On the Anglican Breviary (and Others)

The Anglican Breviary (AB) is a wonderful resource. I heartily encourage all liturgy geeks and those with a curiosity about the Roman roots of the current hours of prayer to get this book. It is a showcase demonstrating that liturgical worship of God at its best is the disciplined encounter with Scripture in cycles of psalmody, Scripture readings, and patristic interpretation. That having been said, I cannot commend its daily use; to truly profit from it, you must be able to live in the entirity of its cycles and–for most uncloistered Christians–I do not see how this can be acheived with consistency. However, it is a rich resource for adding orthodox material to the hours that you already say as well as for general edification.

Paranthetical Rambling Warning
As I wrote out my thoughts on the Anglican Breviary, I saw them turning into not just a book review but some general thoughts on learning the Offices and Office Books in general. So–don’t expect anything concise or coherent in this post; it rambles a bit. (But it’s my blog, so there! :-D)

The Book Itself
The first things that you will notice about the AB is that it has some heft to it and that it is finely crafted. Church Publishing take notice!! This is the way you put a book together that you intend people to use over the course of decades. While I’m no bookbinder and can’t tell you the technical details, my 2-volume Daily Office Book suffers in comparison. The Daily Office Book has nowhere near the life of the breviary; you can tell the AB is a book intended for constant use.

Using the Book
First off, this is not an intuitive book by any means (nor is it intended to be…). A quick list of suggestions:
1. If you’ve never said a form of the Daily Office or Morning and Evening Prayer before, don’t start here! Even if you’re dead set on using this book, apprentice yourself to a simpler form and work your way up to it.
2. Familiarize yourself with the mechanics of sectional prayerbooks. Most of the breviaries out there have sections in one form or another. That is, one part of the book has the basic flow of the prayer service (the ordo) that is used daily (the Ordinary). Another part will have the Psalms; another will have the readings; if there are Propers–things done on certain days or seasons–they may be grouped elsewhere.
3. Flowing out of #2–learn how to deploy your ribbons. My general rule of thumb is that one ribbon goes in each section to measure your progress as you move through the day/week.
4. When you sit down with this book (or any other for that matter) never try to pray with it right off–study it first. It’s not very prayerful if you’re trying to figure out where to go and what to do next. Map it out before-hand, even drawing up an ordo sheet and writing in some of the shorter repeating Ordinary texts if that’ll help you. For the AB in particular, I sat down and just flipped pages for two or three hours, then read through most of these excellect lessons. (Just ask M–I sat on the floor flipping pages muttering “where’s the freakin’ [Matins] hymn?” for about twenty minutes; I found it in the weekly Psalter.) Only then (the next morning) did I try to pray with it.
5. In any prayerbook based on the monastic way of life (as the AB is despite it being a secular use–insert long aside on Chrodegang and the evolution of secular offices here) there is a cycle and rhythm and it’s usually connected to the psalms. You’ve got to figure out the key units of time–or at least the key units for your use. For instance, the way I read the BCP’s Daily Office, the basic unit is the month because that’s how long it takes to get through the Psalter. With this book, it’s the week. Once you know that, you know to look for clues that relate to days of the week.
6. Start simple, move to the complex. I’ve had my breviary for about a week now and I’m still ignoring the sanctoral cycle. It’s not because I don’t love the saints or don’t feel I need their intercession–it’s because piling everything on at once would simply be too much at one time. I’m still living into the flow of the book and the proper of the season. Once that’s second nature, I’ll add in the saints.

The Upshot
I’ve prayed Matins, Laus, Vespers, and Compline with the AB; I’ve studied the Little Offices. Of the Offices, I’ve been saying Matins more or less regularly. I’d love to be able to use this as my chief prayer book–but I never will. Why? Because I’d never be able to honor the cycle. In proper fashion, the psalms are repeated every week. Ergo, to read them all, you have to say every office of every day for the week. In between doing laundry, cooking meals, driving the girls to day care, working full-time, catching trains, every once in a while saying hello to my wife, working on my dissertation, etc., it ain’t gonna happen. While I could probably do some of the Offices every day, I know I wouldn’t be able to do them all. I need all of the psalms and knowing that I’m missing a section of them every week would drive me absolutely crazy. It would be like working out every day but only doing the upper body…

Furthermore, I am, at heart, a BCP kinda guy. That’s why I switched to the Episcopal Church, after all. This is a beautiful liturgy–and I’m eager to incorporate parts of it into my BCP Offices(For suggestions on incorporating AB elements into the BCP, look here…)–but the rhythm that works for me in my life–and that I can pray with my wife and children–are the BCP Rite I offices. I love dipping into the Breviary because of what it teaches me about how my offices came about; I also love it for what doing Matins teaches me about my dissertation topic; but the discipline I need and the pattern that my family has chosen is not this. I will probably say Matins from the AB in parallel with the BCP Office for a while but it will–for this time of my life–be for edification rather than my chief spiritual discipline.

