A breviary (from Latin brevis, 'short' or 'concise') is a liturgical book of the Latin liturgical rites of the Catholic Church containing the public or canonical prayers, hymns, the Psalms, readings, and notations for everyday use, especially for priests, in the Divine Office (i.e., at the canonical hours or Liturgy of the Hours, the Christians' daily prayer). The word can also refer to a collection of Christian orders of prayers and readings, such as contained in Anglican or Lutheran resources. In general, the word breviary may be used to refer to any abridged version of any text, a brief account or a summary of some subject, but is primarily used to refer to the Catholic liturgical book.
The volume containing the daily hours of Roman Catholic prayer was published as the Breviarium Romanum (Roman Breviary) until the reforms of Paul VI, when it became known as the Liturgy of the Hours. However, these terms are used interchangeably to refer to the Office in all its forms. This entry deals with the Breviary prior to the changes introduced by Pope Paul VI in 1974.
From such references, and from others of a like nature, Quesnel gathers that by the word Breviarium was at first designated a book furnishing the rubrics, a sort of Ordo. The title Breviary, as we employ it – that is, a book containing the entire canonical office – appears to date from the eleventh century.
St. Gregory VII having, indeed, abridged the order of prayers, and having simplified the Liturgy as performed at the Roman Court, this abridgment received the name of Breviary, which was suitable, since, according to the etymology of the word, it was an abridgment. The name has been extended to books which contain in one volume, or at least in one work, liturgical books of different kinds, such as the Psalter, the Antiphonary, the Responsoriary, the Lectionary, etc. In this connection it may be pointed out that in this sense the word, as it is used nowadays, is illogical; it should be named a Plenarium rather than a Breviarium, since, liturgically speaking, the word Plenarium exactly designates such books as contain several different compilations united under one cover. This is pointed out, however, simply to make still clearer the meaning and origin of the word; and section V will furnish a more detailed explanation of the formation of the Breviary.
The canonical hours of the Breviary owe their remote origin to the Old Covenant when God commanded the Aaronic priests to offer morning and evening sacrifices. Other inspiration may have come from David's words in the Psalms "Seven times a day I praise you" (Ps. 119:164), as well as, "the just man meditates on the law day and night" (Ps. 1:2).
In the early days of Christian worship, when Jewish custom was followed, the Bible furnished all that was thought necessary, containing as it did the books from which the lessons were read and the psalms that were recited. The first step in the evolution of the Breviary was the separation of the Psalter into a choir-book. At first the president of the local church (bishop) or the leader of the choir chose a particular psalm as he thought appropriate. From about the 4th century certain psalms began to be grouped together, a process that was furthered by the monastic practice of daily reciting the 150 psalms. This took so much time that the monks began to spread it over a week, dividing each day into hours, and allotting to each hour its portion of the Psalter. St Benedict in the 6th century drew up such an arrangement, probably, though not certainly, on the basis of an older Roman division which, though not so skilful, is the one in general use. Gradually there were added to these psalter choir-books additions in the form of antiphons, responses, collects or short prayers, for the use of those not skilful at improvisation and metrical compositions. Jean Beleth, a 12th-century liturgical author, gives the following list of books necessary for the right conduct of the canonical office:—the Antiphonarium, the Old and New Testaments, the Passionarius (liber) and the Legendarius (dealing respectively with martyrs and saints), the Homiliarius (homilies on the Gospels), the Sermologus (collection of sermons) and the works of the Fathers, besides, of course, the Psalterium and the Collectarium. To overcome the inconvenience of using such a library the Breviary came into existence and use. Already in the 8th century Prudentius, bishop of Troyes, had in a Breviarium Psalterii made an abridgment of the Psalter for the laity, giving a few psalms for each day, and Alcuin had rendered a similar service by including a prayer for each day and some other prayers, but no lessons or homilies. The Breviary rightly so called, however, only dates from the 11th century; the earliest MS. containing the whole canonical office is of the year 1099 and is in the Mazarin library. Gregory VII. (pope 1073-1085), too, simplified the liturgy as performed at the Roman court, and gave his abridgment the name of Breviary, which thus came to denote a work which from another point of view might be called a Plenary, involving as it did the collection of several works into one. There are several extant specimens of 12th-century Breviaries, all Benedictine, but under Innocent III. (pope 1198-1216) their use was extended, especially by the newly founded and active Franciscan order. These preaching friars, with the authorization of Gregory IX., adopted (with some modifications, e.g. the substitution of the "Gallican" for the "Roman" version of the Psalter) the Breviary hitherto used exclusively by the Roman court, and with it gradually swept out of Europe all the earlier partial books (Legendaries, Responsories), &c., and to some extent the local Breviaries, like that of Sarum. Finally, Nicholas III. (pope 1277-1280) adopted this version both for the curia and for the basilicas of Rome, and thus made its position secure. The Benedictines and Dominicans have Breviaries of their own. The only other types that merit notice are:—
Till the council of Trent every bishop had full power to regulate the Breviary of his own diocese; and this was acted upon almost everywhere. Each monastic community, also, had one of its own. Pius V. (pope 1566-1572), however, while sanctioning those which could show at least 200 years of existence, made the Roman obligatory in all other places. But the influence of the court of Rome has gradually gone much beyond this, and has superseded almost all the local "uses." The Roman has thus become nearly universal, with the allowance only of additional offices for saints specially venerated in each particular diocese. The Roman Breviary has undergone several revisions: The most remarkable of these is that by Francis Quignonez, cardinal of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (1536), which, though not accepted by Rome (It was approved by Clement VII. and Paul III., and permitted as a substitute for the unrevised Breviary, until Pius V. in 1568 excluded it as too short and too modern, and issued a reformed edition (Breviarium Pianum, Pian Breviary) of the old Breviary), formed the model for the still more thorough reform made in 1549 by the Church of England, whose daily morning and evening services are but a condensation and simplification of the Breviary offices. Some parts of the prefaces at the beginning of the English Prayer-Book are free translations of those of Quignonez. The Pian Breviary was again altered by Sixtus V. in 1588, who introduced the revised Vulgate text; by Clement VIII. in 1602 (through Baronius and Bellarmine), especially as concerns the rubrics; and by Urban VIII. (1623-1644), a purist who unfortunately tampered with the text of the hymns, injuring both their literary charm and their historic worth.
