“While my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart…”

Ildefonso SchusterFathers and those of you obliged to recite the Office, especially those of you who use the older, traditional Roman Breviary, attend.

My friend Greg DiPippo posted something spectacular at NLM (he’s doing great work right now) about the Breviary.

Here is the quote, but you have to go there to find out more about it.

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night? I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude.

Blessed Card. Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, 1929-54

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike H says:

    Thank you Father! That is a beautiful meditation.

  2. Traductora says:

    Very beautiful. It kind of puts thing in perspective.

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Don’t know why this made me think of Cappello, who had the 1917 Code memorized. But it did. I can only imagine he memorized his Office, too.

  4. Gregory DiPippo says:

    Nimis honorati sunt amici tui!

  5. Long-Skirts says:


    In the fifth
    Two thousand six
    Melts the wax
    Of candle sticks.

    May moon full
    Begins to wane
    Shadows race
    Across the plain

    Reaching gulfs
    The ocean tides
    Break on beach
    Where pride presides.

    Cassocked in
    The thickest fog
    Plodding cross
    The marshy bog.

    Maddening moons
    Through the fire —
    Near the depths
    He wends on higher.

    Many years
    Breviary tattered
    Deep in mists
    His strength unshattered

    ‘Gainst black storms
    Wet linen heavy
    Soul after soul…
    Gives his life for each bevy

    And when he is called
    Because souls really mattered
    He will enter Reward…
    With his breviary battered.

  6. Uxixu says:

    Beautiful. I already have all the hymns memorized and am starting to remember many of the Psalms after just a year of regular recitation out of the Baronius Breviary. My goal for the next year is to learn to chant, at the very least recto tono.

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    Oh, what beauty, and what a stunning reality this represents. Is there anything on earth more wonderful in terms of vocation than being a priest? I appreciate the mystery of it more and more all the time, maybe even more because of the state of the world.
    And that was lovely as well, Long-Skirts!

  8. MrsMacD says:

    Blessed be God in our priests! This is breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  9. robtbrown says:

    Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Don’t know why this made me think of Cappello, who had the 1917 Code memorized. But it did. I can only imagine he memorized his Office, too.

    A holy man, his confessional is in Sant’Ignazio. I have one of his holy cards.

    BTW, I had a prof who thought St Thomas had all of Scripture memorized

  10. Another hint is, to read everything, every word (e.g., Pater Noster, Ave, Credo), and to repeat nothing from memory, because the printed words meeting the eyes and the spoken words reaching the ears help to fix the attention and there is less risk of their passing unnoticed. This was the practice of St. Charles Borromeo. St. Philip Neri never recited from memory even in saying the small Hours. St. Vincent de Paul always spent a great time in saying his Breviary. His intense fervour was helped by his careful reading of every word, and this practice of keeping his eyes fixed steadily on the printed matter of the book he recommended to his congregation of priests.”


    For some (like me) it may help wonderfully to “fix the attention” by glancing at each verse in both English and Latin before reciting it verbally in Latin.

  11. Dialogos says:

    I hope I’m not being too snarky to say I doubt we’ll ever read a reflection like that regarding the Liturgy of the Hours.

  12. Priam1184 says:

    I have been reciting as much of the Office according to the Breviarium Romanum 1962 as I can every day and it is an incredible experience. I have been getting a feeling in my heart praying these ancient words that I didn’t know how to describe, until Father posted this. The psalms and hymns both take you out of this world AND make this world more real than it ever has been in all of your life.

    The Divine Office is truly a gift to us all and I would encourage any layman who can to start praying at least a little of it every day. Use the English if you don’t know Latin. We need to be doing this. We can’t offer Mass, but we can definitely do this.

    Thank you Father.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    “I hope I’m not being too snarky to say I doubt we’ll ever read a reflection like that regarding the Liturgy of the Hours”.

    I see this quote as applicable to the Divine Office in any form, whether ordinary or extraordinary, and perhaps even any rite, though I confess I am not very familiar with the Divine Office in the Eastern rites. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily, and can see this quote apply when we finally have an accurate translation with all of the proper Latin hymns. The latest estimates on that are for 2020.

  14. In praying both the older Breviarium Romanum and the newer Liturgia Horam extensively in Latin, I’ve seen nothing that would render any comment like Card. Schuster’s more applicable to one form of the Divine Office than to the other. There’s no difference in the tone of the Latin translations of the Psalms. The most significant advantage either way seems (to me) to lie in the more extensive Latin hymnology of the Liturgia Horam. Most of the Latin hymns in the Breviarium Romanum are retained in the newer form, but many fine old Latin hymns are added in the Liturgia Horam, which (for instance) has proper hymns for every feast or solemnity (and many memorials).

    Of course all this is lost on one who knows the Liturgy of the Hours only in its current Englidh translation, which did to the LOH pretty much what the 1973 ICEL translation did to the missal. Except worse, in that the ancient Latin hymnology, one of the chief glories of Catholic liturgy, was simply dumped and not translated at all, instead substituting largely banal vernacular songs of the sort all too often heard at vernacular OF Masses. Regarding the treatment of this indispensable treasure in the new English translation of the Liturgy of the Hours currently under way, see Adam Bartlett’s article The Hymns the Church Calls Her Own in the on-line July 2015 issue of the Adoremus Bulletin.

  15. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    I thank Henry Edwards, whose remarks I fully endorse. I thank Fr. Z for introducing the topic of the Office, the great unwanted stepchild of the Church.

    Because Dialogos has brought up the question of the LOTH vs. the EF Office, I pray that I am on topic to discuss the two.

    I am a rare bird: I attend the EF Mass and pray daily the LOTH. The latter helped me get through a dry time before Summorum Pontificum; it remains a good and faithful friend.

    I have no problem with those who pray the EF Office; it certainly has done the little daytime hours better. Nonetheless those who pray the EF should keep in mind
    i. that they have time for it to pray it with reverence, attention, and devotion; and not at the speed of a tobacco auctioneer;
    ii. that they pray the offices at their proper times;
    iii. that they acknowledge that they are praying a monastic Office adapted to the needs of monks, not a lay Office adapted to the needs of those ploughing fields, washing dishes, performing triple bypass operations, managing parishes, and painting Sistine Chapels (see the fine scholarship of Robert Taft on this history of the Office in the Western Church).

    Henry has mentioned some of the problems with the LOTH. I will list some resources that can help obviate some of these problems in the course of the day.

  16. A wonderful quote, Father. I wish I could memorize the Office.
    With what seems like constant changes and tweaks in such prayers, who can memorize anything today? A frequent muse of mine is the confusion and heartbreak at the 60s and 70s changes of the chanted Office for monks and nuns that had memorized so much over the years. Suddenly everything was different. Broken. The youth today, the laity today know so little of the upheaval wrought by the depth of shattering changes to the Mass, the Office, the calendar, customs, pious practices, and how deeply it affected the religious of the Church.

    I prefer the old Office for many reasons, but yes, it is close to impossible for a busy layman to complete it correctly daily. So much good stuff in there. I love it.

    As a child my parents led the family in a psalm or two nightly, and Compline on Sundays. Much of it in English as it was the late 50s, early 60s. But that distant treasured memory has helped me to sing a little of the Office today, I am grateful to know the tones and the ‘sense’ of how to generally get through it. I was surprised at what I remembered, how it came back to me.

    For those that don’t know, there’s an electronic version for the iOS device that I find easy to use on my iPad Mini called Breviarium Meum at liturgiaetmusica. It offers many versions new and old, and in both English and Latin. No flipping around trying to figure out what applies for that day and season – its all figured out already.

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