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Prayer Books

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Prayer-Books. —By “prayer-books” usage generally understands a collection of forms of prayer intended for private devotion, and in so far distinct from the “service books” which contain the liturgical formularies used in public worship. In the Church of England, of course, the official liturgy is entitled “The Book of Common Prayer” or more compendiously the “Prayer Book”, but this is an exception. Of prayer-books in the sense defined, the early Christian centuries have left us no specimen, neither can we be certain that any such existed. The work sometimes known as “Bishop Serapion‘s Prayerbook” (Eng. tr. by J. Wordsworth, 1899) and compiled probably by an Egyptian bishop of that name in the fourth century should rather be described as a Pontifical or Euchologium than as a prayer-book, and was certainly not intended for private devotion. On the other hand we do find traces of isolated compositions, sometimes in prose, sometimes in a metrical form which entitles them perhaps to be regarded rather as hymns, which in all probability were not meant to be used in church, and there is nothing in the nature of things which could render it improbable that individuals may have copied these and other more liturgical prayers into a volume as an aid to piety. Thus one or two prayers or hymns of the third or fourth century have been recovered from buried papyri (see Wessely, “Les plus anciens Monuments du Christianisme”, Paris, 1906, pp. 195 and 205). An ostracon from a Coptic monastery at De reli-Bahri preserves in Greek what amounts practically to a sixth-century equivalent of the Hail Mary, though this may be liturgical (see Crum, “Coptic Ostraca”, 1902, p. 3), while two long prayers formerly attributed to St. Cyprian, but probably of the fifth century, are especially worthy of remark on account of the light they throw upon certain early developments of Christian art (see K. Michel, “Gebet and Bild in friihchristlicher Zeit”, 1902, pp. 3-7). But on the whole the Christians in the first centuries probably found that the Psalms sufficed for the needs of private as well as public devotion (cf. Cassian, “De coenob. inst.”, II, v, P.L., XLIX, 34; Eusebius, “In Psalm.” in P.G., XXIII, 647), and the fact is significant that a large proportion of the surviving books of piety belonging to the early Middle Ages which were copied for private use are simply psalters, to which devotional supplements of various kinds, for example the litanies, the Gloria, Credo, Athanasian Creed etc., were added with increasing frequency.

Some few of these psalter prayer-books have been happily preserved to us, probably on account of their illuminations, ornamentation, or binding, while the plainer copies belonging to less exalted owners have entirely perished. The psalter of the Emperor Lothair (c. 845) is one of the earliest and most famous of these, but there is also a similar manuscript which belonged to Charles the Bald now preserved at Paris and two very fine psalters of St. Gall, one of them known as the “psalterium aureum”, the work of the famous scribe Sindram and belonging to the beginning of the tenth century. Similar books of devotion are to be found in English libraries. The ancient psalter in the British Museum (Cotton M.S. Vespas., A. 1), formerly supposed to be one of the books brought by St. Augustine from Rome but really written in England about 700, is probably to be accounted liturgical. It is not a manual for private devotion, although in the eleventh century a number of non-liturgical prayers were added to it. On the other hand, the volume in the same collection, known as King Athelstan’s psalter (ninth century), seems to have been intended for a prayer-book, being small in size and supplemented with a number of prayers in a later but tenth-century script. And here be it said that down to the time of the invention of printing, the Psalter, or at least a volume containing psalms and portions of the Office with a supplement of miscellaneous prayers, remained the type of the devotional manuals most favored by the laity. After King Alfred, at the age of twelve or thirteen (861), as Asser tells us, had learned to read, “he carried about with him everywhere, as we ourselves have often seen, the daily Office (cursum diurnum), that is, the celebrations of the hours (celebrationes horarum), and next certain psalms and a number of prayers, all collected into one book which he kept as an inseparable companion in his bosom to help him to pray amid all the contingencies of life”. Similarly we read in the life of St. Wenceslaus (tenth century) of the dog-eared prayer-book (codicellum manuale frequentia rugosum) which he carried about with him while he continuously recited the Psalms and other prayers. These descriptions seem to apply accurately enough to a number of devotional manuals still surviving in manuscript, though often enough the whole Psalter was transcribed and not merely select portions of the Office. Many of those thus preserved must have been intended for the use of great personages and, like the famous “Utrecht Psalter”, for example, in the ninth century, or the psalter of Archbishop Egbert of Trier (d. 993), were elaborately illustrated, and, as in the last case at least, very considerably enlarged by devotional additions. At least five psalters of this kind are still in existence, which seem to have belonged to St. Louis of France, more than one of them being clearly of English workmanship, which in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was very famous. One of these, now preserved at Leyden, was used by the saint in his boyhood as an elementary reading-book, a fact which brings us very near the origin of the English name “primer”. Moreover, to pass from the complete book of psalms to a collection of offices, of which the principal was the Little Office of Our Lady, was the most natural of transitions, and we thus arrive at the manual which is universally recognized as being the great prayer-book of the laity during the close of the Middle Ages (see The Primer).

