WHY DOES THE PRIEST SAY THE BREVIARY?
Payer to a deity or deities is a spiritual exercise in all religions. We know from the Old Testament that prayer was a fundamental element of Jewish religious life. The Book of Psalms in particular reveals the manifold expressions of Jewish sentiment in relation to God.
Christ prayed and taught his disciples to pray. Sometimes he spent the whole night in prayer. The early Christians prayed and had set hours for prayer. In his epistles Paul speaks again and again of prayer and appeals for prayers for himself and the success of his ministry. For the Christian, the sacrifice of the Mass became the highest form of prayer. By it we offer God worship, praise and thanksgiving, atonement for our sins, and petitions for help. But along with the Mass, personal prayer, both Individual and public, became part of Christian religious life from early times.
The value of prayer even for those busily engaged in the ministry was emphasized by the apostles when they proposed to appoint deacons for the material part of their ministry so that they could devote themselves fully to prayer and the spiritual ministrations. ”We will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word” (Acts 6:3-4).
The eremitical ascetics of the 4th and 5th centuries spent much time in prayer in their solitary abodes in the desert. When gradually coenobitical life evolved and communities were established, the monks gathered together several times in the day to pray together. Thus there were set ‘hours’ for prayer. The prayer consisted mainly in the recitation or singing of psalms, readings from scripture and from the writings of the Fathers, and canticles and prayers, as was already the form 0f prayer of the early Christians.
In the 6th century, St Benedict, Father of Western monasticism, systematized, as we see in his Rule, the celebration 0f the liturgical hours. He considered this the major duty (office) of the monk. It was called opus divinum (Divine Office). He devotes 17 chapters of the Rule to it.
Following the Roman method of reckoning the hours of the day and of the night, there were to be seven Hours during daytime, namely, Lauds at early dawn; Prime, first Hour of daytime (around 7 a.m.); Terce, third Hour (9 a.m.); Sext, sixth Hour (midday); and None, ninth Hour (3 p.m.). Vespers was chanted at sundown, and Compline before the monks retired for the night. Thus there were seven day Hours, corresponding, as Benedict himself says, to the biblical statement ”Seven times a day have I given praise to thee” (Psalm 118:164), and one night Hour, Matins (at 2 a.m.), again in keeping with what the psalmist says: ”At midnight I rose to give praise to thee” (Psalm 118:62).
A practice parallel to what developed in monasticism in relation to the celebration of the Hours came into vogue among the pastoral clergy with some modifications. Whereas the monks chanted or sang the Hours in choir (community), the parochial clergy, living alone for the most part, recited the Hours privately, as is still done. Moreover, Matins was said at a more convenient hour, not at midnight.
The priest in his daily life makes use of three prayer books. One is the Missal, for the celebration of Mass; another the Ritual, for the conferring of sacraments and sacramentals (blessings); and the third the Breviary, for the recitation of the Divine Office.
Breviary means ‘what is abridged’. In early monasticism there were separate volumes for the various parts of the Divine Office; the psalter contained the psalms, the lectionary the readings, and the collectary the orations or prayers (also called collects). From the 11th century these were abridged and compressed into smaller volumes, each containing all the parts, and the division into volumes following the liturgical seasons. This abridged form of the office came to be known as the Breviarium or Breviary, from the Latin word brevis meaning ‘short’.
There has been Breviary reform in the Church from time to time, notably by Pope St Pius V in 1568, by Pope St Pius X in 1911, and by Vatican II. In keeping with the latter Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Breviary was simplified and its use made liturgically more meaningful.
With regard to the obligation on the part of the priest to recite the Breviary, Vatican II says: "Priests engaged in the sacred pastoral ministry will offer the praises of the hours with fervour to the extent that they vividly realize that they must heed St Paul’s exhortation: ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Th.5:17). For only the Lord can give fruitfulness and increase to the works in which they are engaged. ‘Without me,’ He said, ‘you can do nothing’ (Jn 15:5). That is why the apostles, appointing deacons said: ‘We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4).
The law of the Church lays it down that "priests and deacons aspiring to the priesthood are obliged to carry out the liturgy of the hours daily, in accordance with their own approved liturgical books” (Can. 276:2, 3).
Apart from monks and those in Holy Orders, the celebration of the Hours is carried out also by religious men and women professed for choir duties, that is, the performance of the liturgical Hours.
By the recitation of the Breviary, the priest, united with brother priests and choir religious all over the world, raises to God throughout the day a prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition for sin and petition, supplementing as it were the prayers of his daily Mass.