May 2012
Last updated November 2017

A look at the African Breviary

Christian Prayer
The Prayer of the Church
The Liturgy of the Hours

The Liturgy of the Hours published by Paulines Publications Africa (a.k.a. the African breviary or Kenyan Breviary) came out in 2009 and is unique in several ways.

It is (as of now) the only official English edition which is based on the 1985 Liturgia Horarum, Editio Typica Altera rather than the 1971 Editio Typica which was used for the U.S. 1975 Liturgy of the Hours and the U.K. 1974 Divine Office.

The scripture verses are numbered, so you always know exactly where in the Bible your text comes from, and many of the Scripture readings are better translations than the ones in the U.S. edition. Apparently they are taken from the 1991 edition of the New American Bible, called the African Bible.

It is the only version that uses the Revised Grail Psalms, which are more accurately translated from the Hebrew Masoretic text (and the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate as sources) rather than the French of the original Grail Psalms.

Also, these revised Grail Psalms have accent marks for easier singing (just like the Singing Version of the Revised Grail Psalms) which turns your breviary into a song book if you use Psalm tones.

The other two English editions, the U.S. Liturgy of the Hours and the U.K. Divine Office are scheduled to be revised in a matter of years, but for now the African edition is the only updated breviary available in English.

all three editions

Despite the illusion to the contrary, these books are all the same height and width

For those living in the U.S. or U.K. who are bound to use their own editions of the breviary, the African breviary might only be a temporary solution until their own updated editions finally appear. But for those of us living outside the U.S. and U.K. the African Breviary is an excellent choice and will remain so, even after the other two editions have been revised several years from now. The African breviary is still fairly new, and will not become obsolete when the other new English editions appear; it will continue to be used in Africa.

And I should point out that the African Breviary will remain superior in one aspect (in the minds of some folks like me) because its Revised Grail Psalms is not the 2010 edition, but the original 2008 version as it appeared before it was modified by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments Revised Grail Psalms(and I have read that the changes were met with surprise and consternation on the part of the translators and American bishops who had submitted it to Rome for approval).

Some of those modifications by Rome made it slighty more inclusive (for example, children of men rather than sons of men and forebears instead of fathers). Other changes included replacing the words such as righteousness with justice and Zion with Sion. These modifications also appear in the stand-alone editions of the Revised Grail Psalms, so the only way you can see the original 2008 Revised Grail Psalms is to get the African breviary.

Now, I must in all fairness mention that some of the hymns in the African breviary can be annoying because somebody decided to make them inclusive (no more brothers, men, etc) and also modernize the pronouns (no more thee, thou, etc), and in the process destroyed many of the rhymes. But the hymns are optional in individual prayer, and like most people outside of Africa, I will never have a chance to use this breviary in community, so the hymns are not an issue for me since I don't sing them. But I would imagine that a lot of conservative Catholics in Africa will cringe when they have to sing these hymns.

Which leads me to one more factor which makes the African breviary attactive for me. The Catholic Church in Africa has become one of the brightest and most exciting spots in the Church with its explosive growth and solid conservative leaders. And it will apparently continue to grow and dominate the global Catholic Church within a generation while the Church in other parts of the world -- notably Europe -- will continue to diminish in many ways. I would be proud to use the same breviary that the African Catholics are using.

The African Breviary comes in three different forms, Christian Prayer which is the shorter form, The Prayer of the Church which is the single volume, and The Liturgy of the Hours which is four-volume set. Over the span of five and a half years I bought all three, and described each soon after they arrived. So this article took five and a half years to complete (not my original intention; it just worked out that way).

Christian Prayer

May 2012: I ordered a copy of Christian Prayer from Paulines Publications Africa. You have to e-mail them and receive instructions on how to order the book -- it's very simple, and a little personal correspondence is a good thing now and then.

This is the smaller abridged edition for Morning, Evening and Night Prayer. It arrived just yesterday, taking two weeks to travel from Africa to Japan, which was sooner than I had expected. I'm not really qualified to give a review of this edition or compare it with other breviaries, but now that my copy has arrived I can give you a peek inside and let you form your own conclusions.

