Monday, January 24, 2011

The Divine Office – Part 2: Reforms of the Traditional Breviary

Tridentine Community News (January 23, 2011):
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, Summórum Pontíficum specifies that those following the Extraordinary Form must use the books in force in 1962. For the Breviary, this means the 1961 edition, which was the result of several iterations of modifications during the 20th century.

The first such change to the Breviary occurred when Pope Pius X in his letter Divíno Afflátu ordered a new Psalter and modified rubrics to be used in the Breviary as of January 1, 1913.

Perhaps because of the difficulties in typesetting in the pre-computer era, something interesting happened in the case of the Liber Usuális, the book used by a cantor to chant the Propers of Mass and the Divine Office. Instead of revising the text of the Liber, the publishers decided to put the new Psalm texts in an appendix, leaving the old Psalter in the main body of the Liber. This makes it easy for a curious reader to compare the “Before and After” Latin texts. In a cursory perusal of the revisions, the changes to the text do not significantly affect the meaning of the Psalms. The changes are less noticeable to the casual reader than the difference in flow and feel of the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible versus the New American Bible, for example.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII simplified the rubrics of the Breviary. In 1960 Pope John XXIII modified the rubrics again and also changed the structure of Feasts in the calendar. The details of these reforms are beyond the scope of this article, but they do demonstrate that liturgical change was arguably more extensive and frequent with regards to the Breviary than with regards to the Roman Missal. For those who are interested, a detailed study of the various reforms was published as a series of articles on under the title, Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary 1568-1961.

For this reason, you will see currently-in-print guidebooks to the Extraordinary Form Breviary making reference to the “New [1961] Breviary”, not to be confused with the Ordinary Form Liturgy of the Hours.


Until 1964, it was only permissible to pray the 1961 Breviary in Latin. In April of that year, the U.S. Bishops, with subsequent approval by Rome, permitted the use of two English translations of the Divine Office, the first an English-only edition published by Benzinger Brothers, and the second a Latin-English edition published by the Liturgical Press of Collegeville, Minnesota.

Because Summórum Pontíficum specifies that we are to use the 1962, and not 1964, liturgical books, it is questionable whether an English translation approved in 1964 should be used for prayer of the Office. Consider that the 1961, and not 1964, edition of the Colléctio Rítuum subset of the Rituále Románum book of blessings and sacraments is the norm for use in the Extraordinary Form. As an aid to understanding the text, however, there is no question that these translations are of value.

The Ordinary Form Liturgy of the Hours may be prayed in either Latin or the vernacular.

Books – Extraordinary Form

A newly published, Latin-only, two-volume edition of the Breviárium Románum is available at

A one-volume Latin-only edition that excludes Matins is known as the Diurnále Románum. This compact edition is popular because of its portability. A newly republished version is available at

A widely-anticipated, long-delayed three volume Latin-English edition is expected from missal publisher Baronius Press in 2011 ( This will be an updated, proofread, and corrected version of the Collegeville edition mentioned above. Unfortunately, it uses rather modern English, with uncapitalized pronouns referring to the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. This is not in keeping with the vernacular used in most missals for the Extraordinary Form.

The Monastic Diurnal from Britain’s St. Michael’s Abbey Press ( is a Latin-English presentation of the Benedictine Divine Office. Its advantage is that it is the only in-print 1961 Breviary to use hieratic English in the translations, making it concordant with the style of prayer found in most English Tridentine hand missals. Its disadvantage is that it is a modified version of the standard Office.

Angelus Press offers a book called Divine Office which is advertised as a parallel Latin-English text. However, it only contains Lauds and Vespers for Sundays, limiting its usefulness.

Hopefully Rome will soon clarify two issues: 1) Can the Traditional Divine Office be prayed in the vernacular, and if so, which translation(s) are permitted? 2) Is it permissible to pray the monastic version of the Office? Note that “permissible” in this sense really applies to public recitation or chanting of the Office, or legality of using these versions to satisfy one’s clerical obligations. Laymen may reasonably use any edition for private prayer, as they are under no obligations. Nevertheless, all things being equal, it would be preferable to use an approved edition or translation to remain with the mind of the Church.

Tridentine Masses This Coming Week

Mon. 01/24 7:00 PM: Low Mass at St. Josaphat (St. Timothy, Bishop & Martyr)

Tue. 01/25 7:00 PM: Low Mass at Assumption-Windsor (Conversion of St. Paul)
[Comments? Please e-mail Previous columns are available at This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for January 23, 2011. Hat tip to A.B.]


Anonymous said...

I've been plowing through "The Reform of the Liturgy" and think I should probably own a copy, so rich a gold mind is it as insight into the mind of the reforming spirit. I hadn't gotten to the section on the revision of the other books, so intent is the author on presenting the situation as it pertains to the Missal.

On a lighter note, however, I went to a local big-box book store on another errand recently and, just on a lark, asked if the shop owned or could order a copy of the book. I was told that it didn't show up on any of their order lists, but that probably had it, or I could try used book stores, or order direct from the publisher.

Please, God, let every liturgy team have to read the book and compare it to any of Papa Ratzinger's books. Then let the reform of the reformers begin.

I can't shake one very basic question: what was so irremediably broken that it needed the kind of "reform" we got?

Pertinacious Papist said...

I take it you mean Bugnini's work and not Gamber's. The title's are similar in English, though Bugnini's matches your wording exactly.

You may recall that the earlier Ratzinger wrote preface to Gamber's work, which should be compared, most certainly, along with much more.

joseph said...

Why on earth would Baronius Press shoose not to capitalize pronouns for the Divine, when they are re-typesetting the entire work? I would love for someone from there to ring in on such a seemingly inconsistent decision.

Mowery said...

Joseph, my guess is that that applies to the Collegeville edition itself. While I do not own the Baronius breviary, the sample pages on their website and the detailed description of the content seems to indicate that they used Collegeville as a source as opposed to simply reprinting it outright. I would argue this necessitates updating to the original article as well since this is not very clear.

You can see the sample pages here: