Spacing out the Lessons

Although I grew up a congregationalist, I was blessed to be part of a church that read a pretty good deal of Scripture in the worship service.  As a college student visiting other churches for the first time I was shocked at how often only one reading would be read, and sometimes not until during the sermon, such that the sermon seemed to be controlling the reading, rather than the reading leading to the sermon.

Needless to say, coming into the Anglican tradition was a relief for me on this front, preserving this good practice of reading plenty of Bible stuff during the worship services.  I suppose this background interest and attention paved the way for the amount of time I spent studying lectionaries in the first three-ish years of my priesthood.

But something I hadn’t thought about before was the way we space out the Scripture readings. In my liturgically-influenced congregationalist past, the norm was to hear three readings from the Bible back to back, individually introduced, but responded to as a whole: “This is the word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God for his holy and inspired Word.”  But in the Daily Office we say a Canticle after both lessons, and in the Holy Communion we typically have a psalm and/or a hymn between lessons. Why?

In the case of the Daily Office, the two lessons are not related to each other, so it is valuable to “clear the mind”, as it were, between the two in order to reduce the tendency to try to draw connections that aren’t there.  In the case of the Communion lessons, the traditional thing separating them was a Gradual (or sometimes also Tract or Sequence) which were normally bits of psalms, and actually topically or thematically connected to the other Propers of the day, so they were worshipful expressions in tandem with what was being read.

But John Cosin’s Comments on the Prayer Book provide further insight into this question:

The inferior parts of the soul being vehemently intent about psalms and prayers, and therefore the likelier to be soon spent and wearied; thereupon hath the Church interposed lessons to be read betwixt them, for the higher part of the soul, the understanding, to work upon, that by variety neither may be wearied, and both be an help one to the other.

The sense of his explanation is this: think of worship like physical exercise.  One minute you focus on your triceps, another on your biceps; even from day to day people often have different focuses: leg day, core, and so on.  The point of this is to spread out the stress so you don’t injure yourself.  So with worship: we pray prayers and read canticles, but intersperse them with Scripture so that our hearts and minds can have turns taking the lead within us.

It’s as if our ecclesiastical forebears knew what they were doing, huh? 😉

Learning the Daily Office – part 6 of 12

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
Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed
Step Five: Add Canticles

Step Six: Add the Confession

Alright, it’s time for something distinctly Anglican: the prayer of confession at the daily office.  While confessing our sins before God is a universal practice (if grossly underutilized among many Evangelicals and Pentecostals today), it is a distinctly Anglican practice to include it in the Daily Office.  You will find it starting on page 11 for Morning Prayer and page 41 for Evening Prayer.  There is a paragraph that the Officiant (the person leading the Office) reads aloud, followed by the prayer of confession itself, followed by a choice of three responses.  Two of those responses are statements of absolution to be read by a priest or bishop, but the third is a prayer for forgiveness that is to be read by anyone when no such minister is present, and that is what you’ll read when you’re doing this alone.

You’ll also see three “opening sentences of scripture” listed before this Confession set; feel free to read one of these first, too, as they serve as a sort of “call to worship”, beginning to direct your focus upon God and his Word before the act of self-examination and confession.

In the Daily Office we confess our sins at the beginning of the liturgy.  This teaches us:

  1. that it is only in repentance that we find salvation;
  2. that we can only approach God in humility, not pride or presumption;
  3. that true worship comes from a “broken and contrite heart”;
  4. that there is no “health” (salvation) in us apart from God’s grace.

So it’s time to start your morning and evening prayer times with this confession.  Sometimes you’ll read it quickly and move right along.  Sometimes you’ll dwell on the words, or need to dwell on the words, along the way, letting their truth sink in and sober you up to reality.  Sometimes a moment of silent self-examination will be necessary – think on your sins in the past day and release them to the Lord for forgiveness and healing.  Sometimes this will feel merely a perfunctory feature of the Daily Office… remember this is a discipline, after all, so it’s there to shape and form you.  Your heart will not always be as “into it” as other times, just like how certain psalms may appeal to you less or more than others.  The point is that this is the pattern of worship you are growing in to, and that you have this opportunity to repent every time you approach the Lord in prayer.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. The Confession of Sin
  2. The Psalm(s) Appointed
  3. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  4. First Canticle
  5. New Testament Lesson
  6. Second Canticle
  7. The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
  8. The Lord’s Prayer

This makes your recitation of the Daily Office about fifteen minutes in length each morning and evening.  Apart from the Canticles, the format and order of Morning and Evening Prayer are identical for you.  But that will soon change.