This breviary is 4 3/8 inches (11 cm) wide, 6 7/8 inches (17.4 cm) tall, and just over half an inch (1.5 cm) thick.

This is a paperback book that came with a clear vinyl cover for protection. I prefer the feel of the book itself, so I removed the vinyl cover (and put a tiny rip in the top edge of the front cover in the process). Since it is paperback, the pages will not lie flat, which explains the use of the clip in the photos.

The binding is a hybrid type with the pages stitched together in signatures, and the signatures glued to the spine.

This edition has the four week psalter for Morning and Evening Prayer plus the readings, intercessions and prayers for Ordinary Time. Some people might feel left out during other seasons, but from what I understand, this shorter arrangement is still considered the proper, official Liturgy of the Hours, and some folks will appreciate the "bare bones" simplicity with no need for page flipping.

This abridged breviary is similar to Shorter Christian Prayer by the Catholic Book Publishing Company and A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer by Liturgical Press. It contains Morning Prayer (Lauds), Evening Prayer (Vespers) and Night Prayer (Compline).

Morning and Evening Prayer are called the "two hinges" of the Liturgy of the Hours.

They chose to call this volume Christian Prayer rather than attach the descriptive Shorter to the title as the other breviary publishers have done. These "shorter" editions contain only three out of the seven possible prayer hours each day, but I would not dismiss them as "for beginners only" which implies we will outgrow them once we learn the ropes.

People on the web often describe these editions this way, but this could deter readers from taking their first step towards the Liturgy of the Hours. Who wants to invest in a book that will shortly become useless? Members of the clergy are required to pray all the hours each day, but the laity are encouraged to participate only as they are able.

The introduction in the front of my American Shorter Christian Prayer makes it clear that the publishers intended these shorter editions for "parish use as well as private use" and also for "clergy who are traveling or otherwise unable to utilize the complete edition of The Liturgy of the Hours" (apparently even the shorter editions will allow traveling clergy to fulfill their obligation). Many people with "nine to five" jobs will never find time for praying those additional hours found in larger breviaries or multi-volume sets.

Most importantly, a small volume such as this will allow the lay person to respond to the challenge made by Pope Benedict:

I would like to renew my call to everyone to pray the Psalms, to become accustomed to using the Liturgy of the Hours, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline.

If people from all walks of life answered the call to participate in the daily prayer of the Church, then the shorter editions would be the most popular choice. All this to say, if you are not already praying the Liturgy of the Hours, please don't hesitate to invest in one of these "shorter" editions. It can become your valued treasure and life-long companion even when you travel, and you may never need to buy a larger edition. And you will be joining your voice with voices all over the world who pray the "Prayer of the Church" every day. There's great power in that kind of prayer that's not found in other types of devotions.

Of course, one disadvantage of these shorter breviaries is that they don't include all the Psalms of the four-week psalter; only the ones used in Morning, Evening and Night Prayer.

If you want to keep up with all 150 Psalms even with a busy schedule, you can use a Bible or Psalm book (Psalter) and supplement your daily routine by praying the Psalms for the other hours.

A copy of the Revised Grail Psalms works well for this. This breviary is nearly identical in size to my copy of the Revised Grail Psalms, so the two make a nice pair. It comes in a text version and a singing version which has pointing in the form of accent marks over the text and also a slightly smaller deluxe edition with blue cover and ribbon but no accent marks in the text.

I have put together a chart that tells you when the Psalms are actually prayed in the Liturgy of Hours (Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer) over the four week cycle. Of course, you also need to know which week you are in, and a calendar can be found at the Rosary Shop web site.

The Prayer of the Church (single volume)

August 11, 2013: A year and three months after I bought Christian Prayer, I decided it was time to order the larger Prayer of the Church. The main reason was because I grew tired of using a paperback breviary, and it was starting to show signs of wear after constant use.

I really prefer nicely bound books -- preferably in leather -- but since that was not an option, I'm happy with this vinyl leather texture breviary.

