Choosing a Breviary- Divine Office Boot Camp

Just so everyone is clear: Liturgy of the Hours = The Divine Office. Two names for the same thing. I tend to use “Divine Office” because it’s fewer keystrokes. Liturgy of the Hours is the more common title since the second Vatican Council, although the Vatican itself still uses both of them interchangeably. The word “breviary” on the other hand, refers to the book containing the Liturgy of the Hours. If someone says, “I’m going to say my breviary” they are using a kind of Catholic slang, and it’s very inacurate. It’s the equivalent of a priest saying “I’m going to say my missal” when it’s time to say mass.

 Today I’ll help you decide which breviary you might want to use. First decision: digital or traditional printed breviary? If you are part of the under-50, tech-savvy generation and already do much of your reading from a mobile device or an e-reader, than you probably want to skip buying a print breviary–at least for now–and use an online or mobile breviary to learn to pray the Divine Office. There are several good ones. You will find a link to Universalis.com on the Catholic Exchange homepage. DivineOffice.org is extremely popular in this country. This site not only lays out all the prayers for each hour of the day, but it also has podcasts of communities praying these same hours, which gives you an excellent feel for how to pray the liturgy with a group. DivineOffice.org also has apps for all popular mobile devices, available from the respective app stores. A third digital breviary that deserves mention is ibreviary.com. Based in Italy, ibreviary has the Liturgy of the Hours available in many languages. It’s  mobile app—which also works well on Kindle readers—is free. You can also get an ibreviary widget that puts the prayers of the day on your personal blog or website.

 I would almost recommend that all newcomers to the Divine Office start with a digital version until they get used to the rhythmn and routine of these prayers. Digital versions lay all the prayers out for you. There is not guess work about which parts of the psalter, propers, feasts, and/or commons to use each day. Using a print breviary involves a learning process that can frustrate some beginners into giving up before they’ve given the Hours a decent chance.

 But maybe you’re adamant that you want to use a book, and there can be good reasons for that. You might associate prayer with being “unplugged” and getting away from the e-world for a few precious minutes. You might want to be able to pray with other people who use the book. You might want to be able to pray the Office whether or not a wireless signal is available. Or you might be one of those old—or young!– fogeys who just likes the feel of a real book. I get that. So here’s what you need to know about print breviaries:

 The most widely used breviary in the United States is put out by the Catholic Book Publishing company(CBP). The 4-volume version (around $120 on Amazon) has all the liturgical hours for every day of the year. If you are committed to praying more than just Morning , Evening and Night Prayer, then you want to get the 4-volume. If this is too big a chunk of change, you may buy one volume at a time for $32.44 a piece. The one to send for now  is volume II- Lent thru Easter.

 A more economical thing to do,  is to purchase the one-volume version titled “Christian Prayer” (also from CBP) It include the complete Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer for the entire year. It has selections from Daytime  Prayer, but not the complete daytime cycle for the whole year. This book is enough for most people, and probably enough for anyone who is just beginning.

 CBP also has a slimmer volume titled Shorter Christian Prayer. This is the basic 4-week Psalter for Morning and Evening Prayer during ordinary time. It does not include the variations needed for Church seasons or feast days, so with this book you would be using the offices of ordinary time even during lent and advent.  But a beginner who has this book available  should use  it for a few months, since it is very easy to learn to use. You can always buy the real thing some other time if you find yourself wanting to keep up with the complete liturgical year.

Next time: some basic liturgical vocabulary.

Daria Sockey

By

Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at thesockeys@gmail.com

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  • Jane

    I am a fan of Shorter Christian Prayer – it’s a great way to get into the LOH.  It is also a good travel size.  I promised myself that I’ll ‘upgrade’ to a larger Breviary once I can manage to make Shorter Christian Prayer a habit.

  • Sighthounds

    There is also a podcast called Pray Station Portable in which the readings are read for you by a monk or priest and all you have to do is download and listen and pray with him.

  • lisa17vy

    question for you Divine Office experts… I want to buy the complete Liturgy of the Hours, but not in 4 volumes.  I see priests with one big hunk of a book that is thier brevary.  where do I find that version?  I’m not having luck so far.

  • janet_baker76

    Daria, I wish you would not say that ‘the Divine Office = Liturgy of the Hours,’ because that would lead people away from the treasure of the traditional divine office, available in various places on the internet. The Vatican II revised version is no more like the Divine Office than the novus ordo is like the traditional mass, meaning that there are similarities and major differences, too. The topic has been discussed elsewhere (and I’m hurrying to pray Matins right now) but the chief one, the overwhelming one to me, is that the readings or lessons or nocturns or whatever one calls them in the traditional divine office contain many more writings from the doctors of the Church than the new version, and also many more writings from the saints on their feast days. It is just a wonderful treat to be able to read a bit from Catherine of Sienna or Leo I on their feast day. And it is a relief not to have to read from the constitutions of Vatican II, of which the Liturgy of the Hours is overly supplied. By the way, Baronius Press is now offering the Collegeville English translation of the traditional Divine Office for about $350, a beautiful three volume edition. Yours in Christ.

    @ Lisa, I don’t know which priests to whom you refer, but you might mean the original divine office breviary in Latin only, no English translation. 

  • lisa17vy

    Thank you Janet!  You are right… and since my Latin is not up to par, I’ll be going with the 4 volume set :)!!  God bless.

  • janet_baker76

    Lisa, related to the rest of my post, I hope you will consider the original Divine Office rather than the Liturgy of the Hours. The faithful are allowed to recite it just as we are allowed to attend the traditional mass, and it’s so much richer, for many ways, and if you investigate further you’ll uncover the whole very interesting discussion. I myself use an old, beat-up what they call Collegeville translation, three volumes. It was all I could find at the time, ten years ago. Baronius Press is now re-ublishing this. It’s not cheap! But since it’s made of pure gold, well …  There are also free sources online. I’m going to put a link below. It’s really easy to use but their English translation, yikes! I can’t understand it sometimes. I’m sure the translation has a name but I don’t know it. Then there is another link that I don’t have at the moment but you’d find it if you googled breviary. I think it’s breviary.net. Anyway it’s a pay subscription. I ‘got into’ the body once by accident, googling Monday in Easter week [Easter week is really complicated and my Collegeville didn't have the right antiphons!) and somehow bypassed the sign in. I haven't done so again [theft!] but their translation was very much better than the one at the link I’m putting below. Again it is different from my Collegeville, and I don’t know its name either! I do hope in any case that you will consider the traditional divine office as an alternative to the Liturgy of the Hours which is really light on very many satisfying, enlightening, wonderful traditional approaches–LH uses different psalms, and substitutes readings from Vatican II for readings from the Church fathers and the saints, as I said in my earlier posting. Another topic to google. But let’s pray first, that’s my motto. I really love the divine office and it always leads into and up to mass, that’s so great.

    http://divinumofficium.com/cgi-bin/horas/officium.pl

  • Joe Q

    I’ve prayed the Liturgy of Hours for a week and I must say the most off putting thing is not finding the feast day specials but finding out that I had to read writings by a schismatic and heretic! Why the committee who made the Liturgy of Hours was looking at Martin Luther’s writings I’ll never know. I mean he’s the founder of the protestant denomination and was originally Catholic! He left the Catholic Church! ….It was probably ecumenical reasons….As if a Protestant would ever even look at long written “Catholic” prayer like the Divine Office. Everything has to be spontaneous with them. No repetitious prayer.

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