Liturgical reform became an urgent need. Everyone reciting the canonical hours longed for a great and drastic change. The Humanists, Cardinal Bembo (1470-1549), Ferreri, Bessarion, and Pope Leo X. (1513-1521) considered the big faults of the Breviary to lie in its barbarous Latinity. They wished the Lessons to be written In Ciceronian style and the hymns to be modelled on the Odes of Horace. Ferreri’s attempt at reforming the Breviary dealt with the hymns, some of which he re-wrote in very noble language, but he was so steeped in pagan mythology that he even introduced heathen expressions and allusions, His work was a failure. The traditional school represented by Raoul of Tongres, Burchard, Caraffa, and John De Arze loved the past with so great a love that they refused to countenance any notable reforms, A third school, the moderate school, was represented by Cardinal Pole, Contarini, Sadolet and Quignonez, a Spanish cardinal who had been General of the Franciscans. The work of reform of the Breviary was undertaken by Cardinal Quignonez (1482-1540). He was a man of great personal piety and possessed a love for liturgy and an accurate knowledge of its history, its essentials, and its acquired defects. After seven years’ labour at the matter and form of the Breviary, his work, Quignonez’s Breviary (Brevarium Romanum a Francisco Cardinali Quignonio) appeared in 1535. It was for private use only, and was not intended as a choir manual. Yet so popular was his work that, in 1536, six editions had appeared, and in thirty-three years (until its suppression by St. Pius V,) it went through no less than a hundred editions. Its immense success shows how much the need of Breviary change and reform was felt by the clergy. The book, too, had an important influence on shaping the Breviary produced by Pius V. (1566-1572). Quignonez’s book was reproduced with the variations of the four earliest editions, by the Cambridge University Press in 1888. It is an interesting study in itself and in comparison with later breviaries.
But it was felt by scholars that Quignonez’s reforms were too drastic. Tradition was ignored. The labour for brevity, simplicity and uniformity led to the removal from this Breviary of antiphons, responses, little chapters and versicles, and to the reduction of lessons at matins to three, and the number of psalms in each hour was usually only three. His work had as a set principle the grand old liturgical idea of the weekly recitation of the whole psalter. The quick and almost universal demand for Quignonez’s Breviary indicated the need of a reform and the outline of such a reform. The Pope, who commissioned Quignonez to take up breviary reform, requested the Theatines to take up similar work. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) took up the work of reform. But the Council rose before the work had made headway, and the matter of reform was finally effected by St. Pius V. (1566-1572), by his Constitution, Quod a nobis (1568).
The Reformed Breviary of 1568 is, in outline, the Breviary in our hands to-day. The great idea in the reform was to restore the weekly recitation of the whole psalter. Theoretically, the Breviary made such provision, but practically the great number of saints’ offices introduced into the Breviary made the weekly recitation of the psalter an impossibility. The clergy were constantly reading only a few psalms out of the 150 in the psalter. The rubrics, too, were in a confused state. Changes were made in the calendar by suppression of feasts, by restoring to simple feasts the ferial office psalms, and by reducing the number of double and semi-double feasts. But in the body of the Breviary the changes were few and slight. The lives of some saints drawn from Quignonez’s work were used, St. Gregory’s canon of scripture lessons was adopted and the antiphons, verses, responses, collects and prayers were taken from the old Roman liturgy. The antiphons and responses were given in the older translation of St. Jerome owing to their suitability for musical settings. And the text of the psalms was the Psalterium Gallicanum, which had been in use in the Roman Curial Breviary,
But the Pian reform was soon to be followed by a reform of the Breviary text, in accordance with the Sixtine Vulgate, the Clementine Vulgate, and the Vatican text. Clement VIII. (1592-1605) published his edition of the revised Breviary in 1602; and thirty years afterwards Urban VIII, (1623-1644) issued a new and further revised edition, which is substantially the Breviary we read to-day. He caused careful correction of errors which had crept in through careless printing; he printed the psalms and canticles with the Vulgate punctuation, and he revised the lessons and made additions. He established uniformity in texts of Missal and Breviary. But the greatest change made in this new edition was in the Breviary hymns, which were corrected on classical lines by Urban himself aided by four learned Jesuits (see Note, Hymns, p. 259).
“The result (of their labours) has always given rise to very different judgments and for the most part unfavourable. It seemed to be exceedingly rash to regard as barbarous the hymns of men like Prudentius, Sedulius, Sidonius, Apollinaris, Venantius, St. Ambrose, St. Paulinus of Aquileia and Rabanus Maurus and to desire to remodel them after the pattern of Horace’s Odes… It is only fair to give them the credit, that out of respect for the wishes of Urban VIII. they treated these compositions with extreme reserve, and while they made some expressions clearer they maintained the primitive unction in a large number of passages” (Baudot, The Roman Breviary, part iii., chap. ii.).
The commission appointed by Clement VIII. in his work of revision and reform included Baronius, Bellarmine and Gavantus. The commission of Urban VIII. included, amongst other famous men, the famous Irish friar minor, Luke Wadding (1588-1657).
