Return to tradition – How I am Praying the Office: January 2020

In the early 1990s I wrote my dissertation, while at Chichester Theological College, on the renewal of a ‘People’s Office’. I was particularly interested in what some monastic communities (Jerusalem in Paris and elsewhere), CSWG at Crawley Down and Hove, and New Skete in the United States. Along with many other people I assumed that a really popular form of daily prayer would be about action: incense, lighting of the lamps, processions, movement – short and dramatic. Like many other people I implemented this in both my first two parishes and in other situations since. While people did come neither form has endured beyond my leaving.

One 1970s form of a ‘people’s office’ with music and action.

I have always been struck by this important quotation from the great liturgist Robert Taft:

In his The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West:

“To its great merit the Anglican communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved, to some extent at least, the daily services of morning prayer and evensong as a living part of parish worship.”

In recent years I have been challenged by colleagues, particularly younger colleagues, making use of the Office in the Book of Common Prayer. The phenomenon of our cathedrals attracting growing numbers to the Office is also an important factor.

It is well over a year now since I last wrote about my own manner of praying the Daily Office which has been in transition for the last couple of years. That most recent post (November 2018) is available here.

Many friends have asked me to produce simple material to sing the Prayer Book Office and I did so here. Thank you to everyone who has responded to that.

Since I was working on that material and it is impossible to spot errors without using it I began doing so on the Monday after the Baptism of the Lord. Together with the 1922 lectionary for the Office which I write about here. So, for the sake of those interested, this is my current pattern. I add the times in only because time is often given as a reason for not being able to say the Office and it is important to see how it fits into a working day. I realise this new pattern is just that and will keep readers informed!:

5:20 Matins

Prayer Book Matins with the 1922 lectionary, as in the booklet here. Prayer Book cycle of psalms. Office Hymns from English Hymnal. Intercessions following the third Collect, but more intercessions at the Eucharist and Evensong than here for time reasons.

Eucharist as described here. With the one year cycle readings as in the BCP, using Proper and Common readings for saints fairly often, and from a variety of translations over a week.

Prime with martyrology.

I can do all this by 6:30 on a working day. On other days I allow a more leisurely approach and will normally celebrate the Eucharist either after Sext or before Evensong, or when there are guests, on Saturday morning rather later, before breakfast.

At convenient moments at 9-ish, noon-ish and 3-ish and omitted if these don’t happen:

Terce, Sext and None: as in the booklet with reading from Prime and Hours and only the simple V and R in the booklet.

6pm

Evensong

Prayer Book Evensong with the 1922 lectionary.

After dinner: Compline

I prefer to sing Compline as a sort of after dinner prayer rather than later just before bed. My ideal bed time is 9, but work and being sociable take over very often. With a bit of book reading (no phone or iPad) that means I get about 7 to 7.5 hours sleep a night. If I have had a day of heavy driving or a late night I sleep later.

One of the things that was part of my previous thinking about liturgy was the structure and purpose of the Office. Anglican forms of the Office are often criticised for being too didactic, not enough about praise. I wonder if that is too tight a division? Reading Scripture as part of our worship is not just about us learning, it is also about us praising God for his works. It is in itself a form of praise, of relationship. In families we all feel valued and loved when family members tell those endless stories about how we were as children and I love teasing my nephews with accounts and photographs of their childhoods.

In terms of structure I suspect that the only person who ever appreciated the subtlety of the structures of the ‘people’s offices’ that I have designed in the past was me. I don’t think many people really were thinking ‘oh the Magnificat, the climax of the Office!’ The Anglican structures work really well, they have endured, they have a simplicity that anyone can get hold of and understand, feel at home in, and familiar with. All of this contributes to a contemplative spirit to the Office which might actually be more what people need than a strong experience.

The place of intercession after the formal part of the office (the third Collect) in Anglican Offices is also interesting and works really well. People feel very comfortable with it and it is a good way to end the formal, public prayer.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who uses the Prayer Book structure but with modern language texts. I wonder how much the success of the structure is based on the solidity and beauty of the Prayer Book texts?

I travel a good deal and often find myself praying the Office in Cathedrals, churches, vicarages, curates-houses around the country. Common Worship Daily Prayer is excellent in so many ways but it is complicated. Wherever I go and the Prayer Book Office is being prayed there is a familiarity, a lack of announcements that allow people even very unfamiliar with the Office to feel at home.

The language of the Prayer Book is also interesting, I am particularly fascinated by its adoption by the young and those who were not brought up with it. It has a depth and a continuity that strangely make it more accessible than modern language for many people. It also allows people to share in it without yet believing it. Just as at Taizé young people can approach the intense life of the community to the extent that they choose to, so the intensity of the Prayer Book is actually more inclusive not less, than more contemporary language.

For anyone wanting an app with the BCP Office and 1922 lectionary readings see the very good iPray. It would be good if Aimer and Church House Publishing would add the 1922 readings to the otherwise excellent Daily Prayer app

3 thoughts on “Return to tradition – How I am Praying the Office: January 2020

  1. I’ve joined an online prayer group – Marthas House – that is Benedictine in inspiration, and Anglican by assocation. This is four daily offices, Psalm cycle every two months, one Scripture reading for the week (lectio) plus a safe online space for community discussion of texts and issues. Also readings from the rule of St. Benedict weekly. It’s been an amazing hourney for me and is getting interest from UK, Australia and USA (at the moment). Run by an Australian Anglican chaplain and an lady in the US. Have you heard of it? Best wishes, Michael

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  2. I’ve wondered how you made out using the 1662 office. Good to hear you are having a positive experience.

    Many thanks for that pic of office books in your lectionary posting. Very sweet!

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