Continuous Bible Reading & the Anglican Breviary


The Preface to the Book of Common Prayer presumes that the Scripture Lessons from the Breviary were originally intended to be used in such a way that:

.. all the whole  Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once every year …

Book of Common Prayer (1662), Concerning the Service of the Church, p. viii.

Having read Battifol’s history of the Breviary I have no doubt that the BCP’s preface is correct. Over time less Scripture was read as other readings were added to the Divine Office. Another development was the shortening – abbreviating – the Divine Office and making it possible to carry the entire Divine Office in one volume (totum) or Breviary. The Office is generally thought to have suffered under these developments and the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer certainly makes complaint against some of these developments.

The Anglican Breviary (AB) itself however has a different theory as to its treatment of Scripture:

The Matins Lessons, whether Scriptural or not, are meant to provide points for reflective prayer. With this end in view, the Lessons from the Fathers have been freely translated. Hence such Lessons, like their titles, are not to be used as an academic exercise in the study of patristics.

The Anglican Breviary, Explanations and Acknowledgments, p. ix.

The purpose of the Scripture and other readings in the AB are not study of the Bible or the Fathers. The purpose of these “selections” of Scripture and other readings is to encourage, support and sustain “points for reflective prayer” – the knowledge the AB is after is not accumulation of facts (from Scripture or elsewhere) but meditative. It is about knowledge of God rather than knowledge about God. The composers of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) Lectionary (from 1549 until – not necessarily including – recent times) aim at gaining more facts from Scripture about God. The long BCP lections are anything but conducive of reflection and meditation.

This is not a shortcoming of the BCP, however. The BCP has a different aim and is very well adapted to attaining its own goals. The AB is terribly inadequate as an instrument to achieve knowledge about God via continuous reading of Scripture. This is not a shortcoming of the AB. The AB does not aim at imparting that kind of knowledge but rather presumes its presence. If users of the AB do not wish to be deprived of the benefits of the BCP, they will need to turn elsewhere for a continuous reading of the Bible.

The internet has several schemes or plans for reading the Bible in one, two, or three years. Most of these plans are Protestant and therefore leave out a large part of the Bible. A Catholic reading plan would work much better for us Anglicans. I myself have begun to use Carmen Rojas’ Bible reading plan for Roman Catholics. This little volume contains a one, two, and three year Bible reading plan and will guide you through the entire Bible.

In using such plans you may find it convenient to add it before the Daily Offices, or perhaps after  breakfast/dinner, or whatever is most convenient to you. In order to read Scripture continuously such a plan is warmly recommended by me. It is not impossible to use the AB without such a plan of course, but the deeper your roots in Scripture are the more spiritual gain you will find in using the AB itself. It may be the case that you simply lack the time to add 7 minutes a day (or less) to the reading of Scripture and performing the entire Divine Office. If that is your situation I would suggest that you drop the Little Hours from the AB and read your Bible instead. Unless you are a clergyman you are not bound to say the Divine Office entire. Of course if you are a religious you ought to consult your superior/abbot first.

The sidebar of this blog has a widget for Twitter and there I will post – if I can daily – the readings I am personally reading from Carmen Rojas’ 2 year cycle.

Gregory +

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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2 Responses to Continuous Bible Reading & the Anglican Breviary

  1. Ryan Ellis says:

    I hope we get more comments soon–this is starting to feel like a telephone conversation. 🙂

    Agreed that a continuous reading plan is important if you take AB Matins seriously. Even as a Catholic educated (well) in the hyper-scriptural period of the last several decades, I find myself asking, “what’s the difference between Judith and Esther again?”

    The advantage is that the AB challenges me to at least Wikipedia a book of the Bible before starting it in Matins. This is because the Office assumes I’m conversant with the book, and because almost every book ends in Matins before it ends in the Bible. So, this is a good thing.

    One other thing–I’ve thought a bit about the distribution of Sacred Scripture in the LOTH (including the two-year cycle), and the traditional breviary. The advantage of the latter is that it seems more in keeping with the liturgical year. I like reading Maccabees in October, which culminates in Christus Rex. I like reading the minor prophets on the eve of Advent. I like reading the historical books after Pentecost, when the festal period of the year ends. The LOTH seems somehow untethered by comparison.

    • Father Gregory says:

      Well the lack of comments is partly due to the chaos that has been my life since starting this blog. I do not always have enough time to devote to it.

      Scripture reading is extremely important. Reading any work of a Patristic author, or an early scholastic, or even the (great) Lombard I cannot help be dumbstruck by the myriads of Scriptural connections they make. Much misunderstanding has been forced upon us, by the liberal Protestant thought which finds Plato in the Fathers but not the Bible! At least post-Liberal theologians are re-opening the vistas of Scripture to us by looking at Scripture as a sacramental entity. I am convinced that Origen’s and Evagrius’ connecting the Bible and Eucharist is not a devaluation of the Eucharist but rather a much higher view of Scripture as that which is common to us today. By connecting the two so closely Scripture reading is elevated not the Eucharist devalued. The meditative reading of Scripture requires a broad knowledge of Scripture which is gained by continuous reading.

      That said, I am not sure the Divine Office is the place to read Scripture continuously. Continuous reading is a kind of study, and in the Divine Office, it seems to me, we ought perhaps to prayerfully digest Scripture and the commentaries on it which the Homilies and Legends provide. I include legends, because it is my conviction that the life of a Saint or even the Legend of a Feast is ultimately a kind of exegesis and practice of Scripture. My professor of Patristics (Very Rev. John Behr) liked to say that the Word became Man so that we might become word.

      The Breviary certainly distributes the reading over the Season and does so very beautifully. By that I mean that it “works liturgically” and it should not be “fixed” because it isn’t broken. The LOTH suffers from similar ailments as does the BCP, it is certainly capable of conveying Catholic truth but not as overtly and beautifully as the ancient way. The lectionary for the Mass as contained in the BCP and English/Anglican Missals is the traditional Western Lectionary and the very shape of this Lectionary is a didactic tool. The Old Believers had a very good point when they complained to Patriarch Nikon that changing the Liturgy implies changing the faith! In any reform in Liturgy extreme care should be taken to not turn “lex orandi lex credendi” around and thereby subjecting the Liturgy – which teaches us the faith by guiding our prayers – to our present day theologies which happen to be in vogue.

      It is for that reason I prefer to use Carmen Rojas or some other such plan in connection to the Divine Office, but not by adding it into Matins so to speak. The Two Year Lectionary as used by the Benedictine Abbey of Pluscarden (Schotland) seems a step in the right direction but it is not adequate for use in a more traditional setting (for one thing this Lectionary does not know Septuagesima, and other traditional Seasons).

      Gregory +

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