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What is a Breviary?

A Breviary is a liturgical book used in Christianity, containing the daily prayers, hymns, psalms, and readings for the Divine Office. It guides the faithful through the canonical hours, marking each day with devotion and reflection. Its rich history weaves through centuries of worship. How might its timeless rhythms speak to your modern life? Join us to uncover its enduring relevance.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

The Latin word brevis meas “concise” or “short.” It is from this Latin root that the word breviary was created. A breviary is a book of prayers and other religious texts used in both private and liturgical worship. In addition to prayers, breviaries include Psalms, religious readings, and hymns. The texts also include notes on how and when to use the passages. The reason that such a text is called a breviary is that it is an abridgement of a number of books.

A breviary is and very often has been a very useful text for traveling religious leaders and missionaries. Because missions have often taken such individuals on long and difficult journeys, it was often difficult to transport numerous religious tomes. A breviary, however, includes information on holding ceremonies such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals. A breviary also includes everything necessary to lead religious services for the community. Therefore, the text covered all of the basic needs of a religious leader, including passages that he could use in his own personal devotions, no matter where he was in the world.

A breviary is a book of prayers and religious texts used in worship.
A breviary is a book of prayers and religious texts used in worship.

Protestants and Catholics both often use breviaries in their daily devotions. Religious leaders also use these books as a guide for ceremonies and daily practices. Catholic breviaries published before 1974 included information on what was once known as the Divine Office. This information included directions about which prayers should be said in each hour of the day. In 1974, however, Pope Paul VI reformed this text. It is now known as the Liturgy of the Hours.

Breviary ceremonies make use of votive candles.
Breviary ceremonies make use of votive candles.

The specific hours which are meant to be dedicated to prayer and devotion are the result of an ancient practice. In the Old Testament, God instructed Aaronic priests to offer Him sacrifices in the mornings and the evenings. It is believed that the Divine Office was inspires by these rites. Furthermore, in the Psalms, David speaks about praising God seven times every day. These Psalms also likely reinforced the practices described in the Divine Office portion of the breviary.

Prayers in a breviary may be aimed at helping people dealing with a spiritual crisis.
Prayers in a breviary may be aimed at helping people dealing with a spiritual crisis.

Because breviaries have been in use for centuries and by different religious sects, there are many different versions of them. They have included different combinations of information and instructive texts and have been translated into many different languages. Breviaries have been printed in very ornate, highly designed versions; they have also existed in the plainest of formats. Despite the many different versions of the breviary, their general purpose of offering information on basic religious practices has remained the same.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for LanguageHumanities, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for LanguageHumanities, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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    • A breviary is a book of prayers and religious texts used in worship.
      By: Magdalena Kucova
      A breviary is a book of prayers and religious texts used in worship.
    • Breviary ceremonies make use of votive candles.
      By: Hugh O'Neill
      Breviary ceremonies make use of votive candles.
    • Prayers in a breviary may be aimed at helping people dealing with a spiritual crisis.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Prayers in a breviary may be aimed at helping people dealing with a spiritual crisis.