Friday, December 31, 2010

Day by day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

Photo: Bob Griffith

2. What is needed for praying the Daily Office?

The two absolute essentials for this are a Prayer Book and a Bible. Part of the wisdom of the Anglican form of worship is its richness and yet its simplicity. Using the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), one has a resource with many treasures, a “mansion with many rooms” for prayer. Together with the Holy Scriptures, the Prayer Book forms a complete unit.

Within the Prayer Book there are several essential parts we will need to know about (and have marked with a ribbon or bookmark or other way of keeping them handy):

The Daily Office section: pages 37-146
This is the “heart” of the Office, giving the structure, essential prayers, and guidance for saying each service.

The Daily Office Lectionary section: pages 934-1001
This is the table of readings for each day or occasion in the Church Year. It comes in a two-year cycle (we have just begun Year One in Advent of 2010). Each day has a set of morning and evening Psalms, and then three lessons from Scripture.

The Psalms: pages 582-808
Because they are used so much in our worship, the BCP has its own translation of the Psalms bound right in it. This version of the “Psalter” is based on centuries of Anglican Psalm translations, and is very conscious of the sound and feel of language. It is also carefully edited to mesh well with how we use the Psalter in the Daily Office. We are free to use any translation of the Psalms for personal recitation of the Office, but the BCP translation of the Psalms is always our baseline version.

The Collects: pages 158-261
These are the prayers for the various Sundays, Holy Days, and special occasions through the Year. Very often, the Collect for a particular Sunday is used for the whole week in the Daily Office. Using the proper Collect is a valuable part of exploring the richness and meaning of the Liturgical or Church Year. The Collects also contain much essential Anglican doctrinal teaching.

The Calendar: pages 15-33
The Calendar helps us understand how the Church Year works, and where we are in the Liturgical year each day; it will show us when special Holy Days occur, allowing us to find the proper readings and prayers to go with them.

The Prayers and Thanksgivings section: pages 810-841
This is a collection covering many concerns and occasions not found in other places of the Prayer Book. Many of these prayers are useful in saying the Daily Office, as well as offering prayer at other times in our day and life.

As to the Bible, I would suggest a generally-recognized translation to begin with (The New Revised Standard Version has become the norm in the Episcopal Church). Whichever translation you use, it needs to have the Apocrypha (also known as the Deuterocanonical books), since these are part of the Anglican Bible tradition, and are referenced with some regularity in the course of the Two Year Cycle of readings.

Some other resources:
  • Some people like to say the Daily Office online. There are quite a few resources for this now, and some are very helpful. I would suggest, however, that one learn to say the Office “off-line,” using the Prayer Book and the Bible. This is more than a reverence for paper or a nostalgia for old things. By being “disconnected” from the Internet one is making an essential step towards connection with God, the angels, and the saints alone. Office needs to be a time of reflective, contemplative focus: being online and dealing with all the issues electronic communication inevitably brings up makes such focus difficult, if not impossible. Let us choose quality over quantity in prayer; this is God’s way (Matthew 6:6-8), and should be ours as well. Our minds are distracted enough without the addition of network interference, software problems, connectivity issues, “unintended” Google searches, or dead batteries.
  • Many people find a hymnal to be a useful companion for saying Office, using hymns appropriate to the time of day, the season, or the feast day being observed.
  • Some Episcopalians use the Forward Movement, Day-by-Day resource as a way to get their daily Scripture lessons, as well as a short meditation on that day’s theme, and names of places and ministries in the Anglican Communion for which to pray. This is a good resource (the paper version is available in our parish’s narthex), though it does not always provide for the same richness found in the Prayer Book’s Daily Office lectionary. It is a good place to begin, though. Here is a link to the daily online version of this publication.
  • Books of additional prayers and devotions can be helpful, as long as they don’t “take over” the Office, distorting its basic (and balanced) structure and pattern.
  • An intercession journal can be a great asset in offering the Daily Office. Such a journal contains those persons and concerns for which we pray. Updated periodically (and with thanksgivings, too!), a journal of intercessions opens up the meaning of daily prayer. Through intercession, we learn and practice an essential part of what it means to be a priestly people by sharing in Christ’s work of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  • Readings from the Early Church have long formed a part of the Monastic Office and can be used profitably by those engaged in the Anglican Daily Office. Though expensive, one of the best resources for this is Fr. Wright’s excellent Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. (This book is reviewed by customers at here.) Readings from the Early Church help us understand the faith from some of the greatest Christian teachers. Anglicanism has always believed that the teaching and practice of the Early and Undivided Church has unique authority.

The list of additional resources—online or in books—is essentially endless. So, let us move on to the next consideration: the setting in which we say the Office.

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