et Ave in silence opening antiphon followed by 4 psalms antiphon followed by 3 psalms capitulum / response hymn antiphon and Benedictus conclusion

This brief table gives only a small idea of ​​the complexity of the different sections of the Office named sections. To get an idea of ​​it, it is good to leaf through the breviary itself. It is possible by clicking here to read (courageously!) the entireSunday Matins Office towards the end of the XNUMXth century.

matins sticker

Today, the structure is different: see here the celebration of the contemporary Office.

« Stay close to the Saviour. Let us consider that He is watching us, that we are keeping Him company. »

Teresa of Avila, Fri, ch.13