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This subject may be divided, for convenience of treatment, as follows:



This word breviary ( Latin Breviarium ), signifies in its primary acceptation an abridgment, or a compendium. It is often employed in this sense by Christian authors, e.g. Breviarium fidei, Breviarium in psalmos, Breviarium canonum, Breviarium regularum. In litugical language Breviary has a special meaning, indicating a book furnishing the regulations for the celebration of Mass or the canonical Office, and may be met with under the titles Breviarium Ecclesiastici Ordinis , or Breviarium Ecclesiæ Rominsæ (Romanæ). In the ninth century Alcuin uses the word to designate an office abridged or simplified for the use of the laity. Prudentius of Troyes, about the same period, composed a Breviarium Psalterii (v. inf. V. HISTORY). In an ancient inventory occurs Breviarium Antiphonarii , meaning "Extracts from the Antiphonary ". In the "Vita Aldrici" occurs "sicut in plenariis et breviariis Ecclesiæ ejusdem continentur". Again, in the inventories in the catalogues, such notes as these may be met with: "Sunt et duo cursinarii et tres benedictionales Libri; ex his unus habet obsequium mortuorum et unus Breviarius", or, "Præter Breviarium quoddam quod usque ad festivitatem S. Joannis Baptistæ retinebunt", etc. Monte Cassino about A.D. 1100 obtained a book entitled "Incipit Breviarium sive Ordo Officiorum per totam anni decursionem"

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 Roman Breviary, which with rare exceptions (certain religious orders, the Ambrosian and Mozarabic RiteRites, etc.) is used at this day throughout the Latin Church, is divided into four parts according to the seasons of the year: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. It is constructed of the following elements: (a) the Psalter ; (b) the Proper of the Season; (c) Proper of the Saints; (d) the Common; (e) certain special Offices.

(a) The Psalter

The Psalter is the most ancient and the most venerable portion of the Breviary. It consists of 150 psalms, divided in a particular way, to be described later. These psalms formed the groundwork of the Liturgy of the Jews for twelve centuries before Christ, and He certainly made use of these formularies for His prayers, and quoted them on several occasions. The Apostles followed His example, and handed down to the Christian Churches the inheritance of the Psalter as the chief form of Christian prayer. The Church has carefully preserved them during the lapse of centuries and has never sought to replace them by any other formularies. Attempts have been made from time to time to compose Christian psalms, such as the Gloria in excelsis , the Te Deum , the Lumen Hilare , the Te Decet Laus , and a few others; but those which the Church has retained and adopted are singularly few in number. The rhythmic hymns date from a period later than the fourth and fifth centuries, and at best hold a purely secondary place in the scheme of the Office. Thus the Book of Psalms forms the groundwork of Catholic prayer ; the lessons which fill so important a place in this prayer are not, after all, prayer properly so called; and the antiphons, responsories, versicles, etc., are but psalms utilized in a particular manner.

In the Breviary, however, the Psalter is divided according to a special plan. In the earliest period the use of the Book of Psalms in the Office was doubtless exactly similar to that which prevailed amongst the Jews. The president of the choir chose a particular psalm at his own will. Some psalms, such as xxi, seem specially appropriate to the Passion. Another was adapted to the Resurrection, a third suited the Ascension, while others again are specially referable to the Office of the Dead . Some psalms provide morning prayers, others those for night. But the choice was left in the hands of the bishop or president of the choir. Later, probably from the fourth century, certain psalms began to be grouped together, to respond to the divers requirements of the Liturgy.

Another cause led to these groupings and arrangements of the Psalter. Some monks were in the habit of reciting daily the whole of the 150 psalms. But this form of devotion, apart from lessons and other formularies, occupied so much time that they began to spread the recitation of the entire Psalter over a whole week. By this method each day was divided into hours, and each hour had its own portion of the Psalter. From this arrangement arose the idea of dividing the Psalter according to specially devised rules. St. Benedict was one of the earliest to set himself to this task, in the sixth century. In his Rule he gives minute directions how, at that period, the psalms were to be distributed at the disposition of the abbot ; and he himself drew up such an arangement. Certain psalms were set apart for the night offices, others for Lauds, others for Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, others for Vespers and Compline.

