We show that superconductors have a thin spectrum associated with spontaneous symmetry breaking similar to that of antiferromagnets, while still being in full agreement with Elitzur's theorem, which forbids the spontaneous breaking of local (gauge) symmetries. This thin spectrum in the superconductors consists of in-gap states that are associated with the spontaneous breaking of a global phase symmetry. In qubits based on mesoscopic superconducting devices, the presence of the thin spectrum implies a maximum coherence time which is proportional to the number of Cooper pairs in the device. Here we present the detailed calculations leading up to these results and discuss the relation between spontaneous symmetry breaking in superconductors and the Meissner effect, the Anderson-Higgs mechanism and the Josephson effect. Whereas for the Meissner effect a symmetry breaking of the phase of the superconductor is not required, it is essential for the Josephson effect.