Monday, December 14, 2009

The Divine Office: Strengths and Weaknesses in Each Version

In the comments section in an older post:

I am so happy to have found this blog. I am in the midst of trying to decide which version of the Office to use, and your site is a big help.

After it is all said and done, what version are you using on a daily basis? I am not able to do Matins/Office of Readings because of my family and work, but I would like to squeeze in a few of the daily hours in if I could.

Your comments seem to reflect my own tastes, so I am curious which version is your favorite.

Monastic Diurnal
Diurnale Romanum
Anglican Breviary
Breviarium Romanum
Liturgy of the Hours (ICEL)
Liturgia Horarum

I, too, am awaiting the Baronius Press BR, but I have a feeling it will be too expensive to justify (especially since I won't be doing Matins).

Thanks for your response.


I do indeed own a copy of each of these. This is partly because I can't seem to stay with any particular one. Some I use all the time, others almost never. I feel strongly about choosing one office and sticking to least for a long while. But I am not the best at that. Let me start with the most difficult office on the list and go through each one naming their strengths and weaknesses.

The Anglican Breviary.
The AB, which I reviewed here and here, is enormously complex. You can piece together the Pre-Pre-Vatican II (1955) Office using this book but the rubrics really get in the way. It tends to give you the rule and then several "Unless...Unless...Unless...Except when..." which puts you in such a state of confusion that you just want to give up. It is for rubric nerds or people who want a deeper experience than the 1962 version.

Since the AB uses the Pius X rubrics, for Double Feasts (III Class, roughly) there are 9 lessons which include Scripture, Hagiography, and a Homily/Gospel. This is the strength of the AB. The Matins is deeply spiritual but you need the patience of a Saint to use it. You also need a huge time allotment.

To really complete this office, you will need a copy of the Martyrology for Prime.

Total time allotment per day: A lot.

The Monastic Diurnal/with Matins

You will need 1 hour to pray Matins most days. Again, this is deeply spiritual but an enormous undertaking for a layman in the world. Using the Diurnal alone is a great solution. It is a great edition and although there is a learning curve once you get it down to a science you'll find its easy as pie. Plus, the Diurnal comes in Latin and English.

The only draw back to the Diurnal alone is that you will not be able to take it to your parish to pray Vespers. The Psalter is different. Also, only traditional monasteries use it (such as Clear Creek Monastery)

To really complete this office, you will need a copy of the Martyrology for Prime and a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict.

Time allotment - with Matins: A lot.
- Diurnale: Moderate.

Breviarium Romanum
I have thought for a long time that the 1962 edition of the Breviary is the best for the average layman with some extra time. You get to pray the traditional breviary and the Matins hour is significantly shorter. Most days, which are III Class feasts only have 3 lessons. You miss out on the spiritual reading present in the Pius X version (AB) which is unfortunate. You can take this to your Traditional Latin Mass parish and pray vespers with it if they have it.

Good luck finding it on eBay at a reasonable price however. I got a velveteen breviary for $75 and have sent it away for rebinding. It will come back nice.

You can get it in English only, Latin and English, or just Latin. The new Latin version costs $300. I sort of expect Baronius' new version to cost around the same. But we really have no idea yet.

You can also get just a Diurnale Romanum for $75, which is Latin only but is pretty easy to use.

To really complete this office, you will need a copy of the Martyrology for Prime.

Time allotment: Moderate.

Liturgy of the Hours/Liturgia Horarum
This is the one I am using right now, because my Roman Breviary in English is getting rebound. I want to keep myself in one office at a time and since it won't be back by Christmas, this one wins. The advantage of this Office is it is time saving. You will spend 1 hour total per day praying this version. The Office of Readings is also much deeper spiritually than the 1962, in my opinion, because it contains longer readings and less rubrics. The Hagiography however is all but wiped from the new Office.

Other than the Office of Readings however this one is seriously abbreviated (no pun intended). The translation is awful and they removed 3 of the psalms and 59 verses of others because they were thought too difficult for the average person to handle. Lame.

Time allotment: Minimal.

Little Office
You should also consider the Little Office of the BVM. It is nice for people with little time. The traditional one (Baronius Press) is pretty much the same every day and has a very storied and worthy past. The new one has a weekly psalter more or less and is modeled after the Liturgy of the Hours.

So, my recommendation for the commenter:

If you will not be doing Matins and you know that: I would get the Monastic Diurnal. It is the most traditional and easiest to use. The repetitiveness of it can be a great comfort and it makes things easier to learn. You can pray in Latin or English or both. It will help you learn Latin. Don't be intimidated if you get it. Its not as hard as you think and there are online groups you can join at Yahoo and Google for help. If you are comfortable with Latin, get the Diurnale Romanum. It is shorter and that may suit you best even though the day hours are longer.

