Singing the Daily Office: The Book of Common Prayer

UPDATE 29 January 2020

Thank you so much to everyone who has contacted me on this post. I am attaching just below this update notice a somewhat updated version of the booklet, as requested I have added the Litany and the Athanasian Creed, as well as giving guidance on the use of the Te Deum and Benedicite and adding a further range of antiphons and tones for the Benedicite. I have removed the longer Prayer Book version of the Benedicite with its repetition of the praise line after every verse and left in the form from 1928 based on the Latin Office. I have been asked to write a further update on my own praying of the Office and will do so as soon as possible.

UPDATE 21 / 01 20:

Thank you to everyone who has downloaded the booklets below and responded to this post. The response has been enormous. Which is, as I say in the post, very encouraging. I have now added a version 2 of the booklet below incorporating a number of changes that readers have suggested:

the Te Deum is provided pointed for the traditional plainsong tones

I have added a set of plainsong tones, one in each mode, so that the booklet can be used without a tone chart (the simplest possible ending for each mode)

I have re-arranged the material so that the Matins and Evensong material is still conflated into one; the Little Hours follow, and Compline last of all

there are some corrections of typos and a few layout changes

Several people have asked how this booklet fits with the SSH Office Book. What is provided here is much more simple, deliberately, and also much less comprehensive. This booklet could be used with SSHOB to provide a similar form of the Ordinary.

Original post:

A surprisingly (to some perhaps) large number of my younger clergy friends and colleagues pray the Daily Office using the Book of Common Prayer. Usually with the Common Worship or 1922 lectionaries. I think this is very encouraging. The Prayer Book Office is the most successful ‘people’s office’ in Christian history. It is still attracting thousands in our cathedrals and has an elegance and simplicity that is easily accessible.

From an educational point of view a month is about the longest that I believe should be given to the recitation of the whole psalter if it is to be embedded in the memory. It is good to know that so many young priests are finding this a satisfying structure for prayer. I am certain that it will be the foundation for the well-being and the resilience needed for a lifetime of ministry.

This post is a response to the many requests for resources or information on material to sing the Prayer Book Office. This is also terrifically encouraging. When we sing we use a different part of our brains to a simple recitation, it refreshes and relaxes, reaching parts that reading aloud does not! There are many resources available, often to be found second hand for singing the Office to the traditional plainsong. The Manual of Plainsong points all the psalms and canticles and gives the opening and concluding sections set to simple music. The traditional plainsong psalm tones are easy to fix in the mind and whether alone or in a small group work well. The St Stephen’s House Office Book is a recent addition which adds antiphons to the Gospel Canticles and Office Hymns, all with music. The psalm text used in that is the Revised Psalter, a light revision of Coverdale’s psalms in the Prayer Book. The music is accurate to the tradition but that means that some of the hymn melodies and antiphon settings are quite complex.

In the 1940s the Community of the Resurrection produced ferial antiphons for the whole psalter, which are available as a PDF below.

To use those antiphons a pointed psalter (The Sarum Psalter is occasionally available second-hand) or simpler, modern modal tones will be needed. Relatively simple antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the whole year are available as a PDF below. And the Magnificat set to the eight modes is also provided.

The final booklet is my attempt to provide some very simple music to sing the Office to based on the material I have assembled for Common Worship Daily Prayer. Much of that material could be used to provide seasonal and proper material for the Office and although purists may object I have provided a modern text Te Deum alongside the Prayer Book version. A seven-fold Office is provided for. Readings for the Little Hours could be taken from books such as Prime and Hours or simply a sentence or two from the day’s lectionary readings used as a reminder or ‘memory sentence’. Hymns for Prayer and Praise is the best modern collection of Office Hymns available and the English Hymnal (not the New English Hymnal) provides the best traditional Office hymnal. I recommend the modern position of the hymns after the Venite at Matins and immediately after the opening verses at Evensong. A simple set of tones to sing the psalms to in the eight modes is also given.

Modern chants are given for the canticles, which are not pointed but are set out to sing to these. The Gospel canticles are also pointed for the traditional plainsong tones. This is in the manner used by CSMV at Wantage placing small numbers for each tone above the syllable where the reciting note is left. A chart with the traditional tones will be needed. (Here).

If these resources are helpful to you in your praying please spare a prayer for me.


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