The 1979 Book of Common Prayer makes provision for four specific times of liturgical prayer each day: Morning, Noon, Evening, and at the Close of the Day (called "Compline" from an old English word meaning completion). By “liturgical” forms of prayer, I mean that the Church provides set forms for these times, at which Christians may gather in community, or through the use of which individuals may participate in the ongoing Prayer of the Church around the world.
For a variety of reasons, probably the least used of these forms is the Noonday (prayers at Noon) liturgy. Yet, this time of prayer is both widely attested to in Sacred Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) and in Christian Tradition. It is also true that many people have the opportunity to utilize these prayers in their daily life…either in the very simple form found on page 138 of the BCP, or in the fuller form on page 103. This service may be found online many places, including here.
For regular use over the long term, however, either of these forms can become a bit repetitive. The BCP itself invites additions/variation/enrichment in the rubrics (directions to offering the service, found in italics). Let’s take a look at this service in a bit more detail, and think about ways it could be enriched for regular use.
Preface: Opening Prayers
Each of the Offices in the Prayer Book may be prefaced by various prayers, settling our minds and hearts in the presence of God as we do this sacred work. Such prayers might include the classical sequence of
In the Name, &c. (“In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”) This is a way to begin any pre-Office prayers, a sort of “consecration of the time and place” in prayerful intention. This is said accompanied by making the Sign of the Cross.
Our Father, &c. – The Lord’s Prayer forms the context for all Christian prayer and study.
Hail, Mary, &c. – This prayer honors the Blessed Virgin and opens our hearts to the intercession of the saints, recalling our own synergistic participation in God’s work through the Holy Spirit given at Baptism. It also holds our mortality before us in prayer.
And these two prayers…
Open my mouth, O Lord, to bless your holy Name; cleanse my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding and kindle my affections, that I may fittingly recite this Office with attention and devotion and so may be fit to be heard before the presence of your divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Lord, in union with that divine intention wherewith you yourself offered your praises to God while upon the earth, I now recite this Office to you [with the special intention for _____________ (here insert any person or concern you wish to offer before God during this Office)]. Amen.
The Opening Prayers
The Noonday Office begins wonderfully simply, and that should be retained. Its opening words (“O God, make speed to save us, O Lord make haste to help us!”) are nothing less than an urgent cry to God. Much of the earth lives in precisely this condition each day, and if we are not in that sense of need, we need to rekindle our absolute dependence on God for love, humility, energy, wisdom, insight, and guidance as we start these prayers, associating ourselves with the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ and all humanity before God.
The opening words of this Office are traditionally accompanied by making the Sign of the Cross as a physical statement of our complete reliance upon the love of God found in Christ.
“A suitable hymn may be sung”
Each service of the Daily Office traditionally has hymns appropriate to the hour of the day or the particular season/feast associated with it. At Noonday that hymn comes just after the beginning of the service. For regular daily use one might learn one of the simpler Noonday hymns in the Hymnal 1982 (numbers 12-23).
Several of these are variations on St. Ambrose of Milan’s (AD 340-397) hymns for the Hours of prayer; others are from more modern periods of the Church’s devotional writing. All of them present Scripturally-grounded and sound theology in practical terms for this moment of the day. Learning some of these poems by heart (with or without music, depending on your ability) is a real asset in making the Noonday Office richer in content as well as beauty.
I am particularly fond of the setting (Hymn 21) of St. Ambrose’s Rector potens, verax Deus to 17th century Anglican master Orlando Gibbons’ Song 34—surely one of the masterstrokes of Anglican hymnody.
The BCP makes provision for several Psalm readings (the heart of each Daily Office service) at Noonday: Psalm 119:105-112, Psalm 121, and Psalm 126. However, the rubrics invite other options, too. This provides an opportunity for variation, focusing on the themes traditional to the various days of the week as well as the different seasons of the Church Year.
Howard Galley’s The Prayer Book Office (formerly available through Church Publishing, but now apparently languishing in publishing limbo for reasons of economy and perceived demand) provided a much richer array of Psalmody for Noonday—complete with Antiphons and seasonal alternates—arranged by weekday. Below is Galley’s schema (minus antiphons):
Sundays: Psalms. 23 & 67 or Psalm 118 (the latter during Eastertide, as well as when the previous Psalms are otherwise appointed)
Mondays: Psalm 119:1-8, 17-24
Tuesdays: Psalm 119:89-96, 105-112
Wednesday: Psalms 121 & 122
Thursdays: Psalms 124 & 126
Fridays (except in the seasons of Christmas and Easter): Psalms 119:81-88 & 130
Fridays of Christmas and Easter: Psalms 23 & 67
Saturdays (except in the season of Lent): Psalm 132
Saturdays of Lent: Psalm 119:137-144, 169-176
All of us are free to develop some other schema for reading Psalms at the Noon Hour (indeed, the Prayer Book provides two ways to pray the Psalms in the Daily Office at Morning and Evening Prayer—a monthly or a six-week cycle, with provision for special selections of Psalms on Major Holy Days).