Don't sell short the Liturgy of the Hours either. I used to just pray the Office of Readings for Matins and then the Monastic Diurnal for the Day Hours. You can do it and its not too bad a mix. You could even just pray the whole LOTH. Its ok, you know. You don't have to tell anybody and you can always get a nice leather case for it so no one will see it. :-)

Some people will also say you should pray the diurnal of whatever calendar you are attached to. I think this makes sense too. The traditional Breviaries (Pius X, 1962, Monastic) are pretty much in sync with the Traditional Latin Mass. The LOTH is for the Novus Ordo. You could also just get the Christian Prayer from Catholic Book Publishing. That is a Diurnal for the Liturgy of the Hours.


Scott said...

Very informative post! I'm an Anglo-Catholic and a Benedictine oblate who also struggles with which office to pray. My equivalent of the Liturgy of the Hours is the U.S. Book of Common Prayer 1979 office. This is available also in the Book of Divine Worship, now available as a PDF online here:
It is approved for the Anglican Use parishes and covers all 150 psalms in either a month or seven weeks at Morning and Evening Prayer depending on which scheme is used. There are also offices for Noonday and Compline. The book gives two complete psalters: one in contemporary English (but really well translated) and one in a more traditional English from earlier Books of Common Prayer. Easiest thing is to use the monthly cycle with all the psalms in order, so you just keep a bookmark at the current spot in the psalter. Two Bible readings are provided for each office of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

Rich said...


You are very generous with your time to answer my post with such a detailed response. I have read this blogpost a couple of times, and I think I will get the Diurnale Romanum for now. I am not fluent in Latin, but 6 years of singing in a men's Gregorian Chant group
has made me competent enough to wade through Latin prayers and rubrics. Also, it will be an asset even if I later decide to get the BR from Baronius Press. There will not be a discrepancy between the two, and I can use the DR as a "travel breviary."

I love the idea of the Monastic Diurnal, and many have recommended it (Shawn Tribe, editor of the NLM told me he uses this one), but I guess I am somewhat dismayed that the Psalter is rearranged. I'd like to think I was praying along with Traditionalist Catholics like the FSSP, whom I identify so much with.

I do go to an OF parish, but I grew weary of the liturgical silliness and started bringing my EF missal to pray during Mass. It does feels schizophrenic, but it helps me cope with the liturgical chaos out there.

May I ask one closing question? What is your opinion of the Angelus Press abridged Divinum Officium? If you have this one, does the Sunday office follow the liturgical year with antiphons and readings, or is it static like the LOBVM?

Again, thank you for your time.


Matt said...

Hi Rich-

the Diurnale Romanum I have is the one put out by Preserving Christian Publications. It is hardback so it will make a bice sturdy travel companion. One thing you will notice is how "authentic" it feels using it. At least that is my daily impression.

Regarding the Angelus Press shortened Divine Office I have only held it in my hands briefly at a Catholic book store once. The form factor in my opinion is extremely unattractive. I suppose using a shortened version which is essentially the psalter and ferial offices is ok for people who want to join in with the office in a limited way.

I'm not sure what the Angelus edition actually contains since I put it down so quickly...sorry I can't be of more help. But I think it is probably seasonal and ferial. Someone who used to work at Angelus told me once he "had nothing to do with that edition" and that it focused took heavily on the mid day hours.

If I were to go back to a shortened office I would use the Little Office of the BVM. It is a very traditional office especially for laity.

God bless!

Rich said...


One last request. There are so few photos of the Diurnale Romanum out there. Southwell has one, and PCP has one, but that's really it. Can you post a couple of photos of the DR whenever you have free time. No hurry.


Anonymous said...

You mention a google group and a yahoo group in this blog entry. I have looked an am unable to find these groups. Would you be willing to either post the name of the groups or a link please?

Thank you for your time. Your postings have really helped in my decision process

Drew said...

I know this thread has been dead for some time, but I have a question about the Monastic Diurnal: Contents aside, which of the two editions out there is better quality as far as durability is concerned? (One thing that concerns me, for example, about the LA Press edition is its location of the Psalter - similar to the Anglican Breviary). I have read mixed reviews of both books on that subject and was wondering what your experience with each of them has been in that area. Thanks!

Ryan Matthew Headley said...


I am pretty sure that my post isn't too much different in time from yours as your was from the previous, so here goes:

I own both Monastic Diurnals. I use them both as I prefer the English in the Lancelot, and I use the St. Michael's when praying in Latin. I have been using both for over two years, and I can say that surprisingly, the Lancelot has held up better. This is entirely due to its size. The St. Michael's seems nearly as thick as it is wide. This makes it very difficult to transport in a bag securely. The Lancelot version fits in the small flat pocket of multiple bags I own. This has led to my primarily using the Latin text when at home, and the English Lancelot text when traveling. That being said, I was initially much more impressed with the quality of the St. Michael's.

I also have an excellent book binder in town whom I have had look at both books. His word is that the Lancelot would be the easier of the two to rebind, due to the thickness of the St. Michael's.

I would also like to make one note as pertains to content: the Lancelot edition contains the full office of the Triduum--including Matins. I would stress that Matins is only included on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Blessed Sabbath, but I believe this to be of significant importance to anyone who would not regularly be praying Matins as it presents a unique opportunity for further devotion at that particularly holy time of year.

"The whole truth is generally the ally of virtue; a half-truth is always the ally of some vice." - G.K. Chesterton