Project Canterbury

The Obligation of English Priests to the Breviary, and to the Morning and Evening Prayer.

London: W. Knott, no date.

"Thus saith the Lord, Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Jer. vi. 16.

A. It does not appear that English Priests are bound to say the Morning and Evening Prayer when not serving the congregation if they say the Breviary. The reasons are:

1. Morning and Evening Prayer are offices practically taken out of the Breviary, and the greater includes the less.

2. The English direction to say Morning and Evening Prayer, when first introduced, explicitly referred only to the public recitation of them for the sake of the congregation. The rule in 1549 was, "Neither that any man shall be found to the saying of them, but such as from time to time, in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, Parish Churches and Chapels to the same annexed, shall serve the congregation." This seems to fix the primary and essential purpose of these two services of Morning and Evening Prayer, as Parochial Offices for the Congregation.

[4] The provision of them as such may be compared to the analogous provision in 1548, whereby the English Communion Service was to be attached to the Latin Missal without any other alteration whatever of the rite and ceremonies. These two enactments, thus considered, would seem to be indicative of the desire of the Church to retain the traditional ecclesiastical life and practice for Priests, while at the same time creating a parochial system of prayer and worship for the faithful people.

In 1552, when Protestant influence was rampant, and the controlling prelates and other ecclesiastics had broken away from the Catholic Clergy, such as Gardiner and those who held with him rather than with the foreigners, "all priests and deacons" were "bound to say the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, except they be letted by preaching, studying of divinity, or by some other urgent cause." This is significant:

a. It is an attempt to make the services intended for parochial use equal to the Breviary in the priest's rule.

b. At the same time setting them aside for preaching or study. (Not that preaching and study are examples of "urgent cause.")

In 1661 the direction to say the two services is repeated, but the specification of preaching and study as urgent causes is omitted, and only the general term "some other urgent cause" is retained.

It would seem therefore entirely legitimate for us to say that:

[5] i. The Catholic intention, when Morning and Evening Prayer were drawn up, was that:

a. Priests should for themselves recite the Breviary.

b. And have the parochial offices said in public for the people.

ii. As the Catholic spirit died out the Parochial Office took the place of the Breviary, but might be set aside for work, and generally was set aside.

iii. When in 1662 the Catholic spirit revived, and, as is thought, the obligation to say the parochial offices was more emphasized, and prayer was no longer explicitly put below preaching or study, still the phrase "some other urgent cause" was retained and allowed to excuse.

iv. And seeing that when the phrase, "some other urgent cause" was introduced, preaching and studying divinity were given as examples, a fortiori may we claim that fuller prayer, the full recitation of the whole office from which the parochial services are drawn, is an "urgent cause," and that we are wholly fulfilling our obligation if we:

a. Recite the Breviary for ourselves.

b. And recite or cause to be recited the Morning and Evening Prayer for the people.

B. But there is a separate and a further question whether we are not canonically obliged to say the Breviary. We know that "ex Consuetudine Immemorabile quae vim Legis obtinuit, quamque multa concilia tum generalia, tum [5/6] particularia confirmarunt, oritur in genere obligation eaque gravissima, Horas canonicas recitandi." (Haehnlein De Horis Canonicis, cap. II., De Obligatione, princip. 1, p. 107.)

It does not appear that anything that the English Church has done has severed us from that general obligation. At the same time, the 1661 arrangement was so far provisional for a condition when the use of the Breviary had fallen out, that it may serve as a satisfaction of their obligation for those priests to whom the Breviary is practically a strange book, and for times like our own when the practical exhibition of the Catholic religion is only slowly being restored. But such should be looked on as a provisional arrangement only, and priests should recognize the Divine Office as the higher obligation, and as constituting "an urgent cause" more than sufficient to set them at ease about any technical difficulty which might be raise to their not saying privately the Morning and Evening prayer. Priests would thus return to the more excellent way of reciting the Breviary for themselves, and the Parochial services publicly when "serving the congregation."

C. The obligations of English priests and their consequent duty to the Divine Office and to the English Morning and Evening Prayer may, from the foregoing considerations, be now fairly summarised as follows:

1. There is, first and foremost, the Catholic obligation of the Breviary, the Divine Office.

2. There is a provisional and conditional obligation to [6/7] say Morning and Evening Prayer even when not serving the congregation is the Breviary is not said.

3. It is unnecessary to say privately the Morning and Evening Prayer when the Breviary is said, for the greater office and greater obligation cover in both cases the lesser.

4. The recitation of the Breviary is more than sufficient to constitute "an urgent cause" for excusing from Morning and Evening Prayer when not "serving the congregation," if any technical difficulty is felt with regard to its omission.

It follows that those priests are best fulfilling their obligation who recite the Breviary; and although those priests who say the Morning and Evening Prayer instead of the Breviary may not sin thereby, the practice can only be provisional, and only conditionally a discharge of their obligation.

i. Morally, the obligation to say the lesser services of Morning and Evening Prayer when not serving the congregation is fulfilled in saying the greater and Divine Office from which they are taken.

ii. Technically, the canonical obligation to recite the Breviary affords to all who recognise the obligation a sufficiently "urgent cause" to excuse the saying Morning and Evening Prayer privately, if on technical grounds they feel they need such.

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