So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition? Great, grab a prayer book and go! Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much? The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy. We understand, we’ve all been at that place before! Some just don’t remember it as well as others.
Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all. This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican. The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.
Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons
If all’s going well, your twice-daily round of praying a psalm and reading a scripture lesson has increased your appetite for both. Individuals may well find more comfort and affinity with one of those over the other, but as you grow into the Daily Office tradition there’s still more of both to add. When you’re consistently covering one Psalm and Lesson each morning and evening, it’s time to add a second Lesson and additional Psalms to each Office. You will be reading all the Lessons in the Daily Office Lectionary, and it’s probably time also to upgrade from the 60-day Psalter to the Anglican standard monthly psalter.
The monthly psalter is outlined in a table that is provided on page 735, just before the Daily Office Lectionary begins, but the Psalms themselves are also in the Prayer Book, on starting on page 270. If you weren’t before, it’s time to start using the Prayer Book Psalter. Even though you’re reading from a Bible, there are a few reasons to prefer the Prayer Book for the Psalms:
- The Prayer Book Psalter clearly marks out where the psalms for each Office begin (every morning and evening for each day of the month, read sequentially).
- The Prayer Book Psalter translation is intentionally poetic and beautiful, which cannot be said about any mainstream Bible translation. The ESV or NASB may be the best translations for study, but we’re here to pray the psalms, not analyze them. (Not that you can’t study the psalms of course, it’s just that the Office is time of prayer.)
- Using the Prayer Book is a useful skill that you will be developing bit by bit from here on.
Logistically, what you probably want to do at this point is different from how the Office in its full form will work. Ultimately, all these Psalms will be prayed in a row before the Lessons, and there will be different things after each reading. But for now, start in the psalms for the morning and evening and save the last one or two to pray between the two Lessons, or perhaps after both Lessons.
The point of interspersing the Psalms with the Lessons is to provide a little distance between the two readings. In the Daily Office Lectionary the readings are just moving sequentially through the Bible independently of one another, so by stopping to pray a Psalm after the first lesson you “clear your mind” a little bit before reading the next lesson. You don’t want to conflate them in your head and attempt to link them together artifically; that’s not how a Daily lectionary works. Taking a moment to pray a Psalm after each Lesson also helps keep your reading in a context of prayer, cutting down on the “study” mentality and enhancing the “worship” mentality. Again, this is not to say that studying the Bible is bad, but that such should not interrupt the course of worship. At most, make a highlight or note in your Bible or on a book mark so you can return to it when the prayer time is concluded.
Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:
- Psalm(s) to pray
- Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
- Psalm to pray
- New Testament Lesson
- Psalm to pray (maybe)
- The Lord’s Prayer
The length of time to do all this is probably about five minutes, maybe as many as ten if the readings are particularly long and you’re reading them out loud. Same with the Psalms – praying them means reading them aloud – and sometimes they can be a little lengthy too.