Starting the Officium Defunctorum

From a request from my Little Office course, we embark on the Office of the Dead.

The Burial of Saint Zenobius, ca. 1479, Davide Ghirlandaio, Francis L. Leland Fund, 1913, Met Museum

What is the Office of the Dead?

The Divine Office is the official prayer of the Church. It has its roots in the Psalms with other hymns and prayers and readings added over time. Up until about 1970 there were eight hours of the office, Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. After 1970 these were rearranged into seven: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Mid-morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Mid-afternoon Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer.

I am more familiar with the earlier Office. I generally follow the 1962 books, because that’s what my local Latin Mass apostolate follows.

The Office of the Dead is the office prayed on the day of a funeral or on the feast of All Souls Day or any day which you would like to pray especially for souls in Purgatory.

So far, the only Office of the Dead which I have prayed is the hour of Compline. I’m learning as I go.

My prior experience has been with the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is modelled on a votive office for Saturdays in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Much of the work on took place around Sydney’s first lockdown. With Sydney’s second lockdown being extended for the third time, I guess it may be a good time to start work on a new project.

Title page of an [Office of the Dead](, Latin text only
Title page of an Office of the Dead, Latin text only

Plan of Action

My first task is to make booklets. When I started making videos on how to sing the Little Office, I hoped that I could avoid having to make my own booklets. I should have realised that making booklets of Gregorian chant is always going to be with me. That’s how I started learning about chant. Similarly, as the music for the Office of the Dead is all in the Liber Usualis, I hoped I could use that, but it is not the easiest layout and I like having some English translations.

The Little Office at the moment is in eight booklets, nine if you include allthehours.pdf. I’m thinking it would be better to make three booklets this time : Matins and Lauds together, all the Minor Hours together, then Vespers and Compline together.

I think this will be less work than the Little Office, but it remains to be seen.

I did find a booklet of the Office of the Dead at a website called Laudate Dominum. It includes the chant, but pasted in as images and sometimes with distorted aspect ratios. Also, it only includes Vespers, Matins and Lauds.

Another website called Latin Mass Funeral includes the text of Vespers, Matins (only the Invitatory) and Lauds.

I expect much of the chant will be available at Gregobase. It shouldn’t be too hard to knock together some booklets. It’s a bit like cataloging a library - tedious, but you get to handle some lovely pieces along the way.

In the meantime…

Making booklets, even rough drafts, will take some time. For anyone keen to get learning, much of the same concepts are covered in The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You could also look at some videos I’ve made in the past covering music for Requiem Masses:

Dies Irae:

Requiem Aeternam:

Veronica Brandt
Veronica Brandt
Technician and Tutor

My research interests include Gregorian chant, knitting, constructing long skirts with pockets and taking over the world.