Some History of the Daily Office Lectionary

With the sole exception of the 1979 Prayer Book, the Prayer Book pattern has always been two lessons.  With perhaps one additional exception these two lessons have always been Old Testament and New Testament.  The original Daily Office Lectionary of the 16th–19th centuries appointed one chapter per reading (the 1549 Book actually preceding the current English Bible versification), with one exception for Luke 1.  Its Old Testament lessons were continuous between Morning and Evening Prayer, starting with Genesis in January and proceeding in canonical order, albeit leaving Isaiah for the end of the year.  The Gospels and Acts were read three times through in Morning Prayer and the Epistles were read three times through in Evening Prayer.  The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles and Revelation were omitted, as well as substantial portions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel.  Among the Books Called Apocrypha, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) were read in full.  Besides this pattern, there were appointed Old Testament lessons for each Sunday morning and evening in the year, providing a yearly highlight of Old Testament content for the benefit of those who did not attend the Office daily; this started Genesis on Septuagesima Sunday, in accord with pre-reformation practice.

In the 20th century, many Prayer Book Daily Lectionaries switched to being built on the liturgical calendar instead of the secular calendar, a pattern uniquely broken by the 2019 Prayer Book.  The trend had been one of increasing complexity and attention to liturgical time and holy days, to the loss of continuous reading and wide coverage of the Bible.  Thus this Book returns to the simplicity of the first English lectionary, with due consideration for current needs and practice.  In line with evangelical concern for the distinction between the Books Called Apocrypha and the Hebrew Old Testament, the 2019 Daily Lectionary has the smallest coverage of those additional books than any previous Prayer Book.

The dialogue “This is the word of the Lord. / Thanks be to God.” was first introduced into the Prayer Book in 1979, having been imported from the Roman Rite of the Mass.

On the Daily Office Lessons

The single most time-consuming part of the Daily Office is the reading of the two lessons of Scripture.  This indicates to the worshiper that this is a high point in the liturgy.  Furthermore, where the majority of the liturgy is relatively static from day to day, the content of the lessons is appointed by a Daily Office Lectionary such that every morning and evening throughout the year has its own unique set of lessons.  This suggests that the public reading of Scripture is even the highest point in the Office liturgy.

The tradition, with very few exceptions in modern Prayer Books, is that the first lesson is from the Old Testament and the second is from the New.  This allows for multiple readings of the New Testament in a year (originally three, now two) and one read-through of the Old Testament in the year.  Several chapters from several books have been omitted from the Daily Office Lectionary in every Prayer Book, most notably Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel.  Further examination on the lectionary itself will have to be provided later; here it should suffice to note that the basic pattern of Old & New Testament readings each day provides both a deep familiarity with the contents of the New Testament and a cursory-but-constant familiarity with the Old Testament.

Because the Daily Office Lectionary is designed to read through the Bible in continuous readings, there should be no attempt to harmonize the two lessons on any given day; they are independent of one another, and only overlap in theme or content on a very few holy days in the year.

Weekly Update to the Customary

Hello hello everyone, another Thursday means another update to the Customary is up!  The first half of the Evening Prayer liturgy is covered, now.  You can check that out here: Customary: Evening Prayer

So you know what to expect, what these Customary pages are doing, basically, is walking through each section, header by header, in the worship service, and giving direction for when and how its rubrics and options may be implemented.  For example, there are three Opening Sentences provided at the start of the liturgy, and an appendix with many more.  How do you choose between all these sentences?  This Customary can guide your choices, with a little bit of insight into why these patterns are being made.

Yes, many of these points are quite fine points of detail.  And taken individually they are quite subtle and probably not easily realized what they’re doing.  However, taken as a whole system, the aim of a Customary like this one to order the use of the Prayer Book by arranging the “small things” to echo a bigger picture – a life of worship rooted in Prayer Book tradition, general Western liturgical tradition, and sensible and intentional discipleship and spiritual formation.

A Brief History of the Psalms in the Daily Office

For three millennia psalmody has been at the heart of godly worship.  King David is honored as the great psalmist in the Hebrew tradition, but many of the 150 Psalms are products of later centuries, and at least one is purported to be much older – a product of the hand of Moses.  Synagogue worship perhaps codified the chanting of psalms in a standard liturgy, inherited by the Early Church and preserved in both cathedral and monastic traditions.

