Saturday, November 12, 2011

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

The Prayers

The final portion of the Morning/Evening Office has to do with prayer, as its title indicates.  

The Prayers take all we have done, where we have been in the previous stages of the Office and, in a sense, "apply" them to the ongoing work of being more like Christ. We pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we share in his priestly work of intercession and thanksgiving, and we contemplate what it means to be merciful, compassionate, just, and loving in the full sense of these words. All the purgation, all of the illumination, now come to their highest purpose, the one manifest in Christ's Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and in baptism: sharing in the divine life we were always meant to have, the union of wills which is our glory, our desire, our peace.

The Prayers commence with a dialog: “The Lord be with you. And also with you. Let us pray.” (in Rite 2; Rite 1 uses the form “The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit.”). This assumes, of course, public recitation of the Office. When it is being said in private (remembering the truth that there really is no such thing as fully “private” Christian prayer), it is permissible to change this dialogue to “Lord hear our prayer, and let our cry come to you.” This preserves the communal sense of the Office while acknowledging the realities of the setting. This dialogue recalls to us that all our prayers are part of a dynamic interplay between ourselves, Christ’s Body the Church, and God. There are many times when we can lose track of this in life, and the liturgical forms of our worship brings us back to the truth: we do not do this alone.

The Lord’s Prayer then follows. This may be said in either its Elizabethan or modern translation. I would suggest that one try to pray this prayer in its modern form with some regularity. The Lord’s Prayer serves as the “summit” of this part of the Office. It is here where we most clearly speak about our will being in union with God’s. The prayer Christ gave to us sets the pattern for Christian life. From this flows the fruit of such a union: intercession, adoration, and thanksgiving—all connected to the actions of a life lived partly in the Kingdom of God already. The rest of the Office is, in a sense, a "living out" of the Lord's Prayer.

The Suffrages that follow the Lord’s Prayer may be a new word and concept to some people. Suffrages are a prayer form based on short intercessory phrases (the “V” and “R” mean “versicle” and “response” in public recitation of the Office). Together, they cover a great deal of territory in a short amount of time: prayers for mercy, protection, Christian leadership, the Church, peace, the state, justice, mission, the poor, purity, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They are similar to a litany (changing petitions, each with a fixed response); in fact, at Evening Prayer, the “B” set of suffrages is a short litany from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. One may certainly “toss off” the Suffrages, as one may rattle off any prayer, but I would advise anyone using them to take them slowly, thinking about what each petition means to you, today. Intercession is one of the clearest fruits of our sharing in the priestly ministry of Christ our Lord; it should be offered with care and reverence. Real lives, real souls are at stake.

At Morning Prayer, Suffrages “A” are the traditional set; the “B” set were for centuries attached to the end of Te Deum (Canticle 7 in Rite I, Canticle 21 in Rite II Morning Prayer), and I tend to use the “B” set whenever I say the Te Deum (as appointed in the Table of Canticles mentioned earlier in this series).

At Evening Prayer, the “A” set of suffrages is, again the “traditional” set, but since it is a repeat of set “A” at Morning Prayer, I tend to use the “B” set most of the time, as this litany has so much to contemplate even in its brevity. The “B” set makes provision for one to add specific saints in the final petition. A good custom here is to begin with “St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord,” as she is the uniquely-honored "God-bearer;" then the patron of one’s parish (if there is one), the saint being commemorated on that particular day, and (perhaps, especially in personal recitation) one’s name saint. It is also customary to make the sign of the cross at the petition for forgiveness of sin in this set of Suffrages. This physically recalls the significance of Christ's love for all humanity poured out upon the cross, as well as our baptism into the "Way of the Kingdom" the we are called to live out through forgiveness and mercy ourselves.

The Collects that follow are a venerable part of the Office--they once formed the conclusion to the service, and may still be used this way. The Prayer Book allows one to use as few as two or as many as one wants. For public services, three is usually a good number. In personal recitation, it is good to start simply, and then add a few as one’s comfort with the Office develops.

The Collects are more than just “prayers” in a generic sense. They are an education in the mission and theology of the Church, a laboratory for spiritual experimentation, and a formation in the depth of conversation with God. To become familiar with the collects of the Daily Office and the Church Year is to be immersed in the fertile ground of faith, where good seeds can sprout and put down deep roots.

In most Anglican forms of the Daily Office, it is customary to start the Collects with “The Collect of the Day.” This usually means the Collect of that particular week (being that of the preceding Sunday), but could also mean the Collect for a particular Holy Day. All of these prayers may be found in the Collects section of the BCP, either in traditional language (pages 158-210) or contemporary (pages 211-267). If this seems confusion (and it certainly can be—this is why I suggest starting very simply), this is where using an online source can be of some help.

