Sunday, December 03, 2006

History of the Development of the Breviary

[Condensed from the Catholic Encyclopedia]

As the canonical Office was evolved, books were drawn up to meet the wants of the day -- Antiphonaries, Collectaria, etc. In the twelfth century John Beleth, a liturgical author, enumerates the books needed for the due performance of the canonical Office, namely: -- the Antiphonary, the Old and New Testaments, the Passionary (Acts of the Martyrs), the Legendary (Legends of the Saints), the Homiliary, or collection of homilies on the Gospels, the Sermologus, or collection of sermons, and the treatises of the Fathers.

In addition to these should be mentioned the Psalterium, Collectarium for the prayers, the Martyrology, etc. Thus, for the recitation of the canonical Office, quite a library was required. Some simplification became imperative, and the pressure of circumstances brought about a condensation of these various books into one. This is the origin of the Breviary.

The word and the thing it represents appeared -- confusedly, it might be -- at the end of the eighth century. Alcuin is the author of an abridgment of the Office for the laity -- a few psalms for each day with a prayer after each psalm, on an ancient plan, and some other prayers; but without including lessons or homilies. It might rather be called a Euchology than a Breviary.

About the same time Prudentius, Bishop of Troyes, inspired by a similar motive, drew up a Breviarium Psalterii. But we must come down to the eleventh century to meet with a Breviary properly so called.

It was under Innocent III (1198-1216) that the use of Breviaries began to spread outside Benedictine circles. At Rome, no longer solely for the Roman Basilicas, but still for the Roman Court alone, Breviaria were drawn up, which, from their source, are called Breviaria de Camerâ, or Breviaria secundum usum Romanæ Curiæ.

But this use of the Breviary was still limited, and wa a kind of privilege reserved for the Roman Court. A special cause was needed to give the use of this Breviary a greater extension. The Order of Friars Minor, or Franciscans, lately founded, undertook the task of popularizing it. It was not a sedentary order vowed to stability, like those of the Benedictines or Cistercians, or like the Regular Canons, but was an active, missionary, preaching order. It therefore needed an abridged Office, convenient to handle and contained in a single volume small enough to be carried about by the Friars on their journeys. This order adopted the Breviarium Curiæ with certain modifications which really constitute, as it were, a second edition of this Breviary. It is sometimes called the Breviary of Gregory IX because it was authorized by that pontiff. One of the chief modifications effected by the Friars Minor was the substitution of the Gallican version of the Psalter for the Roman. The cause was won; this eminently popular and active order spread the use of this Breviary everywhere. Antiphonaries, Psalters, Legendaries, and Responsoraries disappeared by degrees before the advance of the single book which replaced them all. Still more, by a kind of jus postliminii -- a right of resumption -- the Church of Rome, under Nicholas III (1277 -- 80), adopted the Breviary of the Friars not merely for the Curia, but also for the Basilicas; and, as an inevitable consequence, this Breviary was bound, sooner or later, to become that of the Universal Church.

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