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Hallo again to all.

Every Anglican knows the story of the Book of Common Prayer and its creation in and for the Church of England. First published in 1549, guided by Thomas Cranmer, updated every now and then, translated into many languages; it was a milestone, a first, a seminal accomplishment. Even churches that have largely stopped using the BCP, such as the Church of England, still hold it in high regard and refer to it frequently.

BookWhat about worship in the Church of England in 1539? 1429?† What did people do in English churches before the creation of the Book of Common Prayer? And what did people do in other countries?

There is no single answer. Most parish worship in the English church prior to the 16th century was based on a variety of sources, most in Latin. There were Missals, Manuals, Breviaries, Pontificals, and various other books used by priests or bishops. The actual Mass was in the Missal, the Breviaries held the guidelines for the daily office, and the Manual listed the occasional rites such as Baptism, Marriage, Exorcism, Healing, and Burial.

Looking farther back in time, we find more use of the prayers of the daily hours. These prayers have many names and many variations. Praying the Hours. Praying the Daily Office. Praying the Divine Office. In Latin it was called Liturgia Horarum and Opus Dei. The Liturgy of the Hours has been a keystone of public Christian worship since the very earliest times. A Book of Hours was often lavishly decorated; many early Books of Hours are now proudly displayed in art museums and rare-book collections. A Liturgy of the Hours is a collection of 'offices', each to be prayed at a specific time of day. Monastics and clergy are often required to recite some or all of the canonical offices, though with the passage of the centuries, fewer and fewer have an obligation to recite them all. The traditional (since the 5th or 6th century) names for these offices, these Canonical Hours, are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

Whence these names? The Romans divided the day and the night each into twelve hours, and rang a bell in each city's forum to mark the passage of the day. The first bell, prima, at about sunrise or 6am, marked the beginning of the day; at the end of the first three-hour period the tertia bell announced the beginning of the workday. Three hours after that rang the sexta bell, announcing lunchtime. At nine hours, mid-afternoon, the nona bell rang. Sunset, or the twelfth hour, the duodecima bell, marked the end of the business day. When early Christians were establishing worship customs, especially for monasteries, they used what they knew, which was the Roman system of timekeeping, save that they did not borrow the name duodecima for Vespers.

Originally Matins was a midnight prayer or night office. In recent Anglican usage Mattins (with two t's) is Morning Prayer, which aggregates Matins, Lauds, and Prime. But Morning Prayer is something from the era of the Book of Common Prayer, so we'll call Matins the night prayer. For centuries efficient monastics have combined Matins and Lauds into a wee-hour office, then recited Prime when they awaken. After Prime, the Terce, Sext, and None offices follow the Roman clock exactly, on the 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours of the day. The office of Vespers is read at sunset or at about 6pm, and the office of Compline is read at bedtime or at about 9pm.

Since most Christians had to earn a living and couldn't reasonably be expected to recite an hourlong office a half-dozen times a day, progress through the centuries combined these original offices into aggregate major and minor hours. By the twentieth century, they had become Lauds (Morning Prayer), one daytime prayer (to be chosen from Terce, Sext, or None), then evening Vespers and night Compline.

Anglican BreviaryThese complex offices and prayers and psalms were once read from a collection of books such as a lectionary, a collectary, an antiphonary, a responsoriary, and perhaps other exotic and hand-lettered volumes. By the 14th century this had been distilled into a single book, a Breviary, that contained what you needed to read your hours, your daily offices. There were at first numerous breviaries, but efficient Popes in the late Middle Ages and beyond declared standardized Breviaries for all of the faithful. Every century or so a Pope would declare a new revision to the Breviary that overruled earlier versions. The most radical revision to the Roman Breviary was made by Pius X in 1911; he abolished the edition of his forbear (Pius V) by declaring that you could not meet your obligation to recite the Daily Offices by reciting them from Pius V's version of the Breviary.

In the Anglican world, the Catholic Revival of the 19th century produced renewed interest in the past and in liturgies and rituals of the past. Various attempts at an Anglican breviary were launched, but none really succeeded until the Society of Saints Peter and Paul launched an effort to produce an Anglican Missal, which they did. Then the Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation of the USA produced a Breviary (daily offices) to go with that Missal (Eucharist), mostly by translation from Latin of the 1911 version of the Roman Breviary.

You can read, borrow, or sometimes even buy an Anglican Missal from The Open Library. You can buy an exact replica of the 1955 Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation edition of the Anglican Breviary here. We treasure our copy, and refer to it often, though we must confess that we rarely recite the full set of offices. Neither do we sport a tonsure.

See you next week. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.


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14 October 2012

†We date the origin of the Church of England to the 5th and 6th and 7th centuries. So do they.

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