O Lord, open thou my mouth …
Advent & the [Anglican] Breviary
Tonight the new ecclesiastical year is upon us, and it is an ideal time to start to learn to pray the Breviary. There are, of course, many different Breviaries in circulation but I will here limit myself to the Anglican Breviary (AB). I am not myself an Anglican, but an Orthodox priest making use of the Anglican Breviary adapted for Orthodox use. This adaptation will practically mean that the core of the sanctoral cycle will be determined by the Orthodox Western Rite Kalendar of the Antiochene Archdiocese of America and not by the two Kalendars provided in the AB itself. Fear not, the difference is easy to get used to and it will only affect the so-called post-schism saints by leaving them out. If you, yourself are not Orthodox and prefer to include them, you will soon learn the mechanism of the Breviary to do so. Learning to pray the Breviary with me will not stand in your way of eventually going beyond my use of the Breviary, you will soon be able to follow the Universal Kalendar or the Simple Kalendar provided in the AB itself if you so please.
Learning to Pray the Breviary
That being said, let’s start!
First I am assuming you actually own an Anglican Breviary and are able to flip through its pages. I am therefore directing you to read pages A1 through to A10 with special attention to the words printed in red. The principle rule to remember is: do the red and say the black.
Good. Now that you have read that you will know what the Prayer before the Office is, what the Triple and Dual Prayers are, the Opening Versicles, etc. You will have noticed that they are all captured under the name Common Forms. This is because the elements of the prayers included here are common to more than one Office. Over the course of the next few weeks/months you will flip back and forth to and from this section very often. Don’t worry about it though. Soon enough most of these prayers – if not all – will so be familiar that you will know them by heart (thus limiting the times you have to flip back and forth).
On page A11 the most daunting the daily Offices begins: Matins. You will notice that the top of the page reads: The Ordinary of the Divine Office. The Ordinary is the skeleton of each Office. So that the Ordinary of Matins is the skeleton structure of the Office Matins and so on. The Seasonal and Sanctoral cycles provide the flesh and sinews on these bones of the Office. You cycle through the entire Ordinary once a day if you pray all the Offices.
The next section (section B) is the beating heart of the AB – thePsalter which contains the all 150 Psalms distributed over the course of the week. The real meat on the bones of the Ordinary. The Psalter begins with Sunday Matins and provides the appropriate Psalms and their Antiphons for each day of the week. The next Office is Lauds which follows Matins and so on in a logical and natural order all the way through to Saturday Compline. You will cycle through the entire Psalter once every week. This is the basic rhythm of what St. Benedict of Nursia has called Opus Dei – the work of God.
The next section of the AB is the Proper of the Season (section C), and it too is part of the flesh to be added the bones of the Office. Here you will find directions of what portions of Scripture to read. I do mean portions – for whole books are not included here. The seasonal propers contain an abbreviated reading of the huge collection of writings which comprise the Bible. It is of course very much recommended to read the books which are in reading in their entirety outside the Office (if you have the time to do so)! The seasonal propers also provide readings from the Fathers of the Church to guide us in the reception of the Scriptures. This means that we will be taught how to read the Bible in the same way that the Ethiopian Eunuch was taught in the book of Acts which lead to his conversion to Jesus Christ and unification with the latter in baptism. We too will have the guidance of an apostolic witness to probe the depths of Scripture. For with such a guide we can enter these waters safely – without having to fear the possibility of drowning in heresy – and there to meet the Lord of whom Scripture speaks.
Let’s return to the practicality of The Proper of the Season for a few more moments: on page C1 you will notice the first sentence of theLiturgical Note: “Advent Sunday, being a I Class Sunday, is preferred to all Feasts whatever.” You may be wondering at this point what a Ist Class Sunday is? In order to find out I direct you to the very beginning of the AB. There you will find the section Explanation and Acknowledgments and in it you will find a short introduction to what kind of thing the AB is. It is followed by the Kalendar, which in turn is followed by The General Rubrics with the Lists and Tables. In these so-called General Rubrics you will find the rules for putting together those elements of the Office that differ according to the Seasonal and Sanctoral cycles. Don’t worry too much about putting all things together correctly all at once. You will not be able to and you will make your share of mistakes. All of that is simply part of learning to use this wonderful aid to achieve union with God.
