~ Features of the Anglican Breviary (i) ~


In a previous post I tried to explain, briefly, what the Anglican Breviary is. The conclusion was pretty much that it is to Morning & Evening Prayer what the Anglican Missal is to Holy Communion. It is not, then, the abolishing of the Book of Common Prayer, but its catholic use.

Catholic or Protestant?

As such the Anglican Breviary has some peculiar features that the user ought to be aware off. The most important feature is that the Anglican Breviary, as its editors presume, is an Office in the Western Rite which received much of its shape from Cardinal Quignonez’s reformed Breviary. The latter is also behind much of the shape of the reformed Breviary of St. Pius X. Thus it seemed natural to the editors of the Anglican Breviary to look at the reformed Breviary of Pius X to provide a specifically catholic use of the Prayer Book. The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the Pian Breviary of 1911 are, to their minds, of the same stock. Though this may very well be disputed today, especially since the BCP reform was largely motivated by doctrinal intentions and the reformed Breviary of St. Pius X was not. It seems disingenuous (at the very least) to deny that the BCP was composed to contain and convey Protestant doctrine to its users. Yet due to the fact that the BCP has retained important elements from the previous tradition it need not be interpreted nor used in a Protestant way.

It would seem that Abp. Thomas Cranmer, besides having a talent to produce beautiful English liturgical texts, also had an ingrained attachment to tradition. He therefore removed and changed only those elements of the tradition he believed to be later, Medieval distortions and kept what seemed to him to be incorrupt. Cranmer believed that reformed Protestant doctrine was in large part not so much a “New Learning” as the re-discovery of an old truth. Other, more radical, Protestants may have wished to do away with tradition all together but for Cranmer this was far too radical. He believed it better to avoid Medieval additions and return to “the ancient fathers” (which is why he defers to them in his preface to the Prayer Book). The remaining traditional elements are patient of Catholic interpretation and use. This is what the English Office Book and the Anglican Breviary (among others) are doing. It is undeniable that Cranmer was factually mistaken but his traditionalism could very well make up for it. If we let it. The Prayer Book is patient of Calvinist use as much as it is of Catholic use and it depends on the context in which it is used which way it goes. The Anglican Breviary (and Missal) are a Catholic use of Cranmer’s Prayer Book. This may be in conflict with Cranmer’s mind but it could be argued that it is consistent with his intentions.

The first feature, then, is that the Anglican Breviary resolves the Prayer Book’s ambiguity in a Catholic direction (and in this sense completes rather than abolishes it).

Grown from the Altar Liturgy

The editors of the Anglican Breviary further presume that the Divine Office ultimately derives from the Liturgy of the Altar and thus is an obedient response to “Do this” uttered by Our Lord at the Last Supper:

“The Divine Office grew out of the altar liturgy, and the Breviary constantly quotes verbatim from the Missal. Such quotations in the Anglican Breviary are from the Anglican Missal, which was conceived and executed on the same principles as was this Breviary.”

~ The Anglican Breviary, p. vii.

This means that, in a sense, the Altar Liturgy comprises both the Mass and the Office. They are one whole. The Office of the day must be in unison with Mass of the Day. This is where many Anglican Catholics err in their liturgical practice. Very often the daily Mass and the Office are not in unison because the Missal is used for the Mass but the unadorned BCP for the Office immediately preceding. The only connection between the Mass and the Office is often their proximity in time. This is a fundamental violation of the oneness of the Altar Liturgy and ought to be discontinued. The BCP could be adorned with, at least, the collect as given in the Missal. So that when on a weekday the Office is said using the same collect that is used in the daily Mass. But, ideally, the use of the Anglican Breviary would accompany the use of the Anglican Missal.

Antiphons & Responsories

The Antiphons and Responsories found in the Anglican Breviary do not always match their Latin originals. Sometimes they are “paraphrases” rather than exact translations. This is a deliberate move by the editors to facilitate the understanding of them. Many of these Antiphons and Responsories interpret Scripture in a way much in disrepute since the advance of “historical-critical research” of the Bible. The editors refer to “mystical interpretation” which is often better known today as “allegorical interpretation.” This way of reading Scripture defies the laws of historical science. This does not mean it is a false method of interpretation, it simply means that the ancient Church did not understand Scripture to be a mere science text-book. Scripture has God for its author (yes, by human means) and as such contains more meaning than is evident to a historical-critical reading. The latter reading stays at the surface level, so to speak, and the mystical, or, allegorical reading goes deeper into the text. Not beyond ( ! ) the text. It is this, allegorical, way of reading that allows St. Paul to interpret Sarah and Hagar the way he does in Galatians 4, 21-31. The paraphrase is intended to help the modern user of the Breviary to get to the “mystical meaning” and not to misinterpret or misunderstand it.