The psalter type, however, was not the only form of manual of private devotions which existed in the Carlovingian period. Several collections of miscellaneous prayers, often with extracts from the Gospels and more especially the Passion according to the four Evangelists, still survive from the eighth and ninth centuries. The codex known as “the Book of Cerne”, written apparently for Bishop Edeluald of Lichfield (818-30) and now preserved in the University Library, Cambridge, is one of the most famous of these, and it has recently been rendered accessible, with valuable notes by Mr. Edmund Bishop, in the edition of Dom Kuypers (Cambridge, 1902). The traces of Celtic influences and, as Mr. Bishop points out, of “Spanish symptoms”, are very marked in this book, but it is difficult not to admit that such a prayer as the “Lorica” (breastplate), which, while resembling that attributed to St. Patrick, is different from it and ascribed to a certain Loding, partakes in some respects of the nature of an incantation. There are also in the “Book of Cerne” and some similar collections forms of general accusation for confession, embracing almost every imaginable crime, which were probably intended to help the penitent, much as a modern examination of conscience might do. Closely resembling the “Book of Cerne” is the eighth-century Book of Nunnaminster (MS. Harl. 2965). This also contains the Passion according to the four Evangelists and a miscellaneous collection of non-liturgical prayers (many of them connected with the Passion of Christ), and also the “Lorica” of Loding. Irish and Gallican characteristics are much in evidence, in spite of the book coming from Winchester. This is still more the case with Hari. MS. 7053, a fragmentary “book of private devotions written by an Irish lady probably a nun”, and with MS. Reg. 2, A. XX., compiled probably at Lindisfarne in the eighth century. In all of them, despite much genuine piety, there is a pronounced tendency to fall occasionally to the level of magical incantations and spells. Even on the Continent these collections of prayers for private use were apt to wear an Irish coloring, as, for example, may be observed in the tenth-century “Libellus Precum” of Fleury (printed by Marten, “De antiq. ecc. ritibus”, III, 234), though prayers extracted from the Fathers, e.g. St. Augustine and St. Ephraem, predominated. Alcuin in his “De Psalmorum Usu” and “Officia per Ferias (F.L., CI, 465-612) also made similar collections. His arrangement of such devotions according to days of the week was especially noteworthy, since it was conspicuously revived by Simon Verepaeus and other prayer-book compilers of the sixth century.

The affection for the Psalms, even when dissociated from any form of Office, was always a conspicuous feature in the early devotional books of the laity; see, for example, the “Liber Orationum” of Charles the Bald (ninth century, edited at Ingolstadt, 1583), in which, after the example of Alcuin, selections of the Psalms are made for various spiritual needs, e.g. “Psalmi pro tribulatione et tentatione carnis”, “Pro gratiarum actione”, etc. When, however, some few centuries later, it had become the custom in most of the monastic orders to supplement the Divine Office with various “cursus” of the Blessed Virgin, of All Saints, of the Holy Cross, etc., these excrescences upon the official prayer of the Church acquired great popularity with the laity also, and in the long run it seems to have been felt that the psalms included in these little offices, with the Gradual and Penitential Psalms, sufficed for the needs of the ordinary layman. Hence the “Book of Hours”, or “|Primer” (q.v.), as it was called in England, gradually replaced the Psalter in popular use. At the same time an immense variety of prayers came to be added to the Office of Our Lady, which formed the kernel of these “Horae”, so that hardly any two manuscript copies of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are identical in their contents. In the case of books written for the devotion of royal and noble personages, the most exquisite artistic skill was often lavished upon the illuminations and miniatures with which they were adorned. Be it noted also that in course of time a certain traditional order of subjects established itself in the full-page miniatures which commonly preceded each of the Little Hours, the Penitential Psalms, the Office for the Dead, and the other elements of which these Books of Hours were made up, but to give details would be impossible here. A brief description of some of the most famous of these artistic treasures, e.g. the “Horae” of Bona of Luxemburg (1327) and that of Catherine of Cleves, wife of Duke Arnold of Gelders, is given by Father Beissel in the “Stimmen aus Maria-Laach” (August, 1909) and a more general account by Dr. M. R. James in his catalogue of the MSS. of the Fitzwilliam Museum (especially pp. xxv-xxxviii).

