Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Famous Catholic and the Breviary

I was reading the published letters of a notable 20th century Catholic this morning, and came across this quote from a letter that she wrote to a friend who had recently converted to the Catholic faith:

Oh. I am sending you a rather garish looking book called A Short Breviary which I meant to get to you when you came into the Church but which has just come. I have a 1949 edition of it but this is a later one, supposed to be improved but I don't think it is. Anyway, don't think I am suggesting that you read the office every day. It's just a good thing to know about, I say Prime in the morning and sometimes I say Compline at night but usually I don't, But anyway I like parts of my prayers to stay the same and part to change. So many prayer books are so awful, but if you stick with the liturgy, you are safe.

Can you guess who it was? You can tell she is a woman who does not  shy away  from expressing a negative opinion. I'll make this a multiple choice question. Was it:

a. Flannery O'Connor
b. Clare Boothe Luce
c. Dorothy Day

I happen to own a copy of the 1954 edition of A Short Breviary,(Liturgical Press) the gift of James I. McAuley, who reads this blog sometimes. It's a nice, little, almost pocket sized book. Here are a few pictures so you can decide whether you agree with the above author that is it garish.

this one came out sideways. Dust jacket is an early example of modern Catholic art. 

Not so garish without the dust jacket.

This of course, is the Divine Office from before Vatican II, translated into English for use by laity and active religious who were not canonically bound to use the complete Latin office that Priests and monastic orders used. I go to this book at times to compare today's breviary with the old system,  and also for the lovely short footnotes that explain the scriptural context and messianic meanings of the psalms. These were written by Fr. Pius Parsch.

Okay, now for the identity of the author I quoted above. Let me know if you guessed correctly. It is...drumroll...

Flannery O'Connor 
The quote can be found in The Habit of Being, a collection of her letters.


  1. Yep I knew it was ol' Flannery O'. She was as allergic to sentiment as they come!

    1. Well, my other two choices could be pretty plainspoken at times , too,which is why I put chose them.

    2. I love this post, a neat story to go along with the breviary.

  2. Good point. Luce caused me to hesitate but "stick to the liturgy and you'll be safe" I must've read before in Habit of Being since it so resonated with something O'Connor would say.

  3. I found a copy at Powells for $10 dollars. It is lovely -- small enough to fit in my purse. Makes a nice change of pace from the LotH.

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  5. I just bought a copy of the 1954 "complete" edition (over 1,100 pages with a supplement containing a Matins scripture reading for every day of the year) on eBay. I very much look forward to receiving it in a few days.

    While I unquestionably prefer the pre-1970 cursus of the psalter (whether Benedictine, or St. Pius X's new distribution) and overall structure of the Office, I have personally found Douay-style translations harder to pray and contemplate on than either modern English or just the Latin. If the modern LOTH didn't gratuitously and arbitrarily mutilate the psalter and at least kept the entire unabridged version spread out across four weeks, I'd stick to it, as I do have a thing for the Grail's poetic style. I am curious to see how a modern translation works with the traditional structure and content -- it may end up being the ideal combination. Do you ever use it for prayer, Daria?

    1. HinTom, I'm a bit unclear on what "it" you are asking about my use of. I occasionally use the above mentioned short breviary for lauds or vespers, but otherwise it's the Pauline Kenyan breviary with the Revised Grail, which, like all translations, has its pluses and minuses. The Grail has become beloved through familiarity and because I have much of it memorized, I find myself irritated by some of the revisions. On the other hand, I'm glad that the Revised Grail is less of a paraphrase--the old Grail often left out entire verses, or changed up the order of them in the psalm. Accuracy vs. poetry is the perennial psalter translation problem.

    2. Sorry for being unclear. I had meant whether you ever used "A Short Breviary" for prayer. My copy is still in transit.

      Does your ASB contain the entire psalter, or only a selection?

      There is very little extant information about this publication online, but I had read something somewhere about the "complete edition" (which I bought) containing three more weeks' worth of Matins psalms, so I'm guessing the "regular" edition's psalter must be shortened.

      I totally hear you re: Grail. Even though we don't generally pray the LOTH anymore, that is the English version that is stuck (not in its entirety obviously) most prominently in my head.