At the beginning stands the usual introductory matter, such as the tables for determining the date of Easter, the calendar, and the general rubrics. The Breviary itself is divided into four seasonal parts - winter, spring, summer, autumn - and comprises under each part (1) the Psalter; (2) Proprium de Tempore (the special office of the season); (3) Proprium Sanctorum (special offices of saints); (4) Commune Sanctorum (general offices for saints); (5) Extra Services. These parts are often published separately.
1. The Psalter. - This is the very backbone of the Breviary, the groundwork of the Catholic prayer-book; out of it have grown the antiphons, responsories and versicles. In the Breviary the psalms are arranged according to a disposition dating from the 8th century, as follows. Psalms i.-cviii., with some omissions, are recited at Matins, twelve each day from Monday to Saturday, and eighteen on Sunday. The omissions are said at Lauds, Prime and Compline. Psalms cix.-cxlvii. (except cxvii., cxviii. and cxlii.) are said at Vespers, five each day. Psalms cxlviii.-cl. are always used at Lauds, and give that hour its name. The text of this Psalter is that commonly known as the Gallican. The name is misleading, for it is simply the second revision (A.D. 392) made by Jerome of the old Itala version originally used in Rome. Jerome's first revision of the Itala (A.D. 383), known as the Roman, is still used at St Peter's in Rome, but the "Gallican," thanks especially to St Gregory of Tours, who introduced it into Gaul in the 6th century, has ousted it everywhere else.
2. The Proprium de Tempore contains the office of the seasons of the Christian year (Advent to Trinity), a conception that only gradually grew up. There is here given the whole service for every Sunday and week-day, the proper antiphons, responsories, hymns, and especially the course of daily Scripture-reading, averaging about twenty verses a day, and (roughly) arranged thus: for Advent, Isaiah; Epiphany to Septuagesima, Pauline Epistles; Lent, patristic homilies (Genesis on Sundays); Passion-tide, Jeremiah; Easter to Whitsun, Acts, Catholic epistles and Apocalypse; Whitsun to August, Samuel and Kings; August to Advent, Wisdom books, Maccabees, Prophets. The extracts are often scrappy and torn out of their context.
3. The Proprium Sanctorum contains the lessons, psalms and liturgical formularies for saints' festivals, and depends on the days of the secular month. Most of the material here is hagiological biography, occasionally revised as by Leo XIII. in view of archaeological and other discoveries, but still largely uncritical. Covering a great stretch of time and space, they do for the worshipper in the field of church history what the Scripture readings do in that of biblical history. As something like 90% of the days in the year have, during the course of centuries, been allotted to some saint or other, it is easy to see how this section of the Breviary has encroached upon the Proprium de Tempore, and this is the chief problem that confronts any who are concerned for a revision of the Breviary.
4. The Commune Sanctorum comprises psalms, antiphons, lessons, etc., for feasts of various groups or classes (twelve in all); e.g. apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. These offices are of very ancient date, and many of them were probably in origin proper to individual saints. They contain passages of great literary beauty. The lessons read at the third nocturn are patristic homilies on the Gospels, and together form a rough summary of theological instruction.
5. Extra Services. - Here are found the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Office of the Dead (obligatory on All Souls' Day), and offices peculiar to each diocese.
It has already been indicated, by reference to Matins, Lauds, etc., that not only each day, but each part of the day, has its own office, the day being divided into liturgical "hours." A detailed account of these will be found in the article Hours, Canonical. Each of the hours of the office is composed of the same elements, and something must be said now of the nature of these constituent parts, of which mention has here and there been already made. They are: psalms (including canticles), antiphons, responsories, hymns, lessons, little chapters, versicles and collects.
The psalms have already been dealt with, but it may be noted again how the multiplication of saints' festivals, with practically the same special psalms, tends in practice to constant repetition of about one-third of the Psalter, and correspondingly rare recital of the remaining two-thirds, whereas the Proprium de Tempore, could it be adhered to, would provide equal opportunities for every psalm. As in the Greek usage and in the Benedictine, certain canticles like the Song of Moses (Exodus xv.), the Song of Hannah (1 Sam. ii.), the prayer of Habakkuk (iii.), the prayer of Hezekiah (Isaiah xxxviii.) and other similar Old Testament passages, and, from the New Testament, the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc dimittis, are admitted as psalms.
