The Anglican Breviary as a Book

The Anglican Breviary’s “Prefatory Note” explains that it is critical that to begin to use the Breviary you must understand the Breviary as a book first. The Roman Breviary of 1911 – after which the Anglican Breviary is modeled – consists of 4 volumes. One volume for each season of the year (Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn). Each volume contains the entire Psalter distributed over one week and the course of the weeks are distributed over the Lunar (Jewish) and Solar (Roman) Calendars: the Church Year and the Kalendar of Saints and Feasts (Temporal and Sanctoral cycles)respectively. The Anglican Breviary, unlike its Roman counterpart, is contained in only one volume. The Temporal and the Sanctoral are contained in its entirety in this one book. This makes the Anglican Breviary different and in some ways easier to use. There are also some disadvantages to this one volume breviary the most important of which is perhaps the size of the book.  It is not easily pocketed and taken to work, on a journey, and does not usually fit in the hymnal racks behind our pews in our churches. But it is what it is. The Anglican Breviary consists of, roughly, 4 divisions or parts (not related to the 4 seasons of the year). These are:

  1. Common of the Season
  2. Proper of the Season
  3. Proper of the Saints
  4. Common of the Saints

There are also some introductory and some appended materials of which more later. Upon opening the Anglican Breviary you will notice that (once you get past the introductory material easily recognized by the Roman numerals) there are two systems of pagination. There are numbers on the bottoms of the pages and at the top of the pages. The numbers at the top of the ages are accompanied by a letter A, B, C and so on. Thus we get p. A1, A2, and when the new letter begins B1, B2, and so on for all the letters used. The letter tells you which section you are in, the Common Forms, the Psalter, the Common of the Saints etc. I have just now mentioned to sections not mentioned before. Time for a closer look.

The Common of the Season can be said to be preceded by the Common Forms, the Ordinary, and the Psalter. Or, perhaps oversimplifying a bit, you can consider the Common of the Season as subdivided into three sections:

  1. The Common Forms: – contains prayers and formulas often used in different Hours.
  2. The Ordinary: – contains the skeleton structure of all the Hours.
  3. The Psalter: – the entire Coverdale Psalter distributed over the days of one week.

The Hours of the Anglican Breviary are “sevenfold” which means that the day and the night are divided into 7 moments of prayer of varying lengths. The word “Hour” does not mean that each prayer moment lasts an entire Hour, rather the word indicates a particular time that a particular prayer service (Vespers, Lauds, or whatever) is to be performed. To use the Anglican Breviary you need to be well at home in these sections first. If you are not yet at home with the Common of the Season in its three constituent parts, you do not have the foundation upon which the other divisions of the Anglican Breviary need to be built.

All 4 divisions of the Anglican Breviary interact with one another in particular and often unique ways which provide a mass of devotional content and draws those praying it ever deeper into union with Jesus Christ. The wealth of the Anglican Breviary guarantees that no single individual will be able to comprehend it all – and very often – few individuals are capable of praying all the Hours contained therein. This is NOT a disadvantage of the Anglican Breviary but rather one of its many strengths lacking in the extreme austerity of the Book of Common Prayer’s Morning and Evening Prayer. It (the Angican Breviary) removes the Divine Office out of the hands of the (nominalist) individual and firmly requires that an entire people use it to make sure the entire Office is actually performed. The Prayer Book services can easily be prayed by individuals as they desire, but the Divine Service (or Office) as contained in the Anglican Breviary does not fit in most people’s lives today. There is too much to be done for most individuals. A whole people of different circumstances of life are a necessity to ensure that the Office is performed entire. This should shatter at once the arrogant, “rugged individualism” we encounter so often in today’s culture. The almighty ego – I – is put in its proper place among others. It begins to realize the need to be a part of God’s people. Just for starters …

To be sure: the Anglican Breviary is complex. Full stop. Yet Our Lord said “Do this in remembrance of me.” and the editors of the Anglican Breviary want you to understand that this is not merely in relation to the Sacrifice of the Mass. The obedience of daily prayer such as it was gradually developed in the Church (in a way very similar to the development of the Mass and the Canon Scripture itself ! ) originates as an act of obedience. The Holy Spirit, St. Paul assures us, guides our prayer insofar as we do not know how to pray (Romans 8, 26) and the result of that guidance is (in the Western Church anyway) the sevenfold prayer as found in the Anglican Breviary. It is important to realize that just as the Church Year is modeled on the Life of Christ as portrayed in the Scriptures, so the sevenfold daily prayer is modeled on “seven moments in the Lord’s Passion” and thus brings us into intimate contact with the reality upon which our salvation is based:

At Matins bound, at Prime reviled, condemned to death at Terce; nailed to the Cross at Sext; at None his blessed side they pierce; they take him down at Vesper-tide, in grave at Compline lay; who henceforth bids His Church observe these seven hours alway.

The editors of the Anglican Breviary, in the Prefatory Note, continue to explain how the Mass and Office are covered under one act of obedience to the Lord’s command. The sacrifice of the Mass most obviously obeys the “do this in remembrance of me” but, as said editors explain, the part of the Mass which immediately precedes the Canon – the Proanaphora – also obeys that command. The Proanaophora, with its readings from Scripture and the homily, directly prepares for the performance of the Sacrifice of the Mass offered in the Canon (which contains the “do this” ). But Matins, Lauds, and Vespers are also directly preparatory for that same sacrifice. The other Hours, say the editors, were added later. The precise evolution of the sevenfold structure of daily prayer is not as clear as the editors seem to think, but the orientation of Matins, Lauds, and Vespers toward the Mass is unquestionable (the propers of Mass and these Hours are easily seen to carry the same theme). But again more of that later. The Major Hours or Great Hours (Matins, Lauds, Vespers) are the oldest in our sevenfold structure, the suggestion by Fr. Pius Parsch that these three Hours are to be our focus for performance seems quite reasonable. A good start is made if daily Lauds and Vespers were prayed and eventually Matins were to be added to the daily routine. This is not intended to neglect or devalue the Minor Hours, but rather to integrate our lives into the sevenfold cycle of prayer so far as is possible for us today.

The purpose of this post was to introduce the Anglican Breviary as a book, and to inspire you to stay with it. The struggle with the Breviary is not unlike wrestling an angel, you may feel crippled but in fact your blessing will far exceed the pains of the struggle!

My next post in this series will be about the Common Forms, and I hope to complete a series of posts which – if read carefully – will help you understand the Anglican Breviary so that you will be able to compose the Offices correctly without relying on a detailed Ordo.

Gregory +


About Father Gregory

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