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Liturgical manuscripts - Books for the Divine Office

Introduction Books for the Mass

Overview
Antiphoner
Psalter
Collectar
Martyrology and Liber Vitae
Breviary

Overview

In addition to the daily Mass, members of monastic communities also celebrate the liturgy by performing the Divine Office. This involves monks or nuns assembling every day at eight set times, called the canonical hours of matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline, in order to pray together. As in the Mass, the divine dffice requires texts containing both the sung and spoken portions of the liturgy. The psalter, collectar, office lectionary, and the martyrology provide the spoken portions of the office, and the antiphoner and troper provide the musical texts. The breviary, developed in the 13th century, combines all of these musical and spoken texts used in the Divine Office into one volume, with the texts arranged according to the liturgical year.

(Click on an image for an enlarged view and detailed description.)

Arundel 83 (I), f. 63v (detail)
Beginning of Psalm 95 from the Howard Psalter and Hours.
Arundel 83 (I), f. 63v (detail)


Antiphoner    Top top

Antiphoners contain the sung texts used in the Divine Office, arranged according to the cycles of temporal, sanctoral, and common feasts in the liturgical year. As they are commonly used by a choir, they are often large in format, with clear script and large decorative initials that act like bookmarks, helping to navigate the text.


Yates Thompson 25, recto
Leaf from a Dominican Antiphoner with text for Easter.
Yates Thompson 25, recto

Psalter    Top top

The Psalter contains the text of the Old Testament Book of Psalms, divided up into groups of Psalms. All 150 would be read by a monastic community throughout the course of a week, mainly at the hours of matins and vespers. Psalters often contain several other texts, such as a calendar, a litany of saints, and prayers. They were often lavishly illuminated, most frequently with images of King David, as a type of author portrait, or with extended sequences of prefatory miniatures. The Psalter is also the book upon which the medieval Book of Hours is based, and early forms of the horae were often attached to Psalters. The Book of Hours is a private devotional text, frequently commissioned by a wealthy secular patron, which contains a condensed version of the Divine Office that an individual might use to pray throughout the week.


Cotton Vespasian A I, ff. 30v-31
David harping, in the Vespasian Psalter.
Cotton Vespasian A I, ff. 30v-31


Cotton Nero C IV, f. 24
Harrowing of Hell, Noli me tangere in the Winchester Psalter.
Cotton Nero C IV, f. 24


Yates Thompson 40, f. 9v
The beginning of the Psalms, in the Camaldoli Psalter.
Yates Thompson 40, f. 9v


Harley 2904, f. 144
Psalm 109, in the Ramsey Psalter.
Harley 2904, f. 144

Collectar    Top top

The Collectar contains the collects, or prayers, used in the Divine Office. As with many other liturgical books, these texts are arranged according to the cycle of temporal, sanctoral and common feasts. Collectars might also contain capitula, or brief passages from scripture to be read after the Psalm text. They are less frequently illuminated, but sometimes contain decorative initials for important feasts.


Yates Thompson 2, f. 2
Initial 'D'(eus) (God) from the Ottobeuren Collectar.
Yates Thompson 2, f. 2


Yates Thompson 2, f. 21v
The Holy Women at Christís tomb, from the Ottobeuren Collectar.
Yates Thompson 2, f. 21v

Martyrology and Liber Vitae    Top top

The Divine Office also includes prayers for the living and the dead. At the hour of prime, readings are drawn from a text known as a marytrology, or passionale, containing narratives about the lives and martyrdoms of saints. These stories are arranged according to the sanctoral cycle. Monastic communities also pray for their living patrons at the hour of prime. The Liber Vitae, or 'Book of Life', records the names of community members and benefactors, and sometimes included images of them as well.


Additional 11880, f. 21
Page from a ninth-century martyrology with the lives of Saints Sixtus, Laurence and Hypolitus.
Additional 11880, f. 21

Breviary    Top top

The breviary, developed in the 11th century, combines all the sung and spoken portions of the Divine Office into one volume. Like the Missal, the Breviary is divided into a cycle of temporal, sanctoral, and common feasts. They are sometimes lavishly decorated with ornamented initials, or miniatures of biblical scenes or the performance of the Divine Office. As with the Psalter, although Breviaries were liturgical in function, they were often commissioned by private patrons. The Breviary of John the Fearless, shown below, is an example.


Yates Thompson 8, f. 249v
Image of John the Baptist and Andrew from the Breviary of Renaud de Bar, Bishop of Metz.
Yates Thompson 8, f. 249v


Additional 35311, f. 8
Psalm 1 from the Breviary of John the Fearless.
Additional 35311, f. 8


Introduction Books for the Mass

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