Morning and Evening Prayer both have special collects appointed for Sunday, Friday, and Saturday. The remaining collects can be distributed through the week, making for a seven-day cycle. Together, they make a circuit of major areas of focus in prayer: for protection, grace, a sense of God’s presence, &c. One can use these in place of, or in addition to, the Collect of the Day. If one is starting out saying daily Morning/Evening Prayer, I would just use one of these collects, and not worry about the “Collect of the Day” above until you get the sense of how it works.

The 1979 BCP also provides three “Collects for Mission” at Morning and Evening Prayer: choose one to conclude these section. The third of these (“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross…”) is particularly appropriate for Wednesdays and Fridays, the traditional fasting days in Christian practice. The point of these collects is to help the Church move from an excessively interior focus to a more outward- and other-focus in mission. This is central to our renewed sense of being the People of God sent (missio) into the world by Christ to bear the message of the Good News of God.

After the Collects the BCP makes provision for a variety of options. One may immediately conclude the Office here, without anything further.

Other prayers, particularly from the “Prayers and Thanksgivings” section (pages 810-841), may be added following the collects. This is a good way to work through the various prayers for particular concerns/thanksgivings for blessings that the Prayer Book so richly provides.

One may, instead, choose to sing a hymn after the collects, or say the Great Litany (page 148 and following) or some other Litany. When saying the Office in a non-public setting, one could follow the Collects with time for journaling, meditation, observance of silence, or any number of other devotions (see below).

The Office may conclude with The General Thanksgiving and/or The Prayer of St. Chrysostom. The General Thanksgiving is one of the great gems in our tradition. One can pause prior to saying this prayer and give thanks for a particular blessing, then begin. In this prayer we see the gamut of blessings from God… from our own particular concerns on to cosmological gifts of redemption and grace. This is a good prayer to memorize.

The Prayer of St. Chrysostom is probably best suited to group settings, as its content implies. However, saying it on one’s own does remind us that whenever a Christian prays, we are part of the whole Body of Christ offering continual praise and intercession to our God around the world, and beyond the grave.

The Office concludes with the Benedicamus (“Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.” – with alleluias added during Eastertide) and with what is called “The Grace,” traditionally the short verse from 2 Corinthians 13:14 (“The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.”) while making the sign of the cross. This way of ending the Office recalls us to the central Mystery of the Christian Faith: the Holy Trinity, and our communion with the Trinity by God’s grace. Two other options from the Scriptures are also provided, as well. One might vary the concluding grace by season, as appropriate.

So, how do I deal with this massively rich and complex set of possibilities?

With so many choices, perhaps it is best to set up some rough groupings of ways to conclude Morning or Evening Prayer after the Creed. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but it is a start. Here are three such groupings:

The 1979 BCP lays out the following as essential steps in the final section of Morning or Evening Prayer:
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Suffrages
  • A collect (prayer) for that particular day, or from those provided in the Office
  • A prayer for mission
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Suffrages
  • Collect of the Day
  • Collect from the seven provided in each Office (enough for one to go through them all each week)
  • A prayer for mission or a form of Intercession from the Book of Common Prayer such as the Prayer for All Sorts and Conditions on p. 814 or another form of intercession from other sources
  • A hymn appropriate to the time of day, the season, the liturgical calendar, or lessons from scripture
  • The General Thanksgiving and/or A Prayer of St. Chrysostom from Morning or Evening Prayer
  • The Benedicamus (“Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.”)
  • Concluding grace
Devotional (likely used for personal recitation of the Daily Office)
  • Those items on the “Basic” list, to which may be added such things as:
  • Some or all of those on the “Enriched” list
  • Memorial prayers appropriate to the Day of the Week
  • Prayers of Preparation/Thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist (some available here and here, and here)
  • Extended time of personal intercession, petition, thanksgiving
  • The Anglican Cycle of Prayer for global intercessions
  • A Diocesan cycle of prayer (here is an example from this diocese)
  • Prayer for specific local ministries, service-providers, government, clergy, parishes, &c. Also, prayer for neighbors.
  • The Great Litany, either as in the BCP (p. 148), or in a form such as from the Church of England’s Common Worship, available online here
  • Additional devotional litanies: at Embertide, of the Holy Trinity, of the Holy Spirit, of Penitence, for the morning, for those who are dying and the departed in Christ (BCP p. 462, 465), &c.
  • Silent contemplation
  • Journaling
As you can see, the possibilities are tremendous in scope. The point, however, is not to become lost in an endless sea of options. Rather, we need to start with a simple rule of prayer and stick to it for a season in life, only adding or changing after we have truly come to “know” these prayers as an experience of growing union with the will of God.

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