It is very similar to the American Liturgy of the Hours in look and feel and size. The binding is sewn so it lies flat, and it looks very well made. There are four ribbons plus four inserts. It was printed in Italy.

This book has the entire breviary for Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. I love having all that in one volume. The U.S. one-volume Christian Prayer only has selections for Daytime Prayer but not for all four weeks.

Only the Office of Readings is not included in this breviary because that would require four volumes instead of one. So, if I pray that office I will have to use one of the online digital editions until I decide it is time to invest in the four-volume set.

I took these photos minutes after it arrived in the mail before I had a chance to damage it with my clumsy hands. This time it took just over two weeks to travel from Kenya to Tokyo. I'm saving the cool postage stamps, too!

This book is 4 1/2 inches (12 cm) wide, 7 inches (17.8 cm) tall and 1 5/8 inches thick (4.1 cm). If it were a paperback, it would be exactly the same height and width as Christian Prayer above because the paper block is the same.

I like the fact that they chose to call this one The Prayer of the Church since that is exactly what my one-volume Japanese breviary is called -- except in Japanese, of course (KYOUKAI NO INORI).

This breviary looks classy and feels very durable. I think it will last a very long time.

I have written more about the Liturgy of the Hours in an article called The Prayer of the Church.

The Liturgy of the Hours (four-volume set)

November 23, 2017: Four years and three months after I bought The Prayer of the Church, I decided it was time to order the full four-volume set The liturgy of the Hours.

The main reason was because I had added the Office of Readings to my daily routine, and had been using the electronic version on my tablet for that Hour.

4 volume set spinesIn Japan where I live, there is the real possibility that a major earthquake may force me to move to an evacuation center (if I survive the quake) and I don't want any part of my prayer life to depend on an electronic device which in turn depends on a battery which must be charged frequently. So I decided it was time to buy the four-volume set.

I must confess that there was a time when I did own the four-volume set of the U.S. Liturgy of the Hours (the one that comes in four colors), but I had donated it to a local Church when I bought a tablet and switched to the electronic version.

How ironic.

So, a few years later when I moved away from the electronic version and back to books because of the battery-dependence issue, I ruefully recalled that the main reason I invested in a tablet in the first place was so that I could do the Liturgy of the Hours on it, free from dependency on physical books.

Again, how ironic.

I was also encouraged to move back to books by part of an address that Cardinal Sarah gave to the Roman Forum on Summorum Pontificum:

cardinal Sarah
Cardinal Sarah
By Francois-Regis Salefran - Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Secondly, I must -- somehow -- manage to put aside, even if this must be temporary, the world and its constant demands. I cannot participate fully and fruitfully in the Sacred Liturgy if my focus is elsewhere. We all benefit from the advances of modern technology, but the many (maybe too many?) technological devices upon which we rely can enslave us in a constant stream of communication and demands for instant responses. We must leave this behind if we are to celebrate the liturgy properly. Perhaps it is very practical and convenient to pray the breviary with my own mobile phone or tablet or another electronic device, but it is not worthy: it desacralizes prayer. These apparatuses are not instruments consecrated and reserved to God, but we use them for God and also for profane things! Electronic devices must be turned off, or better still they can be left behind at home when we come to worship God. I have spoken previously of the unacceptability of taking photographs at the Sacred Liturgy, and of the particular scandal that this gives when it is done by clergy vested for liturgical service. We cannot focus on God if we are busy with something else. We cannot hear God speaking to us if we are already occupied communicating with someone else, or behaving as a photographer.

4 volume set

Despite the illusion to the contrary, these books are all the same height and width

I was tempted to buy another set of the U.S. edition, but for the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this article -- including the desire to identify with solid, conservative African Catholics like Cardinal Sarah (although I don't know if his home diocese in Guinea uses this particular breviary), I decided to go with the African breviary for the four-volume set.

This time around, the ordering process was simplified (so I thought) because you could order directly from the Paulines Africa web site. However, the web site would not let me register, so I had to contact them by e-mail to complete registration.

