The Project

       This is a study of various public prayer forms known as breviaria parva ("short" or "little" breviaries), as they came to be used in this century, and in particular, here in the United States. While modeled on the official corporate and public prayer book of the Roman Catholic Church, known currently as the Liturgy of the Hours (and also known by several other names, such as the Divine Office, the Roman Breviary, the Office, etc.), the short breviaries are unique forms, and for the most part, specific to the 20th century. Most of them are considered by-products of the 20th Century "Liturgical Movement".

       Both corporate and individual prayer have been a required and vital part of Catholic life since the start of Christianity. The most obvious manifestation of Catholics praying as a community is when they gather for and celebrate the Eucharist, known as the Mass.  Other sacramental celebrations  (Confirmation, Matrimony, Penance, Orders of deacon, priest and bishop, Anointing of the sick and viaticum, and Eucharist) also witness a community responding to its Creator.


      All the hours include psalms, canticles, biblical and other readings, prayers and hymns, and - as corporate or common prayer -  are structured by their nature,  to be prayed by more than one person. When the Divine Office  (under its various labels) is not possible as common prayer, it can, and should (sometimes must, in the case of some individuals), be prayed alone. What is unique in this prayer, prayed alone or with others,  is that it offers a strong sense of belonging to the larger Christian community. For Catholics, this means belonging to the Mystical Body, which simply means that Christ, as head of the Church, is present in the entire Catholic community, and all, as one body, offer worship to the Father.

      As the church's "official" prayer, it is mandated for several groups of "professional" Catholics: the clergy, for one. Monks and enclosed (cloistered) Nuns are also obligated to this prayer, though some monks and all Nuns are technically not "clergy" but "lay" persons. 

      Many "active" communities (teaching, hospital, etc.) of religious Sisters and Brothers are also obliged to corporate prayer, but their obligations originate in their own by-laws (the "Constitutions" of the various groups). Additionally, there are lay persons who have affiliated themselves to one of the Orders (such as the Franciscans, Carmelites, Dominicans, etc.) in what is called a "Third Order", and these groups, as well, are obliged to corporate prayer by their "rule" or other formal legislation. The lay person, the "average" Catholic, is not obliged, but encouraged, instead, to make use of the office. In the earliest centuries of the Church, lay persons were expected to be present, whenever possible, at parish (or other local) celebrations of corporate prayer.


The Benedictine Abbey of En Calcat



The Benedictine Abbey of En Calcat


 These groups of people: active communities of Sisters and Brothers, members of Secular Institutes, other societies, Third Order members and lay persons made great use of the breviaria parva in this century. There are cases, however, where a group or an individual has made use of the complete official prayer, either prior to or after the Council, but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

  • Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the official view (the Church) was that although breviaria parva were modeled on the official Divine Office, they were not official liturgical prayer.  There was, however, debate among liturgical  theologians, and this was resolved with the publication of the Constitution on the Liturgy.


The prayer of these varied breviaries, the "office",   is a non-sacramental prayer,  yet very much a part of what comprises "Liturgy".  The different sections (called "hours") mark particular moments of the day: morning, midday, evening and night. 

  • In the office,  these periods (the "Hours"), in the days before the Second Vatican Council, were named "Matins" (or "Nocturns" or even "Vigils"), "Lauds", "Prime", "Terce", "Sext", "None", "Vespers" and "Compline". 
  • Matins has been renamed "The Office of Readings" and can be prayed at any time, Lauds is now called "Morning Prayer", Vespers, "Evening Prayer", and Compline, "Night Prayer". 
  • The hour of Prime was suppressed (though some groups continue to make use of it). 
  • Finally, there is  "Midday Prayer", which can be prayed either in the morning, at noon or in the afternoon.  Provision is made for those who wish to pray in mid-morning (Terce), at midday (Sext) or in mid-afternoon (None), though the process to use this option seems  clumsy.


The nature of short breviaries

How do we describe the various breviaria parva?  Perhaps by their common characteristics:

  • They were "grass roots" developments, i.e., created by individuals or a group of individuals - none of them were issued "officially" by the Church.

 (Yet, all of the short breviaries in this study which were available prior to 1963 were given "ecclesial" status by the Church through # 98 of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy, issued in November, 1963.  This verified that those who prayed from the short breviaries were indeed praying the Liturgy.  Prior to this, the short breviaries were considered essentially as devotional prayer forms and not at all liturgical, even though modeled on the complete Divine Office.)