In the Rule of Saint Benedict, after a rough outline of how all 150 Psalms are to be ordered throughout the week, Benedict observes “our holy forefathers promptly fulfilled in one day what we lukewarm monks should, please God, perform at least in a week.”  The rigors of the Desert Fathers, praying all the psalms daily, and of Benedictine Monasticism, praying all the psalms weekly, were simplified by Archbishop Cranmer into a 30-day cycle, which endures in the Prayer Book tradition to this day, although most 20th century Prayer Books have offered even lighter orders for daily Psalmody.

The text of the Prayer Book Psalter is the translation of Miles Coverdale’s 16th century English Bible, remaining in Prayer Book use despite the several revisions of the Bible leading to the Authorized Version under King James I.  With minor changes to spelling and vocabulary, the Coverdale Psalter endured until a new translation was provided for the 1979 Prayer Book.  Some elements of the 1979 Psalter have been retained in the 2019 Book, most notably in the Suffrages of Morning and Evening Prayer, but the text of our Psalter itself has been rolled back to a modernized version of Coverdale’s translation rather than an entirely new version.

In Benedictine and Roman tradition, the psalms were said with antiphons, but the Prayer Book tradition has not retained them.  It has, however, retained the tradition of reciting the Gloria Patri after each Psalm.  This helps the worshiper “Christianize” the Psalms, recognizing that we are praising the triune God revealed in all of Scripture, not simply repeating the songs of ancient Israel.  The first American Prayer Book in 1790 rendered the Gloria Patri optional, provided it was said at least at the end of the Psalms Appointed.  In the 1979 Book the rubrics indicated the Gloria Patri was to be said once only at the end of the Psalms, which remains the default in the 2019 Book, although a rubric on page 734 permits the Gloria Patri to be said at the end of each Psalm if desired.

Make the Daily Office Unrecognizable

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One of the big concerns among traditionalists when it comes to modern Prayer Book revision and the proliferation of options and substitutions is that our liturgical heritage will get so muddled in “local preferences” that all semblance of Anglican heritage, or even any sense of common prayer, will be lost.  Personally, I think that overlooks the vast array of tweaks and changes that many priests and parishes have gotten away with even under the classically-minded 1928 Prayer Book in recent decades – in some cases drastically re-writing the Communion service so it looks more and more like the pre-Vatican-II Roman Mass and no longer actually an Anglican Prayer Book service.  But let’s not fight.  It’s Weird Rubric Wednesday!  So let’s humor those who complain about the 2019 Prayer Book and see just how far we can destroy the Daily Office without actually breaking the rubrics.

Ahead is Wednesday evening, and the parish is getting together for a special ‘Evening Prayer’ worship service.  But this is what happens:

  • The Officiant reads something short from the Bible.
  • The Invitatory dialogue (BCP 43) is exchanged.
  • The congregation sings a song like Nate Hale’s Psalm 13.
  • Another, slightly longer, reading from the Bible follows.
  • Someone comes up front and gives a brief testimony of faith, referring to his or her favorite Bible quote which is found in that previous reading.
  • A couple more songs are sung.
  • Now it’s prayer time (starting on BCP 47) – the Kyrie, the Lord’s Prayer, one of the sets of suffrages, a Collect commemorating someone in the calendar that day, and one of the Prayers for Mission (BCP 51).
  • The congregation then launches into a time of prayer and song lasting as long as the Spirit leads (so, about fifteen minutes).
  • The Officiant reads Ephesians 3:20-21 (BCP 53) to conclude the service.

If you know the Office pretty well, you can probably discern here what was done.  It’s actually not quite as mangled as I expected it to turn out; the “myriads of options” in the 2019 Prayer Book aren’t all-encompassing.  So here’s what happened:

  • The Opening Sentences can be anything “appropriate”.
  • The Confession may be omitted, once per day.
  • The Phos Hilaron is optional, and therefore skipped.
  • The Psalm(s) Appointed can be shortened “according to local circumstance” (BCP 734), so a sung version took its place.
  • Only one Scripture lesson is permitted (BCP 44).  Rubrics don’t seem to allow deviation from the lectionaries, though if you take the option of drawing the Communion readings into the Office then quite a few choices are possible.
  • A “sermon may be preached after the lessons” (BCP 56).
  • The Canticles can be replaced by other songs (BCP 45).
  • The Creed may be omitted, once per day.
  • The beginning of The Prayers are not optional, and the Collect of the Day is the only explicitly required Collect, but you can choose a black-letter-day commemoration to fulfill that role.  The Prayer for Mission is also required.
  • After that, there is technically free reign to pray and sing (BCP 51) although the rubric does technically indicate only one hymn or anthem.
  • The final prayers are optional, but the list of three closing sentences is not (BCP 52-53).