It is a subject of discussion amongst liturgists whether this Benedictine division of the psalms is anterior or posterior to the Roman Psalter. Although it may not be possible to prove the point definitely, still it would seem that the Roman arrangement is the older of the two, because that drawn up by St. Benedict shows more skill, and would thus seem to be in the nature of a reform of the Roman division. In any case, the Roman arrangement of the Psalter reaches back to a hoary antiquity, at least to the seventh or eight century, since when it has not undergone any alteration. The following is its disposition. Psalms i-cviii are recited at Matins, twelve a day; but Sunday Matins have six more psalms divided between the three nocturns. Thus:

  • Sunday -- Psalms i, ii, iii, vi-xiv; xv, xvi, xvii; xviii, xix, xx.
  • Monday -- Psalms xxvi-xxxvii.
  • Tuesday -- Psalms xxxviii-xli, xliii-xlix, li.
  • Wednesday -- Psalms lii, liv-lxi, lxiii, lxv, lxvii.
  • Thursday -- Psalms lxviii-lxxix.
  • Friday -- Psalms lxxx-lxxxviii, xciii, xcv, xcvi.
  • Saturday -- Psalms xcvii-cviii.
The psalms omitted in this series, namely, iv, v, xxi-xxv, xlii, l, liii, lxii, lxiv, lxvi, lxxix-xcii, and xciv, are, on account of their special aptitude, reserved for Lauds, Prime, and Compline.

The series, from Ps. cix to Ps. Cxlvii inclusively, are used at Vespers, five each day, except Psalms cxvii, cxviii, and cxlii, reserved for other hours. The last three, cxlviii, cxlix, and cl, which are specially called the psalms of praise (Laudes), because of the word Laudate which forms their leitmotiv, are always used in the morning Office, which thus gets its name of Lauds.

A glance at the above tables will show that, broadly speaking, the Roman Church did not attempt to make any skilful selection of the psalms for daily recitation. She took them in order as they came, except a very few set apart for Lauds, Prime, and Compline, and selected Ps. cxviii for the day hours. Other Liturgies, as the Ambrosian, the Mozarabic, and the Benedictine, or monastic, have Psalters drawn up on wholly different lines; but the respective merits of these systems need not be here discussed. The order of the ferial Psalter is not followed for the festivals of the year or for the feasts of saints ; but the psalms are selected according to their suitableness to the various occasions.

The history of the text of this Psalter is interesting. The most ancient Psalter used in Rome and in Italy was the "Psalterium Vetus", of the Itala version, which seems to have been introduced into the Liturgy by Pope St. Damasus (d. 384). He it was who first ordered the revision of the Itala by St. Jerome, in A. D. 383. On this account it has been called the "Psalterium Romanum", and it was used in Italy and elsewhere till the ninth century and later. It is still in use in St. Peter's at Rome, and many of the texts of our Breviary and Missal still show some variants (Invitatory an Ps. xciv, the antiphons of the Psalter and the responsories of the Proper of the Season, Introits, Graduals, Offertories, and Communions). The Roman Psalter also influences the Mozarabic Liturgy, and was used in England in the eighth century. But in Gaul and in other countries north of the Alps, another recension entered into competition with the "Psalterium Romanum" under the somewhat misleading title of the "Psalterium Gallicanum"; for this text contained nothing distinctively Gallican, being simply a later correction of the Psalter made by St. Jerome in Palestine, in A. D. 392. This recension diverged more completely than the earlier one form the Itala; and in preparing it St. Jerome had laid Origen's Hexapla under contribution. It would seem that St. Gregory of Tours , in the sixth century, introduced this translation into Gaul, or at any rate he was specially instrumental in spreading its use; for it was this Psalter that was employed in the Divine psalmody celebrated at the much honoured and frequented tomb of St. Martin of Tours . From that time this text commenced its "triumphal march across Europe ". Walafrid Starbo states that the churches of Germany were using it in the eighth century: -- "Galli et Germanorum aliqui secundum emendationem quam Hieronymus pater de LXX composuit Psalterium cantant". About the same time England gave up the "Psalterium Romanum" for the "Gallicanum". The Anglo-Saxon Psalter already referred to was corected and altered in the ninth and tenth century, to make it accord with the "Gallicanum". Ireland seems to have followed the Gallican version since the seventh century, as may be gathered from the famous Antiphonary of Bangor. It even penetrated into Italy after the ninth century, thanks to the Frankish influence, and there enjoyed a considerable vogue. After the Council of Trent , St. Pius V extended the use of the "Psalterium Gallicanum" to the whole Church, St. Peter's in Rome alone still keeping to the ancient Roman Psalter. The Ambrosian Church of Milan has also its own recension of the Psalter, a version founded, in the middle of the fourth century, on the Greek.