The General Rubrics, though not the most inspiring of things to read in the Breviary, are vital to using the Breviary and regularly re-visiting them (bit by bit, don’t try to read all of the instructions ate once! ) will help you a great deal. They are called general because they apply generally speaking but not necessarily in every specific situation. The AB will very often provide specific rubrics in the propers of the Season and the Saints (Sanctoral Cycle) and the specific rule is to be favored over thegeneral rule. For now read the Prefatory Note closely and browse through the Rubrics to get a general idea of what lies ahead.
Applying what you have learned so far …
– find the Common Forms for Vespers
– find the basic structure (skeleton) of the Office of Vespers
– find the Psalms for Saturday Vespers
– find the proper place in the AB for the Season
If you have paid attention so far you will not have had too much trouble fulfilling the demands above. Vespers proper will begin with the Opening Versicles (the Prayer before the Office and the Dual Prayer are not themselves part of the Office ! ). We already know that the Season is Advent, so please turn to page C1 and look at the rubrics given for Vespers:
Make sure to read the liturgical note on page C1 entirely and attentively!
- Ants. (Antiphons) and Chap. (Chapter) from Lauds of the following Sunday;
The following Sunday is the Sunday following this Vespers not the Sunday of next week! So that the Ants and Chap. for this Vespers are to be found on page C5.
- Pss. (Psalms) of Saturday, as in the Psalter
That means that even though the Antiphons and the Chapter are taken from Lauds the Psalms remain the normal ones for Saturday evening: (144(i), 144(ii), 145(i), 145(ii), 145(iii). The first Psalm (144(i)) will begin with the first Antiphon for Lauds from page C5 where the Antiphon is read up unto the dagger before the Psalm and entire after the Psalm. This is so because even though the Sunday is of the Ist Class it is of Semidouble rite (see General Rubrics).
- Hymn, V. and R. from the Ordinary;
It is not difficult to understand this rubric. Simply turn to the sectionOrdinary for Vespers on page A40 and you will see the skeleton of the Office of Vespers all laid out for you. On page C41 there is a special red rubric under the heading In Advent which specifies that in the ferial (see General Rubrics – a day upon which no feast in particular is celebrated) Office of Vespers in Advent the Chapter reading will be the one immediately below: Gen. 49, 10, but for Sundays in Advent it will be the Chapter provided in the section of the Proper of the Season. Vespers on Saturday night already belongs to the Sunday so that the Chapter will be found in the Proper – but you already knew that of course!
After the ferial Chapter you will find the Hymn, and this is the Hymn to be used in the Advent Office of Vespers on Saturday night (to make it a little easier you can think of Saturday Vespers as the Eve of Sunday). The special rubric for the Hymn specifies that this same Hymn is to be used in the Sunday and ferial Offices, so that every time the Vespers is said according to the Season of Advent this Hymn will be used. The Verse and its Response that always follow the hymn immediately are also from the Ordinary. Another thing to note is that the Antiphon on the Magnificat is provided on page C1. It is said up to the dagger before the Magnificat and it is said entire after the Magnifcat.
The Preces are omitted.
- Collect from Lauds below.
This rubrical direction should not be hard to understand at this point. It is found on page C6.
- The Suffrage of All Saints is omitted through Advent even on Feasts.
This – of course – simply refers to that part of the Common Forms (A6-A7) where these invocations of the saints are found. During Advent they are not said. Now the conclusion of Vespers follows as in theOrdinary and Common Forms. Do not that the Antiphon of the Virgin Mary changes with the Season!
This concludes our journey through Advent Vespers. Now that you have an idea of what to do with Vespers, you will also be able to say the Office of Lauds, and you will be able to figure out how to say the “Little Hours.” The only Office that may be a bit troublesome might be Matins. But if you take the same steps as you have been taking here for the Office of Vespers you should be able to struggle your way through it. Yes, I did say and did mean “struggle.” In the beginning of getting to know the AB you will struggle and that is fine. In fact it is a blessing that this is so. The union with God is – of course – a given by grace, but it is no less an attainment of ascetic striving of discipline. This is not opposed to grace, far from it, the disciplined Christian life is itself a grace for it is Christ who gives the strength in our struggle to overcome. The strength is given us by grace, but the struggle is ours to undertake.