In the 17th and 18th centuries a movement of revision took place in France, and succeeded in modifying about half the Breviaries of that country. Historically, this proceeded from the labours of Jean de Launoy (1603-1678), "le dénicheur des saints," and Louis Sébastien le Nain de Tillemont, who had shown the falsity of numerous lives of the saints; while theologically it was produced by the Port Royal school, which led men to dwell more on communion with God as contrasted with the invocation of the saints. This was mainly carried out by the adoption of a rule that all antiphons and responses should be in the exact words of Scripture, which, of course, cut out the whole class of appeals to created beings. The services were at the same time simplified and shortened, and the use of the whole Psalter every week (which had become a mere theory in the Roman Breviary, owing to its frequent supersession by saints' day services) was made a reality. These reformed French Breviaries—e.g. the Paris Breviary of 1680 by Archbishop François de Harlay (1625-1695) and that of 1736 by Archbishop Charles Gaspard Guillaume de Vintimille (1655-1746)—show a deep knowledge of Holy Scripture, and much careful adaptation of different texts; but during the pontificate of Pius IX. a strong Ultramontane movement arose against them. This was inaugurated by Montalembert, but its literary advocates were chiefly Dom Gueranger, a learned Benedictine monk, abbot of Solesmes, and Louis François Veuillot (1813-1883) of the Univers; and it succeeded in suppressing them everywhere, the last diocese to surrender being Orleans in 1875. The Jansenist and Gallican influence was also strongly felt in Italy and in Germany, where Breviaries based on the French models were published at Cologne, Münster, Mainz and other towns. Meanwhile, under the direction of Benedict XIV. (pope 1740-1758), a special congregation collected many materials for an official revision, but nothing was published. Subsequent changes have been very few and minute. In 1902, under Leo XIII., a commission under the presidency of Monsignor Louis Duchesne was appointed to consider the Breviary, the Missal, the Pontifical and the Ritual.
The most significant changes came with the revision of the Breviary by Pius X. in 1910. Pius X. modified the traditional psalm scheme so that, while all 150 psalms were used in the course of the week, these were said without repetition. Those assigned to the Sunday Office underwent the least revision, although noticeably fewer psalms are recited at Matins, and both Lauds and Compline are slightly shorter due to psalms (or in the case of Compline the first few verses of a psalm) being removed. Pius X. was probably influenced by earlier attempts to eliminate repetition in the psalter, most notably the liturgy of the Benedictine congregation of St. Maur. However, since Cardinal Quignonez's attempt to reform the Breviary employed this principal - albeit with no regard to the traditional scheme - such notions had floated around in the western Church, and can particularly be seen in the Paris Breviary.
Pope John XXIII also revised the Breviary in 1960, introducing changes drawn up by his predecessor Pope Pius XII. The most notable alteration is the shortening of most feasts from nine to three lessons at Matins, keeping only the Scripture readings (the former lesson i, then lessons ii and iii together), followed by either the first part of the patristic reading (lesson vii) or, for most feasts, a condensed version of the former second Nocturn, which was formerly used when a feast was reduced in rank and commemorated. The new or so-called "Pian" psalter sponsored by Pius XII, a modern translation of the psalms from Hebrew into Latin, was also an option for use in the Office, and most breviaries published in the early 1960s used this psalter.
Before the rise of the mendicant orders (wandering friars) in the thirteenth century, the daily services were usually contained in a number of large volumes. The first occurrence of a single manuscript of the daily office was written by the Benedictine order at Monte Cassino in Italy in 1099. By a strange twist, the Benedictines were not a mendicant order, but a stable, monastery-based order, and single-volume breviaries are rare from this early period.
