Mindful of death in the evening

One major hallmark of historic Christian piety surrounding eventide is the mindfulness of death.  Going to bed, the lights going out, going to sleep, is both culturally and biblically a metaphor for death.  Countless evening hymns and prayers make reference to death, keeping the singer or pray-er mindful of his or her mortality.

Modern and post-modern culture does not encourage us to be mindful of death, rather, we are told to put death out of our minds entirely.  Don’t worry about it, don’t obsess over it; it is morbid, we are told, to think about death.  As a result, even at Funeral or Burial services we pressure ourselves and one another to think about life instead – it’s  Memorial Service or a Celebration of Life, rather than mourning for the dear departed.

But the Prayer Book tradition continues faithfully on the track of historic Christian awareness of death.  For example, the Wednesday Evening Collect, for Protection, reads thus:

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night.  Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Even though death is not the central theme or subject of this prayer, its reality is present and unavoidable.  God is identified as “the repose of the dead” and Jesus specifically is invoked as the one “who died”.

Don’t breeze past prayers like these.  It is not morbid to reflect upon your future death.  It is wise, it is healthy, it is biblical!  We do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s returning, and we hardly ever get forewarning of the the day or hour we finish this life either.  It is good to be prepared, to have a last will & testament, to have funeral wishes written down, to be at peace with our brethren, to be ready to meet our Maker.  Let these death-aware devotions each evening bring that moment of sobriety into your spiritual life… the world certainly won’t!

The Song of the Three Young Men

Happy Saturday!  As you pray through Morning Prayer today, consider changing up the first canticle if you don’t normally do so.  The Te Deum is of course a beautiful hymn of the Early Church, but sometimes it’s edifying to dip into some of the other Canticles the Prayer Book has to offer.

Canticle #10 in the ACNA book, Benedicite, omnia opera Domini, is noted to be “especially suitable for use on Saturday.  Since today is not a special commemoration, why not shift this marvelous canticle in the place of the Te Deum this morning?

The Benedicite is a simplified text drawn from the Song of the Three Young Men, attributed to Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the fiery furnace in the middle of Daniel 3.  The full text is one of the “Additions to Daniel” in the Greek Old Testament, and is therefore useful “for example of life and instruction of manners” as the Articles of Religion say.  Therefore, as a worship text, it is as close to the Psalms as possible without actually being numbered among them.  With the Church’s addition of the Triune name of God at the end of the Canticle, it is a wonderful expression of praise, drawing all of creation into the eternal song, much like Psalm 148.  Enjoy it!

Introducing Isaiah

Isaiah, the first of the Major Prophets, has been appointed to be read at the end of the year in every Anglican Prayer Book I’ve ever looked at.  The reason for this, I have long assumed, is that it contains many prophecies of Jesus that are well-known, well-loved, easily recognizable, and often associated with either Easter or Christmas.  And since there is so much Scripture clamoring for our attention through Holy Week and Eastertide, and those dates are not fixed anyway, the Old Testament slot of the lectionaries have always concluded the year with the book of Isaiah.  Normally this wouldn’t begin until mid or late November, but because the current draft ACNA daily lectionary appoints separate reading tracks for the Morning and Evening Offices, we end up starting the book of Isaiah today, on October 19th.

Chapter 1 is a fantastic opening chapter for such a rich book.  Many people might find it frustrating that it doesn’t introduce us to the man Isaiah himself – that doesn’t happen until his commissioning account in chapter 6.  But think of chapter 1 as the opening scene of a movie or television show: it’s action-packed, it draws you in, it gives you a taste of what’s to come and stuns you with the intensity of the book as a whole.  Then in a few chapters it’ll step back and give you a little of Isaiah’s backstory and character, once you’ve gotten the teaser at the beginning.

What does chapter 1 have that makes it so great an opening?  The first verse gives us an impressive array of kings under whom Isaiah ministered, hinting to us of his longevity and long-suffering. Verses 2-17 then launch into a blistering accusation against the kingdom of Judah, denouncing their sinfulness, discrediting the efficacy of their sacrifices, comparing them to the long-ago-destroyed city-states of Sodom and Gomorrah, and imploring them to repent, wash themselves, and act justly once again.

God offers a word of hope in verses 18-20: “let us reason together.”  If you just think about what you’re doing and come back to me, I will make you clean!  Otherwise, in the meantime, God calls the condition of his people to be akin to that of a whore in verses 21-23.

And finally verses 24-31 describe the blessing of a future restoration.  When God has finished punishing them, and they finally repent and turn to him, he will rebuild Jerusalem, restore the efficacy of the sacrifices, strengthen his people, and punish their enemies.

Isaiah is a long book to get through; but if you really soak in this chapter at the beginning, you will find its content, tone, and themes echoing throughout the next 65 chapters, all the way to Christmas!

Additional / Occasional Prayers & Thanksgivings

Prayer Books have always contained a section of extra collects and prayers on various subjects.  Most of the historic Prayer Books have placed them after the Morning Office, with the intention that they be used as additions to the Office.

The 1979 Prayer Book (and presumably the 2019 book also) did something different.  On the plus side, the collection of additional prayers and thanksgivings was vastly expanded and indexed for ease of use.  On the negative side, they were placed as a sort of appendix towards the very back of the book such that there was no clear implication that they are meant to enrich and expand the Daily Office.

