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".
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.
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
Benedictine Abbey of En Calcat
Benedictine Abbey of En Calcat
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
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
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
(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
- 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.
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
Fr. Botz, in later life.
Fr. Heidt, in later life.
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
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.
John's Abbey Church
The study - how each
of the breviaria parva will be viewed
|Each "short" breviary will be discussed in the
- 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"
(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
" 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,
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