(b) The Proper of Season

This portion of the Breviary contains the Office of the different liturgical seasons. As is well known, these periods are now thus arranged: Advent, Christmastide, Septuagesima, Lent, Holy Week , paschal time, and the time after Pentecost. But only by slow degrees did this division of the liturgical year develop its present form. It must be traced through its various stages. It may indeed be said that originally there was no such thing as a liturgical year. Sunday, the day above all of the Eucharistic celebration, is at once the commemoration of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ ; men spoke of the "Pasch of the Crucifixion", of the "Pasch of the Ressurection" -- pascha staurosimon; pascha anastasimon ; every Sunday was a renewal of the paschal festival. It was only natural that on the actual anniversary the feast should be kept with peculiar solemnity, for it was the foremost Christian feast, and the centre of the liturgical year. Easter drew in it is train Pentecost, which was fixed as the fiftieth day after the Resurrection ; it was the festival commemorating the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles. These fifty days made up an unbroken festival, a Jubilee, a time of joy during which there was no fasting and when penitential exercises were suspended. These two feasts thus linked together are mentioned by ecclesiastical writers from the second century onwards.

Just as Easter was followed by fifty days of rejoicing, so it had its period of preparation by prayer and fasting, from which arose the season of Lent, which, after various changes, commenced finally forty days before Easter, whence its name of Quadragesima. The other rallying-point of the liturgical year is the feast of Christmas, the earliest observance of which is of very remote antiquity (the third century at least). Like Easter, Christmas had its time of preparation, called Advent. Lasting nowadays four weeks. The remainder of the year had to fit in between these two feasts. From Christmas to Lent two currents may be observed : into one fell the feasts of the Epiphany and the Purification, and six Sundays after the Epiphany, constituting Christmastide. The remaining weeks after these Sundays fall under the influence of Lent and, under the name of Septuagesima, create a sort of introduction to it, since these three weeks, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, really belong to Lent by reason of their character of preparation and penance.

The long period between Pentecost and Advent, from May to December, still remains to be dealt with. A certain number of Sundays cluster round special great festivals, as those of St. John the Baptist (24 June), the holy Apostles Peter and Paul (29 June), St. Lawrence (10 August), and St. Michael (29 September). At later date these days, which did not fit very conveniently into the general scheme, tended to disappear, and were absorbed into the common time after Pentecost, made up of twenty-four Sundays, thereby uniting Pentecost with Advent ; and thus the cycle of the liturgical year is completed.

The Proper of the Season contains, therefore, the Office of all the Sundays and festivals belonging to it, with special lessons, extracts from the Gospels, and frequently also proper antiphons, responsories, and psalms, adapted to the peculiar character of these different periods. It is in the composition of this Liturgy that the Roman Church has displayed her gifts of critical judgment, liturgical taste, and theological acumen. The difference in the character of these periods may be studied in such works as Dom Guéranger's "Liturgical Year".

