Preface of the Prayer Book & the Anglican Breviary

Preface to the Prayer Book

The Book of Common Prayer (1662) contains a Preface beginning with the words: “It hath been the wisdom of the Church of England, …” and ending with the words: “… and truly conscientious Sons of the Church of England.” This portion is preceded by the title Preface and indeed it is! However it was added in 1662 and refers to the changes implemented at that time to the Prayer Book. The following portion titled “Concerning the Service of the Church” was the preface to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) added in 1549. The preface of 1549 therefore describes the principles of reformation the compilers of the BCP used to reform the (Sarum and other such local variations) Breviary. Rev. John Henry Blunt* locates eight principles of reform in this Preface:

1. corruption in the manner of using the appointed Lections or Lessons taken from Holy Scripture

2. replacing Scriptural readings with uncertain stories and legends

3. the Service is performed in a language the people don’t understand and they are to that extent excluded from it

4. the Psalms are not used as they were intended in the old Breviaries, instead only a few festal Psalms are repeated over and over to the neglect of most of the Psalter

5. the complexity of the Service hinders their performance

6. the different Uses (Hereford, Sarum, York, Bangor etc.) are disorderly

7. certain Ceremonies had become positively superstitious

8. certain Ceremonies crowd out the essence of the Office performed thereby distorting their true meaning

To these the BCP is the proposed Remedy, at least according to Abp. Cranmer and the compilers of the BCP.The Rev. Blunt makes it clear that the Preface under discussion did not simply take its lead from foreign (and more radical) Reformers. Parts of the Preface are almost literally taken from Cardinal Quignonez a firm Roman Catholic who had produced a Reformed Breviary at the request of the Pope (this Breviary was later retracted and replaced with the Reformed Breviary of Trent). It is possible therefore to understand the reforms implemented in the BCP as a mostly catholic affair.

The Breviary of Trent – in spite of its reformed character – does not adequately answer the eight points listed above. The reforms that were implemented were – as far as the Sanctoral Cycle goes – quickly undone by the addition of many double rite feasts to the Kalendar of Saints once again crowding out the reading of Scripture and the regular recitation/singing of the Psalter (only selected Psalms for feasts were ever used). Another reform was considered by Rome but was not implemented until 1911 under Pope Pius X. This reform returned – among other things – to a source used by the reformers which produced the BCP: Cardinal Quignonez. The regular reading of Scripture and the regular recitation/singing of the entire Psalter were at the heart of the Reforms under Pius X. The very same concerns animated Abp. Cranmer and the other reformers 300 years before!

In spite of similar concerns and a similarity in sources used, the Breviary of Pius X and the BCP are very different. Pius X retained the weekly Psalter, the use of Antiphons (called Anthems in the BCP (see “Of Ceremonies” ), Hymns, and Responds. The BCP dropped all of that for a rather austere if purely Scriptural diet: “nothing is ordained to be read, but the very pure Word of God” says the Preface. Over time the singing of Hymns (eliminated from the BCP) was restored to the BCP giving it a bit more flavor, but on the whole the austere structure of the BCP has always been retained. The later additions of alternatives to the Canticles are a departure from catholic use and have no added value at all. In Anglo Catholic circles these alternatives are almost entirely ignored and preference is given to ancient catholic us of the Canticles. The reformed Breviary of Pius X complied with all the additions Rome had made to the deposit of the Faith, purgatory, indulgences, Immaculate Conception of the BVM, etc. In this the reformed Breviary of Pius X departs from the ancient faith as did the Reformers if in an opposite direction. The result for both departures is a narrowing of the ancient Christian faith “once delivered to the Saints.”

The Anglican Breviary

Early in the 20-ieth century the Anglo Catholic movement was underway and producing many good fruits. One of these fruits would be the Anglican Breviary:

The basis chosen for The Anglican Breviary was the 1911 Reform of the Latin Secular Breviary; but when certain problems arose, resulting from the necessity of conforming our Breviary to Prayer-Book peculiarities, the precedents of cognate Uses were followed in solving them.

The Anglican Breviary, p. vii.

Here we have Anglicans once again involved in reform. The Prayer-Book (though sufficiently Catholic) had its significant draw backs. Particularly its openness to (radical) Protestant distortion. over the years the Ornaments Rubric had been almost completely forgotten by ingrained (and Protestant inspired) disobedience and aversion to the ancient Catholic Faith, and a strait-jacket tending toward Calvinism had firmly established itself as the key to Prayer-Book and the 39 Articles of Religion. Many Anglicans had made a hard turn toward the Protestant extremes in a deliberate posturing against the Roman Church. Forgotten were the words of Divines such as Andrewes, Bramhall and even a mature Baxter (!) that in essence the English and Roman Church were identical in doctrine and practice. On a doctrinal and ceremonial level these Protestant distortions in the English Church were exposed and corrected by the twin movements of the Oxford Movement and Ritualism. These movements spilled over into 20-ieth century Anglo Catholicism and it was the latter which produced the Anglican & English Missal as well as the Anglican Breviary and the English language Monastic Office of St. Benedict. The reformation, which began over 300 years ago has here reached its completion.

