The Anglican Divine Office, 1552 to Present

During the English Reformation, the historic Divine Office was simplified to Morning and Evening Prayer.  For those who use the Book of Common Prayer, this twofold form of daily service has remained essentially unchanged from that set forth in the second Prayer Book of Edward VI, published in 1552.
 

The Prayer Book office was the first vernacular form of liturgical daily prayer in England in over a thousand years.  The forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, however, drew heavily on the historic Breviary offices.  Both services began with opening versicles, and Morning Prayer continued with the traditional Matins invitatory consisting of Psalm 95.  Morning Prayer contained elements of Matins, Lauds and Prime, including the canticles Te Deum and Benedictus, as well as recitation of the Apostles' Creed.  Likewise, Evening Prayer retained the Vespers and Compline canticles, Magnificat andNunc Dimittis, respectively.  Both Morning and Evening Prayer ended with closing versicles closely mirroring those in the Breviary.

Where the Prayer Book offices departed from historic practice is also where lies their chief strength.  While the Breviary made use of a weekly Psalter, the Prayer Book lectionary was arranged in such a manner that daily recitation would take the reader through the majority of the Bible in the course of one year.  In addition, the Prayer Book eschewed the characteristic antiphonal nature of the Breviary -- in which the historic offices were designed to be recited primarily by two alternating groups of participants -- in favor of a form more suited to recitation by a leading minister and assembled worshippers.  It is this "congregational" quality of the Prayer Book service which is Reformation Anglicanism's primary contribution to the Divine Office.

The Prayer Book's paramount deficiency, however, is its minimalistic Kalendar, in which scarcely more than the Dominical feasts and the Apostles' days are celebrated.  The Prayer Book contains no material for the commemoration of any saint not found in Scripture, thereby robbing the reader of communion with that great "cloud of witnesses" who have lived from apostolic times to the present.

Astonishingly, though, the Prayer Book of 1662 retained the customary "obligation of choir," in which those in Holy Orders were bound to the saying of Morning and Evening Prayer "privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause."  Moreover every curate was instructed to "say the same in the Parish-church or Chapel where he ministereth . . . that the people may come to hear God's Word, and to pray with him."

That regular recitation of the Prayer Book offices could foster great holiness of life is shown in the example of Deacon Nicholas Ferrar, who founded the first post-reformational religious community in England at Little Gidding.  Daily recitation of Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as the entire Psalter, was a cornerstone of his community's Rule and provided the inspiration for future attempts to revive the religious life in Britain.

Regular praying of the Divine Office was likewise central to John and Charles Wesley's "method," which included scriptural study, fasting, and regular reception of Holy Communion in addition to daily celebration of Morning and Evening Prayer.  John Wesley's Rule of Life is, in its essentials, thoroughly orthodox and Catholic.  It has been said that if Wesley had only been born in 1803 rather than 1703, he would have been a follower of those great Oxford divines -- John Henry Newman, Edward Bouverie Pusey, and Hurrell Froude -- who by their preaching and Tracts turned the Church of England to its apostolic and sacramental roots.

Indeed, it was those 19th century "Tractarians" who kindled new interest in the pre-Reformation forms of celebrating the Holy Eucharist and daily prayer.  In the mid and late nineteenth century, the Anglican Church in England and America witnessed nothing less than a Catholic Revival, including the rebirth of organized religious orders, renewed emphasis upon and appreciation for the Episcopate and Priesthood, the Sacraments, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the Holy Communion, devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, and the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

This revival reached such great heights -- despite the initial fierce resistance of protestant-minded bishops -- that by the 1880s at the latest, a great plurality of Anglicans described themselves as Anglo-Catholic, and in the American General Convention of 1896, a motion to change the name of the church from "Protestant Episcopal" to "American Catholic" failed by just one vote.

An offshoot of the Catholic Revival was the proliferation of numerous Mass-books and Office-books which attempted to embellish the Prayer Book forms with elements drawn from Roman Catholic or Orthodox sources.  Laudable as these attempts were to reintroduce additional devotional materials, they were at best ad hoc.  Each religious order, such as the Society of St. John the Evangelist and the Order of the Holy Cross, printed their own liturgical materials.  These could rarely be called "Missals" and "Breviaries" as in most cases they did not set forth the full forms of Eucharistic worship and daily prayer in a complete way or according to any sort of standard.  Rather, some attempted to translate current Roman materials; others grafted some elements onto the Prayer Book offices; and still others attempted to remain faithful to some historic forms but greatly simplified them.  The divergence of liturgical practice provided great ammunition to those detractors who, with some basis, claimed that permitting formularies other than the Prayer Book contributed to disunity and a loss of continuity across parishes and dioceses.

