How to Pray the Breviary -- An Instructional Course
There is no way to avoid the fact that the Breviary is a complicated book. The Breviary's complexity, however, should not be regarded as a source of discouragement, for several reasons. First, it is certainly possible to learn to pray the Divine Office with some effort and patience. Second, the Breviary can profitably be used without reciting every office, and indeed few are able to do so. See here for suggestions on how to use elements from the Breviary in reciting the Prayer Book services or in private devotion. Third, learning to use the Breviary is a tremendous accomplishment and ensures that this great treasure will be available to future generations. Much as the monks of Solesmes almost single-handedly revived Gregorian Chant, it is no exaggeration to say that regular users of the Anglican Breviary may be the greatest factor today in whether the traditional Divine Office continues to be celebrated in the Church.
Further, while other forms of the Divine Office -- such as the Prayer Book, the Monastic Diurnal, and the Little Office of Our Lady -- have much to commend them, only the Breviary contains the fullness of that Great Conversation between Man and God which has been going on, uninterrupted, for nearly two thousand years. Since the earliest days of the Church, millions of Christians have recited the prayers of the Breviary in essentially unchanged form: kings and queens, saints, Popes, bishops and clergy, soldiers, labourers, physicians, scientists, explorers, rich and poor, of all races, nations, peoples and tongues. It is this longevity and catholicity which has caused the Breviary to become complex, as generations added bits of devotional content. When one prays the Breviary, one adds his or her small part to that great tapestry woven in prayer by the Church as her offering to the Author of the Universe.
With that said, the reader may embark on the following instructional course, formulated after a full five years of trial and error. I believe that the following represents the easiest and best way to learn to pray the Breviary, but caution that patience is in order. Mastering one office before moving on to others is essential. I welcome all suggestions and comments that might help this course become better. Good luck, and do not hesitate to contact me with any questions!
A Prayer Before Beginning to Learn the Breviary
ALMIGHTY God, Who pourest out on all who desire it the Spirit of grace and of supplication, deliver us, when we draw near to Thee, from coldness of heart and wandering of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship Thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. AMEN.
Lesson One: The Organization and Layout of the Anglican Breviary
Lesson Two: Compline -- The Simplest Office
Lesson Three: Rites and Ranks
Lesson Four: "Accidental" and "Essential" Parts of the Office
Lesson Five: Lauds -- The First "Twin"
Lesson Six: Vespers -- The Second "Twin"
Lesson Seven: How to Commemorate Lesser Feasts
Lesson Eight: Nocturns -- The Foundation of Matins
Lesson Nine: Matins -- The "Parent" Office
Lesson Ten: The Day Hours of Terce, Sext and None
Lesson Eleven: Prime -- The Odd Hour
Lesson Twelve: The Great Triduum
Lesson Thirteen: The Office of the Dead (coming soon)
Lesson Fourteen: Complicated Problems Arising in the Office and How to Solve Them (coming soon)