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.)