October 14, 2008

Breviarium Romanum vs. Liturgy of the Hours

I've been experimenting with the Breviarium Romanum (in it's Romano-Seraphicum edition) over the past few weeks, and now I'm prepared to say which I think is better, this old version or the Novus Ordo Liturgy of the Hours.

Matins/Office of Readings. The Liturgy of the Hours (LH) has fewer but longer readings. The structure is much simpler than the Matins of the Breviarium Romanum ( BR.) The longer readings seem to lend themselves more readily to the atmosphere of lectio and spiritual reading. The BR, however, has a much better sense of "progressive solemnity" in it; the number of nocturns varies according to the solemnity of the day.
Decision: split. I think that the LH would be the better prayer in the case of individual recitation, but the Matins of the BR would be better for celebration in common. The longer readings of the LH are suited especially to individual reflection, while the interwoven rhythm of psalms, readings, blessings, and absolutions of the BR Matins would seem better suited to praying in choir.

Lauds/Morning Prayer.* It seems to me that the LH is the superior prayer. The inclusion of the Old Testament canticles in the psalmody expands the range of Sacred Scripture that is prayed, and the 4-week psalter makes for a wider varity of brief readings. The universal inclusion of reponsorial intercessions allows for greater participation when the hour is prayed with the faithful.
Decision: LH

Prime: nolo contendere says the LH, which has no prime.

Terce, Sext, None/Mid-Morning, Mid-Day, Mid-Afternoon Prayer. For the small hours, the BR seems superior to me. The LH gives only one cycle of psalmody for prayer "during the day," making the presumption that most of the time you are only going to pray the one mandated hour. For the other hours, a set group of "gradual psalms" are used, which also double as the festal psalms. Though the readings are more varied in the LH due to the 4-week psalter, the short readings in the BR are spot-on inspirations for the spiritual trials and effort that go with a working day.
Decision: BR

Vespers/Evening Prayer.
My observations are the same, mutatis mutandis, as for Morning Prayer.
Decision: LH

Compline/Night Prayer. The compline of the BR has much to recommend it, such as a fuller psalmody and a greater variation between Sunday and weekdays. However, it seems to me that the simpler structure--especially the option to use either of the Sunday psalmodies on any day if you want to pray from memory--makes the LH the superior version of this prayer. When it's dark and you're tired, my guess is that the LH compline is more likely to actually get prayed than its BR predecessor.

Other considerations:

Psalter. The idea of praying through the whole of the psalter each week is the beautiful foundation of the BR. The BR is to be further praised for its willingness to include all the psalms, in contrast to the LH, which omits a few deemed to be disturbing. (It is amazing on Sunday to suddenly be praying the full version of psalm 110; its easy to forget that the LH skips the part about heads being strewn about.) On the other hand, the 4-week psalter of the LH allows for a much richer cycle of readings, as well as making room for the OT and NT canticles at the hinge hours.
Decision: undecided. Despite all the benefits of the 4-week psalter, the ideal of praying through all 150 psalms each week is very attractive.

Portablity. Here the BR wins with no contest. One of its volumes is less than half of the size of any edition of the LH I have ever seen. Portability might not seem like a big deal, but the willingness of someone to take their prayers along to work or when they travel depends on it in many cases.
Decision: BR

*Though the typical edition of the LH maintains the traditional names for the hours, I am using the American English translated names for clarity.


Anonymous said...


I have no familiarity with the Roman Breviary, so it is very interesting to read your thoughts.

Have you/do you do the reading from the Roman Martyrology at Prime? What do you think of it?

Vavsevekivekov said...

One of my favorite things about the BR is that the different hours have unique characters to them structurally.

I would note that the readings at Lauds an Vespers never change ferially, since they are "capituli"--from memory, but I suppose that is a matter of taste.

Brother Charles said...

I think you are right, Thomas. As I've continued to explore the BR, I've realized that the capituli and the readings from the new version are not really analogous; they seem to be different in purpose and function. So perhaps my direct comparison isn't entirely fair in this case. Thanks for the comment!

Brother Charles said...

Practical update...I have gotten into the habit of using the BR for the mid-day office. It's so portable and I like it better than the current breviary. I take on my errands, or to the funeral home, or the bus.

Anonymous said...

Dear Brother(s),
If you wish to part with your Franciscan Breviary let me know.

I also am specifically searching for a early to mid 1940s Breviarium Romano-Seraphicum.

My email address is jedco AT telus DOT net.

Yours in Christ,
Jerry, TOSF

Brother Charles said...

Further update: Lately I've been working through Stanislaus Campbell's From Breviary to Liturgy of the Hours, a fascinating and detailed account of the process of the reform. It has helped me to understand a lot of the differences, though it has not changed the opinions I express in the post!

Rich said...

Just wondering which version you've settled on. It's been 4 years, so habits are established.......

Brother Charles said...

Well, given that I pray some of the Hours in common with the friars, who use the Liturgy of the Hours, and I decided, based on Universae Ecclesiae, that it wasn't good to mix and match, I haven't been using the BR much since these first experiments.

Thanks for the comment!

Rich said...

That's the conclusion a lot of acquaintances of mine have reached, too.

I have explored just about every form of the Office over the past three years (BR, LH in ICEL English and in Latin, Little Offices of the BVM, and even the traditional Benedictine Monastic Diurnal from Farnsborough Abbey), and I've concluded that I am a man without an Office. I either have to deal with dull and uninspiring ICEL English in the LOTH or a huge time commitment and asynchronous EF calendar with the BR.

For now I just pray the Rosary.

Thanks for your blog!

walsingham*way said...

Stick with the BR, St Therese of Lisieux and thousands of the Saints and millions of clergy, religious and laity have used/still are using it. If you use parallel text breviary or excellent Divinum Officium free on line. You will very quickly pick up the Latin. Leave out Matins and try Lauds and Vespers and one daytime little office after a while. The classic Roman Breviary is a monument of European and world excellence. Please persevere. I use the 1960 edition online or in book form.