The Divine Office and Fasting

Before the 1955 revisions to the Office and the some of governing rubrics of the Mass, it was traditional on all penitential weekdays (i.e. from Monday’s Matins until Saturday’s None when the Office was of the Ferial Day) to pray the Office through to and including None in the morning. Following None, the principal Mass of the day would then be offered, after which Vespers would take place. These all transpired before midday such that Mass and Vespers being completed, the main meal of the day would then be served just after midday, as is traditional in some European societies. Hence, there was an old rubric stating that Vespers is prayed ante prandium, that is before the midday meal or what in modern parlance is called lunch. After 1955, this rule was suppressed (just in case one is utilizing an older text), but in no way, does that mean that one cannot still follow this traditional arrangement. Regardless of the time of praying the Office, the long established tradition is to delay eating until after Vespers is prayed on fast days. Compline would, in any case, still be prayed at night before retiring for bed.

The above does not apply on Sundays and Feast Days; on these days, which are not days of fasting, Mass would follow the Office of Terce, all of the other Offices would take place according to their normal schedules, and Vespers would occur at its normal evening hour.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted February 25, 2010 AD at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    But don’t you think this developed as a sort of “cheat”?

    Isn’t the REALLY traditional practice to keep None at its normal time (late afternoon), have Mass after that, then Supper, then Vespers?

    Wasn’t the whole point of fasting originally to wait until evening to eat? Certainly during the days of the Black Fast, the meal was not allowed until after Sunset.

    Prandium (as opposed to coenam) as the main meal of the day is a later European development, and this “Squeezing everything in in the morning” seems to be merely a concession to that which actually DEcreases the penitential spirit of it all.

    Adapting the liturgy to meet secular practice rather than the other way around.

    I say, don’t adjust the times like this.

  2. Posted February 25, 2010 AD at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Whoops, I meant Vespers then Supper, not supper then Vespers…

    The point was to fast all day up until Mass (after None), do Vespers, and then have the meal.

    Moving vespers to earlier in the day to jive with the later European practice of lunch as the main meal…seems silly, a needless reordering of the liturgical day.

  3. Posted February 25, 2010 AD at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I agree that just as the Easter Vigil was advanced earlier in the day until it was set for the morning of Holy Saturday (since corrected), that Vespers and the breaking of the fast were also advanced earlier. I agree with all you say; I was just saying that it had been a long tradition to pray Vespers before eating. Indeed, it is difficult but very commendable to fast completely until the evening every day. P

    ersonally, I think it makes more sense, from a natural/health perspective, to eat more at midday (one needs more energy when working, etc.), than to fill the belly just a few hours before it is time to sleep, but I digress…

  4. Posted February 25, 2010 AD at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure that “cheating” is the right word, but we can certainly lament the passing of our ancient fasting traditions. I’m doubtful that we’ll ever be able to put that horse back in the barn, though.

    I think the fasting regulations of the early XXth century assumed that one would take the main meal at midday, with a collation in the morning and another in the evening (though one was permitted to take the main meal in the evening or even, for a good reason, in the morning).

  5. Posted February 25, 2010 AD at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    “Indeed, it is difficult but very commendable to fast completely until the evening every day”

    But if that becomes your cycle…I mean, you’re going to be eating the main meal 24-hours apart whenever it is. 6pm to 6pm is the same stretch of time as Noon to Noon. It’s just that the former keeps the liturgical cycle in place, whereas the latter results in this ridiculous noontime Vespers.

    At that point, since a loophole technicality is being used anyway (ie, saying Vespers so much earlier)…why didn’t they just drop the rule about not eating until after Vespers? Rather that trying to do this loopholish thing?

    That’s what I never understand about the old legalistic way of reasoning; if the old rule/tradition was being, basically, made a mockery of anyway in favor of a midday main meal…why not just drop it so that the hours to not have to be “squeezed in” in the morning?

    I mean, the whole reason the meal was taken after Vespers was really because it was supposed to be taken after sundown, around which time Vespers was presumed to occur. But if the meal was no longer being done after sundown…then keeping the accidental connection to Vespers seems needless if the substantial cause (ie, the sundown question) was no longer in play…

    Part of the reason, I think, is also that the rule about Mass being between Dawn and Midday came to be taken too rigidly, excluding even the traditional late-afternoon post-None Mass on penitential days. This seems to have already happened by the Late Middle Ages as our term “noon” comes from “None”…even though Sext is really the proper noonday hour…

    It is interesting also that in the old system, even the Eucharist itself seems to have been seen to break the fast somewhat, hence saving Mass until later in the day on penitential days.

  6. Posted February 26, 2010 AD at 8:44 am | Permalink

    But if that becomes your cycle…I mean, you’re going to be eating the main meal 24-hours apart whenever it is. 6pm to 6pm is the same stretch of time as Noon to Noon. It’s just that the former keeps the liturgical cycle in place, whereas the latter results in this ridiculous noontime Vespers.

    But if one takes a midday meal, then one can have a collation in the evening as well. If one waits to break his fast in the evening, then no collation is possible. So I think the permission to say the Little Hours in the forenoon, and Vespers immediately after Mass, had more to do with the mitigation of the fast than anything else.

    I couldn’t say why the principle of not eating until after Vespers was more important than praying Vespers at its proper hour.

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