Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

The Elements of the Divine Office

We’ve talked a lot about the Divine Office.  There are four essential elements in every Office.  Whether it is one of the pillar Offices of Lauds or Vespers, or a smaller, shorter Office, like Compline, these four components are:

The mainstay of the Office is the Psalmody.  In his day,  Benedict carefully arranged the Psalms so that all 150 could be recited in a week’s time.  The early hermits recited them in a day.  Many monastic houses today, including ours, chant them over a 4-week period.  Included under the umbrella of psalmody are texts known as Canticles.  Taken from both the Old and New Testaments, Canticles are sacred songs, and are a regular part of the day’s psalmody. 

We know that hymns appeared very early in the Christian church.  Some of the most beautiful poetic texts were set to metrical tunes.  Several weeks ago, we looked at some verses from a Lauds hymn, penned by Ambrose, a prolific hymn writer, who established their regular use in the Divine Office.  We’ll be looking at hymns in more depth later on.

Listening is such an integral part of chanting the Office.  After the psalmody, we listen as one officiant chants either a portion of Scripture, or a reading from one of the early Church Fathers.  We are constantly being nurtured by this input of God’s word.

The prayers begin and end the Office.  There are set prayers which are taken from Psalmody, as well as daily Collects, and of course, the Lord’s Prayer.

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