Wednesday was Cathedral Evensong when I was at Theological College. The day there was no Office in the college chapel in the evening and we all attended Evensong at Chichester Cathedral. With the arrogance of youth I often didn’t take the opportunity to learn about the Anglican choral tradition and bunked off Evensong to pray Evening Prayer in my room with friends. Being an audience to the choir was not worship in my naïve view.
There’s an irony, therefore, in finding myself Sub Dean at Christ Church in Oxford. Although I should point out in fairness that I was substantially converted to the joys of the Cathedral tradition by a couple of years as Chaplain at Portsmouth Cathedral and St Luke’s School. The Precentor at Portsmouth provided me with the music for all the anthems sung and gently introduced me to the repertoire.
Adjusting to praying as a member of a Cathedral Chapter has been less difficult than I expected. Far from it, it is one of the greatest joys of being here. I love being part of this praying community. We pray Morning Prayer using Common Worship Daily Prayer and the usual lectionary. Evensong is prayed with BCP texts, the ‘pillar’ lectionary, and a single psalm or part of a psalm. It is a rich experience and the music is simply stunning. However, the jumping around Scripture of the Additional Lectionary (designed to suit those for whom any Office might be completely stand alone) and the relatively small amount of psalmody is frustrating. I knew that I would need to supplement this and create a more constant track to accompany it.
I pray the Little Hours each day, using Psalm 119, Compline and a Vigil Office. Vigils is an opportunity to build a little more consistency and quantity into my praying of the psalms and reading of Scripture. I began by trying to use Common Worship Daily Prayer for Vigils so that I would at least be using only two translations of the psalms but as I have written elsewhere on this site the CW psalms are a very wordy translation. I experimented with the 1997 ICEL version (see here), but, as always, I came back to the original Grail version as found in The Divine Office. And quite quickly a form of Vigils has emerged that works for me in covering the whole psalter in no more than four weeks, providing all the richness of the Office found in the Breviary and sufficient flexibility for days off, while also giving consistency.
The booklet I’ve created (see above) indicates what I use for each of the Hours of the day and has the music of the Ordinary. The fundamental arrangement is to pray all the psalms of the day (but not the Canticles) from The Divine Office as three nocturns of a Vigil (Office of Readings, Mid-day without Ps119, and Vespers psalms together then Lauds psalms) with the Lauds psalms coming last and heralding the Gospel of the Day. A Gospel Canticle (John 1, Beatitudes or I Am sayings) with the Benedictus antiphon in seasons and on feasts precedes intercession. This means that on rest days or holidays praying The Divine Office with the Office of Readings after lunch, works really well and doesn’t disturb the completeness of the psalter. I am using the one year cycle of Scripture at Vigils as printed in the three volumes of the Breviary but with a somewhat wider range of Patristic readings (from the various collections available for the two-year cycle and matched to the same Scripture reading). There’s a certain lack of consistency in Cathedral worship and this praying of The Divine Office makes up for that, I base my bible study and lectio, as well as study of the psalms on these texts and on the Mass readings (Daily Eucharistic Lectionary) each day. It is very satisfying.
Having a place to pray has always been important to me. It is a great blessing that there are cellars under the house here, the remains of the foundations to what was going to be Cardinal Wolsey’s great chapel which was never built. In one of these rooms I have been able to make a little ‘sacro speco’ for my prayer. The other place I love to pray is the shrine of St Frideswide and I try to get 30 minutes of silent prayer and intercession there each morning. It is not for me as the popular phrase has it a ‘thin place’, quite the opposite, it is thick with the prayers of the centuries, and for me, an almost tangible sense of her presence, this woman whose name means ‘strong peace’ is very strong indeed, and very present.