The chief claim for the pre-eminence of the Canonical Hours over all other forms of prayer is that the Breviary contains the official, liturgical prayer of the Church. Whether the Office be recited publicly in choir or privately by an individual, it is not a private prayer, but the daily service of public praise, rendered to God, as prescribed by the Church. Those who recite the Divine Office do so in the name of all the faithful and for the benefit of all the members of the mystical body of Christ. The laity have had little opportunity to make the acquaintance of the treasury of prayer represented by the Breviary. Formerly, Vespers, often unfortunately in a rather truncated version, used to be a regular Sunday service in parish churches, but this practice has become almost obsolete. In some places, the faithful have become somewhat familiar with Matins and Lauds of the last three days of Holy Week, the "Tenebræ" Office in most cathedrals and in some other important churches. This present English translation of the Divine Office will make available to the laity, not well conversant with Latin, the opportunity to participate, day by day, in the liturgical prayer of the Church. Nor will this version, it is hoped, be without use to the clergy and others who are bound to the recitation of the Breviary. The English text should prove convenient for comparison with the Latin original to throw light on passages of difficult interpretation.
The words which are pronounced in the recitation of the Divine Office are chiefly from the inspired writings of the Bible. Most of the prayers are venerable compositions, centuries old. The Readings from the works of the Fathers express the traditional thought of the Church. The hymns are examples of lofty, spiritual poetry. NO other prayer is endowed with such special grace. No other can equal its rank as the authorized, official prayer of the Universal Church. Moreover, through the consistent use of the Missal and the Breviary we are enabled to live again the mysteries of Christ as they are presented to us in the seasons of the ecclesiastical year. Mass and Divine Office are liturgically interrelated. The latter furnishes the setting for the Mass, as the gold of the ring is the setting for the precious jewel of its stone. When the Office is chanted in common the Mass of the day is inserted during the course of the Canonical hours, usually after Terce The daily Mass and the daily Office form the liturgical mirror which reflects, day after day, year after year, the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ as the Church unfolds them, feast by feast and season by season. All the interior formation of man is effected by the better knowledge of Our Lord, His life and His works and His words The daily thoughtful reading of the Breviary cannot fail to bring one into better acquaintance with "The mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations but is now manifested to his Saints" (Col. 1, 26). In the Divine Office, we sing to God a twelve-month hymn of praise in lasting memory of the life of Christ on earth and constant recognition of His life in heaven as we commemorate His life and His death, His resurrection and ascension, His life in glory in heaven and His eucharistic continuance in life on earth.
Associated with the annual cycle of the liturgical commemoration of the mysteries of Jesus Christ is the yearly cycle of the feasts of His Saints. In the celebration of the Saint's days, we worship God indirectly as "wonderful in His Saints" and we seek the intercession of those whose lives were models for our imitation in their devoted service of God, "the crown of all Saints." The recitation of the Divine Office, both as the direct cult of God and the indirect worship of Him paid through the honor shown His Saints will, in the words of the present Holy Father's great encyclical letter, "Mediator Dei," give us a part in that sacred liturgy on earth which is a preparation for the heavenly liturgy, in which along with Mary, the glorious Mother of God, and all the Saints, we confidently hope to sing eternally "to Him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, blessing and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength forever and ever" (Apoc. V, 13).
REV. WILLIAM J. LALLOU
Taken from the "Roman Breviary In English"
published by Benziger Brothers, Inc. in 1950.