(c) Proper of the Saints

Following on the Proper of the Season comes in the Breviary the Proper of the Saints, that is to say, that part which contains the lessons, psalms, antiphons, and other liturgical formularies for the feasts of the saints. In reality this Proper commemorates a very large number of saints who find mention in the ecclesiastical Calendar; this, however, meed not be given here, as it can easily be consulted. But it may be noted that the greater number of the days of the year -- at least nine-tenths -- are appropriated to special feasts ; and the question has therefore been seriously debated, every time a movement for the reform of the Breviary has arisen, as to how to save the Divine Office from being overwhelmed by these feasts, and as to how to restore to the ferial Office its rightful ascendancy. This is not the place for the discussion of such a problem; but it may be said that this invasion of the Proper of the Season has reached such proportions imperceptilbly. It was not always thus; in the beginning, up to the seventh, and even up to ninth, century, the feasts of saints observed in the Breviary were not numerous, as may be proved by comparing modern Calendars with such ancient ones as may be seen in "An Ancient Syrian Martyrology ", "Le calendrier de Philocalus", "Martyrologium Hieronymianum", "Kalendarium Carthaginense". These Calendars contain little more than the following list, beyond the great festivals of the Church :

  • Exaltation of Holy Cross -- 14 September.
  • Presentation of Jesus, or Purification of B.V.M. -- 2 or 15 February.
  • Dormitio, or Assumption, B.V.M. -- 15 August.
  • St. Michael, Archangel -- 29 September.
  • Sts. Macchabees -- 1 August.
  • St. John Baptist -- 24 June.
  • St. Stephen, Protomartyr -- 26 December.
  • Sts. Peter and Paul -- 29 June.
  • Chair of St. Peter (at Antioch) -- 22 February.
  • St. Andrew, Ap. -- 30 November.
  • Sts. James the Greater and John, App. -- 27 or 28 December.
  • Sts. Philip and James the Less, App. -- 1 May.
  • Holy Innocents -- 23 or 28 December.
  • St. Sixtus II, Pope -- 1 or 16 August.
  • Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, MM. -- 7 March.
  • St. Flavian or Fabian -- 15 May.
  • St. Lawrence, M. -- 10 August.
  • St. Hippolytus, M. -- 13 August.
  • St. Cyprian, M. -- 14 September.
  • St. Sebastian, M. -- 20 January.
  • St. Agnes. V. & M. -- 23 January.
  • St. Timothy, M. -- 22 August.
  • St. Vincent, M. -- 22 February.
  • St. Felicitas, M. -- 23 November.
  • St. Ignatius, M. -- 17 October, or 20 December, or 29 January, or 1 February.
  • St. Polycarp, M. -- 26 February.
  • Seven Holy Sleepers -- variable.
  • St. Pantaleon -- variable.
(d) The Common

Under this designation come all the lessons, Gospels, antiphons, responsories, and versicles which are not reserved to a special occasion, but may be employed for a whole group of saints. These Commons are those of Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors Pontiffs, Confessors non-Pontiffs, Abbots, Virgins, and Holy Women. To these may be added the Offices of the Dedication of the Churches, and of the Blessed Virgin. The Office of the Dead occupies a place apart. It is most difficult to fix the origin of these Offices. The most ancient seem to belong to the ninth, the eighth, and even the seventh century, and through special formularies may even date still further back. To give one example, the antiphons of the Common of Martyrs in paschal time, "Sancti tui, Domine, florebunt sicut lilium, et sicut odor balsami erunt ante te", "Lux perpetua lucebit sanctis tuis, Domine et Aeternitas temporum", are taken from the Fourth Book of Esdras ( apocryphal ), which was rejected almost everywhere about the end of the fourth century; these verses, therefore, must probably have been borrowed at a period anterior to that date. Probably, also, in the very beginning, the most ancient of these Common Offices were Proper Offices, and in some of them special features supporting this supposition may be noticed. Thus, the Common of Apostles is apparently referable to the Office of Sts. Peter and Paul and must bave been adapted later for all the Apostles. Such versicles as the following in the Common of Martyrs : "Volo, Pater, ut ubi ego sum, illic sit et minister meus", "Si quis mihi ministraverit, honorificabit illum Pater meus", seem to point to a martyr - deacon ( diakonos , minister ), and may perhaps specially refer to St. Lawrence , on account of the allusion to the words of his Acts: "Quo, sacerdos sancte, sine ministro properas?" Also, the numerous allusions to a crown or a palm in these same antiphons refer without doubt to the holy martyrs, Stephen, Lawrence, and Vincent, whose names are synonyms for the crown and laurel of victory. The details necessary for the proof of this hypothesis could only be given in a fuller treatise than this; suffice it to say that from the literary standpoint, as from that of archæology or liturgy, these Offices of the Common contain gems of great artistic beauty, and are of very great interest.

