Friday, May 27, 2011

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

The Psalms

The next portion of the Daily Office revolves around the reading of Scripture: first from the Book of Psalms (called the Psalter), and then from other parts of the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament. This section of the Office is the largest in terms of time spent, and focuses on Illuminative prayer wherein we are filled with knowledge about God and the holy life. Through this encounter, we are invited to participate in God’s holiness through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

The Psalms are an essential part of the Office; indeed, they are really at its core. The Psalter was the Church’s first hymnal and to this day many of our favorite hymns are connected to the Book of Psalms. The Psalms can be difficult, too. They bring the total person before God, even the person we find shocking and primitive. This radical honesty is a necessary part of the Biblical vision for restored life in God. Just as Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, so we are called to bring the fullness of our life—its joys, sorrows, brokenness—to God in prayer for transformation and renewal. The 150 Psalms have been seen from the start of Christianity as the best tool for this process to proceed and deepen over a lifetime.

At Morning and Evening Prayer there are appointed Psalms for each day of the year, and one of your marker ribbons should be placed at the appropriate Psalm prior to beginning the Office.

There are two BCP-based ways to go about using the Psalter. One (the older Anglican way) is to read it once through each month in order. Starting at Morning Prayer on the first day of the month and beginning with Psalm One, read the appropriate selection of Psalms, as indicated by the small notations in the upper right-hand corner of the Psalter in your Prayer Book. This means (usually) about 3-4 Psalms at each service. This way of reading the Psalms means more of a time commitment at each service (and also means the Psalms are rather arbitrarily divided up), but it is an excellent way to learn the Psalms, and I highly recommend it during the Season after Pentecost.

The other way to read the Psalms as provided in the BCP is to use the Daily Office Lectionary (remember that ribbon?) at the back of the Prayer Book. Each day’s entry has the morning and evening Psalms listed (the morning and evening sets are separated by a small cross made from four dots). This way of praying the Psalms is connected more to the rhythms of morning and evening, the days of the week, and the seasons. It is shorter, too.

When saying the Psalms, it is customary to end each individual Psalm (or the whole set of them) with the Gloria Patri [“Glory be to the Father, &c.”] as a way to offer the experience we have just gone through in this encounter back to God. This is one of the many ways that praying Scripture in the Office differs from reading it for personal or academic study. A Liturgical reading of Scripture is always consciously a prayer and a relationship between ourselves, God, and the whole Church. Traditionally, one bows whenever the Gloria Patri is said in reverence and awe before God in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. As always, our bodies and minds must both be part of or prayer.

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