QUAERITUR: Tips for jumping into the deep end of the Latin Breviarium Romanum

From a reader:

So, I’ve resolved to get a Breviarum Romanum set, but I was holding out for Baronius Press’ because it is rumored to have both Latin and English text. However, it would seem that the Baronius set is the stuff of myth (seeing as it’s been in the typsetting stage for a year), and it looks as if I’ll be purchasing the one from romanbreviary.com. I would rather it have both English and Latin, but alas it does not. I have an intermediate grasp of Ecclesial Latin, and while I would prefer the training wheels, I’m not altogether deterred at the Latin-only prospect. My question is, are there any recommendations you would give to somebody who is jumping into the deep end?


First, it is unclear to me whether the questioner is a cleric or religious, that is under the obligation to say the office, or a layman without the obligation.

If you have an obligation, and you are not too strong with your Latin, then I would suggest taking the Latin office in small bites.  It is better for you to understand what you are doing when fulfilling your obligation.  You might stick at first to Compline.  Otherwise, as a supplement to your regular office, Baronius has a nice volume of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Latin and English facing in columns.

You might look for a couple aids, such as Pius Parsch’s The Breviary Explained or The Church’s Year of Grace, to help you identify the over all flow of the themes and concepts the Church is underscoring with the feasts, Sundays, and seasons.

Otherwise, keeping in mind that the office is a form of vocal prayer, you will greatly increase your comprehension and facility with the breviary by saying it out loud.  Having the musical notation for the hymns via the Liber Usualis can help too. 

Also, perhaps by focusing on one hour, writing down the vocabulary on flashcards, you can master small sections at a time.

Finally, when reading the psalter, you might first read the psalm in English straight through, and then turn to the Latin.

Not having a strong grasp of Latin will make this a bit arduous, but it could be a good way to get you into the Breviarum Romanum.

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  1. One thing that might help would be a Latin/English Roman diurnal. It has all the hours except for Matins and is in English and Latin (usually including the rubrics).
    Figuring out the Office isn’t too hard if you are familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours. I find that the hardest part in the older form is figuring out all the calendar things with mulitple commemorations and the like.

  2. Flambeaux says:

    I’ll second the suggestion of the Diurnal if the reader is not under an obligation to pray the Office.

    It has served me very well and given me greater confidence with my Latin. Further, there are days when I’m just not up to parsing the Latin (even of the Vulgate psalter) and it is nice to have the English handy.

    All that having been said, I believe there is a text available by Hausmann, or some such, titled Learning the New Breviary. It concerns the “new” rubrics of 1961-1962. Angelus Press sells a copy now, and I have seen it on eBay, too. That may be a useful aid for the Roman Breviary.

    Like any attempt to climb Parnassus, it is a most arduous and rewarding endeavor.

  3. Quaesumus says:

    There’s the monastic diurnal from St. Michael’s Abbey Press that has both English and Latin, but is there a Roman Diurnal with both? I’ve looked all over and can’t seem to find any.

  4. stb says:

    Some of my thoughts:
    I started learning Latin seriously about a year ago, and I now came to the point when I can read Vulgate fairly smoothly. Recently I purchased on ebay an old, Latin-only Breviary. I found that its Latin is not as hard as I expected.

    My advice would be: use Latin only Breviary. Reading in a foreign language takes some serious mental effort. Yet the more you read, the easier it becomes.
    When you have English translation nearby, and you encounter hard sentence, you will have irresistible urge to check the English translation instead of trying to get the sense of it from the Latin text. This will definitely slow down your progress.
    Of course, sometimes you will find a really hard passage, seemingly impossible to figure out. Then you can check its translation on http://www.breviary.net . Since it is far less convenient than having translation on the same page of the book, you will resort to this only in rare cases – and this is precisely what you want :-)

  5. Paul says:

    I would generally agree with what stb has written. I pray the Divine Office in Latin and am still in the process of learning Latin. I don’t think it’s a cardinal sin to start praying it in Latin if your Latin is imperfect, after all, if you enetered a traditional seminary or monestary, you would be approaching the Office in exactly the same way. As my knowledge of Latin increases so does my understanding of the breviary texts.

    You can purchase an English translation of the rubrics. I would definately recommend this: http://www.southwellbooks.com/rubrics-of-the-roman-breviary-and-missal-according-to-the-1962-edition-1984-p.asp

    There are also other things I do to help me come to a better understanding: reading the Psalms regularly, the lessons of Matins and the proper parts in English outside of the Office. As well as the resource stb provides (which is a good resource purely from a Divine Office point of view, but be carefull of reading any other stuff as the site is run by sedevacantists) another good resorce is Divinum Officium (which has four different editions of the breviary in both Latin and English): http://divinumofficium.com/cgi-bin/horas/officium.pl

  6. ED says:

    One of the traditional communities should have reprinted the old Latin-English Breviary to raise funds. I believe that Baronius will eventually get it published.

  7. TJ says:

    The Baronius Press Little Office of the BVM is an excellent alternative. I’ve been using it for over a year now and love it. My Latin has zero to fairly impressive during that time by using it.

