A breviary (Latin: breviarium) is a liturgical book used in Christianity for praying the canonical hours, usually recited at seven fixed prayer times.
Historically, different breviaries were used in the various parts of Christendom, such as Aberdeen Breviary, Belleville Breviary, Stowe Breviary and Isabella Breviary, although eventually the Roman Breviary became the standard within the Roman Catholic Church (though it was later supplanted with the Liturgy of the Hours); in other Christian denominations such as the Lutheran Churches, different breviaries continue to be used, such as The Brotherhood Prayer Book.
The "contents of the breviary, in their essential parts, are derived from the early ages of Christianity", consisting of psalms, Scripture lessons, writings of the Church Fathers, as well as hymns and prayers. From the time of the early Church, the practice of seven fixed prayer times, being attached to Psalm 119:164, have been taught; in Apostolic Tradition, Hippolytus instructed Christians to pray seven times a day "on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight" and "the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ's Passion." The Apostles themselves gave significance to prayer times (e.g. Acts 3:1 and Acts 10:9).
In the Catholic Church, Pope Nicholas III approved a Franciscan breviary, for use in that religious order, and this was the first text that bore the title of breviary. The ancient breviary of the Bridgettines had been in use for more than 125 years before the Council of Trent and so was exempt from the Constitution of Pope Pius V which abolished the use of breviaries differing from that of Rome.
In 2015, The Syon Breviary of the Bridgettines was published for the first time in English (from Latin). This was done in celebration of the 600th anniversary of Syon Abbey, founded in 1415 by King Henry V. Following the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Communion, in 1916, the Anglican Breviary was published by the Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation.
In Lutheranism, the Diakonie Neuendettelsau religious institute uses a breviary unique to the order; For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church, among many other breviaries such as The Daily Office: Matins and Vespers, Based on Traditional Liturgical Patterns, with Scripture Readings, Hymns, Canticles, Litanies, Collects, and the Psalter, Designed for Private Devotion or Group Worship, are popular in Lutheran usage as well.
In Oriental Orthodox Christianity, the canonical hours of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church are contained within the Shehimo breviary; the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria has the Agpeya breviary and the Armenian Apostolic Church has the Sharagnots or Zhamagirk (cf. Octoechos (liturgy)#Armenian Šaraknoc'). The Assyrian Church of the East has its own 7 canonical hours.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Divine Office is found in the Horologion.
: a book of the prayers, hymns, psalms, and readings for the canonical hours
It is the Franciscan breviary deriving from the second rule of the order approved by Innocent III in 1223 that for the first time expressly bears the name breviarium: Clerici facient divinum offocoum secundum ordinem sanctae Romanae Ecclesia excepto Psalterio, ex quo habere poterunt breviaria ["The clerics will celebrate the Office according to the ordo of the holy Roman Church, except for the psalter which they may use in shortened forms"].
The Goths of Spain had their Breviary; the French Church had its Breviary; England—"the Breviary of Salisbury"—and Scotland, "the Breviary of Aberdeen"—all which, along with many more evidences of the independence of national churches, Rome has laboured to obliterate by commanding the exclusive use of the Roman Breviary, and thus extinguishing every appearance of a divided worship, and of independent national and self-regulated churches.
The contents of the breviary, in their essential parts, are derived from the early ages of Christianity. They consist of psalms, lessons taken from the Scriptures, and from the writings of the Fathers, versicles and pious sentences thrown into the shape of the antiphons, responses, or other analogous forms, hymns and prayers.
Peterson quotes a passage from the Acts of Hipparchus and Philotheus: "In Hipparchus's house there was a specially decorated room and a cross was painted on the east wall of it. There before the image of the cross, they used to pray seven times a day ... with their faces turned to the east." It is easy to see the importance of this passage when you compare it with what Origen says. The custom of turning towards the rising sun when praying had been replaced by the habit of turning towards the east wall. This we find in Origen. From the other passage we see that a cross had been painted on the wall to show which was the east. Hence the origin of the practice of hanging crucifixes on the walls of the private rooms in Christian houses. We know too that signs were put up in the Jewish synagogues to show the direction of Jerusalem, because the Jews turned that way when they said their prayers. The question of the proper way to face for prayer has always been of great importance in the East. It is worth remembering that Mohammedans pray with their faces turned towards Mecca and that one reason for the condemnation of Al Hallaj, the Mohammedan martyr, was that he refused to conform to this practice.
Hippolytus in the Apostolic Tradition directed that Christians should pray seven times a day - on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight, and also, if at home, at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ's Passion. Prayers at the third, sixth, and ninth hours are similarly mentioned by Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and must have been very widely practised. These prayers were commonly associated with private Bible reading in the family.
Clement of Alexandria noted that "some fix hours for prayer, such as the third, sixth and ninth" (Stromata 7:7). Tertullian commends these hours, because of their importance (see below) in the New Testament and because their number recalls the Trinity (De Oratione 25). These hours indeed appear as designated for prayer from the earliest days of the church. Peter prayed at the sixth hour, i.e. at noon (Acts 10:9). The ninth hour is called the "hour of prayer" (Acts 3:1). This was the hour when Cornelius prayed even as a "God-fearer" attached to the Jewish community, i.e. before his conversion to Christianity. it was also the hour of Jesus' final prayer (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 22:44-46).
Not only the content of early Christian prayer was rooted in Jewish tradition; its daily structure too initially followed a Jewish pattern, with prayer times in the early morning, at noon and in the evening. Later (in the course of the second century), this pattern combined with another one; namely prayer times in the evening, at midnight and in the morning. As a result seven 'hours of prayer' emerged, which later became the monastic 'hours' and are still treated as 'standard' prayer times in many churches today. They are roughly equivalent to midnight, 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Prayer positions included prostration, kneeling and standing. ... Crosses made of wood or stone, or painted on walls or laid out as mosaics, were also in use, at first not directly as objections of veneration but in order to 'orientate' the direction of prayer (i.e. towards the east, Latin oriens).
The Reverend Frank Gavin had himself suggested such a work as early as 1916.