Christmas Day in the Anglican Breviary

In several discussions concerning the Anglican Breviary I have heard it said that it basically a faithful – if not literal – translation of the Roman Breviary as reformed under St. Pius X. In fact that is how I was originally introduced to the Anglican Breviary. Over the years I have begun to realize that there are differences between the Anglican and the Roman Breviary. Most obviously, of course, the collects. The Anglican Breviary provides the collects from the Book of Common Prayer. The reason for this is simple. The Anglican Breviary is an attempt to repackage the offices of the Book of Common Prayer so that the essence of the Prayer Book is retained in a more traditional (and explicitly catholic) form. The Anglican Breviary does for the office what the Anglican Missals do for the “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Eucharist” perhaps best known as “the Sacrifice of the Mass.”


Protestant enthusiasts of the Book of Common Prayer will strongly object to the Anglican Missal – romanizing is the word – but the same will also object with great passion against the Anglican Breviary. What rubs Protestants the wrong way is that the Anglican Breviary adds many collects, hymns, antiphons, legends, homilies, devotions to St. Mary and other Saints etc. The way the Anglican Breviary repackages the Book of Common Prayer is indeed in conflict with Cranmer’s original intention. The Book of Common Prayer, for example, does not function in the same way that the Divine Office does. Matins and Evensong in the Prayer Book is not the same thing as Matins and Evensong in the Anglican Breviary. Not at all in fact.

The offices in the Prayer Book are their own thing and what they are has simply never existed in the Church before. The Prayer Book Offices are there to expose the one who reads them and those that hear them to the (unadorned ! ) reading of Scripture. This is so because Thomas Cranmer has a very high opinion of the power of Scripture and has a peculiar view of how Scripture works. He firmly believes that Scripture contains all things necessary unto salvation and that any serious reader/hearer of Scripture will learn these things from Scripture alone. This is why in the Prayer Book Offices no other context is provided for Scripture. This is also the point Cranmer tried to make in his collect for the Second Sunday of Advent.

The offices of Matins and Evensong in the Anglican Breviary do not share Cranmer’s naivete. Matins is, as it were, and “office of readings.” Selected portions of Scripture are read througout the year and select commentary is provided by festal and seasonal antiphons, hymns, responses etc. The point is not to cover as much Scripture as possible, but rather to teach Christian Faith and practice by means of Scripture. The Anglican Breviary has added back in all these propers so that Scripture might speak. Cranmer presumes that the propers prevent Scripture from speaking, but in reality, the propers help Scripture speak.

Christmas Propers

One of the occasions where the propers of the Prayer Book differ from he propers of the Roman Breviary is Christmas. The Prayer Book collect for Christmas is as follows:

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

As is usual for Cranmer’s collects this one too is mostly woven together from the Scripture readings to be read at Mass. It therefore contains themes which are perfectly in line with Christmas. Again, for Cranmer, this is how Scripture works. The mere reading / hearing of it leads to this essential Christian Faith. For Cranmer it seems unthinkable that the correct reading of Scripture should not arise from reading Scripture alone. Scripture reading by itself necessarily leads to the Christian Faith as Cranmer saw it. This is, of course, a very naive take on Scripture. Critiquing it will be reserved for another post.

  • God has given His Son to share our nature
  • the Son took flesh of a pure Virgin (no human intercourse)
  • by regeneration we become like Jesus: children of God
  • Jesus is only-begotten, we are adopted
  • we need renewal by the Spirit on a daily basis

On the face of it there is little, if anything, to disagree with in this collect. It is. however, quite different from the ancient collect. The collect our fathers had used to celebrate Christmas has a different emphasis. Whereas Cranmer’s collect is rather “preachy” the old collect is short and to the point:

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that the new birth in the flesh of thy only-begotten Son may deliver us; who are held fast in the old bondage under the yoke of sin. Through the same … Amen.

Much shorter, and much more appropriate to the feast. Cranmer’s does not reference Christmas directly. The old collect does. Specifically referenced is the “birth in the flesh of the only-begotten Son (of God)” and that by it we “may be delivered from the old bondage under the yoke of sin.” Whereas Cranmer’s collect reviews some doctrinal truths woven together from the major propers, the old collect seeks to make us partakers of the mystery of Christmas as a salvific event. Christmas is not simply a doctrinal opportunity, it is an opportunity to be drawn closer to God. The rationalism which characterizes much of the Cranmerian reforms is unmistakable. This time, in this Church, with these people here present, and by this liturgy, we are made present to God. Made partakers of Him as He came to partake in our nature. Catholic liturgy is not rationalist, it does not aim to be easily understood. It aims to make the worshiper present to God, so that God may offer himself for participation in. Our active participation is precisely this: to participate via the liturgy in God’s triune life. This does not depend on liturgy being easily understood, nor does it depend on how much ritual I have performed, it rather what the ritual performance synmbolizes that counts. For it symbolizes the divine life of the Trinity into whose communion we are called via “contemplatively seeing” – which requires faith.

Gregory Wassen +



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, Psalmody, Scripture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Christmas Day in the Anglican Breviary

  1. Dale Crakes says:

    Where can I find your part II on Advent Collects Fr. Thanks and blessed and merry Christmastide.

    • Father Gregory says:

      Hi Dale,

      I am afraid that post remains unfinished. I will post once I am done with it (even if out of season). Sorry about that. Sometimes life kinda robs me of my writing time.

      Fr. G+

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