Upon the introduction of printing an immense stimulus was given to the production of manuals of popular devotion. Apart from a relatively quite small and unimportant class of booklets (the “Fifteen O’s” in English, “printed by command of Princess Elizabeth, Queen of England“, at Caxton’s press in 1490, may be cited in illustration), the books issued from 1475 to about 1530, though the names differed varied hardly at all in type. In France and England the “Horae” held undisputed sway. As explained in the article The Primer. certain elements were constant, and the supplementary matter exhibited a constant tendency to increase in bulk and we may add also in extravagance. In Germany the book known as the “Hortulus Animse” (the little garden of the soul) which seems first to have appeared in 1498, enjoyed most popularity. But though the “Horae” and the “Hortulus” were apt to differ somewhat in arrangement, their contents in substance were identical, and, more particularly after the “Hortulus” was brought out at Lyons in 1504, the various publishers of the one book made no scruple about appropriating any feature in the other which took their fancy. Both in the “Horae” and the “Hortulus” we find, at any rate in the later copies, almost without exception, after the Calendar, the Office of the Blessed Virgin, extracts from the four Gospels (either the beginnings or the narratives of the Passion), the Penitential Psalms, the Litany of the Saints, a long series of prayers to the Holy Trinity and the Divine Persons, to Our Lady and to different saints, mostly with an antiphon, versicle, and respond taken from liturgical books, also prayers for the principal feasts borrowed from the Missal, and particularly the Office for the Dead and prayers for the dying. Both the “Horne” and the “Hortulus” appeared in innumerable editions. Even as early as the period 1487 to 1498 more than sixty-five editions of the different “Horae” are known to have been printed in France alone. For the adornment of these volumes, which were often printed upon vellum, the best art of the wood engraver was called into requisition. The editions of the “Horae” by Du Pre, Verard, Pigouchet, and Geoffroy Tory, especially those produced between 1488 and 1502, may rank among the most beautiful specimens of the printing press in the first hundred years of its existence, while the German cuts of the engravers Schaufelein and Springinklee have also a charm of their own. It was also a common practice to employ hand illumination to add further lustre to many of the copies printed upon vellum. In regard to the contents, the devotional extravagance of the age and the competition between publisher and publisher to push their wares and attract purchasers led to many regrettable abuses. Spurious indulgences and fantastic promises of all kinds abound, and even prayers which in themselves are full of piety and absolutely unobjectionable—for example the prayers in honor of the Passion previously referred to, which were attributed to St. Bridget and were known in England as the “Fifteen O’s”—are not exempt from these disfigurements. A deplorable example of such extravagance is presented by a Sarum “Horae” of Thielman Kerver printed at Paris in 1510, in which we find such assertions as the following: “Alexander the VI pope of Rome hath granted to all them that say this prayer devoutly in the worship of St. Anne and Our Lady and her Son Jesus V thousand years of pardon for deadly sins and XX years for venial sins totiens quotiens”, or again, “This prayer our Lady showed to a devout person, saying that this golden prayer is the most sweetest and acceptablest to me, and in her appearing she had this salutation and prayer written with letters of gold on her breast” (Hoskins, “Horae”, 124-5). Again, for a certain prayer to be said before a picture of Christ crucified, Pope Gregory III (!) is declared to have granted an indulgence of so many days as there were wounds in our Savior’s sacred Body. In another supposed grant of Bonif ace VIII an indulgence of eighty thousand years is mentioned. In the case of other devotions again the pious reader is assured that if he practice them he shall not die without confession, that Our Lady and her Divine Son will come to warn him before his death, etc. Of course it must be remembered that, practically speaking, no censorship existed in the early years of the sixteenth century. The Congregation of the Index did not come into existence until after the Council of Trent. Hence the booksellers in pre-Tridentine days were free to publish almost any extravagance which might help to sell their wares. After Trent things in this respect were very different.

