Magnifying the Lord in German

The German-speaking Benedictines, unlike their brothers and sisters in the English-speaking world, have a hard cover edition of the vernacular office which is used widely in their monasteries in German-speaking countries. (They also tend to do more of the office in Latin than we do, at least in many places, but that’s another topic.) In the English-speaking world there are many local variants of the revised office, and most every larger community has developed its own cursus for the psalms and canticles. The German multi-volume edition, Benediktinishes Antiphonale, is available from Munsterschwarzach, Germany (Vier-Türme Verlag). One week cursus, antiphons for every psalm, four-line square-note notation, Gregorian psalm tones, everything in German.

All of you who pray the Liturgy of the Hours regularly will be interested in this innovation of the German-speaking OSBs. They don’t sing the Benedictus every day at Lauds, nor do they sing the Magnificat every day at Vespers. And though they like the New Testament canticles sung as the last “psalm” in the reformed Roman office and as an option in the new monastic antiphonale from Solesmes, they do not sing these NT canticles there. Rather, they sing a different New Testament canticle every day at the traditional place of the Ben and Mag, except on bigger feast days when the Ben and Mag are sung.

Here is the list I’ve prepared of the German-language monastic usage:

Sunday Lauds: John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word
Sunday Vespers: Revelation 5:12,9f,13
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Monday Lauds: 1 Timothy 2:5f, 3:16, 6:15f
The mediator between God and humanity
Monday Vespers: Ephesians 1:3-10
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
Tuesday Lauds: Revelation 11:7f, 12:10-12, 7:10,12
They have conquered through the blood of the Lamb
Tuesday Vespers: Revelation 15:3f, 4:11
Great and wonderful are your works
Wednesday Lauds: Matthew 5:3-10
Blessed the poor in spirit
Wednesday Vespers: Luke 2:29-32
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace (Nunc dimittis)
Thursday Lauds: Revelation 19:1f, 5-8, 7:10,12
Salvation and power and glory to our God
Thursday Vespers: Matthew 11:25-30
I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth
Friday Lauds: Colossians 1:15-20
He is the image of the invisible God
Friday Vespers: Philippians 2:6-10
Though he was in the form of God
Saturday Lauds: Luke 1:68-79
Blessed be the Lord (Benedictus)
Saturday Vespers: Luke 1:46-55
My soul magnifies the Lord (Magnificat)

The thought is that the reintroduction of the New Testament canticles is one of the great fruits of the liturgical reform, but the appropriate place for them is where New Testament canticles (Ben and Mag) have always been sung, not as part of the psalmody. Several monasteries tried this for several years, and a poll showed that 253 out of 307 members favored it.

I have mixed feelings about removing the Ben and Mag from their hallowed spot. A friend in Austria once said to me with a sniff, “Typical Germans, they always have to be doing something different.” But on the other hand, it is a challenge to pray the same canticle every morning and evening, and many would find the variety refreshing. Although I’ve never personally had a distracting thought in 20 years of monastic liturgy (!?), I’m told that others have. And as for principles of the sort I like to hang on to, I suppose it depends on how you frame the principle. If it is “The Benedictus and Magnificat have always been sung every day,” then that settles it. But if the principle is “Of the eight offices prayed daily, two of them have either Ben or Mag,” then we can talk about proportionality. That is to say, the practice of daily Ben and Mag developed as part of a rather heavy daily pensum. Modern OSBS typically gather two or three or four times daily. (Before the council the monks here did all the offices, but they grouped them together and rattled them off quickly so that they only had to gather 3 times a day.) Many lay people pray just daily morning prayer, or just daily evening prayer. For the medieval monk or nun who was in choir 4 or more hours daily, the Ben and Mag would have been a real high point after lots and lots and lots of psalms and canticles and readings and responsories. For a similar effect today, we might need to do the Ben and Mag less often, such as once a week. But I’d vote for placing them on Sunday, not Saturday as the German-speakers do. That is, if I’d vote at all for this proposal, and on that I’m still undecided.

But on the far side of my rather mathematical thinking there must be some other better principle out there… such as “Prefer nothing to Christ” or “That in all things God may be glorified.” With goals like that, surely many layouts for the Liturgy of the Hours are possible. Including the one from Munsterschwarzach, which I think is worth considering seriously.

awr

4 comments

  1. Great to see a post about this excellent monastic office. I notice in my copy that the rubrics give the option of singing the Benedictus and Magnificat every day instead of the varying canticles given for each day.

    Many of the German liturgical materials–both those for religious and those for parish use–are very well done and consistent. There is also a Monastisches Stundenbuch (Monastic Breviary) published by EOS-Verlag for German-speaking Benedictine communities: three breviary volumes and four lectionary volumes. Expensive, but a beautiful working-out of the Schema B office according to the Thesaurus Liturgiae Horarum Monasticae. I’ve wondered why there’s no equivalent in English (except perhaps a privately printed one somewhere in a monastery).

  2. I’m certainly not opposed to adding these canticles to Lauds and Vespers. However, I think it would be much better to optionally add them after the psalms, rather than to use them to replace the privileged place of the Gospel Canticles. Thus, they wouldn’t be required, wouldn’t be prohibited, and wouldn’t intrude at a place properly belonging to the Gospel Canticles. I also think it would be much more “organic” if you simply make an addition rather than a replacement (that’s largely how our liturgy grew, anyway).

  3. I am curious about the provenance of some of these selections as “canticles”. I understand the practice of paring down psalms and certain canticles to select verses with a chapter, but how common/old is the practice of stringing together verses from different chapters as “canticles”?

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