Taize and the Daily Office

Slightly updated repost from my former blog:
The capacity of the Taizé Community to inspire young people never seems to fade. I first visited as a 17 year old in 1982 and was profoundly effected by the week I spent there. I have been back many times since and with many different groups. Most recently, over the last three years, with groups of Year 10 pupils from my school in Lewisham. They too were profoundly moved by the whole life and by the worship at its centre. In particular when the first group returned they spoke about the extended (10-15 minutes) silence in the middle of each of the three times a day community prayers. They asked us if we could have more silence in school and they spoke to the School Council and to the whole school in worship about this. We employed a meditation teacher to work with every teaching group in the school, bought large sand timers for every room and have worked since on developing a culture of silence and calm. People who visited suggested that it worked; it matched our restorative approach in which restorative meetings replaced punishments and silence often forms part of those meetings, as one pupil put it ‘things are never the same after the silence.’
The worship at Taizé has not stayed the same. Even since my own first visit there has been a profound shift in the way in which the worship is done. Here’s a brief sketch of some of those changes based on the various editions of the community Office books I own.
From its very beginnings the Community at Taizé were linked to the ‘Eglise et Liturgie‘ movement in Reformed Swiss and French Christianity that sought to recover a liturgical life for the churches of the reformation and was closely linked to and influenced by the liturgical movement of the twentieth century.

Delachaux et Nestle 2me edition 1953

The first published version of a Daily Office for the use of the community was jointly published with the Eglise et Liturgie movement and the Communaute de Grandchamp, an ecumenical women’s community in Switzerland.
There is very little available in English about Eglise et Liturgie and its founder Pasteur Richard Paquier but there is a useful essay here.
Paquier was familiar with the liturgical forms of Anglicanism including the recovery of the Anglo-Catholic revival.
L’Office Divin is a very developed liturgy which lays the foundation of the Taizé community’s future publications. It contains an annual lectionary of four readings a day, a six weekly cycle of psalms, collects and propers for biblical saints and celebrations. The principal difference to the later development of the Office in the community is the inclusion of metrical Office hymns of the western tradition and the use of the traditional 8-fold western office texts, distributing parts over the morning and evening Offices. 
The foreword is written by Paquier but with a short additional foreword by Taizé’s own Brothers Roger and Max (Thurian). 
A brief sketch:
Monday and Thursday material from Matins
Wednesday and Saturday material from Lauds
Tuesday and Friday material from Prime
Sunday material from Terce
Tuesday material from Compline
Wednesday material from None
Monday and Thursday material from Vespers
Sunday material from the Orthodox liturgy
Saturday material from Compline and other sources
Friday material from Orthodox sources

Les Presses de Taizé, 2me edition 1963

The next editions of the Taizé Office abandoned the distribution of the parts of the 8-fold Office and have a more ‘digested’ feel to them. The lectionary is completely new with three readings a day, the distribution of psalms is also new with Psalm 119 used on Sunday mornings. This version of the Office was widely known and hugely influential on Roman Catholic priests many of whom abandoned the traditional breviary in favour of it (see Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy, for information on the returns made to the Vatican from bishops and priests on the state of the use of the Office and the desire for renewal).
The next editions I own are from 1966.

The French version contains the Psautier de Jerusalem, pointed for singing to Gelineau type psalm tones and with antiphons identified by verse number for the various seasons. Notably, it contains many litanies, some of these were recovered from historical liturgies of the various churches. Bugnini points out that Thurian made a specific intervention on the use of preces or litanies like this in the renewed Roman Office.
In a slightly later version the antiphons have been printed separately at the top of each psalm.
There are outline forms only of the little hours (Terce, Sext and None) an outline vigil and a weekly cycle of a relatively unchanging Compline. the Lucernarium which would become such a feature of the worship at Taizé already appears. The English translation used the Grail psalms for the introductions (no psalter is included) and ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ forms when addressing God throughout. Music for the Office was provided in the community church in duplicated, stapled A4 booklets. The psalm cycle remains over six or four weeks but now used the liturgical/vulgate numbering and moved Psalm 118 (119) to Mondays.

The next version of the Taizé Office was re-titled as La Louange des Jours and took into account the new liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic church and its collects. A three year Office lectionary accompanied the three year Sunday Mass readings. 
The English translation was done by Emily Chisholm and was published by Faith Press in 1975 and, in the edition shown, by Mowbray in 1984. It omits a lectionary and collects leaving these to the official versions but included a four week and six week table of psalms. The English was modernised. From my own experience this was widely used by Anglican clergy who were faced otherwise with the Book of Common Prayer or only very lightly updated versions of it.

The red, hard bound editions were still in use in the Community Church in the late 1980’s and early 1990s. 
The translation of the psalms shown, known as Psalms from Taizé was done by the community’s brother Anthony (Teague) an English born monk who has since spent most of his life in Korea. He has made them available electronically here. There is also a useful essay on the Taizé liturgy from his website.
The psalm translation includes the psalm tables, a common antiphon for each psalm and two sets of psalm tones, one on the Gelineau ‘pulsed’ or stressed model and the other with simple end of line modulations. The translation is fresh and less wordy then the Grail version and they deserve to be better known.
I think I am right in saying that the Grandchamp community still use La louange des jours and that it has continued to be printed.
In the 1990’s in the face of the continuing large numbers of young people gathering at Taizé and speaking many languages Brother Roger simplified the liturgy radically, long readings replaced by short sentences of Scripture and psalmody cut to a minimal level. The worship is still clearly structured around praise – psalmody – reading – response – praise – intercession – conclusion. The community now use the Psautier liturgique oecumenique.
Taizé have published a very simplified Office book in the form of Priere pour chaque jour / Prayer for Each Day which are clearly inheritors of the community’s evolving pattern of worship.
It is interesting to speculate on the effect on the monks themselves of this form of worship but  the proof perhaps is in the continued strength of the community and their ability to draw young people to God in a way which is almost unique in the contemporary world.
Many of us will have been subjected to the phenomena of dreary, too slow, even organ accompanied versions of Taizé chants sung in the context of fairly traditional Anglican liturgy. It is often easy to think that they only work in the context of the original community but done well they can work elsewhere. 

This has been a very short introduction to something that deserves a greater study. The effect of Taizé on the renewal of Roman Catholic liturgy, and especially Thurian’s influence on this and that of the Eglise et Liturgie movement (and not least the Anglican influence on them), and the worship of the Grandchamp sisters all deserve further investigation. There is also an interesting evolution in the eucharistic rites at Taizé which deserve further study. 


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