The Idea of the Breviary (i)


The word, Breviary, comes from an old Latin word, Breviarium, an abridgment, a compendium. The name was given to the Divine Office, because it is an abridgment or abstract made from holy scripture, the writings of the Fathers, the lives of the Saints. The word had various meanings assigned to it by early Christian writers, but the title, Breviary, as it is employed to-day—that is, a book containing the entire canonical office—appears to date from the eleventh century. Probably it was first used in this sense to denote the abridgment made by Pope Saint Gregory VII. (1013-1085), about the year 1080.

Rev. E. J. Quigley ~ The Divine Office

Notice the part where it is said that the Breviary is an abbreviation of Scripture, the Fathers, and the lives of the Saints. Implied in that statement is that the Breviary is not a substitute for the reading of Scripture, the Fathers and the Lives of the Saints. If anything the Breviary allows us to see a glimpse of the depths of Scripture, the Fathers and the Lives of the Saints. The Breviary contains – if you will – the essentials but not the fullness.

Besides loyal recitation of the Breviary Office a regiment of regular deeper reading into the sources of the Breviary is necessary. Of course the recitation of the Breviary itself consumes quite some time and a regiment of more reading may seem to merely add to an impossible burden. But perhaps there is another way of looking at it.

Those not bound to the recitation of the entire Office during the day, may consider focusing on saying Matins, Lauds, and Vespers and add a regular regiment of deeper reading around that. There are several Bible reading plans available on the internet from a wide variety of sources and backgrounds and they could become a pattern of reading Scripture. I am not aware of such resources for the Lives of the Saints or the Church Fathers however. Perhaps the Lives of the Saints by Butler …

Gregory Wassen +

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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