By the Numbers

The Microsoft Excel chart that I've been compiling of different liturgical Uses of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary now has 1104 rows and 24 columns. The rows show different texts according to their location in the Office while the columns beginning with E show the occurrence of these texts in particular manuscripts and/or traditions from the eleventh through the early sixteenth century. Of the texts, 323 are antiphons; 34 are blessings; 169 are chapters; 80 are hymns; 43 are lessons; 147 are prayers or collects; 96 are psalms; 106 are responsories; and 91 are versicles.* Not all of these texts are unique items: often the same antiphon will appear in different places in the Office from Use to Use.** The numbers should nevertheless give a sense of the scale of variation with which we are dealing when talking about "the Little Office of the Virgin." There was no such thing, at least not in the sense of a single, identical service observed throughout medieval Europe. Every single one of the twenty versions that I have entered into my table is significantly different from all the others, with the sole exception of two fifteenth-century translations of the Use of Sarum into Middle English.*** Indeed, every time I think I am about to find a duplicate Office in a new manuscript, it starts to vary and I realize there is no pattern again. Some of the manuscripts follow something that looks like a Paris Use--until they don't. Others look like they are going to be straight Sarum--and then they aren't. For the bold, Erik Drigsdahl at the Center for Håndskriftstudier i Danmark has compiled tables of over eighty distinct Uses--and these do not include many of the earlier ones that I have entered in my chart.

And you wonder why I've been a little bit grumpy about my research....

*I know this only adds up to 1,089. The other 15 items are things like invitatory antiphons and notes about where litanies and suffrages appear.
**Just to give a sense of how many texts any one Office might use, the Use of Rome runs to line 123 if I sort for that Use, so 122 separate items according to my breakdown. This does not include the standard opening versicles for each hour, i.e. "V. Domine labia mea aperies. R. Et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam," for Matins; "Converte nos, Deus salutaris noster. R. Et averte iram tuam a nobis," for Compline; and "V. Deus, in adiutorium meum intende. R. Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina," for all of the other hours. Nor does it count the various Gloria Patri as they appear throughout the Office. And so forth.
***Even here, the translations are not exactly the same, even if the texts are.


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