The Anglican Breviary translates – for the most part – the 1911 Pian Breviary, but does so with a firm eye to the principles contained in the Preface to the Prayer Book.

1. Holy Scripture is given a more prominent place in actually being read

2. the Legends have been “cleaned up” so that they no longer contain uncertain stories

3. the Service is entirely in English

4. the ferial Psalter is regularly said entire

5. the Rubrics have been simplified (but are not easy)

6. the AB bridges a gap between Rome and Anglicans by a more uniform Office between the two (until Rome of course created its own radicalized reforms)

7. superstitious Ceremonies are excluded from the AB (they were also eliminated by Rome)

8. the AB restores a continuity with the ancient Office the BCP does not have (and neither does the Post Vatican II Roman one) but it excludes superstitious and distracting Ceremonies, Commemorations etc., and expresses more fully the true meaning of the Divine Office when compared to the modern Roman rite or the BCP rite.

For Catholic Anglicans the AB is therefore a very attractive completion of the reforms begun (but taken too far because of their increasingly radical views) by Abp. Cranmer and his fellow Reformers. The need for reform and the principles to carry out such a reform were correctly discerned by Cranmer, but in implementing the reforms Cranmer has conformed too much to his radicalizing Protestant convictions. Of course the AB is not the only way to “fix” the errors of Cranmer. A very laudable restoration is also to be found in such efforts as the English Office Book and other such efforts. Nor does the existence of the AB inaugurate the disappearance of the BCP Office all-together. The AB does indicate the shape Catholic use of the Prayer Book ought to have, and it does contain elements which need to be restored to the BCP if the latter is to be full expression of the ancient Catholic Faith rather than being a work which is capable of Catholic use.

I will mention one example: the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles strongly discourage and reject the Roman invocation Saints. Yet – as I have shown in an earlier post – the Articles do allow invocation of Saints as such. The Prayer Book contains a Kalendar of Saints to be celebrated but often no propers for such celebration. The Anglican Breviary conforms to the teaching of the Articles and to the encouragement of the Prayer Book regarding the veneration of the Saints and their invocation by providing propers. The Catholic interpretation of the Prayer Book is strongly affirmed in the AB. At the same time the AB (following Anglican insights) does not encourage certain devotions of the Breviary to be used for “gaining pardons” with regard to purgatory (as the Roman Breviary does). The AB also contains all the Collects contained in the Prayer Book so that the teaching “prayed” in the BCP is also “prayed” in the AB. In conclusion the AB – as I see it – is a Prayer Book which conforms to the principles upon which the BCP is based but excludes the possibility of (radical) Protestant distortions (but also excluding superstitious tendencies still present in the Roman Breviary).

Gregory +

* see John Henry Blunt: “Three Essays on the Leading Principles of the Reformation Illustrating its Catholic Character from its Constitutional, Doctrinal, and Ritual History,” p. 44-47.


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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4 Responses to Preface of the Prayer Book & the Anglican Breviary

  1. Ryan Ellis says:

    Excellent way of looking at it.

    However, a couple of questions about the AB solution and how it stands in contrast to the Divinu Afflatu rubrics of the Roman Breviary:

    1. How is Sacred Scripture given a more prominent place? The Scriptural lessons are identical to DA.
    2. How is the ferial psalter said more? In both the AB and DA, the ferial psalter is used on all days except 1C Doubles, 2C Doubles, and some exempted Greater Doubles.
    3. Which “superstitious ceremonies” are omitted from the AB but present in DA?

    I assume the superstitious commemorations refer to the Little Office of the BVM, the commemorations of other various saints, etc. These were gone in DA. But even so, how were they “superstitious?” These are commemorations like any other.

    I hope that one day the AB serves as a bridge between the often daunting task for clerics of saying the 1961 RB in Latin, and the horror of settling for the baby Office of the LOTH. This coming from a layman who worked his way up from LOTH in college, to the Ex Form office in his 20s, to now the AB in his 30s (albeit with my own personal, hybrid calendar). The sparrow has found a nest.

    • Father Gregory says:

      Some of your questions may be answered by expressing more clearly which Roman Breviaries I had in mind (but did not express clearly).

      1. The Roman Breviary I have in mind here was the pre-Pius X edition. The AB follows the rule that Sundays (and therefore its readings) are to be preferred over all but d2 Feasts (see AB p. xxviii ). THe AB also uses Matins Responds to continue the Scriptural narrative of Lessons (see AB p. viii). But I agree that the DA rubrics are mostly identical with the rubrics of the AB.

      2. Again I had in mind the pre-Pius X Breviary. Though even in DA the ferial Psalter is not said as often as in the AB provided one uses the Anglican option of the Simple Kalendar it seems (at least in comparison the Dutch translation I have of the Roan Breviary of 1932).