(e) Special Offices

The Office of the Blessed Virgin, also very ancient in some of its parts, is of great dogmatic importance; but students of this subject are referred to the Rev. E.L. Taunton's "The Little Office of Our Lady".

The Office of Dead is, without a shadow of doubt, one of the most venerable and ancient portions of the Breviary, and deserves a lengthy study to itself. The Breviaries also contain Offices proper to each diocese, and certain special Offices of modern origin, which, consequently, need not here detain us.


The prayer of the Breviary is meant to be used daily; each day has its own Office; in fact it would be correct to say that each hour of the day has its own office, for, liturgically, the day is divided into hours founded on the ancient Roman divisions of the day, of three hours apiece -- Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers, and the night Vigils. In conformity with this arrangement, the Office is portioned out into the prayers of the night vigils, that is to say Matins and Lauds. Matins itself is subdivided into three nocturns, to correspond with the three watches of the night: nine o'clock at night, midnight, and three o'clock in the morning. The office of Lauds was supposed to be recited at dawn. The day offices corresponded more or less to the following hours: Prime to 6 A.M., Terce to 9 A.M., Sext to midday, None to 3 P.M., Vespers to 6 P.M. It is necessary to note the words more or less , for these hours were regulated by the solar system, and therefore the length of the periods varied with the season.

The office of Compline, which falls somewhat outside the above division, and whose origin dates later than the general arrangement, was recited at nightfall. Nor does this division of the hours go back to the first Christian period. So far as can be ascertained, there was no other public or official prayer in the earliest days, outside the Eucharistic service, except the night watches, or vigils, which consisted of the chanting of psalms and of readings from Holy Scripture , the Law, and the Prophets, the Gospels and Epistles, and a homily. The offices of Matins and Lauds thus represent, most probably, these watches. It would seem that beyond this there was nothing but private prayer ; and at the dawn of Christianity the prayers were said in the Temple, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles . The hours equivalent to Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers were already known to the Jews as times of prayer and were merely adopted by the Christians. At first meant for private prayer, they became in time the hours of public prayer, especially when the Church was enriched with ascetics, virgins, and monks, by their vocation consecrated to prayer. From that time, i.e. from the end of the third century, the monastic idea exercised a preponderant influence on the arrangement and formation of the canonical Office. It is possible to give a fairly exact account of the establishment of these Offices in the second half of the fourth century by means of a document of surpassing importance for the history we are now considering: the "Peregrinatio ad Loca Sancta", written about A. D. 388, by Etheria, a Spanish abbess. This narrative is specifically a description of the Liturgy followed in the Church of Jerusalem at that date.

The Offices of Prime and Compline were devised later, Prime at the end of the fourth century, while Compline is usually attributed to St. Benedict in the sixth century; but it must be acknowledged that, although he may have given it its special form for the West, there existed before his time a prayer for the close of the day corresponding to it.


Each of the hours of the Office in the Roman Liturgy is composed of the same elements: psalms (and now and then canticles ), antiphons, responsories, hymns, lessons, versicles, little chapters, and collects ( prayers ).

