Sunday, October 23, 2011

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

The Apostles’ Creed

After the Lesson(s) and Canticle(s), Morning and Evening Prayer make a turn from illuminative prayer towards the unitive. That “turn” is marked by the offering of the Apostles’ Creed.

The Apostles’ Creed is the basic statement of faith used in Western Christianity from very early on. It has always been connected to baptism, but has also been used at a variety of other liturgies, and eventually in the Daily Office itself. It came to the Daily Office fairly late, and there are contemporary versions of the Office that omit it. The Prayer Book liturgy, however, gives it a central place… and for some very good reasons.

Some people find the prospect of using the Creed each morning and evening to be a bit, well, repetitive. A friend’s wife once said she thought the idea fairly ludicrous. “Why would you need to say it so often?” The same could be said for the Lord’s Prayer, but I didn’t want to make anything of it. Sometimes (probably often), clergy need to remain quiet.

We say it often because we so often forget what we are about. We forget when we stop viewing each encounter with another person as a holy moment, when we charge head-down through the day without prayer or gratitude, when we do not notice the beauty of the sun or rain or flowers or birdsong, when we trade our identity as disciples of Christ for consumer or fearful employee or angry voter. The words of the Creed are no mere catalog of beliefs or a list of spiritual “belief boxes” to tick off: they are the equivalent to the “Pledge of Allegiance” in our faith life. This is indeed what I believe; ah, now I remember. Lord, thank you; Lord, have mercy. The Creed is always a sacred act of remembering. As C.S. Lewis made so clear in The Silver Chair, we must remember this list of “signs” to guide us through our day and our life.

The Creed is said each morning to begin the day with an affirmation of our baptism. This is the essential DNA of the faith, and I am charged with living it out in my words, thoughts, and actions.

The Creed is said at day’s end as a preparation for our life’s end. This is the faith I believe in and will give my life for; now I commend myself into your loving hands for the night in sure confidence of your saving power.

When saying the Creed, it is good to stand—the posture of a believer before God. At the name of Jesus, it is customary here (as elsewhere in the Church’s liturgy) to bow the head, honoring the sacred name of our Savior. It is also customary to make the sign of the cross at the words “and the life everlasting” as a personal signature of assent and recalling the signing with the cross at our baptism, by which we were “marked as Christ’s own for ever.” By the power of the Cross, we are given the everlasting life the Creed speaks of.

All of this is both illuminative (recalling the essential elements of the catholic faith for our assent) and yet also unitive (expressing our deepest longing: to be one with God through the faith we confess and were made part of through Holy Baptism). With the Creed, we have “made the turn;” we now come to the final part of the Office.

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