The antiphons are short liturgical forms, sometimes of biblical, sometimes of patristic origin, used to introduce a psalm. The term originally signified a chant by alternate choirs, but has quite lost this meaning in the Breviary.
The responsories are similar in form to the antiphons, but come at the end of the psalm, being originally the reply of the choir or congregation to the precentor who recited the psalm.
The hymns are short poems going back in part to the days of Prudentius, Synesius, Gregory of Nazianzus and Ambrose (4th and 5th centuries), but mainly the work of medieval authors. Together they make a fine collection, and it is a pity that Urban VIII. in his mistaken humanistic zeal tried to improve them.
The lessons, as has been seen, are drawn variously from the Bible, the Acts of the Saints and the Fathers of the Church. In the primitive church, books afterwards excluded from the canon were often read, e.g. the letters of Clement of Rome and the Shepherd of Hermas. In later days the churches of Africa, having rich memorials of martyrdom, used them to supplement the reading of Scripture. Monastic influence accounts for the practice of adding to the reading of a biblical passage some patristic commentary or exposition. Books of homilies were compiled from the writings of SS. Augustine, Hilary, Athanasius, Isidore, Gregory the Great and others, and formed part of the library of which the Breviary was the ultimate compendium. In the lessons, as in the psalms, the order for special days breaks in upon the normal order of ferial offices and dislocates the scheme for consecutive reading. The lessons are read at Matins (which is subdivided into three nocturns).
The little chapters are very short lessons read at the other "hours."
The versicles are short responsories used after the little chapters.
The collects come at the close of the office and are short prayers summing up the supplications of the congregation. They arise out of a primitive practice on the part of the bishop (local president), examples of which are found in the Didachē (Teaching of the Apostles) and in the letters of Clement of Rome and Cyprian. With the crystallization of church order improvisation in prayer largely gave place to set forms, and collections of prayers were made which later developed into Sacramentaries and Orationals. The collects of the Breviary are largely drawn from the Gelasian and other Sacramentaries, and they are used to sum up the dominant idea of the festival in connexion with which they happen to be used.
The difficulty of harmonizing the Proprium de Tempore and the Proprium Sanctorum, to which reference has been made, is only partly met in the thirty-seven chapters of general rubrics. Additional help is given by a kind of Catholic Churchman's Almanack, called the Ordo Recitandi Divini Officii, published in different countries and dioceses, and giving, under every day, minute directions for proper reading.
Every clerk in orders and every member of a religious order must publicly join in or privately read aloud (i.e. using the lips as well as the eyes - it takes about two hours in this way) the whole of the Breviary services allotted for each day. In large churches the services are usually grouped; e.g. Matins and Lauds (about 7.30 A.M.); Prime, Terce (High Mass), Sext, and None (about 10 A.M.); Vespers and Compline (4 P.M.); and from four to eight hours (depending on the amount of music and the number of high masses) are thus spent in choir. Laymen do not use the Breviary as a manual of devotion to any great extent.
The Roman Breviary has been translated into English (by the marquess of Bute in 1879; new ed. with a trans, of the Martyrology, 1908), French and German. The English version is noteworthy for its inclusion of the skilful renderings of the ancient hymns by J.H. Newman, J.M. Neale and others.
F. Cabrol, Introduction aux études liturgiques; Probst, Kirchenlex. ii., s.v. "Brevier"; Bäumer, Geschichte des Breviers (Freiburg, 1895); P. Batiffol, L'Histoire du bréviaire romain (Paris, 1893; Eng. tr.); Baudot, Le Bréviaire romain (1907). A complete bibliography is appended to the article by F. Cabrol in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. ii. (1908).
 It was approved by Clement VII. and Paul III., and permitted as a substitute for the unrevised Breviary, until Pius V. in 1568 excluded it as too short and too modern, and issued a reformed edition (Breviarium Pianum, Pian Breviary) of the old Breviary.
 The Sarum Rite was much favoured in Scotland as a kind of protest against the jurisdiction claimed by the church of York.