Yes, this is satire, I do not recommend this for healthy, proper, regular Anglican worship.

However, there are extraordinary circumstances in which such freedom may actually be advantageous.  Say you’re planning an ecumenical prayer service with another church… as the Anglican host you are bound to the authority of the Prayer Book as our rule of worship, but to be a gracious host you want to find room to incorporate elements of worship from your “guest church” also.  Perhaps you’re commemorating one of the ecumenical figures in the calendar together, or perhaps it’s Thanksgiving Day or some other holiday – in such cases you can draw Scripture lessons from the Communion Propers instead of the Daily Office Lectionary.  Perhaps they have their own prayers or canticles, or just particular translations thereof, that you can substitute in the place of our own.  The confession with full introductory exhortation may be a good idea to retain, as it puts forth a fantastic theology of worship, but perhaps circumstances would benefit from side-stepping that instead.  The flexibility of when the sermon is placed (BCP 56) also can be helpful in “shaping” the worship service in a manner appropriate to the occasion.

The good news, for those concerned about the integrity of Anglican tradition, is that the simplest by-the-book service of Evening Prayer with the least amount of page-flipping is going to be solidly traditional.  It takes more effort to deviate from the standard norm, and that alone is enough to steer most folks in the right direction.

On Psalmody in the Daily Office

The first and foremost distinction of the role of the Psalms, not only in the Daily Office, nor even in the Prayer Book generally, but in the entire history of Christian worship, is that the Psalms are to be sung or prayed.  They are distinct from the rest of the Bible in this regard; they are not provided for in the lectionaries; the Psalms are prayers, not lessons.  Indeed, just like the rest of the Scriptures the Psalms are useful for edification and instruction, but the manner in which they do so is not through proclamatory reading but through prayer.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously put it, the Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Bible.  They are, therefore, naturally, the heart of the Prayer Book.  Those who are new to the liturgical tradition often find this one of the most fundamental shifts in their understanding both of the Psalms and of worship.

The Prayer Book pattern of praying the Psalms set out by Archbishop Cranmer since 1549 is a methodical advance, cover to cover, through all 150 Psalms in thirty days.  They are divided about as evenly as possible into Morning and Evening groupings for each of those thirty days, though every Psalm except the inordinately long 119th is kept intact.  Thus the monthly sequential praying of the Psalms mirrors the annual sequential reading of the Bible, in the course of the Lessons that follow.

Just as different readings of Scripture teach the hearer different things at different times, so too do the various Psalms lead the worshiper through different tones and moods and subjects – and all this regardless of the individual’s condition or circumstance.  This is one of the greatest roles of liturgy, calling individuals out of themselves and into a common worship and a common prayer.  And if only one portion of the Daily Office could be considered absolutely essential, it would be the praying of the Psalms.  From these 150, and the Lord’s Prayer, all Christian worship is extrapolated.

Our Prayer Book offers a sixty-day Psalter as an alternative to the Cranmerian pattern.  This is not new; the 1979 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary provides a roughly-seven-week pattern of Psalmody (though omitting a few), and the 1928 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary throughout the year offers highlights of the Psalter ranging from four to seven weeks in length.  These alternatives are best offered for the young and the beginner to praying the Psalms.

Customary Update: Morning Prayer

The Saint Aelfric Customary for the Daily Office of Morning Prayer has been completed.  You can read it all here: https://saint-aelfric-customary.org/customary-morning-prayer/

The idea behind this is provide guidance regarding when and how to use the various options in the Prayer Book in order to make reasonable use of the scope of resources in the 2019 Prayer Book while yet retaining a stable tether to the great well of Anglican tradition before all these modern forms came to the fore.

