1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Breviary

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BREVIARY (Lat. breviarium, abridgment, epitome), the book which contains the offices for the canonical hours, i.e. the daily service of the Roman Catholic Church. As compared with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer it is both more and less comprehensive; more, in that it includes lessons and hymns for every day in the year; less, because it excludes the Eucharistic office (contained in the Missal), and the special offices connected with baptism, marriage, burial, ordination, &c., which are found in the Ritual or the Pontifical. 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:—(1) the Mozarabic Breviary, once in use throughout all Spain, but now confined to a single foundation at Toledo; it is remarkable for the number and length of its hymns, and for the fact that the majority of its collects are addressed to God the Son; (2) the Ambrosian, now confined to Milan, where it owes its retention to the attachment of the clergy and people to their traditionary rites, which they derive from St Ambrose (see Liturgy). 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,[1] 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 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,[2] 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.

Contents of the Roman Breviary.—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 (1) the Psalter; (2) Proprium de Tempore (the special office of the season); (3) Proprium Sanctorum (special offices of saints); (4) Commune Sanctorum (general offices for saints); (5) Extra Services. These parts are often published separately.

1. The Psalter.—This is the very backbone of the Breviary, the groundwork of the Catholic prayer-book; out of it have grown the antiphons, responsories and versicles. In the Breviary the psalms are arranged according to a disposition dating from the 8th century, as follows. Psalms i.-cviii., with some omissions, are recited at Matins, twelve each day from Monday to Saturday, and eighteen on Sunday. The omissions are said at Lauds, Prime and Compline. Psalms cix.-cxlvii. (except cxvii., cxviii. and cxlii.) are said at Vespers, five each day. Psalms cxlviii.-cl. are always used at Lauds, and give that hour its name. The text of this Psalter is that commonly known as the Gallican. The name is misleading, for it is simply the second revision (A.D. 392) made by Jerome of the old Itala version originally used in Rome. Jerome's first revision of the Itala (A.D. 383), known as the Roman, is still used at St Peter's in Rome, but the "Gallican," thanks especially to St Gregory of Tours, who introduced it into Gaul in the 6th century, has ousted it everywhere else. The Antiphonary of Bangor proves that Ireland accepted the Gallican version in the 7th century, and the English Church did so in the 10th.

2. The Proprium de Tempore contains the office of the seasons of the Christian year (Advent to Trinity), a conception that only gradually grew up. There is here given the whole service for every Sunday and week-day, the proper antiphons, responsories, hymns, and especially the course of daily Scripture-reading, averaging about twenty verses a day, and (roughly) arranged thus: for Advent, Isaiah; Epiphany to Septuagesima, Pauline Epistles; Lent, patristic homilies (Genesis on Sundays); Passion-tide, Jeremiah; Easter to Whitsun, Acts, Catholic epistles and Apocalypse; Whitsun to August, Samuel and Kings; August to Advent, Wisdom books, Maccabees, Prophets. The extracts are often scrappy and torn out of their context.

3. The Proprium Sanctorum contains the lessons, psalms and liturgical formularies for saints' festivals, and depends on the days of the secular month. Most of the material here is hagiological biography, occasionally revised as by Leo XIII. in view of archaeological and other discoveries, but still largely uncritical. Covering a great stretch of time and space, they do for the worshipper in the field of church history what the Scripture readings do in that of biblical history. As something like 90% of the days in the year have, during the course of centuries, been allotted to some saint or other, it is easy to see how this section of the Breviary has encroached upon the Proprium de Tempore, and this is the chief problem that confronts any who are concerned for a revision of the Breviary.

4. The Commune Sanctorum comprises psalms, antiphons, lessons, &c., for feasts of various groups or classes (twelve in all); e.g. apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. These offices are of very ancient date, and many of them were probably in origin proper to individual saints. They contain passages of great literary beauty. The lessons read at the third nocturn are patristic homilies on the Gospels, and together form a rough summary of theological instruction.

5. Extra Services.—Here are found the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Office of the Dead (obligatory on All Souls' Day), and offices peculiar to each diocese.

