Monday, January 10, 2011

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

The Love of the Holy Three must be
at the center of all our prayer.

6. Morning and Evening Prayer: The Backbone of the Prayer Book Office

Morning and Evening Prayer are the two historic Anglican daily prayer services. They each were crafted in the sixteenth century from many earlier sources and have stood the test of time. They are very similar in structure… in fact, identical. They differ in content, of course, but they reveal the “inner logic” of the Office (purgation-illumination-union) in the same manner. Morning and Evening Prayer both follow this basic outline:

  • Opening sentence of Scripture (to set the theme or focus our mind on prayer)
  • Confession of Sin (followed by an assurance of pardon in Christ)
  • Invitatory (opening address to God and a psalm or hymn inviting us into prayer and praise)
  • Psalmody (particular Psalms, as appointed in the Lectionary, always ending with praise to the Holy Trinity)
  • Scripture Lesson (as appointed in the Lectionary)
  • Canticle (a “song” or prayer from Scripture or ancient Church sources, as a response to the Lesson)
  • [Second Lesson and Canticle—some services may have only one set]
  • Apostles’ Creed (reaffirming the central teachings of the Christian faith)
  • The Lord’s Prayer (the prayer Jesus taught, and the model for all Christian prayer)
  • Suffrages (short intercessory prayers in verse-and-response form)
  • Collects (prayers for the particular day in the Church calendar, the day of the week, or other commemoration)
  • [Hymn or anthem—for sung services]
  • Intercessions (using some official form for public services; using one’s own intercessory prayers and/or list for personal recitation)
  • General Thanksgiving and/or A Prayer of St. Chrysostom (giving thanks is an essential part of a full life of prayer)
  • Concluding grace (providing a clear conclusion and turning our focus to living out our prayer)

Now, that may seem like a lot. You might be thinking: “How can anyone other than a monk or nun do this?” The answer is that most people can—if our prayer is offered in love for God and as part of the whole Church’s continuous liturgy of throughout the world and the ages. We don’t do this alone; we do it as part of a universal offering. The Office is fairly simple to learn; but it continues to reveal its meaning over a lifetime. We need to start simply, then let God lead us to the form of Office best suited to our situation.

The basic Office, with one lesson, takes about fifteen minutes to pray. That’s all. Fifteen minutes: about the time it takes to make up a fancy coffee drink. Is time with God worth this? But using such scarcity-based thinking is not how I have come to think of it. Such earthly logic will never, never be truly convincing. Viewing prayer as an “extra” or a luxury is rather like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

Today, I look at the Office as the pattern for “normal” life; the rest of life is gradually coming to resemble what I encounter in prayer: the potential and restored self I meet, the God I worship, the restored relationship between God, myself, my neighbor, and the Creation I experience. Viewed this way, daily prayer has become for me—with very real ups and downs—the work-bench, the operating table, the potter’s wheel upon which Christ is re-fashioning me into something truly alive, receptive, and loving.

In helping to teach people to pray over the years I have found that we must begin as we mean to go on: we must begin with the love of the Holy Three as our starting point. It is a sharing in that love, that peace, which is our “goal.” It is not a mere duty or a set of rules to be followed. Saying Office is not a magic formula leading to hair-growth or a bigger income or magical powers. It—along with the Eucharist, works of mercy, other forms of prayer, personal ascesis, &c.—leads to the Holy Trinity in whose Image we were made. It took me some time to gain an intellectual understanding of this in praying the Office, though my heart had begun there.

As we begin to walk step-by-step through Morning Prayer (the first Office we will explore in detail), let the counsel of this old prayer said before beginning any Daily Office service guide us:

Open my mouth, O Lord, to bless your holy name: cleanse my heart from all vain, evil and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding, kindle my will, that I may worthily recite this Office with attention and devotion, and deserve to be heard in the presence of thy divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Lord, in union with that divine intention with which you praised God on while on earth, I offer to you this Office.

Let us consciously offer to God the Daily Office as a means to grow in his knowledge and love.

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