Some history on the Invitatory

The Invitatory

The invitatory dialogue contains four couplets: two verses of Scripture (Psalm 51:15 and Psalm 70:1) the Gloria Patri (glory be to the Father), and third verse (Psalm 135:1a). In the American Prayer Book tradition, the second couplet was omitted, until 1979 when the second couplet returned in place of the first in Evening Prayer. The final couplet was omitted only in the 1979 Book. Our Prayer Book restores the full English dialogue.

The Antiphons

In the American Prayer Book of 1928, nine antiphons were added for use with the Venite on particular occasions. In 1979 that collection was expanded to thirteen antiphons. Our Prayer Book preserves those thirteen antiphons but moves the ten appointed for specific seasons or holy days to an appendix after the Morning Prayer liturgy to keep the primary text less cluttered. Only the three for general use appear here on BCP 14. Furthermore, these antiphons remain optional.

Historically, in Anglican practice, antiphons have not been a feature. They are extremely common in historic Western liturgy, however – the Roman Rite at its height of complexity having multiple antiphons for every Psalm and Canticle according to season and occasion. At their best, they provide unique “book-ends” that color the worshiper’s experience of the Psalm or Canticle according to the occasion, and enrich the Church’s life of worship. The obvious challenge, of course, is the burdensome complexity that ensues which the Preface to the 1549 Prayer Book explicitly endeavors to remedy.

By providing some antiphons on page 14 and collecting the other 10 on pages 29-30, our Prayer Book endeavors to strike a healthier balance between historical Western complexity and Anglican simplicity.

 

The Venite

The use of Psalm 95 as the “invitatory”, the invitation or call to worship, dates back at least to the Rule of Saint Benedict: it was to be prayed every morning at Matins. This was preserved in Archbishop Cranmer’s Prayer Book of 1549 and thereafter: it was called to be said or sung at Morning Prayer daily except for the 19th day of the month when it would be read as part of the Psalms Appointed, and on Easter Day when the Easter Anthem, Pascha Nostrum, was appointed instead. Furthermore, in the English Prayer Books the Venite included the “Glory be” at the end.

The American Prayer Book tradition diverged from this pattern. The Venite was now Psalm 95:1-7 followed by Psalm 96 verses 9 and 13. Furthermore, the Gloria Patri was rendered optional here. Again, it wasn’t until 1979 that the entirety of Psalm 95 was authorized for the invitatory psalm, and until 2019 that the entirety of Psalm 95 was printed in this place in the liturgy, albeit with verses 8-11 still labelled as optional outside of the season of Lent.

 

The Jubilate

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, the Jubilate Deo, or Psalm 100, was a canticle offered in place of the Benedictus, until the 1979 Prayer Book when instead it was included as an alternative to the Venite as the invitatory psalm. It was offered without rubrical directions, though one already accustomed to the Prayer Book tradition might most naturally consider the Jubilate to be a substitute for the Venite on the 19th day of the month when the Venite was formerly appointed to be omitted from the invitatory. Our Prayer Book also provides no rubrical guidance on the matter, so the same historically-minded intention may still be assumed.

 

Pascha Nostrum

The Pascha Nostrum, as indicated in its Scripture reference text, is an amalgamation of three New Testament texts strung together. Although this is an example from early Church history, Anglican liturgical practice has yielded several examples of collating multiple biblical texts into an eclectic but coherent whole for the purpose of worship.

This Easter Anthem has always been a part of the Prayer Book tradition, but its location has changed in modern practice. Traditionally, it was placed among the Propers (the Collects and Lessons), for Easter Day; since the 1979 Book it has been placed here within the Morning Prayer liturgy.

Originally this anthem was appointed only for Easter Day. The American 1892 Prayer Book uniquely added the Gloria Patri to it. The 1928 Prayer Book authorized the option of using this anthem throughout the Easter Octave (that is, from Easter Day through the First Sunday after Easter). The 1979 Book expanded this further still, appointing it for every day in Easter Week and making it optional every day until the Day of Pentecost. This has not changed in the 2019 Prayer Book, though the wording of the rubric has been altered.

There is also a custom in some places of using the Pascha Nostrum in place of the Gloria in excelsis Deo near the beginning of the Communion service, under the modern rubrics that allow other hymns of praise to take its place. Especially in church cultures where the Daily Office is not publicly offered, this can be an effective way of introducing elements of the Office liturgies to the congregation. Such points of contact and familiarity will prove helpful when teaching people to pray the Office.