Why pray the Breviary?

The very learned liturgical teacher Fr. Pius Parsch opens his book The Breviary Explained (1952, B. Herder Book Co. ) with a short chapter with precisely the same title above this post: “Why pray the Breviary?”

Fr. Parsch observes that many priests do not turn to the Breviary in order to pray. He can think of several reasons why they don’t. The name Breviary is a misnomer. There is nothing brief about the Breviary! It takes well over an hour to pray the major Offices (Matins-Lauds, and Vespers) if one prays them slowly or sings them. Another reason is that the Breviary is misunderstood. Many see it as a canonical obligation, a chore, to get “out of the way.” To that could be added the costs of the Breviary. To purchase a Breviary is a financial bloodletting. The Baronius Press edition of the Roman Breviary will cost you a whopping $359, 95, the 1962 Monastic Diurnal is $72 and merely contains the Day Offices (Lauds to Compline) and there is no comparable Matins book for this edition. There is of course the Monastic Breviary Matins for $35 sold by Lancelot Andrewes Press with its matching Diurnal for $55 (so that for the full Divine Office you would pay $90). The Anglican Breviary – the subject if this blog – costs $90 (including shipping within the US). It must be said – in favour of lancelot Andrewes and the Anglican Breviary) that $90 for the complete Divine Office is not bad (comparatively speaking). But $90 is still a significant investment. Those of us who have overcome the costs hurdle still face a steep learning curve. The full Divine Office (as opposed to the wreckovated LOTH and BCP) is not easy to learn. Upon arrival in the mail one could simply open up an LOTH and BCP and start using it with relative ease. The rubrics are minimal and the liturgical changes are minimal  (but so are the spiritual benefits). Ergonomics does not translate into spiritual depth here. Be that as it may to learn the traditional Office of the Church takes effort and dedication (as does the Christian life in general). The investment into the Divine Office is significant financially but no less so in time and effort spent doing it and learning it. This may also deter clergy from picking up the 2000 years of continuous prayer as uniquely present in the traditional Divine Office.

If all of the above is true of the clergy, the religious professionals so to speak, it is perhaps even more true of the laity. One might indeed be tempted to think so. One would, however, be wrong to do so. In my personal experience there is more interest among the laity than there is among the clergy (from Deacons all the way to Bishops) to restore the use of the traditional Divine Office. In fact it has been objected – to me by clergy and less so by few laity – that the Breviary could not be prayed in public. In the Roman Church liturgical prayer other than the Mass is to the best of my knowledge rare (outside of monastic communities). In the Anglican Catholic Church things are not much better. Liturgical prayer other than the Mass is sometimes offered, rarely performed daily, and even where it is performed it is usually in the form of simple said Evening and Morning Prayer from the BCP rather than the traditional Divine Office.

Prayer is often thought of as “saying grace” before meals, or saying an “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary” or perhaps the Rosary or other such para-liturgical devotions. This is not to say that these devotions are not prayer. They certainly are! What they are not though is liturgical prayer – the prayer of the Church. It is a good thing to practice devotions such as the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or perhaps the “Jesus Prayer.” Those devotions are very beneficial for one’s spiritual life and growth. Liturgical prayer, however, is the Divine Office and the Mass. In the former we have access to the “prayer” that is offered up to God in unison with the Sacrifice of the Mass in the company of the Saints of the present time, of ages past and those that are still to come and enter this truly common prayer.

In the next installment I will try to unpack in what sense I am using the word Church when referring to the “prayer of the Church.” And what the benefits are of the Breviary as distinct from private prayer, meditation or even the prayerful reading of Scripture. For Catholic Anglicans the Anglican Breviary (this also holds true for the Lancelot Andrewes Press Monastic Office) is nothing less but the restoration to the Divine Office what the Anglican Missal has restored to the Mass. Tradition, spiritual depth, a meditative and doctrinal key to the understanding of Scripture, spiritual formation and direction, the common prayer prayed in continuity with Saints from all ages, the artisitic beauty of BCP language, the Coverdale Psalter, King James Bible, and much more.

Gregory +


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
This entry was posted in Anglican Breviary, Book of Common Prayer, Roman Breviary. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why pray the Breviary?

  1. Jim Hicks says:

    It is good to see you writing about the AB again. Hope all is well.

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