Besides the “Horae” and the “Hortuli” a few collections of private prayers, generally connected with some special subject, also saw the light before Reformation times. There were books on the art of how to die well, books on the Rosary copiously interspersed with meditations and prayers (of these the volumes of the Dominican Castillo, with a picture for each of the one hundred and fifty Hail Marys, is perhaps the best known), books on various forms of devotion to the Passion, for example, the seven Bloodsheddings and the seven Falls—spiritual pilgrimages which eventually took a more permanent shape in the exercise of the Stations of the Cross. A more important work, issued about 1498, was the collection of prayers called “Paradisus Animse”. In England there-is evidence that the devotion long dear to the English Catholics’ forefathers in the days of persecution under the name of “The Jesus Psalter” was printed and sold separately as early as 1520, though no copy is now known to survive. The author of this most touching prayer is believed to have been Richard Whitford, the Brigittine monk who loved to call himself “the Wretch of Sion“. He has also left a spiritual little volume compiled for the use of communicants, and has been sometimes named as the true author of “The Fruyte of Redemcyon”, a collection of prayers which professes to have been composed by “Simon the Anker [Anchoret] of London Wall”. But this last work is a dull performance and quite unworthy of Whitford. In all probability there must have been many more of these devotional books than our libraries have preserved traces of, for such works when they are not protected by the abundance or beauty of their illustrations (as was the case with many of the “Horae”) are apt to disappear completely without leaving any trace. The preface of an early “Reforming” English prayerbook (Certeine Prayers and godly meditacyons, 1538), while speaking contemptuously of this devotional literature, implies that even in England it was large and varied. “These bokes, (though they abounded in every place with infinite errours and taught prayers made with wicked folysshenesse both to God and also to his sayntes) yet by cause they were garnyshed with glorious tytles and with redde letters, promisinge moche grace and pardon (though it were but vanyte) have sore deceyved the unlerned multitude. One is called the Garden of the Soule, another the Paradyse of the Soule, and by cause I will be short, loke thou thy sylfen whate dyvers and tryfeling names be gyven vnto them.”

We are not concerned here with the prayer-books of the Reformers, but it may be worth while to notice that, just as in Germany the Lutherans produced a modified version of the “Hortulus Animse”, so in England it was the first care of Henry VIII and his vicar-general, Thomas Cromwell, after the breach with Rome, to bring out a new set of primers adapted to the new condition of things. Indeed even in 1532 Sir Thomas More in his “Confutacion of Tyndale’s Answer” could write of the devotional works produced by heretics: “And lest we should lack prayers, we have the Primer and the Ploughman’s Prayer and a book of other small devotions and then the whole Psalter too”. These, however, we cannot identify. Better known were the emended Primers of Marshall and Hilsey (1534 and 1538), followed in 1545 by “The King’s Primer“, which Henry VIII supervised himself. Of course the great bulk of this material was entirely Catholic and imitated in arrangement that of the “Horae”. Other Primers appeared under Edward VI in 1551 (in this the Hail Mary was for the first time omitted) and 1553 (which last, omitting all references to the Hours, is simply a book of private prayers for each day of the week beginning with Sunday), but under Elizabeth in 1559 the arrangement of the Hours was restored and even the Office for the Dead or “Dirige” (see Clay, “Private Prayers”, Parker Society). But the transformations of these forms of private devotional books are very intricate, and they were alternately adapted to suit Catholic and Protestant taste. For example, the book called the “Pomander of Prayer“, which was printed towards the close of Henry VIII‘s reign, with a strong Protestant coloring, appeared again under Mary in a form in which it could well be used by Catholics. One point may be noted as of some importance, and it is: that down to the breach with Rome Latin predominated, even in those books published for the use of the laity. The Pater, Ave, and Creed, and the Psalms were commonly said by the people in Latin and no printed edition of the Office of the Blessed Virgin, or in other words no entirely English Primer, is known to have been issued before 1534. But the books of the last fifteen years of Henry’s reign accustomed the people to pray in English, and under Mary we have printed Catholic Primers both in Latin and English, and in English alone. It may probably be said that from this time forth the uneducated laity, even though Catholics, prayed almost exclusively in English.