A few words must be said about each of these elements from the particular point of view of the Breviary.

(a) Psalms and Canticles

Nothing need here be added to what has already been said in section II concerning the psalms, except that they are used in the Breviary sometimes in order of sequence, as in the ferial Offices of Matins and Vespers, sometimes by special selection, independently of the order of the Psalter, as in Lauds, Prime, Compline, and, in general, in the Offices of the Saints and other feasts. Another point of notice in the composition of the Roman Office is that it allows of the inclusion of a certain number of canticles, or songs, drawn from other portions of Holy Writ than the Psalter, but put on the same footing as the psalms. These are: the Canticle of Moses after the passage of the Red Sea ( Exodus 15 ); the Canticle of Moses before his death ( Deuteronomy 32 ); the Prayer of Anne the mother of Samuel ( 1 Samuel 2 ); the Prayer of Jonas ( Jonah 2 ); the Canticle of Habacuc (Habacuc, iii); the Canticle of Ezechias ( Isaiah 38 ); The Benedicite (Dan., iii, lii); lastly, the three canticles drawn from the New Testament : the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc dimittis.

This list of canticles coincides more or less with those used in the Greek church. St. Benedict admits these canticles into his Psalter, specifically stating that he borrows them from the Church of Rome, and thus providing a further argument for the priority of the Roman Office over the monastic.

(b) Antiphons

The antiphons which are read nowadays in the Breviary are abridged formularies which almost always serve to introduce a psalm or canticle. They consist sometimes of a verse taken from a psalm, sometimes of a sentence selected from the Gospels or Holy Scripture , e.g. "Euge, serve bone, in modico fidelis, intra in gaudium Domini tui"; occasionally they consist of phrases not culled from the Bible , but modelled on its style, i.e. they are the invention of a liturgical author, for example: "Veni, Sponsa Christi, accipe coronam, quam tibi Dominus præparavit in æternum". Originally, the meaning of the word, and the function fulfilled by the antiphon, was not what it is now. Although it is difficult to determine precisely the origin and purport of the term, it seems that it is derived from antiphona ( antiphone ) or from the adjective antiphonos , and that it signified a chant by alternate choirs. The singers or the faithful were divided into two choirs; the first choir intoned the first verse of a psalm, the second continued with the second verse, the first followed with the third verse, and so on to the end of the psalm. The antiphoned chant is thus recitation by two choirs alternately. This term has given rise to technical discussions which cannot here be entered into.

(c) Responsory

Responsory, whose composition is almost the same as that of the antiphon -- verse of a psalm, sentence out of Holy Scripture or of ecclesiastical authorship -- nevertheless differs from it entirely as to the nature of its use in recitation or chant. The precentor sang or recited a psalm ; the choir or the faithful replied, or repeated either one of the verses or simply the last words of the precentor. This form, like the antiphon, had already been in use amongst the Jews, and appears even in the construction of certain psalms, as in cxxxv, "Laudate Dominum quoniam bonus", where the refrain, "Quoniam in æternum misericordia ejus", which recurs in each verse, certainly corresponds to a responsory.

(d) Hymns

The term hymn has a less definite meaning than those of antiphon or responsory , and in the primitive liturgies its use is somewhat uncertain. In the Roman Breviary, at each hour either of the day or of the night there is a little poem in verses of different measures, usually very short. This is the hymn. These compositions were originally very numerous. Traces of hymns may be discerned in the New Testament, e.g., in St. Paul's Epistles. In the fourth and fifth centuries hymnology received a great impetus. Prudentius, Synesius, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Hilary, and St. Ambrose composed a great many. But it was above all in the Middle Ages that this style of composition most developed, and collections of them were made, filling several volumes. The Roman Breviary contains but a moderate number of hymns, forming a real anthology. Some of them are masterpieces of art. It was at a comparatively late date (about the twelfth century) that the Roman Liturgy admitted hymns into its Breviary. In its primitive austerity it had hitherto rejected them, without, however, condemning their employment in other liturgies.