It has already been indicated, by reference to Matins, Lauds, &c., that not only each day, but each part of the day, has its own office, the day being divided into liturgical "hours." A detailed account of these will be found in the article Hours, Canonical. Each of the hours of the office is composed of the same elements, and something must be said now of the nature of these constituent parts, of which mention has here and there been already made. They are: psalms (including canticles), antiphons, responsories, hymns, lessons, little chapters, versicles and collects.

The psalms have already been dealt with, but it may be noted again how the multiplication of saints' festivals, with practically the same special psalms, tends in practice to constant repetition of about one-third of the Psalter, and correspondingly rare recital of the remaining two-thirds, whereas the Proprium de Tempore, could it be adhered to, would provide equal opportunities for every psalm. As in the Greek usage and in the Benedictine, certain canticles like the Song of Moses (Exodus xv.), the Song of Hannah (1 Sam. ii.), the prayer of Habakkuk (iii.), the prayer of Hezekiah (Isaiah xxxviii.) and other similar Old Testament passages, and, from the New Testament, the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc dimittis, are admitted as psalms.

The antiphons are short liturgical forms, sometimes of biblical, sometimes of patristic origin, used to introduce a psalm. The term originally signified a chant by alternate choirs, but has quite lost this meaning in the Breviary.

The responsories are similar in form to the antiphons, but come at the end of the psalm, being originally the reply of the choir or congregation to the precentor who recited the psalm.

The hymns are short poems going back in part to the days of Prudentius, Synesius, Gregory of Nazianzus and Ambrose (4th and 5th centuries), but mainly the work of medieval authors. Together they make a fine collection, and it is a pity that Urban VIII. in his mistaken humanistic zeal tried to improve them.

The lessons, as has been seen, are drawn variously from the Bible, the Acts of the Saints and the Fathers of the Church. In the primitive church, books afterwards excluded from the canon were often read, e.g. the letters of Clement of Rome and the Shepherd of Hermas. In later days the churches of Africa, having rich memorials of martyrdom, used them to supplement the reading of Scripture. Monastic influence accounts for the practice of adding to the reading of a biblical passage some patristic commentary or exposition. Books of homilies were compiled from the writings of SS. Augustine, Hilary, Athanasius, Isidore, Gregory the Great and others, and formed part of the library of which the Breviary was the ultimate compendium. In the lessons, as in the psalms, the order for special days breaks in upon the normal order of ferial offices and dislocates the scheme for consecutive reading. The lessons are read at Matins (which is subdivided into three nocturns).

The little chapters are very short lessons read at the other "hours."

The versicles are short responsories used after the little chapters.

The collects come at the close of the office and are short prayers summing up the supplications of the congregation. They arise out of a primitive practice on the part of the bishop (local president), examples of which are found in the Didachē (Teaching of the Apostles) and in the letters of Clement of Rome and Cyprian. With the crystallization of church order improvisation in prayer largely gave place to set forms, and collections of prayers were made which later developed into Sacramentaries and Orationals. The collects of the Breviary are largely drawn from the Gelasian and other Sacramentaries, and they are used to sum up the dominant idea of the festival in connexion with which they happen to be used.

The difficulty of harmonizing the Proprium de Tempore and the Proprium Sanctorum, to which reference has been made, is only partly met in the thirty-seven chapters of general rubrics. Additional help is given by a kind of Catholic Churchman's Almanack, called the Ordo Recitandi Divini Officii, published in different countries and dioceses, and giving, under every day, minute directions for proper reading.

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 the services are 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. Laymen do not use the Breviary as a manual of devotion to any great extent.

The Roman Breviary has been translated into English (by the marquess of Bute in 1879; new ed. with a trans, of the Martyrology, 1908), French and German. The English version is noteworthy for its inclusion of the skilful renderings of the ancient hymns by J.H. Newman, J.M. Neale and others.

Authorities-F. Cabrol, Introduction aux études liturgiques; Probst, Kirchenlex. ii., s.v. "Brevier"; Bäumer, Geschichte des Breviers (Freiburg, 1895); P. Batiffol, L'Histoire du bréviaire romain (Paris, 1893; Eng. tr.); Baudot, Le Bréviaire romain (1907). A complete bibliography is appended to the article by F. Cabrol in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. ii. (1908).

  1. 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.
  2. The Sarum Rite was much favoured in Scotland as a kind of protest against the jurisdiction claimed by the church of York.