Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Morning Prayer: Opening our Lips in Praise and Invitation

After the Opening Sentence and Confession, the next part of the Daily Office is technically called the Preces (“The Prayers”) and the Invitatory.

The first thing we do after confessing our sins is, interestingly, admit that even our ability to pray is a gift from God. Gift is at the core of the Christian life, and it makes a deep kind of sense to start the main body of the Office with this admission. We do this by saying: “O Lord, open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise,” from Psalm 51. 

It is customary to make a small sign of the cross (using the thumb of one’s right hand) on the lips at this point, physically connecting our prayer to our bodies. This is another of the many times when the meaning of the Incarnation (that God became flesh in Christ, and thus hallowed the Creation) connects with our prayer in the Daily Office. We are not just "brains on sticks" walking around in a world of ideas. Our prayer must honor this fact and the fact of the holiness of the physical world as a place of divine encounter.

Following on this idea, we next praise God for being…God. Whenever we offer the Gloria Patri (“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”), we are praising God the Holy Trinity for being God Almighty. This is at the heart of what it means to be a priestly people: to offer God “the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” We will do this a good deal in the Daily Office, as a pattern for the rest of our life. Remember: the Office is not a kind of “holy time-out” from real life. It is much more like a shaft of sunlight on a cloudy day that proclaims the sun is always shining above the storms. The Christian’s progress is, to some degree, measured by how much we live out that knowledge in the squalls and tempests of this life. Another physical action traditionally accompanies this prayer: it is customary to bow during the Gloria Patri, in humble acknowledgement of the Divine Mystery we stand before.

Outside of Lent, the Gloria Patri is followed by the Alleluia as a reminder that we are living in the light of the Resurrection of Christ, whose reconciling and redeeming love makes possible our direct access to God. During Lent it is our custom to fast from Alleluia, brining it back all the more richly at Easter.

This section of the Office continues with the Invitatory. That’s a liturgical word meaning “to invite worshippers into prayer.” At Morning Prayer, three different Invitatories are provided. The first one (and the most universal one in Western Christianity) is Psalm 95, either in part or in full. The first part of this Psalm is a wonderful, joyous invitation to prayer. It bids us to rejoice in the “rock of our salvation,” which Christians from St. Paul’s time have always identified with Christ Himself. The second part of this Psalm, though, is of a more penitential character (reflected on at length in the Letter to the Hebrews). This part may be omitted at various times of the year. My own practice is to offer it on Fridays throughout the year (outside of Easter) and on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during Lent. Just put another marker on p. 724 of the BCP, where the complete Psalm is found.

The other Invitatories provided are Psalm 100 and a collection of verses on the Resurrection from St. Paul collectively known as the Pascha nostrum, or “Christ our Passover.” I tend to use Psalm 100 during Epiphany and the season following, as its themes go well with this portion of the Liturgical Year. The Pascha nostrum I reserve for Eastertide. Some people use it for Easter Week, some for the period from Easter Day through the Ascension, and others for the full 50 Days of that glorious time.

The Prayer Book provides enrichments for the Invitatory through the use of antiphons (another liturgical word) at Morning Prayer. These are short passages of Scripture used to frame a Psalm or Canticle. Usually, antiphons are said at the start and the conclusion of a Psalm or Canticle; occasionally they are said at points during (this was historically the case with Psalm 95 and by extension, all the Invitatories). That is why the Invitatories all are grouped in paragraphs: the antiphon may be said in between each paragraph, as well.

The antiphons are all listed there, with options for the major seasons, various occasions, and a small collection for “ordinary time.” Take your pick!*

If all this seems confusing, you may choose not to use the antiphons. They are not “required.” Remember, when saying the Office “privately” no one is expecting you to be a liturgical expert. Just begin using the Office and gradually find your way in it. God will open your heart and mind to His loving purpose as you go. So, don’t be self-conscious about the details. Just jump in and pray.

With the conclusion of the Invitatory, we are now into the “thick” of the Daily Office, ready to enter into the towering forest of Psalms, Lessons, and Canticles.

*Note: Antiphons greatly enrich the experience of the Office for many, and are a very ancient part of Christian worship, being essentially more Scripture used to help us interpret Scripture. The BCP (p. 141) explicitly allows one to use antiphons with any Psalm or Canticle from the Bible. If Church Publishing ever decides to re-issue The Prayer Book Office (a thing much to be desired), then a rich treasury of Antiphons will be yours. Until then, one either has to find some alternative form of saying Office with antiphons, or be content with things as they are. For many, the latter will always the case. If not, e-mail me and we can talk about other options. Mostly, I would recommend that you contact Church Publishing (the Episcopal Publishing house) and tell them you would like them to re-issue Howard Galley’s Prayer Book Office in some format or other. I have tried, but I am just one “odd” voice. Perhaps if more apparently normal people would do so, then they would think about it. Another post on this subject would probably be a good idea someday…you can see I have strong feelings about it.

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