(e) Lessons

By this term is meant the choice of readings or of extracts in the Breviary, taken either from Holy Writ or from the Acts of the Saints, or from the Fathers of the Church. Their use is in accordance with the ancient Jewish custom, which, in the services of the Synagogues, enjoined that after the chanting of psalms, the Law and the Prophets should be read. The primitive Church partly adopted this service of the Synagogue, and thus brought into being the service of the night watches. But the course of readings was altered; after a lesson from the Old Testament, the Epistles of the Apostles or their Acts or the Gospels were read. Some Churches somewhat extended this usage; for it is certain that the letters of St. Clement of Rome, of St. Ignatius, and of Barnabas, and the "Pastor" of Hermas were read. Some Churches, indeed, less well instructed, allowed books not wholly orthodox, like the Gospel of Peter, to be read. In time lists were made out to fix what books might be read. Muratori's "Canon" and, still better, the "Decrees of Gelasius " may be studied from this point of view with profit. Later on men were not content to confine themselves to the reading of the holy books; certain Churches wished to read the Acts of the Martyrs. The Church of Africa, which possessed Acts of great value, signalized itself in this respect. Others followed its example. When the Divine Office was more developed, probably under monastic influence, it became customary to read, after Holy Writ , the commentaries of the Fathers and of other ecclesiastical writers on the passage of the Bible just previously heard. This innovation, which probably began in the sixth, or even in the fifth, century, brought into the Divine Office the works of St. Augustine, St. Hilary, St. Athanasius , Origen, and others. To these, later, were added those of St. Isidore, St. Gregory the Great, the Venerable Bede, and so on. This new development of the Office gave rise to the compilation of special books. In primitive times the Book of Psalms and the books of the Old Testament sufficed for the Office. Later, books were compiled giving extracts from the Old and New Testaments (Lectionary, Gospel, and Epistle Books) for each day and each feast. Then followed books of homilies (Homiliaries) -- collections of sermons or of commentaries of the Fathers for use in the Office. All these books should be studied, for they form the constituent elements which later combined into the Breviary.

Further, as regards these lessons, it is well to notice that, as in the case of the psalmody, two lines of selection were followed. The first, that of the order of ferial Offices, ensures the reading of the Scripture, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, in sequence; the second, that of the order for feasts of the saints and festivals, breaks in upon this orderly series of readings and substitutes for them a chapter or a portion of a chapter specially applicable to the feast which is being celebrated.

The following is the table of lessons from the Bible . In its essential features, it goes back to a very venerable antiquity:

  • Advent -- Isaias, and St. Paul'sEpistles.
  • Christmas, Epiphany -- St. Paul , following this very ancient order: Epp. To Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews.
  • Septuagesima and Lent -- Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch.
  • Passiontide -- Jeremias.
  • Easter and Paschal Time -- Acts of the App., Apocalypse, Epp. Of St. James, St. Peter, St. John.
  • Time after Pentecost -- Books of Kings.
  • Month of August -- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus.
  • Month of September -- Job, Tobias, Judith, Esther.
  • Month of October -- Machabees.
  • Month of November -- Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets.
(f) Versicles and Little Chapters

The Capitulum , or Little Chapter, is really a very short lesson which takes the place of lessons in those hours which have special ones assigned to them. These are: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. By reason of their brevity and of their unimportance, they are much less complicated than the longer ones, and no more need here be said about them. The Versicles belong to the psalmody, like responsories and antiphons; usually they are taken from a psalm, and belong to the category of liturgical acclamations or shouts of joy. They are usually employed after lessons and little chapters, and often take the place of responsories; they are, in fact, brief responsories. The ferial Preces and the Litanies probably belong to the category of versicles.