The need of revision, rearrangement and reform of the Breviary was in the mind of every Pope, and nearly every one of them took some step to perfect the historic book. In the eighteenth century Benedict XIV. (1740-1758) contemplated Breviary reform in some details, particularly in improving the composition of some legends and of replacing some homilies of the Fathers. He entrusted this work to Father Danzetta, S.J., but when the learned Jesuit’s labour was presented to the Pope, so grave and so contrary were the reasons there put forth, that the Pope thought it well to abandon the thought of reform. Father Danzetta’s notes are marvels of research and learning. They are to be seen in Ruskovany’s Coelibatus et Breviarium, vol. v. They show to the ignorant and the sceptical, the dangers and difficulties which all Breviary reformers have to contend with.
Pope Pius VI. (1775-1799) returned to the project of Breviary reform. Dom Gueranger tells us that the plan of reform was drawn up and presented to the Congregation of Rites, but the actual reform was not entered on. Pope Pius IX. (1846-1878), at the request of Monsignor Sibour, Archbishop of Paris, appointed a commission to revise the Breviary, but their report caused the work to be abandoned. Petitions for reform were sent to the Vatican Council, but very little resulted. Leo XIII. (1878-1903) enriched the calendar by adding the names of many saints; he added votive offices, corrected the Breviary lessons for the feasts of a number of Popes, and, in 1902, he appointed a commission to deal with the hagiography of the Breviary and with its liturgy; but his death in the following year ended the work of the commission,
The unsatisfactory condition of the rules for the recitation of the Divine Office were apparent to everyone. Scholars feared to face Breviary reform, the difficulties were so innumerable and so immense. However, with wonderful courage and prudence, Pope Pius X. (1903-1914) tackled the work. He resolved not to adopt a series of minor changes in the Breviary, but to appoint an active commission of reform, whose first work should be a rearrangement of the psalter which must bring back the recitation of the Divine Office to its early ideal—the weekly recitation of the whole psalter. The problem which faced Pope Pius X. in 1906 was the very same problem which faced his predecessor St, Pius V. (1566-1572), more than three hundred years ago. St. Pius tried to solve the problem by a reform of the calendar, but the solution produced no permanent effect. Pius X. and his commission went to the root of the difficulty, and by a redistribution of the psalms have made the ferial and the festive offices almost equal in length, and have so arranged matters that the frequent recitation of every psalm, and the possible and probable recitation of every psalm, once every week, is now an accomplished fact; and the old and much-sought-after ideal—the weekly recitation of the whole Psalter—is of world-wide practice.
On the publication of the new Psalter, Pope Pius announced that a commission would undertake a complete revision of the Breviary, a matter of great importance and one which must demand long years of care and study to accomplish. A member of the committee which re-arranged the Psalter, Monsignor Piacenza, tells us that such revision must embrace:—
1. A reform of the calendar and the drafting of rules for the admission of feasts into the calendar of the universal Church;
2. The critical revision and correction of the historic and patristic texts;
3. The removal of spurious patristic texts;
4. The remodelling of the rubrics;
5. The institution of a new form of common office for confessors and for virgins to facilitate the lessening of the number of feasts of saints, without diminishing the honour due to them (Burton and Myers, op. cit., p. 144).
We may sum up, then, all that has been said in this long section by stating that from Apostolic times there was public prayer, thrice daily. The Jewish converts, having the psalms committed to memory needed not, nor could they have in those bookless days, a psalter script. In the third century, morning, evening, and night offices are mentioned. Compline was in existence in the time of St. Benedict. “From the seventh century onwards, ecclesiastical writers, papal decrees and conciliar decrees recognise the eight parts of the office, which we have seen took shape during the sixth century, and regard their recitation by priests and monks as enjoined by positive law. During this period, or at least at its commencement, Lauds and Vespers alone had a clearly defined structure and followed a definite arrangement. As far as we can see, St. Gregory arranged the little hours for Sunday only, and their arrangement for week days was left to the care of the bishops and metropolitans, or even of abbots. This was also the case, in many instances, with regard to Matins, for the number of psalms to be recited thereat was not definitely fixed. As regards the little hours—Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline—the freedom of the competent ecclesiastical authorities was as yet unconfined by canonical restrictions. Chrodegang (766) was first to follow the usages of the Benedictines of the Roman Basilica, in prescribing for secular clergy the celebration at Prime of the officium Capituli (i.e., the reunion in the chapter for reading the rule or, on certain days, the writings and homilies of the Fathers). The rest of the chapter—i.e., all that follows the confiteor in Prime as a preparation for the work of the day, seems to have been composed in the ninth century… Under Charlemagne and his successors variations in the canonical hours completely disappeared” (Baudot, op. cit., pp. 63-65).
On this foundation was built up the Office, to which additions were made, and of which reforms were effected, up to our own time.
“For us, traditional liturgy is represented by the Roman Breviary of Urban VIII., a book which constitutes for us a Vulgate of the Roman Office… The thing which renders this Vulgate of 1632 precious to us is that, thanks to the wisdom of Paul IV., Pius V., and Clement VIII., the differences between it and the Breviary of the Roman Curia of the thirteenth century are mere differences of detail: the substantial identity of the two is beyond dispute. The Breviary of Urban VIII. is the lineal descendant of the Breviary of Innocent III. And the latter in its turn is the legitimate descendant of the Roman canonical Office, as it was celebrated in the basilica of St. Peter at the end of the eighth century, such as it had gradually come to be in the course of the seventh and eighth centuries, a genuinely Roman combination of various elements, some of them Roman and some not, but of which some, at all events, go back to the very beginnings of the Catholic religion” (Battifol, op. cit., p. 353).