A good example occurs in the Office of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Psalm 19 vs. 5 reads:

“In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun * which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.”

~ Coverdale edition.

But in the Latin Breviary the same Psalm and verse read:

“He hath set His tabernacle in the sun: * which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. He rejoiceth as a strong man to run a  race: * his going froth is from the end of the heaven.”

~ Roman Breviary, Bute edition (Psalm numerbing follows LXX so: 18 instead of 19).

A slight difference in the Masoretic and the Vulgate/LXX text of the Psalm results in the orginal antiphon for the feast to become unintelligible. To resolve this two roads were open to the editors of the Anglican Breviary. 1. to adapt the Coverdale text to conform to the Latin Breviary, 2. to follow the Coverdale text and adapt the Antiphon. They opted for the latter.

The original Latin Breviary has the following as an Antiphon for this Palm in the Office of the Immaculate Conception:

“The Lord hath set his tabernacle in the sun.”

but the Anglican Breviary has:

“In the world hath God set a tabernacle for the Sun of Righteousness, * which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber.”

The difference between the two Antiphons is obvious. The paraphrase provided in the Anglican Breviary became necessary because the Masoretic text differs from the Latin text behind Bute’s edition of the Roman Breviary.

St. John Mason Neale explains in his commentary on Psalm 19 that:

In the Sun He hath set His Tabernacle: that is, that of all natural objects, the Sun is the best and clearest representative of the Creator. So the wise man in Ecclesiasticus: ‘The sun when it appeareth declareth at his rising a marvelous instrument, the works of the Most High:’ and in which so many nations of the world have seen the God whom they considered worthy of adoration. But for us, knowing that it shall pass away, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, it is but God’s tabernacle: the true Sun is that which ‘shall no more go down, when the Lord shall be our everlasting Light, and the days of our mourning shall be ended.’ Then in the mystical sense, the sun and the tabernacle are the Lord’s abiding in the womb of Mary: and they fail not to quote from Ecclesiasticus that text, “As the sun when it ariseth in the high Heaven, so is the beauty of a good wife in ordering her house.’ ‘The tabernacle,’ says Cosmas, ‘is the flesh of the Lord, which was united forever to His Divinity.”

~ Commentary on the Psalms, vol. I, p. 284.

The allegory – or mystical interpretation – given above only works if the Antiphon and Psalm would read “In the Sun hath he set his tabernacle.” To provide this as an Antiphon to the Coverdale Psalter falls flat:

Ant. In the Sun hath he set his tabernacle.

Psalm 19

In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun * which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.

The Antiphon becomes a hindrance to understanding the mystical interpretation of this Psalm and therefore it is rendered:

Ant. In the world hath God set a tabernacle for the Sun of Righteousness, * which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber..

Psalm 19

In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun * which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.

The conflict between the Antiphon and the Psalm is now resolved and it renders the following “mystical interpretation”: the Sun of Righteousness is Jesus Christ and the Tabernacle God hath set in the world is His Blessed Mother. This meaning, as far as the Office for the Immaculate Conception is concerned, is quite appropriate. Such paraphrases are found in other places as well, and for very similar reasons.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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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 ~ Features of the Anglican Breviary (i) ~

  1. tbako says:

    “The Office of the day must be in unison with Mass of the Day.”

    Exactly — and that is why I wish the Ordinariates had opted (or had been permitted; I doubt they had much of a choice) to follow the 1960 Roman Kalendar as a baseline instead of an adaptation of the 1970.

    As an Ordinariate member, my two realistic options for retaining the integrity of the Mass and the Office are the Prayer Book Office with the new Ordinariate lectionary, or else sticking to the modern reformed Liturgy of the Hours. The Anglican Breviary or 1960 Roman Breviary, both of which I own and love, are sadly excluded from being the primary rule of prayer on account of this.

  2. Father Gregory says:

    Thank you for your comment!

    I had hoped that the Ordinariate would adopt the Missale Anglicanum (Knott Missal) and perhaps the English Office Book or the Anglican Breviary / Monastic Office (Canon Douglas edition). When it opted for the Novus Ordo with some traditional EF and some BCP features I was quite disappointed at the lost opportunity there.

    Fr. Gregory Wassen

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