Monday, January 31, 2011

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

7. “…Read, Mark, Learn…”

Once a person learns how to say the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer, the process of getting ready for each service becomes pretty clear (it was meant to be rich, but fairly simple). However, getting to that point can seem a bit circuitous to beginners. There is a certain amount of page-flipping involved because the BCP is really a collection of books, each contributing to the vision of a guide to daily, weekly, and lifetime worship. The Daily Office draws from several parts of the Prayer Book each time it is said, and so one has to learn how to negotiate these various sections—the ones that change from day to day, and the ones that stay the same.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this. One is just to use a computer. Using a web site where the Daily Office is posted makes it very easy to begin at the beginning and follow things right through to the end. There are some drawbacks, though:

  • Constraint. A desktop or laptop computer limit, to one degree or another, the way in which one says prayers. If, like me, one wishes to observe the various postures associated with praying the Office, a computer can make this nearly impossible. Forcing one’s prayers to assume the character of another day in the cubicle or watching a video seems both unwise and ultimately counter-productive. Newer tablet-style computers may change this; but they still require wireless connection and sufficient power. I’ve said the Office on the beach or by a river many times because books are portable and dependable. Computers are tremendous tools (obviously), but they are not perfect for everything…thank heavens.
  • Filtering. When the Prayer Book offers choices or options in the Daily Office, most on-line sites end up making a choice for us, eliminating some of the richness of the original. On-line versions of the Office tend to have a “filter,” if you will; they would like us to adopt a particular “way” of saying the Office rather than just giving us the essential resources and trusting us (and God!) to work things out over time and use. Of course, one could say that this blog has a filter of sorts, but here the goal is to help people learn to say the Office “pure and simple,” then suggesting various additions.

When using the BCP for the Office, it is helpful to have a number of bookmarks/ribbons in place. Here are some good places to mark and why:

The Calendar (beginning on p. 19): It is good to see where we are in the liturgical year. The dates in this section of the Calendar are those of the fixed days, such as Major Holy Days (printed in bold). On such days, special prayers and readings from scripture are available elsewhere in the book. Before starting out to say a particular Office, first we need to know what lessons and prayers will be used. If your parish offers liturgical calendars (where each day’s special commemoration is shown) that can be a great help. You can also purchase a calendar with the proper lessons for the Daily Office through the Episcopal Church’s in-house publisher here (in the 2011 edition). While a little expensive, this is a great tool for beginners, as it spells the Psalms and other lessons out very clearly both for the Daily Office and the Eucharist.
The Daily Office itself: Place a ribbon or other marker at the start of whichever service you will be using. The Table of Contents at the front of the Book of Common Prayer will show you the page number. Remember: Rite I is the older style English service; Rite II the newer. (When saying Noonday or Compline, you likely will only need this particular marker.) This marker will be “home base” for your use of the BCP when saying Office. As you progress through the service, keep moving the marker along, returning to your place when coming back from some other part of the Prayer Book.
Table of Suggested Canticles (p. 144): These are the "songs"from Holy Scripture used as responses to the lesson(s) from Scripture used at Morning and Evening Prayer. This table helps one move in a balanced and seasonal way through the various canticles.
The Collects (for Rite I, beginning on p. 159; for Rite II, beginning on p. 211): A Collect is a prayer setting the theme for a particular service, day, week, or season in our worship. As we progress through the church year, this ribbon moves along, too.
The Psalter (a name for a collection of Psalms): The Psalms are essential for the Daily Office. They formed the Church’s first hymnal, and Christians from the beginning have found them a compendium of teaching and guidance, as well as a commentary on the rest of Scripture. At Morning and Evening Prayer, special Psalms are “appointed” by the Prayer Book to be read, usually over a six-week cycle. Sometimes only one Psalm is offered at a particular service; at other times, a number of shorter ones are selected. If multiple Psalms are prayed, they might be in sequential order… or they may be widely separated. You may end up wanting two markers for the Psalms, depending on your own preferences.
Prayers and Thanksgivings (beginning on p. 810): Here is a rich treasury of prayers for various occasions, augmenting those found in the final section of Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as for use at other times in your day and life.
The Lectionary (beginning on p. 934): This is a very important section, as it gives the Psalms and other readings needed at either Morning or Evening Prayer (Noonday and Compline are essentially self-contained services). The Lectionary Calendar (mentioned above) takes the place of using the Lectionary section of the Prayer Book, but the calendar is bulky and when traveling it could be difficult to take along. Ultimately, it is best if people learn to use the BCP Lectionary. Put the marker in the appropriate place in the Church Year where you find yourself. Again, you might want a second marker for those Holy Days that pop up over the course of the year and preempt the flow of readings during the seasons (The Holy Day Lectionary section begins on p. 921). You can usually learn where you are in the Liturgical Year from the Sunday bulletin of your parish, as well as from an on-line resource such as The Lectionary Page.

To get started, the essential markers are at these points:
The Daily Office (Rite I or Rite II Morning or Evening Prayer, or at the Noonday or Compline services)
Table of Canticles
The Psalter
The Lectionary (if you are not using a separate resource such as a lectionary calendar or an on-line resource)
The other bookmarks can be added as you grow in confidence and begin to want a richer experience of praying the Office.

[Here is a blog that gives detailed instruction for how to put plenty of ribbons into your prayer book for use in marking the Daily Office.]

We are now ready to begin going step-by-step through Morning Prayer, the first Office we will study in detail.

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