EXCELLENCE OF THE ROMAN BREVIARY—THE ESTEEM WHICH WE SHOULD HAVE FOR THE BOOK ITSELF.
The Roman Breviary is excellent, firstly, in itself; and, secondly, in comparison with all other breviaries.
It is excellent in itself, in its antiquity, for in substance it goes
back to the first ages of Christianity. It is excellent, in its author,
for it has been constructed and imposed as an obligation by the supreme
pontiffs, the vicars of Jesus Christ, the supreme pastors of the whole
Church. It is excellent, in its perpetuity, for it has come down to us
through all the ages without fundamental change. It is excellent in its
universality, in its doctrine, in the efficacy of its prayer, the
official prayer of the Church. It is excellent in the matter of which
it is built up, being composed of Sacred Scripture, the words of the
Fathers and the lives of God's saints. It is excellent in its style and
in its form for the parts of each hour; the antiphons, psalms,
canticles, hymns, versicles, follow one another in splendid harmony.
The opinions and praises of the saints who dwelt on this matter of the
Breviary would fill a volume. Every priest has met with many such
eulogies in his reading. Newman's words are very striking. "There is,"
he wrote, "so much of excellence and beauty in the services of the
Breviary, that were it skilfully set before the Protestants, by
Romanistic controversialists, as the book of devotions received by
their communion, it would undoubtedly raise a prejudice in their
favour, if he were ignorant of the case and but ordinarily candid and
unprejudiced.... In a word, it will be attempted to wrest a weapon out
of our adversaries' hands, who have in this, as in many other
instances, appropriated to themselves a treasure" (Newman, Tracts for the Times, No. 275, The Roman Breviary).
This tract raised a storm amongst Newman's fellow Protestants. All the
old Protestant objections against the Breviary and its recitation (See
Bellarmine, Controv. iii., de bonis operibus de oratione
i., i. clx.) were re-published in a revised and embittered form. What a
change has come amongst non-Catholics! Hundreds of Anglican clergymen
are reading daily with attention and devotion the once hated and
despised prayer book, the Roman Breviary. How old Bellarmine would
wonder if he saw modern England with its hundreds of parsons reading
their Hours! How he would wonder to read "The Band of Hope"
(1915), an address delivered by an Anglican clergyman to a society of
London clergymen. It includes a rule of life beginning, "Every day we
say our Mass and our Office." (Cf. R. Knox's Spiritual Aeneid, p. 102.)
The Roman Breviary is excellent, too, in comparison with every other
breviary (e.g., Aberdeen, Sarum, Gallican). For none of these can show
the antiquity, the authority, the doctrine, the sublime matter, the
beautiful order, which the Roman Breviary presents. It was for these
reasons that the emperors, Pepin (714-768), Charlemagne (742-814),
Charles the Bald (823-888), adapted the Roman rite (Gueranger, Institutiones Liturgiques,
tom. i.). And Grandicolas (1772), an erudite liturgist, but a prominent
Gallican with no love for Roman rites, declared that the Roman Breviary
stands in relation to other breviaries as the Roman Church stands in
relation to all other Christian bodies, first and superior in every way
(Com. Hist. in Brev. Rom., cap. 2). St. Francis De Sales applied to his Breviary the words of St. Augustine on the Psalter, "Psalterium meum, gaudium meum."
SECTION: Chapter IV. The Contents of the Br…
Chapter II. Short History of Divin…