    Another excellent suggestion is the Divine Office from Angelus Press (STK6597), which I also have and use, although not as often as the LOBVM. It’s a great breviary for laity.

  8. I can only tell how it happened to me, and hope it helps.

    When I was a seminarian, I used the Brazilian vernacular Liturgia Horarum, and it was horrible. Too bad to believe. One day I found an old breviary for sale in a used-book store and bought it, and it was wonderful. I started praying the breviary instead of the Liturgia Horarum when I was not in communal prayer. Later I bought the Latin Liturgia Horarum, and it was a little bit less annoying than the vernacular, but not enough. As in the convent where I spent my last year as a seminarian communal prayer was a mix of languages (some French brothers used the French vernacular Liturgia Horarum, some Brazilians the Brazilian vernacular, an Australian the English vernacular, the Psalms were in Hebrew, and so on), I could even use my Latin Liturgia Horarum in communal prayer.

    To make a long history short, I left the seminary, got married, kids, dogs, the whole nine yards. Now I can pray whatever I want, as there is no longer the requirement to pray what the rest of the people are praying.

    The problem is that my old Breviary is very old. In fact, it is more than a century old. The size is excellent (four volumes, and each fit in a shirt pocket!), but it cannot withstand daily (ab)use. So I kept praying the Latin Liturgia Horarum, but it still annoyed me. With the years passing, I just started to let it fade out, and one day I realized I just hadn’t prayed the Hours for months. :(

    So I started hunting for a new edition of the Breviary: I wrote the Padres de Campos, searched the Internet, etc., to no avail. When I found this new edition, needless to say, I was very glad. I just ordered a new Breviary by airmail (and how EXPENSIVE it is! It costs more than it costs to feed my whole family for a month, but it is worth it!, it can’t get here fast enough!).

    So, as you can see, I went from the vernacular Liturgia Horarum to the Latin Liturgia Horarum and only then to the Breviary; it is not the same as starting straight on with the latter. Nevertheless, I would advice you to stick to the Latin. Read a translation when you find something you don’t understand, but don’t get too desperate about it, for a couple of reasons: first, the prayers repeat **a lot**. You will read all the Psalms every week, and pretty soon you will know them by heart (I still do). You will need to read the translation only one orf twice (but try to understand how this and that can mean this and that, or it is worthless) Second: Church Latin is very easy (at least compared to, say, Cicero), and the very fact that you are using it makes it easier still.

    The Latin you learn by praying will go a lot further than the Latin you study, as it is being used (not to mention the action of Grace). I have friends who are Latin scholars, and often I had been able to help them with some point in translation only because I grew used to Latin as a living language through the Breviary, instead of relying in grammatical analysis only.

    As a matter of fact, I would say a bilingual breviary would be a very bad idea, as it would force Latin to remain the “foreign” language, the “hard” one, and people woud tend to read the vernacular every time, unconsciously.

    In order to start praying, in your case, I would go slowly. First Complines (it is shorter!) for at least a week, then both Laudes and Complines, and only later Vesperae. The other hours you can pray when you have the time, but these are the backbone and should be prayed every day if you really want to get what the Breviary can offer you.

    In the beginning it is quite hard, as you have to master both the text and the rubrics, but in one or two months you will be going back and forth with the ribbons without even noticing you are doing it.

  9. Mark M says:

    There are some other useful aids I would recommend, if I may:-

    1) Fr. Paul O’Sullivan’s The Divine Office: How to Say it Devoutly; How to Make it a Pleasure. This short work focuses on why we say the Breviary, and how we can simply make it a pleasure as well as the liturgical function it is.

    2) Fr Bernard Hausmann’s Learning the new Breviary (PCP Books, $14) is good for when you still can’t work out what the rubrics mean

    3) Fr E.J. Quigley’s The Divine Office — although written in 1920 (and thus applicable to the 1911 Breviary), this book has a whole section on the “moral and ascetic theology for the recitation of the Breviary”. It is available online at Project Gutenberg, but you can likely get cheap reprints on Abe Books.

  10. Michael Garner says:

    Someone is publishing the Diurnale Romanum in both Latin
    and English at LuLu. He is very close to getting it done, only having a few more months of the Proper of Saints to finish. The best news, it will only be $20. Here is the link. http://stores.lulu.com/breviary

  11. Wayne Atkinson says:

    Dear Father Z.
    I love your site so much and check it daily.Thank you for all your great work keeping it up ,running and always interesting.
    The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter had a Dessain Edition of the Breviarium Romanum (1962)reprinted in two
    beautiful leather bound Latin only volumes in 1995. Bishop Timlin (formerly of Scranton)issued a forward introducing the edition and endorsing it’s use.
    The first book Tomus Prior covers all the hours from the beginning of the Liturgical year/The Feast of St.Andrwe to Trinity Sunday. The second book Tomus Alter takes us from
    Trinity Sunday to The Feast of St.Andrew. The psalms are all from the Biblia Sacra Vulgata.
    It was a limited printing although an online search may prove fruitful.

