The Breviary! How many persons have the words constantly in their mouths without attaching a tangible idea to the phrase! How many have a misty notion that it contains a monstrous jumble of incredible legends, invocations of saints, medieval legends, fictions, and deceits of all sorts! How many, even a degree further in ignorance, mix it up with the mass, and expend a vocabulary of Protestant indignation on both in one! How few realize to themselves that it is, to the rest of the Western Church, their Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, their Collects, their daily and Sunday Lessons, and Psalter! Nay, that it is the source from which our own Prayers and Collects have been transcribed. An English Breviary, indeed, would be a very convenient book, and we recommend it to some of our publishers.
~ Rev. John Mason Neale, The Breviary Roman and Gallican, p. 1.
The saintly John Mason Neale’s wish did find fulfillment. The Roman Breviary (pre-Pius X) was translated into English by the Marquis de Bute, and the Pius X Breviary was translated and conformed to the Prayer Book for Anglican use and is our very own Anglican Breviary. Also the Benedictine Monastic Office has appeared in an English translation and it too is adapted to conform to the Prayer Book aiming at use by Anglicans.
In a previous post I wrote – taking my lead from J.H. Blunt and the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer – about “corruptions” in the Roman Breviary which were corrected in the Anglican Breviary. It was the Rev. Blunt himself who hinted that the BCP complaint about the complexity of the Rubrics seemed somewhat “fabricated” and it was questionable how much the rubrical difficulties prevented or interfered with an Office being prayed. I agree with him. Certainly those who are adapt to the Rubrics will develop a “feeling” for the Office and how it is to be built up for the day, and it does not significantly hinder prayer at all. It does force some preparation, but preparation ought to serve to remind us we are about to embark on a holy spiritual journey – one in which we will come face to face with God. For that is what prayer is conversation with God. The Breviary is a means by which we cultivate ourselves so that we may achieve such conversation.
There may be corruptions of several sorts to the Breviary, but these are easily fixed and it is not clear to me that all the charges brought against the Breviary by the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer can stand the test of critical review. As a consequence some of the “fixes” introduced by the BCP were not fixes to real problems but are innovations to conform the Office (and of course the Mass) to the New Learning of Protestantism. The first two Prayer Books were introduced whilst the official teaching of the Church of England was still that contained in The King’s Book rather than the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (which were introduced in 1562 without The King’s Book being abolished). The Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552, in spite of the undoubtedly Zwinglian convictions of Abp. Cranmer, were accepted and used in and by the Church of England in conformity to that standard of doctrine which it officially held. The heretical opinions of Abp. Cranmer are not what the Church of England desired to be expressed in these liturgies. The Prayer Books are sufficiently Catholic to be capable of conveying and celebrating a Catholic faith.
But that is not the entire story about these Prayer Books. The BCP Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are indeed simple, and they also pivot around the Psalter and the Bible. But the shedding of the Antiphons (Anthems), Versicles, Responds, Legends, Patristic Homilies did not just simplify the Office. It also undid the decidedly Catholic nature of the Offices. It cannot be denied that the Psalter and the Scripture form the core of the ancient Morning and Evening Prayers of the early Church. In so far as Abp. Cranmer reshaped the Offices to restore to the Psalter and Scripture a more prominent role he was entirely on Catholic grounds. But removing the “dressing” of the Offices also removed their Catholic specificity. of course the Offices are still capable of Catholic use and interpretation but it no longer necessitates such Catholic use and interpretation. One may use the biblical nature of the Prayer Book Offices in an almost entirely Calvinist framework. Though the Thirty-Nine Articles – if taken into account – will dull the sharp edges of Calvinism by moderating some of its extreme tenets. In fact this is what Evangelicals are doing today! An argument could be made that this is an abuse of the Prayer Book, but the fact of this possibility is before us today.
On the other hand there are no Evangelicals using the Anglican or English Missal today. The Missals, though they have incorporated tenets from the Prayer Book Mass, cannot be turned into a Protestant or Evangelical vehicle. They are of their very nature Catholic. The same is true for the Anglican Breviary. It simply will not countenance Protestant Evangelical interpretation and use. It is Catholic by its very nature! The AB does, of course, contain all the biblical features of the Prayer Book, but it contextualizes these features in such a way that they cannot be interpreted or used in any other way but a Catholic way. Yet our official usage in Churches for Common Prayer is exclusively the Prayer Book. This makes me wonder whether or not there is room in the different Jurisdictions of Catholic Anglicanism for an optional use of the Anglican Breviary such as already exists for the Anglican and English (American) Missals?