Where did the breviary come from?

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This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

The word breviary comes from the same Latin root as brief. It implies this book is a shorter version of something else: in this case, the Liturgy of the Hours. The complete Liturgy of the Hours is a prayer form that seeks to extend the praise of our Eucharistic celebration through the rest of the hours outside of Mass. This sanctification of time acknowledges that time is a divine aspect of creation just as space (i.e. the world) is.

Sacred times and places are common in world religions. Dawn, noon, sunset, and night are regarded as particular markers when the texture of time is in transition. Think of how your activities shift at these markers: from sleep to wakefulness, work to home environment, productivity to relaxation, and finally from alertness back to sleep. At these junctures, it's good to consecrate ourselves and our window of time to divine safekeeping.

The original prayerbook in the Jewish tradition is the Psalter, or Book of Psalms. Early Christians took this traditional prayer with them into the practice of the church. They found natural correlations between hours of prayer and central gospel events, including resurrection (dawn), crucifixion (noon), and the Lord's supper (evening). Morning and evening prayers were routinely offered by lay members of the church.

During the rise of monasticism, other readings and prayers were added, making the Hours more formal and ritualized. By the medieval period, psalms and antiphons, lectionary readings and books of lessons, observance of the martyrology, plus hymnody, combined to require a library of volumes to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Needless to say, this made the Hours too ponderous and expensive for the laity to participate, and it became a prayer relegated to clergy and cloister.  

Then came the mendicants, those mobile religious orders like Franciscans and Dominicans. Their itinerant lifestyle necessitated a more portable book of prayer, and the breviary was born. This abbreviated version of the Hours wasn't really restored to the average person, however, until Vatican II called for a more accessible form of the breviary to be created. The single-volume book of Christian Prayer, or even simpler and slimmer Shorter Christian Prayer preserve the flavor of a liturgy adapted to hours, days, and weeks, with seasonal touches and a calendar of saint observances. For those still intimidated by leatherbound books, subscriptions to monthly services like Give Us This Day invite us into the spirit of sanctifying our time both morning and evening.

Scripture: Matt. 5:44; 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8; Acts 2:42; 3:1; 20:36; 21:5-6; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Eph. 6:18

Books: The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, by Daria Sockey (Franciscan Media, 2013)

Psalms and Other Songs from a Pierced Heart, by Patricia Stevenson (Liturgical Press, 2019)

A Book of Hours, by Thomas Merton, ed. by Kathleen Deignan (Ave Maria Press, 2007)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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