  12. Wayne Atkinson says:

    My friend Father Neil Nichols FSSP informs me that the Fraternity is currently working on
    a complete Latin-English version of the same Breviarum Romanum (1962).Let’s hope we see it
    in print this coming year .Brick by brick.

  13. Mark says:

    I have been wondering if there is forum on the internet anywhere, where people learning the EF breviary could ask questions. I have been praying it for some time, but still wonder about things that are not clear in the rubrics (e.g. when kneeling from the collect onward on ferias of Advent, what do you do at prime where there are three collects with other material between them?).

    Anyway I made the switch to Latin in this way: Prayed LOH in English for several years. Started taking Latin. Started praying parts of compline in Latin. Had a bilingual LOH book for Lauds and Vespers, prayed it in Latin (continually looking at the English). I then purchased the Latin LOH and used that each day (where possible). When couldn’t understand something, I just kept going, keeping a general intention to pray with the Church. I then used a bilingual copy of the Breviarium Romanum (the one that Baronius is supposed to be reprinting). The bilingual copy allowed me to see the rubrics in english (which can be purchased separately now). Finally, I began to use an all Latin copy. On feast days etc., if I do not understand something, I often refer to breviary.net. Even now, I do not demand from myself total comprehension. However, the psalms are familiar enough that I almost always know the sense of what I am saying. My comprehension of readings vary. I think that using an all Latin copy really accelerated my understanding of the Latin. When the English was there, and when I was first starting out praying in Latin, there was a real temptation to look at the English every few seconds.

  14. Andreas says:

    I am thrilled to see that some commentators understand that having a vernacular text alongside the Latin is useless at best, and most likely a hindrance. Why? Because Latin must be understood in Latin. Forget your vernacular if you want to learn Latin. But “I don’t understand”, you might say. Well, give it time. And anyway, you still don’t understand it even if someone translates it for you. You just understand the translation. You’re fooling yourself thinking that you’re making progress, while actually, you’re slowing yourself down.

  15. I wholeheartedly agree with Andreas. **Latin must be understood in Latin.**

    That is why I said it was important to understand why this and that in Latin mean this and that, and why a translation is often a hindrance in this process, as compared to a dictionary and a grammar. The most important step in really learning a language is when one stops translating, when things in that language have their own sense, often impossible to translate.

    I.e., “Se promener” is not the French for “to walk aimlessly”. It is a different thing. Likewise, “to stand” does not *mean* “être debout”. Nonetheless, those are the translations that would ordinarily be given within a text.

    Any text has several layers of meaning, and most of them are lost in translation. There is simply no word in one language that corresponds to another word in another language (in Portuguese, “pai” is a father of children and “padre” is a priest; after Vatican II, the First Person of the Most Holy Trinity ceased to be Deus Padre and became Deus Pai, changing the Our Father, the Credo…), no turn of phrase that corresponds with another, etc. In order to understand Latin, one must understand what is said in Latin, not the translation someone made.

    I have my fair share of academical degrees in translation, and I have been studying it and working with it for a few decades now, and I can tell you they are quite overrated. There is no such a thing as a perfect translation; the use of translations in learning a language is very limited, and must be strictly rationed.

    It is easy to see what I mean when one uses a bilingual missal: how often have you passed beyond the “this Latin text means this English text” and really understood why the Latin word ended with this and not that desinence? Even when one sings or repeats the words, quite often they are not much more than a sequence of sounds whose “meaning” is understood to be an English sentence.

    For instance, “Dominus meus et Deus meus” is not “My Lord and my God”, as you could perfectly well say “My lord and my God” while directly addressing Him (such as in “My Lord and my God, help me learn Latin!”), while for that use you would need to use the vocative (“Domine…”) instead of the nominative (“Dominus…”) in Latin. It would be closer to “[Behold] My Lord and my God”, or “My Lord and my God [is here]”. And so on. The perfect translation does not exist, and it will more often than not lead us astray from many layers of meaning.

  16. Seminarian says:

    As a seminarian on my pastoral internship year, I find it very difficult to find time to pray the full Divine Office in the 1962 form. I sometimes have to struggle even to be faithful to saying all the hours in the Liturgia Horarum, or the English Liturgy of the Hours. I prefer the Traditional Roman Breviary to the modern Office (in Latin or the vernacular), because I find the Traditional prayers and choice of readings to be much more theologically rich. I would really like to be able to pray the 1962 Roman Breviary in full each day, even though I very rarely have the opportunity of attending an Extraordinary Form Mass.

    I was wondering if there are any priests here who do pray the 1962 Office regularly, while celebrating Mass principally in the Ordinary Form. Do you find difficulties adapting to the fact that you follow different calendars for the Mass and for the Office? Also, how would you go about finding the time, with your priestly ministry, to pray the entire 1962 faithfully every day, without falling into the temptation of grouping several hours together into one (like Terce, Sext and None)?

    Thanks for any advice you may be able to provide me with.

  17. Ken says:

    I am surprised the shorter Angelus (now on sale!) set features Prime and Sext for weekdays and not Lauds and Vespers. Any idea why? I though the latter two were the more important hours.

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