A (different) Collect for Sundays

Those of who prayed or ministered under the 1979 Prayer Book for any length of time may be familiar with its Collect for Sundays from Morning Prayer.  It goes like this:

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the rest of the week may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This neat little prayer plays directly into the concept of “sacred time”, identifying the chief reason Christian worship on Sundays (the resurrection of our Lord), and asking for a favorable week in light of the blessing of the Sunday worship.  While succinct, this prayer may come across a little blunt.  “You make us glad… give us this day… that the rest of the week may be spent…”  This Collect was written by the Rev. William Bright and first published in the appendix of his book Ancient Collects, and it read like this:

O God, Who makest us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of Thy Son our Lord ; vouchsafe us this day such a blessing through Thy worship, that the days which follow it may be spent in Thy favour ; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Meanwhile, there was another prayer lurking in the back the 1979 Book (on page 835), also entitled On Sunday, which proved much more robust:

O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This Collect was drafted by the Rev. Dr. Charles Price, who served on the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church for many years, in his day, leaving his mark on the 1979 Prayer Book in several places.  As you can see this prayer does much the same thing as the first one: identifying the “sacred meaning” of Sunday with the resurrection of Christ, but it unpacks this reality in manifold praises and petitions.  We celebrate Christ’s victory and the hope he wins for us; we pray not only for the redemption of time (as in the first collect) but also for forgiveness, courage, boldness, and perseverance.  Compared to one another, this one is much meatier.

And so when you take up the 2019 Prayer Book you’ll find that these two collects have swapped places.  The second one is now offered in the Morning Office for Sundays, with a new title: A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return, and the first one is tossed into the Occasional Prayers, appearing as #102 On Sundays on page 676.  I mean, hey, they’re both fine prayers in their own rights.  And they’re only about 100 years apart in age.  But it’s an encouraging thing to observe – the ACNA committees identifying similar prayers and opting to put pride of place to those with more weight, gravity, and substance for the regular pray-er of the Daily Office.

Learning the Daily Office – part 5 of 12

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
Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed

Step Five: Add Canticles

In terms of content and outline, you’ve already reached a distinctly historic Christian pattern of worship.  This step adds in “Canticles”, which are occasionally Psalms but usually Psalm-like texts from other parts of the Bible, to be read after each Scripture Lesson.  This is where you really start entering into the liturgical history of the Church!

Functionally, this step does not introduce anything new; you started with learning to pray the psalms, and the Canticles work exactly the same way.  Experientially this is purely a matter of logistics: all the Psalms Appointed for the morning or evening are prayed together, then you get the Lessons, both of which are followed by a Canticle.

In Morning Prayer, find your canticles starting on page 17 – you’ll see two choices (Te Deum laudamus and Benedictus es, Domine) for the first one and the Benedictus for the second.  In Evening Prayer, find your canticles starting on page 45 – the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis.  There are also Supplemental Canticles for Worship starting on page 79 and I do have a guide to choosing among them, but it’s simplest to stick with the primary ones provided in the Morning and Evening Office liturgies and get used to them first.  The supplemental canticles are just that – supplemental.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. The Psalm(s) Appointed
  2. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  3. First Canticle
  4. New Testament Lesson
  5. Second Canticle
  6. The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
  7. The Lord’s Prayer

This makes your recitation of the Daily Office about ten to fifteen minutes in length each morning and evening.  You are now also engaging with four different places in the Prayer Book: the middle of the Morning Prayer liturgy, the middle of the Evening Prayer liturgy, the Psalter, and the Daily Office Lectionary.

Once you get used to this, you’ll be well-positioned to fill out the rest of the Daily Office liturgies.  Chances are that the next couple steps will progress quickly.