      3. I am not so much thinking of ceremonies of superstition in the Pius X Breviary, but of the prayers dispersed throughout that Breviary with pardons attached to them. Saying these prayers will “gain” the one doing so 100 day indulgence per prayer. To me that – even though I do believe in purgation after death – is sheer superstition.

      The commemorations – found in Bute’s edition of the pre-Pius X Breviary – is indeed what I had in mind. I would not include them under superstitious but “vain” repetitions.

      It seems what I was thinking and what you have read are not the same. Partly that is due to my lack of clarity. I shall re-visit the post and see if I can clean it up to be ore clear.

      The AB is not suitable for Roman clerics insofar as it shies away from certain added dogmas of the Roman Church. If you look at the readings given for the Conception of the BVM you will find the Pius IX Collect but not the readings from his Bull as is customary for the Roman Breviary. The AB is really aimed at Anglican Catholics rather than Roman Catholics. The Universal Kalendar and other more Roman possibilities in the AB are there not for Roman Catholics but for “Roman minded” or Anglo Papalist” Anglicans. Certainly this bridges a gap – at least in the life of prayer – between (traditional) Roman Catholics and (traditional) Catholic Anglicans but I am not sure Rome can allow the AB for use by its own clergy or even laity. Our prayers are parallel but not identical – even if they are directed to same Lord Jesus Christ.

      I am not saying that Roman Catholics could or should not use the AB but I think that some adaptations would need to be made. For those under the Roman obedience the propers which Anglicans have dropped (such as the Immaculate Conception) should be added so they are praying in full conformity with the Church of their obedience. Though fully Catholic, the AB cannot be said to be Roman Catholic. And one’s faith tends to be shaped by what and how one prays. I should know because until earlier this year I was an Orthodox (Eastern) priest who by use of the AB (not exclusively of course) has come to be received into the Anglican Catholic Church!

      Gregory +

      • Ryan Ellis says:

        It clears things up a lot that I know you were talking about the pre-DA Roman Breviary. To your other points:

        1. The indulgences are based on the old Roman Empire pardoning system. People could be relieved of debts or prison time by the performance of public acts for the common good. The days are not meant to be taken literally, especially since eternity is outside of time. Rather, it’s just a traditional way of expressing things. The point is that the Church has the binding and loosing power, and something must be done about the temporal after-effects of sin. Since the 1960s, indulgences have simply been either “partial” or “plenary.” Think of the days in the same way you might think of an outmoded currency or weight measurement that retains a certain cache in language and custom.

        2. Why are some commemorations “vain,” but the common commemoration is acceptable? What’s the difference? A commemoration is a commemoration. Also, the Anglican Breviary retains the litany of saints on certain days. Why isn’t this “vain” or “repetitious?” The vanity of a prayer is not dependent on its content, but on the disposition of the pray-er. Asking St. Peter or St. Paul to intercede for us to God is a good use of time, in my opinion.

        3. Clearly the AB as is can’t be used for Roman Rite clerics without insurmountable problems. The Marian issues you mention are the tip of the iceberg. However, the AB should be able to be used by Anglican Ordinariate Catholics, and permitted to Latin Rite clerics by extension. Traditional Catholicism is beginning to understand that diverse orthodox local traditions (like pre-Trent) is a good answer to the world’s demand for made-to-order religion. Pope Benedict is trying to move the New Liturgical Movement in this direction. If he succeeds, we will have a first millennium Western Church, full of personal parishes, local uses, etc., bound in orthodoxy and in communion with the successor of Peter.

      • Father Gregory says:

        1. I am aware that Trent and subsequent Roman Catholic thought has significantly narrowed the way that Purgatory, pardons, and other controversial medieval issues are officially conversed about. I do not find the teaching – as you describe it, and as the current Pope himself would seem to understand it in his published writings – a reason for dis-unity. It seems quite acceptable as a theological opinion but as a dogma I cannot accept it. The same is true for other things, such as the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, the elimination of the Substances of bread and wine upon consecration, etc. It may be a remnant of my Orthodox training but pardons and such are entirely foreign to me and to the early Church. It may very well be that it is a legitimate development, but again I cannot see it as a dogma.

        2. They would be “vain” not in the sense of being “wrong,” but as unnecessarily prolonging the Office and by multitude obscuring the purpose of the Divine Office: Psalmody & Prayer (where I understand these two as St. Evagrius – among others – did). The Common Commemoration seems an adequate solution to me (and it is included in the DA version, at least in my Dutch set).

        3. You are absolutely right! Though I do not commemorate The Holy Father in the Mass – as some Anglicans do – I certainly do pray for him. In fact his elevation to the Papacy was an answer to – at least – my prayers. There are some hurdles in the path to complete re-union of the Church which prevent me and others from entering into communion with the Successor of St. Peter, but the at least a path is becoming visible. To be clear, the current offer of Coetibus Anglicanorum is by no means a genuine path to re-union but it is certainly an interesting opening bid so to speak.

        Gregory +

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