Although a similar change in the direction of the vernacular, due in large measure to the same cause, i.e. the influence of the Reformers, was taking place in Germany, France, and the Netherlands, still the most widely known and popular prayer-books introduced in the sixteenth century made their appearance first in Latin. The reforms initiated by the Council of Trent took practical effect in the Bull of St. Pius V, March 11, 1571, which enjoined a rigorous censorship of the “Horae” and “Hortuli” containing the Office of the Blessed Virgin, forbade the extravagant accretions and spurious indulgences often found in these books, prescribed a uniform text for the Office itself and forbade it to be printed in the vernacular. We may suppose that this action, while occasioning the publication of revised and corrected editions (though these do not seem to have been numerous), also occasioned or at least marked a certain revulsion of feeling against the type of devotional manual thus condemned. In any case we note the appearance at this same period of a number of new prayer-books, which seem in several cases to have been designed to serve as manuals for the sodalities of the Blessed Virgin which were now springing up in Germany and elsewhere as one of the first fruits of the Counter-Reformation and the educational activity of the Society of Jesus. With this new type of prayer-book must be connected in the first place the name of Blessed Peter Canisius. His activity in this matter cannot be discussed in detail (cf. “Zeitschrift f. kat. Theol.”, 1890, XIV, pp. 727 sq.), but we may note that to his widely popular, short Catechism a collection of prayers was appended, that he produced in 1556 his “Lectiones et precationes ecclesiasticae” for the use of students, and in 1587 his “Manuale Catholicorum”. Other books of prayers specially intended for the use of sodalists were published by Fathers Sailly and Veron, S.J., and they have since been often reprinted and imitated. A similar purpose seems to have been dominant in the mind of Simon Verepwus, a priest of Mechlin, who in 1565 brought out a little work entitled “Precationum piarum Enchiridion” founded in part upon materials left by Cornelius Liadanus. Verepus’s “Enchiridion” was frequently reprinted and several editions appeared in German. Of other foreign works it will be sufficient to mention here two famous prayer-books of German origin both belonging to the seventeenth century and both appearing in the vernacular before they were published in Latin editions. The earlier of these was the “Paradisus Animm” compiled by Merlo Horstius, a parish priest of Cologne, the first (German) edition of which appeared in 1644. The later was the still more famous collection of Father William Nakatenus, S.J., known as the “Coeleste Palmetum”. In the case of both of these works their popularity seems to have been largely due to the very wide range of devotions which they included, adapted to every occurrence of life and including many litanies, little offices, and pious instructions. In France during the seventeenth century we may note the introduction of the “Paroissien”, a book which contained a large proportion of liturgical matter connected with Mass and Vespers for the Sundays and feasts, as also the Epistles and Gospels, and often a great deal of musical notation, but not excluding private devotions, methods of hearing Mass, preparation for Confession and Communion etc. The popularity of this work (though its contents have varied a good deal at different periods and in different localities) has lasted on down to modern times.