(g) Collects

Collects, also called prayers, are not psalmodic prayers ; they are of a completely different character. Their place in the Breviary changes little; they come towards the end of the Office, after the psalmody, the lessons, little chapters, and versicles, but preceded by the Dominus vobiscum , and they gather up in a compendious form the supplications of the faithful. Their historical origin is as follows: During the earliest period, the president of the assembly, usually the bishop, was entrusted with the task of pronouncing, after the psalmody, chants, and litanies, a prayer in the name of all the faithful; he therefore addressed himself directly to God. At first this prayer was an improvisation. The oldest examples are to be found in the Didache ton Apostolon and in the Epistle of St. Clement of Rome, and in certain Epistles of St. Cyprian . In time, towards the fourth century, collections of prayers were made for those who were not adepts in the art of improvisation; these were the earliest forerunners of Sacramentaries and Orationals, which later occupied so important a place in the history of the Liturgy. The Leonine, Gelasian, and Gregorian Sacramentaries form the chief sources whence are drawn the collects of our Breviary. It may be observed that they are of great theological importance, and usually sum up the main idea dominating a feast ; hence, in them the significance of a festival is to be sought.


In the preceding paragraphs, a certain portion of the history of the Breviary, as a choir book at least, has been given. At first, there was no choir book, properly so called; the Bible alone sufficed for all needs, for therein were the psalms for recitation and the books which furnished the various lessons. It is of course most probable that the Psalter is the most ancient choir book; it was published apart to fulfil this special function, but with divisions -- marks to indicate the portions to be read; and at the end were copied out the canticles recited in the Office like the psalms, and sometimes, following each psalm, came one or more prayers. A study of manuscript Psalters, which has not as yet been methodically undertaken, would be extremely useful for the Liturgy. Then, little by little, as the canonical Office was evolved, books were drawn up to meet the wants of the day -- Antiphonaries, Collectaria, etc. In the twelfth century John Beleth, a liturgical author, enumerates the books needed for the due performance of the canonical Office, namely: -- the Antiphonary, the Old and New Testaments, the Passionary (Acts of the Martyrs ), the Legendary (Legends of the Saints), the Homiliary, or collection of homilies on the Gospels, the Sermologus , or collection of sermons, and the treatises of the Fathers. In addition to these should be mentioned the Psalterium, Collectarium for the prayers, the Martyrology, etc. Thus, for the recitation of the canonical Office, quite a library was required. Some simplification became imperative, and the pressure of circumstances brought about a condensation of these various books into one. This is the origin of the Breviary. The word and the thing it represents appeared -- confusedly, it might be -- at the end of the eighth century. Alcuin is the author of an abridgment of the Office for the laity -- a few psalms for each day with a prayer after each psalm, on an ancient plan, and some other prayers ; but without including lessons or homilies. It might rather be called a Euchology than a Breviary. About the same time Prudentius, Bishop of Troyes, inspired by a similar motive, drew up a Breviarium Psalterii. But we must come down to the eleventh century to meet with a Breviary properly so called. The most ancient manuscript known as containing within one volume the whole of the canonical Office dates from the year 1099; it comes from Monte Cassino, and at the present time belongs to the Mazarin Library. It contains, in addition to other matter which does not concern the present inquiry, the Psalter, canticles, litanies, hymnary, collects, blessings for the lessons, little chapters, antiphons, responsories, and lessons for certain Offices. Another manuscript, contemporary with the preceding, and also coming from Monte Cassino, contains Propers of the Season and of the Saints, thus serving to complete the first-mentioned one. Other examples of the Breviary exist dating from the twelfth century, still rare and all Benedictine. The history of these origins of the Breviary is still somewhat obscure; and the efforts at research must continue tentatively till a critical study of these manuscript Breviaries has been made on the lines of such workers as Delisle, Ebner, or Ehrensperger, on the Sacramentaries and Missals.

It was under Innocent III (1198-1216) that the use of Breviaries began to spread outside Benedictine circles. At Rome, no longer solely for the Roman Basilicas, but still for the Roman Court alone, Breviaria were drawn up, which, from their source, are called Breviaria de Camerâ , or Breviaria secundum usum Romanæ Curiæ

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