The Daily Office is a pastoral work!

In the 1662 Prayer Book, it is stipulated that “all the priests and deacons shall be bound to say daily” the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.  Sadly, this instruction was not preserved in the American Prayer Book tradition, and so we have the situation today where we have many clergymen who pray the Offices only sparsely at best.  A challenge and correction to this mentality can be found in the writings of John Cosin, one of the “Caroline Divines”, who survived the Puritan Interregnum and was then Bishop of Durham from 1660 until his death in 1672.  Commenting on this rubric he wrote:

So that we are also bound, as all priests are in the Church of Rome, daily to repeat and say the public prayers of the Church.  And it is a precept the most useful and necessary, of any other that belong to the ministers of God, and such as have cure of other men’s souls, would men regard it, and practise it a little more than they do among us.

We are all for preaching now; and for attending the service and prayers appointed by the Church for God’s worship, and the good of all men, we think that too mean an office for us; and therefore, as if it were not worth our labour, we commonly hire others under us to do it, more to satisfy the law, than to be answerable to our duties.  Here it is a command that binds us every day to say the morning and evening prayer; how many are the men that are noted to do it?  It is well they have a back door for an excuse to come out at here: for, good men ! they are so belaboured with studying of divinity, and preaching the word, that they have no leisure to read these same common prayers; as if this were not the chief part of their office and charge committed unto them.

Certainly, the people whose souls they have care of, reap as great benefit, and more too, by these prayers, which their pastors are daily to make unto God for them, either privately or publicly, as they can do by their preaching: for God is more respective to the prayers which they make for the people, than ever the people are to the sermons which which they make to them.

… Therefore Samuel [the Prophet] professes it openly, to the shame of all others, that he should sin no less in neglecting to pray for the people, than he should in leaving off to teach them the right way of God’s commandments; both which are needful, but to them that are already converted, prayer is more necessary than preaching.  However we are to remember, that we which are priests are called “angeli Domini“* and it is the angel’s office, not only to descend to the people and teach them God’s will, but to ascend also to the presence of God to make intercession for the people, and to carry up the daily prayers of the Church in their behalf, as here they are bound to do.

* see Malachi 2:7, Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, etc.

This is from John Cosin’s “Notes and Collections” in an interleaved Book of Common Prayer.  The bold is mine for emphasis.

For some this may be a revolutionary way of looking at the Daily Office.  For others this may just be an excellent reminder and encouragement of the gravity of the duty of a priest or deacon.

So if you’re a priest or a deacon, especially if you’re a rector or vicar, or especially especially if you’re a bishop, see that you battle to overcome the apathy of our age and the quiet scorn that we cast at the Church and her Prayer Book every time we choose our own prayers in place of that which has been set forth by authority.  The people need our prayers!  And the prayers that we have are, indeed a divine office.

Learning the Daily Office – part 4 of 12

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

Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed

This is a small step, logistically speaking, but it’s a milestone in your development of the discipline of the Daily Office.  This is your first not-from-the-Bible ingredient in your prayer life, and this may be especially foreign or challenging for you depending upon your background.

As Anglicans we emphasize our adherence to creedal orthodoxy; that is, we look to the great Creeds (in our case three of them) to summarize the dogmas of the Christian faith – dogma being that which must be believed.  When we include a Creed in a worship service, it is for multiple reasons.

  1. It is a formation tool, helping us to internalize the basics of the faith.
  2. It is a teaching tool, helping us to understand what we read in the Bible.
  3. It is a particular form of prayer: a confession of faith.

Although none of the Psalms literally say “I believe ___”, there are many confessions of faith found within the psalms – proclaiming God’s goodness, or mercy, or love.  The reciting of a Creed is a development of that form of prayer, stating more explicitly a number of key points of doctrine regarding God, the person of Jesus, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.

Furthermore, we use the Apostles’ Creed in the Daily Office not only because it’s the shortest creed but because it was historically associated with the rite of holy baptism – this Creed (as best we can tell) was formed as the summary of the faith that was proclaimed in the Early Church when someone was getting baptized.  So as we confess our faith with this creed in Morning and Evening Prayer we are essentially re-affirming our baptismal vows, recommitting ourselves to God and his Church and his Gospel.