Into this gap stepped the English Society of Ss. Peter and Paul, a liturgical organization committed to producing a standard Missal for use by Anglo-Catholics.  Together with the Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation of Mount Sinai, Long Island, the Society produced the Anglican Missal.  Perhaps the Catholic Revival's greatest liturgical triumph, the Missal consisted of a careful traditional English translation of the Tridentine Mass, with the Prayer Book's unique prayers and Eucharistic canon.  Thus, the Eucharistic celebration was returned to its former richness, while the Prayer Book's best aspects were joined.  To this day, the Anglican Missal and its slightly different cousin, the American Missal, remain the standard of Eucharistic worship at most Anglo-Catholic parishes.

The Anglican Breviary, however, is a singularly American achievement.  While the Society of Ss. Peter and Paul, as well as many religious orders on both sides of the Atlantic had translated many of the office hymns and canticles, the Frank Liturgical Foundation conceived the vision of producing a single complete office-book which would unify Anglo-Catholic celebration of the Daily Office in the same manner that the Missal unified celebration of the Anglo-Catholic Eucharist.  The introduction to the Anglican Breviary makes this clear:

The Anglican Breviary, as its name is meant to imply, contains the Divine Office of the Western Church, rendered from Latin into English in conformity with the Propers and liturgical language of the Book of Common Prayer.

Several different liturgies are indigenous to Western Christendom, such as the Ambrosian, the Mozarabic, and the Roman, each with its own form of the Divine Office; but the last named has for centuries been so much more widely disseminated than any other western liturgy that it is not unjustly known as The Western Rite.  A far-spread liturgy, such as this, consists of a family of variants or cognate Uses.  The Roman Secular Breviary, the Dominican and the Sarum (which are largely similar), and the variant French Breviaries (all now fallen into disuse), are no more than variant Uses of the same liturgy, and it was within this liturgical family that our Prayer-Book Use was born.

The basis chosen for the Anglican Breviary was the 1911 Reform of the Latin Secular Breviary; but when certain problems arose, resulting from the necessity of conforming our Breviary to Prayer-Book peculiarities, the precedents of other cognate Uses were followed in solving them.  (One example of this is the Office herein provided for days between Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi.)

Further, since a Breviary should be practical, we have followed cognate Uses in format and methods of rubrification when those were simpler or more concise than those of the Secular Breviary, which is much given to untranslatable and inconveniently placed Rubrics.  Or again, we have followed Sarum and Dominican precedent in offering a method of simplifying an Office of nine Lessons into three.

Nevertheless, the Anglican Breviary is in substance identical with its Latin original except where obvious changes were necessary to conform it to Prayer-Book usages; that is to say, the substance of the Latin Breviary (or its devotional content) is expressed in the accidents of Latin liturgy (Latin Scripture, Hymns, and the like), and in the Anglican Breviary this substance is expressed in the accidents of Anglican liturgy (English versions of Scripture, Hymns, and so forth).  Thus, while the Anglican Breviary is not a mere translation from the Latin, it has been kept faithful to the spirit, meaning and purpose of its Latin original."

From 1916 through 1955, the editors of the Anglican Breviary laboriously translated and compiled the elements of the historic offices, until, for the first time in four hundred years, the Anglican Church once again had the majesty, richness and complexity of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, unabridged, in substantially the same forms recited throughout western Christendom for fifteen hundred years.

The Anglican Breviary incorporates the King James Bible translation for scriptural readings, the matchless Coverdale Psalter, the Prayer Book collects and canticles, and various dignified translations of the office hymns where necessary.  Moreover, the Breviary combines all the elements necessary to say the full Office, on every day of the year, according to a complete western sanctoral Kalendar, in one volume.  No other book can claim to be as comprehensive and accurate a recension of the western Divine Office.

Unfortunately, the modernizing trends of the 1960s caused the Breviary to fall out of favor.  In addition, the dramatic changes introduced at Vatican II, which simplified the Roman Breviary to a form more closely approximating the Prayer Book, contributed to an overall Anglican liturgical decline.  By the early to mid 1990s, the Anglican Breviary was all but extinct.  Apart from the quiet recitation of Tridentine Catholic priests and religious, a few devoted Anglo-Catholics, and those students of Gregorian Chant, the historic Daily Office had virtually perished in the Western Church.


[Postscript: In early 1998, I first considered the possibility of organizing a private reprint of the Anglican Breviary.  Believing that only such a move could save this great liturgical work for future generations, I commissioned the reprint, taking the example of the Breviary's original creators in trusting God to bless the enterprise.  The response has been overwhelming, and by early 2001 a second reprint was necessary.  I am committed to keeping the Breviary in print in perpetuity, and to assisting all those who wish to learn to recite the historic Divine Office to do so.]