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A ‘short’ project
New personal edition completes a breviary revision



While General Convention this past summer debated new liturgies and whether it should authorize revision of The Book of Common Prayer, a new liturgical text quietly debuted in the nearby exhibit hall.

The Saint Helena Breviary: Personal Edition provides the complete text of the Order of St. Helena’s revised breviary -- or monastic prayer book -- with the Daily Office set up as it is in The Book of Common Prayer and the 150 psalms and lectionary printed in order in the back of the book.

It joins the Advent 2005 release of the monastic edition of the breviary, which contains the complete breviary with music in medieval notation and guides to the Daily Office and singing the office, and the 2004 publication of The Saint Helena Psalter: A New Version of the Psalms in Expansive Language.

The term “breviary” comes from the Latin word for “short,” explained Sister Cintra Pemberton, OSH, who served on the task force revising the breviary. If that seems an astonishing way to describe a 1,000-page book, remember its origins. “In the Middle Ages, it took tomes to say the seven offices,” she said.

The 15th-century Franciscans combined the texts for the offices into one book, which they called a “short,” Pemberton explained.  The revisions for breviary began in 1998, when Sister Linda Julian started work on a revised psalter based on the 1979 prayer book psalter. In 1999, the order endorsed a full revision of the breviary and appointed a committee to oversee the work.

The revisions sought to substitute expansive and nongender-specific language for sexist wording, while maintaining the language’s grace and rhythm and its suitability for singing. The community accepted revisions by consensus, after using the proposed changes in worship.

“We didn’t do anything that we didn’t pray, faithfully pray in the Daily Office, usually for two years,” Pemberton said. “It was not an intellectual thing. It wasn’t done by committee. It was done in chapel. ... The whole order was behind it, every step of the way.”

In the psalms, the sisters eliminated references to God as “he.” Masculine words such as “watchmen” became “sentries.” “Alien” became “foreigner,” Pemberton said. “`Heathen’ is a pretty pejorative term, too. There are no `heathen’ in here. Now they’re all ‘nations.’“

While they follow the church’s liturgical calendar, including the calendar of saints from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2003 and some additional saints of monastic importance, the sisters  rewrote many collects.

“We just thought the collects in Lesser Feasts and Fasts were boring,” Pemberton said. Some were very generic. “We wanted the pray-er, the person praying the book, to know who we were praying for and why we were praying for them.”

“Because we sing our offices,” she noted, “every change had to be sung to keep it the right rhythm, to keep it the right flow. `You have shown me the words of your love in a besieged city.’ It just doesn’t sing.” But “in a city under siege” does.

“We did our very best to keep it graceful and singable and keep the poetic flow,” said Pemberton, who composed and adapted music for the monastic edition. “Anybody who knows the Book of Common Prayer will feel really at home.”