Then the web site would not permit me to complete the credit card payment for the order, even though I attempted it several times (trying to ignore the warnings from my browser that this was not a secure site and that my sensitive information could be stolen by third party hackers).

4 volume set ribbonsSo I ended up e-mailing them again, and had to order the same way I had done in the past by sending a credit card donation to the Paulines in Boston along with special instructions and a special number so that the Paulines in Boston could notify the Paulines in Africa that I had paid.

The payment process took six days, and the books finally arrived in Tokyo twelve days after they were finally shipped, so the time from my first attempt to order until the books arrived was about two and a half weeks.

The four-volume set costs $120.00 but with the shipping cost from Africa to Japan, and the processing cost of paying by card to the Paulines in Boston, the final amount was $190.48. But I still consider it a good investment (and I had received a monetary birthday gift which I used to pay for this).

The ribbons varied in color and number with my set, and I imagine every set is lightly different. Three of the books had three ribbons, but volume two (the thickest volume) had four ribbons. They each had a red ribbon plus a combination made of yellow, green or blue. We have a nice ribbon shop in Tokyo, so I will get more ribbons and tape them to the spine inside the covers.

I always trim my ribbons so that they extend about an inch from the far corner of the page. Two of the books needed no ribbon trimming while the ribbons on the other two were quite long.

Also, as many people do, I melt the ends of new ribbons with a lighter so they don't fray, but these ribbons are not synthetic plastic type that will melt with a flame; instead they will burn. So I coated the ends with white craft glue (such as Elmers) because it dries tough and invisible, and gives your fingers something firm to grasp when turning pages. The ribbons in the photo already have the ends coated with this glue.

These volumes are the same size as the one-volume The Prayer of the Church , and most of them are about the same thickness. Volume one is a bit thinner.

The pages look exactly like the pages in the one-volume breviary, so I won't bore you with more photos of the inside pages.

One big difference I have discovered to my surprise was the absence of Psalm prayers in the four-volume set. In the one-volume edition, the Psalm prayers are printed in italics, and are easily overlooked, which is a welcome feature for those who don't pray the Psalm prayers. But in the four-volume set, they are completely gone.

The set came with the same inserts (frequently used canticles, etc) as the one-volume set.

These books have vinyl covers which are plain and practical. I wish I could have gotten these with leather covers, gold edges and round corners, but those options are not available. And I am not so obsessed with their appearance that I would want to send these away to a professional re-binder for an overhaul.

The photograph at the beginning of this article has all three editions in a line. This is a composite photo, and the photos were taken at different times when each of the volumes were brand new. The paperback Christian Prayer I bought five years ago is very worn now. I have covered it with book binding tape, so there is no reason to take a photo of it now, because it doesn't look the same. It remains next to my bed where I use it every night for Night Prayer.

The one-volume The Prayer of the Church I bought four years ago is also well worn, and the gold lettering is completely worn off the cover. It also has lots of notes and markings done with a purple color pencil which have bled through to the other side of the pages over the years. (I thought that colored pencil would be safe, but I was wrong). It will remain at my desk at work where I will continue to use it every working day for Daytime Prayer.

This new four-volume set will stay on my desk at home for praying the Office of Readings, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and whichever volume is currently in use will go out with me in my bag on my days off for Daytime Prayer (I like to pray it in church after Mass). It will also go with me if I travel since it contains everything I need to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours.

All three editions of the African breviary will be my close friends and constant companions for many years to come. The Liturgy of the Hours is not a chore or a mere discipline, although I might have considered it that way in the beginning; now it is a privilege, a way for me to enjoy the benefits of being a child of God, and touch heaven several times during the day along with the universal Church, God's people whom he called out from the world to be his people. While I'm praying the Liturgy of the Hours, I usually don't feel any kind of thrill or gratification, but later after I'm finished I get this unexplainable feeling down deep that it was an amazing experience, and that my spirit was having an absolutely wonderful time, and I can't wait to do it again.

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