  • They were generally shorter and simpler than the complete Divine Office, though their structures were similar to it.
  • They "fit" the various schedules of the many communities which used them.
  • They were generally prayed in the vernacular.
  • They were less costly than the complete office, which, in this century, often meant a set of 4 volumes, and finally,
  • Each text was prepared to fill a specific set of corporate prayer needs. Those who prepared them were sensitive to working communities of religious Sisters and Brothers and to other lay persons, as well.



 See Additional People and Places involved in the creation of Short Breviaries.

      Each text had a different approach to common prayer, and groups or individuals could choose which texts best met their needs. While it is true that there have always been groups and individuals eager to pray the complete office, the Liturgical Movement encouraged the development of these grass roots texts, and particularly, since Pius XII's Encyclical Mediator Dei in 1947, reasserting the wish of the Church that everyone participate in common liturgical prayer, texts multiplied in many countries. Several varieties of short breviaries were available, each similar to and distinct from, each other. And all, to a lesser or greater degree, were modeled on the "official" book.

Fr. Botz, in later life.

Fr. Heidt, in later life.



      This study analyzes the breviaria parva used in the United States in this century, listed in the order of their appearance. At the same time, reference is made during the course of the study to the models they are based on or translated from, where that is the case, and regular reference will be made to the parent model, the official Divine Office, in its various expressions (e.g., Roman Breviary, Monastic Breviary, Carmelite Breviary, etc.)

      Since the advent of the new Liturgy of the Hours, termed "official", it seems that there have been no attempts to seek "official" approval for newly composed breviaria parva texts. Although new short breviaries could be prepared, so long as they contained the necessary elements of the Liturgy of the Hours, the current process requires that a book be presented to the various national conferences of Bishops, and then to the Roman authorities for approval. With these various requirements comes the additional requirements of translation permissions, style. For example, only the "Grail" translation of the Psalms may be used in any office. The current group of "approved" texts are simply excerpts from the Liturgy of the Hours, receiving approval from a national Conference of Bishops with a "concordat cum originali". While there are new structures and texts which have no approval and/or did not seek approval, these are considered "unofficial", and may not be used as corporate and public prayer. In the United States, in two cases, at least, attempts at distribution of such texts through the regular channels met with strong opposition from the Conference of Bishops. It appears that the only way a text may considered "ecclesial" is if it is no more than an excerpt from the official book.

      While it appears that The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, arguably the oldest and most popular of the "short offices" has remained (although re-edited structurally and textually to correspond to the format of the current Liturgy of the Hours), the only other short breviary from the pre-Vatican Council period to "survive" is the successor to Officium Divinum Parvum (itself a successor to an earlier text issued in 1933 called Volksbrevier), now called Christuslob, in use in Germany, though it, too, has been revised to conform somewhat to the current official texts.

      There is yet another common denominator in the creation and development of office texts for English speakers of the 20th century:  nearly every English text or translation listed has been influenced, in one way or another, at some stage of its development, by the Benedictine Nuns of Stanbrook Abbey in Worcester, England.  Their contributions to the world of liturgical texts have been extraordinary, and a part of their vast work is given an overview on a separate page.


St. John's Abbey Church

Collegeville, Minnesota




The study - how each of the breviaria parva will be viewed

Each "short" breviary will be discussed in the following areas:
  • background and reason for development and composition;
  • structural composition - the how's and why's of the various parts, including Psalter use and distribution, readings and their choice, seasonal and festal choices, additional material;
  • language - the why of translation choice or bilingual use;
  • the relationship of the text (compiler/publisher, too) with the "official" church, e.g., Rome, the National Conferences of Bishops, the local Bishop, etc.
  • ease of use - how "complicated" a text might be to a "beginner" (or a seasoned user, for that matter);
  • quality - the physical book itself: size, paper quality, printing quality, binding, graphics content, overall appearance, etc.
  • pricing - expense:  the cost of the various books;
  • availability - were the books readily available for the "Catholic" market?

(Title page of the translation of the Roman Breviary by the
Marquess of Bute - second edition, 1908.)  


The  "Overview" will become one of the book's appendices....

      A " Breviary texts overview  " is provided here, and it offers essentially a snap shot view of all the texts, whether official, approved or non-official as they were and are used in this country during this century. The list is, of course, incomplete. When the book is completed, it will stand as one of its appendices. It is attached for your convenience.

      Every work in progress is just that: in progress, and more often than not, has room for improvement. I am hopeful that some will, when the book is completed and read, have the opportunity to experience another rich period of a variety of new office texts. At the same time, recognizing that the hope of the Liturgical Movement in this century, and the goals of the Second Vatican Council's reforms in terms of wider use of the liturgy of the hours, some will find ways to open up the riches of the various offices to those who, even now, are unfamiliar with the Liturgy of the Hours in any of its forms.



originally uploaded: October 20, 1998

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