“Je choisis tout.”: Praying the Office – June 2020 update

Therese of Lisieux chose it all. I have always admired that approach. It might sum up the little Odyssey I have been on in the last couple of years in the praying of the Daily Office. As documented on here (and music compiled or written by me here) I’ve experimented with Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, two lectionaries for the latter, but never quite been able to give up The Divine Office, with the Grail Psalms which are so ingrained in me and whose sprung rhythm and sparser language I love.

In the Autumn I shall begin praying daily in Christ Church Cathedral. I am looking forward immensely to having a place and a community for daily prayer. There the Morning Office is Common Worship and Evensong on most days is Book of Common Prayer. Both using the selective CW choice of psalms.

On Holy Saturday this year, having used the BCP for the Office for a few months I felt a yearning for the beautiful second reading from the Office of Readings in The Divine Office, which I know so well. I was tempted, and picked up and returned to my Breviary.

With Christ Church in mind I have tried since then to establish a pattern that would be manageable for my new life as well. Combining Anglican forms for Morning and Evening Prayer with use of The Divine Office for all the other Hours. The simplest way to do this is to use the psalms of Lauds at Terce and the psalms of Vespers at None. This gives coverage of the psalter in the monthly cycle of the Divine Office and works surprisingly well. However, I like to pray Psalm 119 daily at the Little Hours in accord with Anglican and indeed western Catholic tradition (see here and here). Although not the case in lockdown, the reality is likely to be that the Little Hours are the ones I am going to have to miss on occasions, so using the same psalm daily means I don’t miss out on any psalms in the monthly cycle.

Since Holy Week (so on to the third turn or so through the psalter now in June) I have prayed a three Nocturn Vigil / Office of Readings: first Nocturn the psalmody of the Office of Readings and the mid-day hour (omitting the sections of psalm 118/9) – followed by the Scripture Reading in the two-year cycle for the Office of Readings; second Nocturn the psalmody (but not the canticle) of Vespers and the non Scriptural reading. The third Nocturn, psalms (but not the canticle) and antiphons of Lauds, the Gospel reading for the day, followed by a Gospel canticle, the Beatitudes with proper or Common antiphons normally used at the Benedictus, Litany and conclusions. This gives a good shape to to the Vigil climaxing with the day’s gospel which is itself a traditional form of Vigils. It means I get to sing the proper antiphons too. It takes, done in quite leisurely way, just under 45 minutes. The additional material is from Crawley Down and New Skete, some Orthodox patterns creating a more doxological feel.

The booklet for the music and shape at Vigils is here:

For Morning Prayer I am using Common Worship Daily Prayer and the accompanying lectionary but with just one psalm, the highlighted psalm in the lectionary and an Office hymn rather than Opening psalm. At Evening Prayer BCP Evensong with a single psalm. Using AV for the readings at Morning and Evening Prayer, traditional plainsong at EP and modern, modal chants at MP. I attach the CW Psalter arranged in stanzas for singing to modern chants here, along with refrains set by me to simple modal melodies. These, I keep saying, are not really very good at all. But I keep using them and just haven’t found time to do anything else:

On my rest day I pray Divine Office Lauds late Saturday morning after a long lie-in and cooked breakfast, a single daytime Office combining Office of Readings with the Daytime Hour after lunch usually and Vespers at the usual time. Saturday normally ends with a Resurrection Vigil.

I consider The Divine Office and readings of the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary as my ‘core Office’, this provide the monthly repetition of the psalms (the maximum length of time useful to learn texts in my view). The single long Scripture reading with the Patristic commentaries in the two year cycle (see here) provide the ecclesial/patristic way reading of Scripture. I use these three readings for study and lectio. The additional material at the other Offices is a sort of bonus. But if I need to travel (and I am hoping not to very much, having spent the last four years travelling a good deal) I can use the Breviary or Universalis without disruption to my ‘core Office’.

I often read a patristic commentary on the Gospel of the day at Vigils if the reading in the two-year cycle is only vaguely, or not at all, linked to the Scripture reading – probably twice a week. Using Journey To the Fathers, Augustine on the Gospels and Meditations on the Gospels as the source.

All the rest is a wonderful extra, giving full observance of the Canon to say Morning and Evening Prayer and use of the Prayer Book. Using three translations of the psalm texts etc day is interesting. Grail I think stands up very well, as do the Coverdale psalms, the CW psalms are the weakest. Too wordy, quite clumsy construction some times, too obviously trying to be Coverdale-esque but with none of the beauty.

The element I am missing in this pattern from my little Odyssey is the one year lectionary of 1922 and the basis of the one year traditional western Sunday Eucharistic lectionary. I remain convinced that these are preferable to the the three-year and two-year cycles but as a visiting Zoom preacher Sunday by Sunday I am not in a position to determine the lectionary; any more than I will be as Sub-Dean.

Packing my books I have filled two crates with various editions of Anglo-Catholic altar missals dating from the last quarter of the 19th century right up to the present day (the hand -made New English Missal by Fr Rod Cush and Prior Andrew from Alton). It is wonderful to see the hybrid rites of varying degrees of mixing. I think our Anglo-Catholic forebears, who I so often look to for inspiration, would understand the hybrid nature of what I am doing. Anglicanism is itself a wonderful hybrid creature. One of the things I am looking forward to in Oxford is having St Aldate’s across the road and being as happy worshipping and receiving teaching there as at Cathedral Evensong with the superb music of the choir.

“Je choisi tout.”

St Therese de Lisieux

For completeness here is the Ordinary of the Hours for The Divine Office for rest days and for the Little Hours and Compline on all days:

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