One other pattern might be to read all of Psalm 119 over the course of the week, in praise of the Law of Christ’s love (anciently, this Psalm was often said in the course of each day!).
Readings from Scripture
The BCP provides three readings for the Noon hour, but also makes allowance for “other suitable passages” of Scripture to be used. Old manuals of prayer developed elaborate selections according to various Holy Days and seasons. This can be very useful, but it can also become cumbersome for most people. Keeping a short rota of readings might be a better pattern. Here is Galley’s rotation of lessons through the week:
Sundays and Wednesdays: 2 Corinthians 5:17-18
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation
Mondays and Thursdays: Romans 5:5
God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Tuesdays and Saturdays: Malachi 1:11
From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.
Fridays: 2 Timothy 2:11b-12a
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.
Galley goes on to give special readings (as well as Psalms and antiphons) through the Liturgical Year for the Noonday Office. This is one of the real gifts of this publication, making it all the more lamentable that this splendid work is currently lost to the wider Church.
The point of these lessons is, obviously, not to provide a long reading for content, but to re-focus our attention on raising our daily life and ministry to God’s presence and guidance. Any sustainable schema of Scripture readings for this Office will likely do the same.
It is also important to be clear that only one reading from Scripture is to be provided at this service. Noonday and Compline are not meant to be used as settings for long, in-course readings from Scripture. That is the work in Morning and Evening Prayer, where the Office’s structure is specifically fashioned to bear this weight and interpret it within a liturgical context.
“A Meditation, Silent or Spoken”
The BCP follows the Noonday Scripture reading with an opportunity for a meditation. This may take myriad forms both in group and individual settings. One thing is clear: it is not to be “spiritual busy-work.” In other words, this is not a time for lots of information to be imparted (to God or anyone else).
This meditation could be a time for a short address (really short by a speaker or the officiant) followed by silence. This is also a good time for a short reading from the Ancient Church or a classical Anglican source, with some time for reflection following. Finally, it is a perfectly acceptable simple to observe a good, long period of simple silence. Heaven knows the Church could use more of that.
The Prayer Book’s Noonday Office concludes simply with a short series of prayers: the Kyrie eleison (3-, 6-, or 9-fold varieties are always acceptable, the local community choosing), the Lord’s Prayer, and a concluding collect (the BCP provides four options). The 1979 BCP does not mean to encourage using the Collect of the Day at this Office, desiring simplicity by setting out these four options (the second one of which is particularly appropriate to Friday). However, on Major Feasts, the use of the Collect of the Day is perfectly suitable at Noonday.
The rubrics allow for intercessions (and, presumably, petitions and thanksgivings) to follow the collect. This can be a good time to raise the concerns from the morning—or those of events expected in the afternoon—to God in prayer. Some people carry a small booklet or list of intercessions with them to work, or have such a resource near where they pray, and this is where that tool comes in handy in this service.
Finally, the service concludes with the Benedicamus Domino (“Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.”), in which we very clearly place our prayers within the larger prayer of the whole Church as we go back to the World and its concern…now renewed in the presence of God. Some people add the Memorial for the Departed (“May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”), accompanied by making the Sign of the Cross, after this.
Noonday Prayers—and any Daily Office—may be followed by this prayer of praise and petition to God:
“To the holy and undivided Trinity, to the crucified humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the fruitful virginity of the blessed and glorious ever Virgin Mary, and to the whole company of the saints, be everlasting praise, honor, power, and glory from every creature, unto us the remission of all our sins for ever and ever. Amen.”
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The gift of the Noonday Office in our time is that it provides a simple (but versatile) way for prayer to enter into the midst of our daily work or other activities. In a society completely dominated by work, this in itself may be an act of subversion, one referencing the Kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdom of this world.
Noonday Office —with different Psalm and short reading selections—may also be used at 9 AM and 3 PM. These are the other traditional hours of prayer between Morning and Evening Prayer, and typically are kept very short.
All of this is yet another way that the catholic tradition of prayer makes possible a state of continual prayer—a life wherein the Kingdom of God is always near, always somehow already within us even as we await it fullness at the end of the ages.