For the use of English Catholics during the days of persecution two forms of prayer-book long held an unchallenged supremacy. The first of these was simply a revision of the old pre-Reformation Primer. An important edition of this, the first since Queen Mary’s time, was issued by that energetic scholar Richard Verstegan at Antwerp in 1599 “for the more utility”, as he said, “of such of the English nation and others using our language as understand not the Latin tongue”. With this object the Office of the Blessed Virgin was printed both in Latin and English and the book contained a selection of hymns rather rudely translated into English verse probably by Verstegan himself. In other respects the main features of the old Primer reappear. We have the Office for the Dead, Offices of the Holy Cross and of the Holy Ghost, the Litanies of the Saints, Seven Penitential Psalms etc., but the extravagant prayers of the early editions were eliminated and devotions of a more practical kind, e.g. for Confession and Communion etc., substituted in their place. A considerable number of editions appeared subsequently and the book was in favor down to the close of the eighteenth century. Another noteworthy revision of the Primer took place in King James II’s reign and later in 1706 the rude renderings of the hymns were replaced by a version perhaps executed by John Dryden. The other prayer-book was the “Manual of devout Prayers and Exercises, collected and translated out of diverse authors”, which seems to have been printed for the first time in 1583. If we may accept the conclusions of Mr. Joseph Gillow (The Ushaw Magazine, 1910) this book also was translated by Verstegan and then printed by Flinton at Father Persons’ press at Rouen. The original work upon which it was based was, Mr. Gillow maintains, the prayerbook of Verepus, from which it borrowed its arrangement according to the seven days of the week. This compilation became very popular. Already in 1584 we find it mentioned among a list of Catholic books seized at Hoxton, and it seems to have been reprinted with certain modifications in 1595, 1596, 1599, and 1604. The history of the subsequent impressions has been minutely traced by Mr. Gillow, who claims to have identified seventy-two different editions, but whose list is nevertheless not entirely exhaustive. An important revision of the work appeared under Jesuit auspices in 1652 (St. Omer’s) and another published by command of His Majesty, James II, in 1686. In 1729 it came out in London in two parts and in 1744 an edition was printed which professed to have been corrected and enlarged by Bishop Challoner, but the changes made were relatively slight. It appeared also in 1811 and 1819 and for the last time in 1847. The attraction of the book appears to have lain in the variety of its contents, and in the course of years it departed a good deal from the type of a collection of extracts from the Fathers and other devout writers, which was its leading characteristic in the sixteenth century.

Still more famous than the “Manual of Prayers” is the work compiled by Bishop Challoner in 1740 under the title of “The Garden of the Soul“. The purpose aimed at in this new work is indicated in its subheading “a Manual of Spiritual Exercises and Instructions for Christians who, living in the World, aspire to devotion”, and although, as Dr. Burton notices (Life of Challoner, I, 127), the book “after 170 years has been edited out of all recognition”, its popularity was originally acquired while it still remained “a brief guide to the spiritual life, containing not prayers only, but information, instructions, and much practical advice”. The seventh edition of “The Garden of the Soul“, which appeared in 1757, was “corrected and enlarged by the Author” and this is the final shape in which he left it; innumerable modifications to which it has since been subjected have been made entirely according to the caprice of the different publishers. Both before and after the issue of “The Garden of the Soul“, a large number of other Catholic manuals of devotion have enjoyed more or less popularity. In 1617 and 1618 we have “A new Manual of Old Christian Catholic Meditations and Prayers” and “A Manual of Prayers used by the Fathers of the Primitive Church” both compiled by Richard Broughton, a divine of Douai. The “Devotions in the Ancient Way of Offices” which was drawn up by John Austin before 1670, had the compliment paid it of being imitated and practically pirated by Anglicans. The “Libellus Precum” was a work produced by the English Jesuits in the eighteenth century for the use of the sodalists in their colleges and has continued in use down to the present day. Of the crowd of works bearing such titles as the “Key of Heaven“, “The Path to Paradise”, the “Golden Manual”, the “Path to Heaven” etc., some of them reproducing names already in use in the seventeenth century, it would be impossible to speak in detail. As regards the censorship of prayer-books, something has already been said of the Motu Proprio of St. Pius V (March 11, 1571). The most important legislation since then is that of the Constitution “Officiorum et Munerum”, January 25, 1897 (see Censorship of Books). Paragraph 20 of this document in very concise terms enacts that no one is to publish “libros vel libellos precum” (prayerbooks or booklets) as well as works of devotion or religious instruction etc., even though they may seem calculated to foster piety, “without the permission of lawful authority”, a somewhat vague phrase which is generally interpreted to mean without the imprimatur of the ordinary: “otherwise”, adds the decree, “such a book must be held to be forbidden”. Special restrictions have also been imposed in the same Constitution (§ 19) upon the publication of new litanies without the revision and approbation of the ordinary. Moreover, it has since been decided that even then litanies which have only an episcopal approval of this kind cannot be used for public devotions in churches (see Hilgers, “Der Index der verbotenen Bucher”, Freiburg, 1904; Vermeersch, “De prohibitione et censura librorum”, 4th ed., Tournai, 1906).


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