The arrangement of the Psalms in the Rule of St. Benedict had a profound impact upon the breviaries used by secular and monastic clergy alike, up until 1911 when Pope St. Pius X introduced his reform of the Roman Breviary. In many places, every diocese, order or ecclesiastical province maintained its own edition of the breviary.
However, mendicant friars travelled around a lot and needed a shortened, or abbreviated, daily office contained in one portable book, and single-volume breviaries flourished from the thirteenth century onwards.
Before the advent of printing, breviaries were written by hand and were often richly decorated with initials and miniature illustrations telling stories in the lives of Christ or the saints, or stories from the Bible.
The beauty and value of many of the Latin Breviaries were brought to the notice of English churchmen by one of the numbers of the Oxford Tracts for the Times, since which time they have been much more studied, both for their own sake and for the light they throw upon the English Prayer-Book.
From a bibliographical point of view some of the early printed Breviaries are among the rarest of literary curiosities, being merely local. The copies were not spread far, and were soon worn out by the daily use made of them. Doubtless many editions have perished without leaving a trace of their existence, while others are known by unique copies. In Scotland the only one which has survived the convulsions of the 16th century is that of Aberdeen, a Scottish form of the Sarum Office (The Sarum Rite was much favoured in Scotland as a kind of protest against the jurisdiction claimed by the church of York), revised by William Elphinstone (bishop 1483-1514), and printed at Edinburgh by Walter Chapman and Andrew Myllar in 1509-1510. Four copies have been preserved of it, of which only one is complete; but it was reprinted in facsimile in 1854 for the Bannatyne Club by the munificence of the duke of Buccleuch. It is particularly valuable for the trustworthy notices of the early history of Scotland which are embedded in the lives of the national saints. Though enjoined by royal mandate in 1501 for general use within the realm of Scotland, it was probably never widely adopted. The new Scottish Proprium sanctioned for the Roman Catholic province of St Andrews in 1903 contains many of the old Aberdeen collects and antiphons.
The Sarum or Salisbury Breviary itself was very widely used. The first edition was printed at Venice in 1483 by Raynald de Novimagio in folio; the latest at Paris, 1556, 1557. While modern Breviaries are nearly always printed in four volumes, one for each season of the year, the editions of the Sarum never exceeded two parts.
At the beginning stands the usual introductory matter, such as the tables for determining the date of Easter, the calendar, and the general rubrics. The Breviary itself is divided into four seasonal parts—winter, spring, summer, autumn—and comprises under each part:
These parts are often published separately.
Following the 1911 reform, Matins was reduced to nine Psalms every day, with the other psalms redistributed throughout Prime, Terce, Sext, and Compline, which previously used the same psalms every day. Lauds and Vespers largely remained the same, and Psalm 118 at the Little Hours and Psalms 4, 90, and 130 at Compline were retained for Sundays and special feasts.
Every clerk in orders and every member of a religious order must publicly join in or privately read aloud (i.e. using the lips as well as the eyes—it takes about two hours in this way) the whole of the Breviary services allotted for each day. In large churches where they were celebrated the services were usually grouped; e.g. Matins and Lauds (about 7.30 A.M.); Prime, Terce (High Mass), Sext, and None (about 10 A.M.); Vespers and Compline (4 P.M.); and from four to eight hours (depending on the amount of music and the number of high masses) are thus spent in choir. Lay use of the Breviary has varied throughout the Church's history. In some periods laymen did not use the Breviary as a manual of devotion to any great extent. The late Medieval period saw the recitation of certain hours of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, which was based on the Breviary in form and content, becoming popular among those who could read, and Bishop Challoner did much to popularise the hours of Sunday Vespers and Compline (albeit in English translation) in his 'Garden of the Soul' in the eighteenth century. The Liturgical Movement in the twentieth century saw renewed interest in the Offices of the Breviary and several popular editions were produced containing the vernacular as well as the Latin.
The complete pre-Pius X. Roman Breviary was translated into English (by the marquess of Bute in 1879; new ed. with a trans, of the Martyrology, 1908), French and German. Bute's version is noteworthy for its inclusion of the skilful renderings of the ancient hymns by J.H. Newman, J.M. Neale and others. Several editions of the Pius X. Breviary were produced during the twentieth century, including a notable edition prepared with the assistance of the Sisters of Stanbrook Abbey in the 1950s. Two editions in English and Latin were produced in the mid-sixties, which conformed to the rubrics of 1960, published by Liturgical Press and Benziger in America. These used the Pius XII. psalter. Since 2005 Baronius Press has been preparing a revised edition of the Liturgical Press edition for publication, which would use the older Gallican psalter of St. Jerome.
Under Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, Roman Catholic priests are again permitted to use the 1962 edition of the Roman Breviary, promulgated by Pope John XXIII to satisfy their obligation to recite the Divine Office every day.