It’s a small thing to add, but it’s a major addition to take in!

The Apostles’ Creed can be found on page 20 of the Prayer Book, shortly before the Lord’s Prayer in the liturgy.  For now, you will be now praying the Creed immediately before the Lord’s Prayer.  Some wise logistics, as a result, should be that you make a point of saving one of appointed Psalms to follow the first Lesson and a second Psalm to follow the second Lesson, in order to separate the Bible-reading from the Creed-reciting.  Not every morning and evening will provide enough Psalms to accomplish this, so don’t sweat it if you run out.  This isn’t the end of the road, after all, and the next step in this series will “solve” that problem anyway.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. Psalm(s) to pray
  2. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  3. Psalm to pray
  4. New Testament Lesson
  5. Psalm to pray (usually)
  6. The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
  7. The Lord’s Prayer

The length of time to do all this is still 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.

Learning the Daily Office – part 3 of 12

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. Psalm(s) to pray
  2. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  3. Psalm to pray
  4. New Testament Lesson
  5. Psalm to pray (maybe)
  6. 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.

A Collect for Guidance

Among the prayers in the Daily Office, the tradition is that we pray three Collects after the Lord’s Prayer and Suffrages.  The Collect of the Day is first.  After that, traditionally, follow two specific collects, but in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two set collects have been surrounded by a larger list of daily collects.  Although the list of collects is the same in both books, our new Prayer Book (2019) identifies the traditional two, so that those who prefer to stick to the simpler original tradition can do so easily.  And for those who do want to utilize the longer list, an italicized day of the week is added to each Collect’s name.

For Thursday the recommendation is the Collect for Guidance.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This is a fine prayer on its own, and is particularly appropriate for the morning as it implies a day ahead in which we need to remember God amidst all the busy distractions.  On the meta level, this is kinda neat because part of the whole point of the Daily Office (and other hours-based offices like Midday and Compline) is to help us remember God throughout the day.

Some may be skeptical, however, about the Address at the beginning of this collect, in which we identify God as the one in whom we “live and move and have our being.”  That sounds a bit nebulous and wishy-washy, right?  If you’re down with your Greek philosophy you might even suspect this of being more of a Pagan notion of God – the generic divinity from which all spirit-life is derived.  In a round-about way, you would be right.  This is a quote from Epimenides of Crete, a Greek philosopher from several centuries B.C.

But it’s also a quote from Acts 17:28 – St. Paul quotes two ancient Greek poets in his address in Athens, using their statements about the divine to teach truths about the true God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  If you’re sensitive to language style and use, you may recognize the Greek-ish-ness of this phrase, distinct from the Hebraisms that we’re used to in biblical turns of phrase.

Perhaps you never thought twice about this prayer; that’s fine too.  I honestly only know the Ancient Greek reference because the RSV Bible I read from for a few years in a row has a footnote that identifies the two poets whom St. Paul quotes.

Anyway, apart from the “cool fun fact” side, this is also a well-matched Address for the Petition that follows.  God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being – this is a continual reality, an affirmation of constant divine presence, or access.  And on that basis we pray for continual awareness of that reality: may the ever-present Spirit guide and govern us in such a way that we don’t succumb to the world’s distractions and end up living as practical atheists.  Traditional or not, this is a great prayer, and one that is only growing in relevance as this interconnected world invades more and more of our personal space and time.

Learning the Daily Office – part 2 of 12

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

With the daily rounds of psalm-praying every morning and evening in place, it is time to start reading the Bible too.  The Evangelical mentality may balk at this order – why not start with bible-readings and then add prayers?  This can be answered in a couple different ways:

  1. The Psalms are from the Bible, as is the Lord’s Prayer, so Step One was already completely biblical.
  2. Historically, most people didn’t learn to read, so Bible-reading was never really an option; instead they relied on what they could memorize – psalms to sing!
  3. The daily office is, first, a discipline of prayer.  We need to focus on the prayer before we move on to include “study”.