8 thoughts on “On the Anglican Breviary (and Others)

  1. LutherPunk

    If I am reading this correctly, it sounds a lot like what I use it for: a supplement to the BCP. It is a wonderful supplement, however!

    I agree with you on the binding as well, it is very solid without being rigid.

  2. Lee

    Fascinating stuff.

    Unfortunately, I’m so lame that even doing both morning prayer and evening prayer from the BCP or other variants is beyond my current capacities. Thus I never get through the whole psalter. I’ve been considering whether it’s more important to move through the entire psalter in some sort of disciplined way, or to respect the integrity of whichever office I manage to do by only going through the psalms appointed for that particular office. Any advice?

  3. LutherPunk

    lee- fwiw, before I started with a full on office, I just used the psalms appointed for the day by the BCP. It was really helpful in just getting into the rhythm.

  4. Derek the Ænglican

    Lee, I’d agree with lp. The Psalms are the heart of the Office, so I’d go with them. One note though: I find weekends a bitch in terms of saying the Office–if I slack off during the week it’s generally there. If you miss part of the cycle there’s two ways to deal with it. 1. Be overly scrupulous and go back and say everything you missed (or else feel guilty about not doing so. 2. Take the long view–those same psalms probably won’t fall on a weekend next month…I’ll get ’em then.

    Go with option 2…

    Oh, I should probably mention that I don’t use the Office lectionary for selecting psalms. Rather, I prefer the designations already embedded in the BCP’s Psalter. Thus MP on the first day of the month is Pss 1-5; EP is 6-8, etc. Is it better? Well, it’s easier and more consistent as far as I’m concerned.

  5. *Christopher

    I especially resonated with your conclusion as it gelled with my concerns at lp’s blog:

    -but the rhythm that works for me in my life–and that I can pray with my wife and children–are the BCP Rite I offices…

    I’m certainly curious about the Anglican Breviary as a resource and supplement (being ginger with prayers to the saints and Mary) and appreciate your thoughts on how to use them best, but for regular life in a mixed tradition household with one member whose English is a second language (though fluent), Rite II BCP is the doable choice, and it matters more that we pray together in a form with which we’re both comfortable. To do Rite I, though I love the language, would be like C pulling out some German prayers in Luther’s German and would likely confuse me at points just as Rite I confuses him. It would be better for us again to take up Latin together.

    Oh, and lee, I recommend derek’s advice about Option 2. I used to go with Option 1 and either do them all or beat up on myself, but it’s really not humble actually, as God I’ve found is quite gracious in understanding our lives as derek puts it so well (here of course, I’m proof-texting):

    Ergo, to read them all, you have to say every office of every day for the week. In between doing laundry, cooking meals, driving the girls to day care, working full-time, catching trains, every once in a while saying hello to my wife, working on my dissertation, etc., it ain’t gonna happen.

  6. Mark

    I must say I loved the Anglican Breviary.

    I found after time that I did not have enough time to say all the Offices, and I was getting upset because I was missing a good chunk of the Psalter. Nowadays I use the one-volume Christian Prayer–but I still miss the Elizabethan English. I wish there was a compromise.

  7. Stephen Barber

    I have been using the AB now for about two years to supplement a BCP-based office. However, I don’t use their grouping of the Psalmsfor the same reason as everyone else – I haven’t got the time. Instead I use Garold Riley’s Revision of the Psalter, which uses the old BCP version, slightly revised, but groups them in a much better way than the BCP. I supplement with the hymns, canticles and the Sanctoral from the AB. It’s such a beautifully produced book that it’s a pleasure to handle it and use it, and you do feel that you have something that is really first rate to help you worship.

  8. Derek the Ænglican

    Thanks, Stephen! Yes, I too find the AB a great supplement and, when I have the time or it’s a special feast like to use resources either from it or the English Office.

    I’m not familiar with the Riley text and will have to look that up…

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