I am reading a treatise on the true devotion to the B.V. Mary of L.M.G. de Monfort and I noticed that the Office of the Holy Virgin is among the recommended external practices. As I have never heard of this practice before, I googled it and found the following:
Information on the Little Office of the B.V. Mary
Dear Father Angelo, some time ago I discovered the Office of the Virgin Mary [t.n. Little Office of the B.V. Mary] and I wish to know more (in my case as a “lay” form of Marian devotion, in addition to the Carmelite scapular, which I have already been wearing for some years, and the prayer of the Holy Rosary which remains for me the main commitment).
1) Is it a simple devotion, or a “liturgical” book of which there is an editio typica [t.n. official source text] ?
2) In which context/religious order was it born and developed, and where is it still practiced?
3) I have got into a bit of confusion between the many versions of it, all different: I have two “pre-Conciliars” (which I am happy of, being fond of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite), one of which is an appendix to an old Dominican missal, both different from each other; an updated one, edited by Father R. Falsini, far from true Marian spirituality in my view, which I use when I travel, though, as it is pocket-sized; I have seen others here and there, updated or not, in Latin and Italian, but always different (different layout, different psalms, some in order by period others by day of the week) …
Anyway, while it is certain that the B. Virgin likes them all, I would like to understand a little bit more …
Thanks, and I’d ask you for a prayer. Stefano.
The priest’s answer
1. I found these notes on the origin of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in an ancient dictionary of Liturgy: “A Little Office of the B. Virgin Mary appears in the X century, as a form of private devotion, alongside the supererogatory Offices of the H. Trinity, of the Incarnation, of the Holy Spirit and of the Saints, and widely used already at the end of that century, especially through the work of St. Peter Damian († 1072) and Pope Urban II, who in the Synod of Clérmont ( 1095) made it the object of particular exhortation. First prayed on Saturdays as a weekly homage to the Madonna, it was replaced for this purpose by the Officium B. Mariae in Sabbato, always remaining however one of the most popular forms of devotion, especially among the folk, towards the Madonna “.
2. With the Reform of the Roman Breviary, or “Liturgy of the Hours”, also the “Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary” was reformed. Since it lost a lot of the Marian chord, it fell into disuse. Only the readings give the Little Office that Marian touch. Unlike before, when everything exuded a constant presence and praise of Mary.
3. There was a time when many female religious congregations prayed the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today they have moved on to the Liturgy of the Hours. Lay Dominicans are urged to recite it, if they cannot recite the Liturgy of the Hours.
4. In the Little Dominican Breviary (a book of prayers for Dominican laity-tertiaries) it is included in accordance with the new version post-Vatican II, and conformed to the outline of the Liturgy of the Hours. Some readings have changed, taken from Dominican writings.
5. Since it’s not imposed on anyone, everyone can recite it as and when he wants, even in the old form. The old form had its own beauty, it left a healing sense of peace in those who recited it, and the presence of Mary, insistently praised and invoked, could be felt. Personally, from time to time I use it for my private devotion, still using the old “libellus precum” that was given to all Dominican novices. In the novitiate, the Little Office was recited in full and in community twice a week (obviously in addition to the Breviary).
I am happy that you pray from it according to the outline proposed by the old Dominican Missal. I urge you to continue. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, like any good Dominican tertiary, recited it every day.
I greet you most cordially, I promise I will remember you to the Lord and to the Blessed Virgin and I bless you.
I still don’t understand what it is, to start with; could you kindly explain to me? At a certain point you write that the older edition was very beautiful and instilled a sense of peace; where can I find it?
I would also like to ask you what the psalter of the Holy Virgin of St. Bonaventure is. Sorry for so many questions. I hope to receive your answer, if so where can I read it?
While awaiting, I offer you my warmest greetings.
The priest’s answer
1. The devotion to Our Lady developed quite soon within the Church.
The oldest Marian prayer, Sub tuum praesidium (under your protection), dates back at least to the beginning of the III century, as shown by a Coptic papyrus of that time.
The Office of the B.V. Mary was born in a monastic milieu. Someone says in Montecassino (rather a question then an assertion) around the VIII century.
2. Just as the Breviary was devised to sanctify all the hours of the day and to pray “continuously”, so there was a desire to praise the Blessed Virgin Mary also continuously.
For this reason, all the canonical hours are present in the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary: matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, nones, vespers and compline.
3. It was called Officium parvum, “Little office”, because – although all canonical hours are there – it is more user-friendly, shorter and easier to remember.
It is always the same every day of the year except for the variant of an antiphon to Vespers and Lauds according to the time of Advent, Christmas (which used to last until February 2nd, the feast of the Purification of Mary) and Easter.
4. The brevity is evident mostly in the Matins: only three psalms, unlike the nine psalms recited in the Breviary.
There are three readings, always the same and very short, unlike the Breviary, also with three readings, nine on holidays, but longer and changing every day.
5. According to Peter Deacon, it was Pope Gregory II (714-731; there is the VIII century) to approve it.
This Officium parvum had its last upgrade in the 11th century, thanks to St. Peter Damian.
In the XII and XIII centuries several particular Synods required its recitation by clerics, many of whom were not priests, but students or teachers in universities.
6. St. Dominic, for his Dominican Order, in addition to the canonical Office (the Breviary), retained the use of the Cistercians and Premonstratensians to recite the Horae Beatae Virginis (the hours of the Blessed Virgin).
The reciting was taking place between the first and second sign of the choir and served as a preparation for the prayer that was going to be done there.
Matins were recited as soon as you got up in front of the altar of Our Lady in the dormitory.
Only Compline was recited in chorus.
7. Dominican novices, until the middle of the past century, in addition to the recitation of the Breviary done in chorus with the other friars of the community, recited it entirely every day, in the novitiate chapel.
Later on, until the current liturgical reform, they recited it fully twice a week, dividing it into groups of hours, so that every day, in the morning and in the afternoon, they could equally praise the Blessed Virgin Mary and attract every grace upon themselves, especially that of perseverance.
8. The Dominican Order had its own Rite (to be honest it could be said that it actually has its own Rite, because in fact that Rite has never been dissolved).
That’s why there are some variations compared to the Officium parvum of the Roman Rite.
9. Finally, to answer your first question, it is a liturgical prayer, which is made in a devotional form (because it is not mandatory) by the faithfuls.
10. The psalter of the Holy Virgin of Saint Bonaventure is an Office in honor of the Immaculate Conception.
I wish you a happy and Holy Easter, full of graces and peace.
I will remember you to the Lord and I bless you.
Translated by Riccardo Mugnaini