So once your psalm-praying is consistently in place, it’s time to put in a Lesson (a reading from the Bible) between that Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.  Since you’re working toward the daily office tradition, you should start with a part of the Daily Office Lectionary.  Pick one reading “track” for Morning Prayer and one for Evening Prayer and stick to them.  It’d be best to make sure that one is Old Testament and the other is New Testament.  Eventually you’ll be reading from both the OT and the NT in both morning and evening, but you’re pacing yourself.  Get used to one reading first.  Depending upon your background and experience you may find some of our Lessons (especially from the Old Testament) to be rather longer than you’re used to.

You may be tempted, as you read, to look up what individual words mean, or who individual people are, or whatnot.  Resist such interruptions.  Finish the reading, round it off with the Lord’s Prayer to complete the Office, and then go look things up if you need to.  The Daily Office is not a Bible Study, it’s a time of devotion and prayer; the reading of Scripture in the Office is not (historically) followed up by an expository sermon, preaching usually lands in a different liturgical context.  Rather, these scripture lessons are first for exposure and second for familiarity.  If you endeavor to study everything you read, from the very start of your devotional-reading journey, then you may get lost in the details and end up swamped and discouraged.  Receive what you understand and pass along by what you don’t understand.  It may be that you will find the answer to your question in the next chapter, or in another part of the Bible.  Honestly it takes a couple read-throughs of the Bible to begin to develop a memorable sense of its scope and contents, so it isn’t fair to put too much pressure on yourself too soon.

Summary

It’s only step two and you’ve already got an identifiable “Office of Prayer” in place: pray a psalm, read a scripture lesson, and close with the Lord’s Prayer.  In a sense, everything that follows from here is an expansion upon this basic kernel.

Learning the Daily Office – part 1 of 12

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.

Every morning and evening do two things: pray one Psalm (or perhaps part of one, if it’s really long), and follow it up with the Lord’s Prayer.  If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably memorized the latter, but if you haven’t, use it in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 21.  The Lord’s Prayer was taught by Jesus (hence the name the Lord’s prayer), and is a pretty straight-forward thing to pray.  There is much about it that can be studied deeply, analyzing its words and structure, just like any other biblical text, but it’s also just readily understandable and easy to pray as your own prayer.

What may be more challenging is praying the psalms.  While this is a basic spiritual practice going back thousands of years, it is a tragically lost art for many (if not most) Protestant Christians today.  People “know” that the psalms are song-prayers, but actually praying them is a foreign concept.  If we are to be faithful to the Scriptures, though, we must pray the psalms, rather than simply read or study them. They were written to be prayed, individually and corporately, so failure to do so is failure to receive the authoritative scriptures in their fullness.

So how does one learn to pray the psalms?

  1. Read the Psalm(s) out loud.
  2. Once you’re used to the content of the Psalm(s) in question, imagine you and Jesus are reading them together.
  3. Imagine you and Jesus are reading them together to God the Father.
  4. Imagine you and Jesus and the entire Church are reading them together to God the Father.

The key realizations that will click over time (not necessarily in this order) are:

  1. that sometimes the content of the psalm will give voice to the cry of your own heart and sometimes it will not
  2. that there are many “voices” in the Psalms, and if it isn’t yours personally it may be those of Jesus, or of the Church, or of the martyrs, etc.
  3. that the psalms are incredibly influential in the writing of many other prayers, collects, suffrages, litanies, and so forth.

Perhaps even your own extemporaneous prayers will start to use psalm-like language; but remember the goal is not memorization. If some of that happens along the way, that’s awesome. But the goal is to be familiar with the psalms so they can work through your heart as you read them, not just process their information like in a bible study.

As for which psalms to pray, it may be best to start out with following the “60 Day Psalter” provided in our Daily Office Lectionary on pages 738-763.  For sake of getting used to this practice, I’d recommend you invest in using the Prayer Book’s psalter, but we’ll revisit that subject later.

Summary

So if you’re learning the Daily Office from scratch, start by praying a Psalm (out loud!) every morning and evening, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.  Then, if you have other requests or thanksgivings to offer to God, add them in your own words.

It may take a while to get used to praying the psalms, so make sure you’re comfortable with this before moving on to Step Two.