Normally “Weird Rubric Wednesday” is about strange and silly things that you can do with (or to) the liturgy without technically breaking the rules in the 2019 Prayer Book. Although today’s entry is a little strange, I’m taking a more serious and straight-forward tone.
You see, by my count (and I know different people are accounting it differently) we’re on day 31 of social distancing. I’ve barely seen my church members, I’ve been home almost 24/7 with two children under six, and my usual musical and table-top gaming outlets have been seriously curtailed. And now that a month of this has passed, the anxiety and depression is beginning to creep in. But there is something that is (mostly) holding at bay that is absolutely share-worthy for Weird Rubric Wednesday: Reinvent the Benedictine Monastic Offices with Family Prayer.
First, some background
For those who don’t know, the Rule of St. Benedict is a short little book that undergirds virtually all of Western Christian Monasticism. What’s more, the liturgical tradition it codified and perpetuated is the primary source for the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer in the Anglican Prayer Books. An elaborate system of monastic prayer, seven times a day, plus at night, was whittled down to two offices so ordinary folks – both priests and people – could say them daily.
Modern Prayer Books have “added” Midday Prayer and Compline, but with the Benedictine tradition in mind one would better say that modern Prayer Books have “restored” Midday Prayer and Compline. But there are more “minor offices” throughout the day.
- Matins & Lauds were the primary base for our Morning Prayer
- Prime is the first hour (roughly 6am)
- Terce is the third hour (roughly 9am)
- Sext is the sixth hour (roughly noon), recovered as our Midday Prayer
- None is the ninth hour (roughly 3pm)
- Vespers is the evening office, together with Compline forming our Evening Prayer
- Nocturns, well, I still don’t know much about it, other than that the Holy Week Nocturns are the source of the now-popular Tenebrae service.
Incidentally, this is why (in modern Prayer Books) Compline repeats a lot of material from Evening Prayer – the Prayer Book tradition had combined Vespers with Compline into Evening Prayer.
The “crazy” idea
I got a silly idea a while back – what if I re-purpose the four “Family Prayer” offices to fill in the gaps to cover the rest of the Benedictine system of minor offices? It started as a theoretical idea, exploring things just for fun. (Okay, yes, I have strange ideas of fun. But if you follow this blog then I guess it has paid off, right?) The “Family Prayer” offices in the 2019 Prayer Book are basically miniaturized versions of the regular Daily Offices; you can find them on pages 66-75.
As their opening introduction states, they “are particularly appropriate for families with young children.” This is how I started using them: Family Prayer In The Morning is what I taught my 4-year-old (who is now 5). We say the opening verse, we chant three verses of a psalm, I read him a Scripture lesson, explain it briefly and address questions if he brings anything up, we pray the Lord’s Prayer, usually the Collect provided, and end with the grace from 2 Corinthians 13:14. A year before, I had devised a “Children’s Daily Lectionary”, providing short readings for every day of the year. Here’s the link if you’re interested.
So that took care of Prime, the first hour; what about the rest? Here’s what I ended up outlining:
- Matins/Lauds = Morning Prayer
- Prime = Family Prayer in the Morning
- Terce (9am) = Family Prayer at Midday
- Sext (12pm) = Midday Prayer
- None (3pm) = Family Prayer in the Early Evening
- Vespers = Evening Prayer
- Nocturn (or extra vespers) = Family Prayer at the close of day
- Compline (bedtime) = Compline
If you look at the rubrics on page 66, guiding what can be done with Family Prayer, you’ll find that you can change almost everything about them according to your particular needs. One of the key sentences for my purposes is this one: “The Psalms and Readings may be replaced by…. some other manual of devotion which provides daily selections for the Church Year.” That means, if there’s a daily devotional you happen to like, a good context for using it is in Family Prayer! This is what got me started with the Children’s Daily Lectionary, and then I just kept going…
Terce. For Family Prayer at midday I put together a plan of devotional readings intended to ground the reader in the historic Anglican tradition. This means reading from the Apostolic Fathers in Epiphanytide and the early summer, other great Church Fathers during Lent, the 39 Articles during Eastertide, other Anglican Foundational Documents during Ascensiontide, and the ACNA catechism for the bulk of the summer and autumn.
None. For Family Prayer in the evening I added no lectionary, but instead prayers. It started on Saturdays, setting up our worship space at 3pm, when it made sense to pray for my flock when I was finished. Now for none I have prayers for church, family, ministers, and non-believers, that I can cycle through over the course of the week.
Nocturn. When I say Evening Prayer earlier, like at 5pm, there can be quite a gap if I stay up late, so having a mini office between Evening Prayer and Compline can be good, and that’s what I’ve tried out with Family Prayer at the close of day. For this I appointed a mix: two days a week use Scripture readings from the 1662 Daily Office Lectionary and the other five days are from the Book of Homilies, an under-appreciated piece of Anglican tradition.
Ain’t nobody got time fo dat!
I think, during Holy Week, I actually said every one of these Offices every day. But apart from that I always miss something. And that’s okay – extra offices are extra, and should not be enforced unless you have good reason to put yourself through that. Nevertheless, having all these extra offices available both encourage me to pray more often, as well as provide with a guide for doing so.
Now perhaps you’d rather just use an actual Benedictine Breviary and use versions of the actual monastic offices. Perhaps you’d rather use a sourcebook of private devotions such as Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. Perhaps you’d prefer to offer spontaneous prayers without any liturgical framework at all. Once you’ve got the Daily Offices down that our tradition expects (or even mandates) – Morning and Evening Prayer – you are free to expand your prayers however you see fit. The flexibility of the Family Prayer offices just seemed to me ideal places to start.