Since Saturday is a common day of rest for many, for families to gather, to enjoy the outdoors, perhaps this is a good opportunity to use prayers #26-30, for the Natural Order!  You can find the full list of Occasion Prayers and Thanksgivings here.  Or, here are the prayers concerning the natural order:

26. For Joy in God’s Creation

O heavenly Father, you have filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

27. For Stewardship of Creation

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

28. For the Harvest of Lands and Waters

O gracious Father, you open your hand and fill all living things with plenteousness: Bless the lands and waters, and multiply the harvests of the world; send forth your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth; show your loving-kindness, that our land may yield its increase; and save us from selfish use of what you provide, that men and women everywhere may give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Or the Collects assigned for Rogation Days

29. For Rain

O God, our heavenly Father, by your Son Jesus Christ you have promised to those who seek your kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we pray, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to your honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

30. In Time of Scarcity and Famine

O God, our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son taught us to seek our daily bread from you: Behold the affliction of your people, and send us swift aid in our time of necessity. Increase the fruits of the earth by your heavenly benediction; and grant that we, receiving your gifts with thankful hearts, may use them to your glory and the relief of those in need; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech you…

It’s Tuesday, and that means the Collect for Aid against Perils is appointed at Evening Prayer.  If you’ve only ever used the 1979 Prayer Book you may be unaware that the Collects in the Daily Office were not as numerous in previous books.  There were always three: the Collect of the Day, followed by two others (Morning and Evening Prayer having different pairs).  Additional collects and prayers were typically permitted or expected, but the basic three were static and unchanging.  The Collect for Aid against Perils is one of the two original Evening collects.  As the Evening Prayer rubrics of our Prayer Book now note:

It is traditional to pray the Collects for Peace and Aid against Perils daily.  Alternatively, one may pray the collects on a weekly rotation, using the suggestions in parentheses.

Whether you opt for the modern weekly rotation of Collects or stick with the traditional two every day, it is worth taking note of moments like this in which old and new practices line up with each other.

In a rush?

In a rush today?  Not sure you’ve “got time” for the Daily Office?

One unconventional way you could shorten the Office, without sacrificing too much of its mainstay ingredients, is to shift some of the daily Psalms into the position of the Canticles.  For example, this morning you would pray Psalm 38, read the OT lesson, then pray Psalm 39 as the 1st Canticle; then read the NT lesson, then pray Psalm 40 as the 2nd Canticle.  In the evening you’d pray Psalm 41 before the lessons, and Psalms 42 and 43 as the Canticles.

The benefits of this little cheat are that that you keep up with the monthly Psalms and retain the rhythm of “read, respond; read, respond” that characterizes the center of the liturgy in the Anglican tradition.  Obviously, the downside is that you lose the usual canticles.  But if you’re praying the Office in full more often than not, then the loss of those relatively-static features is not as great as missing some of the month’s Psalms.

Don’t forget, also, in the rubrics of Texts for Common Prayer, we are permitted to skip the Confession and the Apostles’ Creed, provided they are said once per day!  So if your morning gets out of hand, take advantage of the new book’s leniency and give yourself a break in the morning; just be sure to put all the pieces back together at Evening Prayer 😉

The Evening Before…

In Jewish accounting of time, the “day” begins and ends at sundown.  This concept survives in Christian liturgy; the “Eve of” a Holy Day is the beginning of that Holy Day.  Christmas Eve is the beginning of Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve is the beginning of All Saints’ Day, and so on.

It can be easy to forget, but Sundays are Holy Days, or feast days, too.  Therefore, as the rubrics in Calendar of the Christian Year explain:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebration of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

So when you pray Evening Prayer later today, make sure you read the next Collect of the Day: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in continual godliness…”  This isn’t just a nit-picky point to make sure you “get your prayers right”, but can also help you prepare for church tomorrow morning!  If you pray this Collect tonight and again at Morning Prayer before the Communion service tomorrow, then by the time you hear it (or say it yourself) in church it’ll be fresh on your mind already.  Just like with music or preaching, a prayer that is prepared is easier to share!


Note: this blog will not be updated tomorrow, or on subsequent Sunday mornings.  I’m rather assuming that you, like me, have got enough to do already at that time!

Forgot the Great Litany?

Don’t forget it’s Friday, one of the traditional days of the week for saying the Great Litany after the Collects in Morning Prayer!

Did you already say Morning Prayer without the Litany?  That’s alright, consider praying the Litany at the end of Midday Prayer instead!  There’s a handy spot near the end of that Office which says “other intercessions and thanksgivings may be offered.”  Why not pray the entire Litany and Supplication at that point?  It could be a great spiritual boost and refocus for the middle of your day.

Grant thy faithful people pardon and peace

The Collect of the Day from Sunday September 30th, which is to be repeated in the Daily Office throughout the week, is as follows:

Merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace; that by your grace we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever  Amen.

If you’re a regular pray-er of the Daily Office, you may already be intimately familiar with this prayer; it is the “Collect for Forgiveness” that is read by a lay person in the absence of a priest or bishop after the Confession.  (Even if you are a priest or bishop, if you’re paying the Office by yourself it might make more sense to read this prayer after the Confession, as you have nobody else to pronounce pardon and absolution to!)

Unless you’re using the Sunday Propers again for a mid-week service in the next couple days, it’s probably too late to point out this Collect’s double function to others in your congregation.  But you can, at least on your own, take some time this week to reflect on the Gospel of Christ’s forgiveness.  The blessed state of pardon and peace, of cleansed souls such that we can serve Christ with a “quiet” (or peaceful, unfettered, un-distracted) mind… this is the great work and gift of God.

May we all seek pardon and peace from God first, and await his consummate blessings that flow from that divine starting point.

Beginning of the month

It’s the 1st of October, the beginning of a new month!  The traditional pattern in the Prayer Books before the 20th century is to pray through the Psalms in 30 days, beginning on the 1st of each month.  In the 1928 and 1979 American Prayer Books, new cycles were introduced for those who wanted a shorter Daily Office by praying fewer Psalms at a time.  The 2019 Prayer Book is also drafted to present a 60-day Psalter option.

If you don’t normally, consider taking this month to rise to the challenge of the original plan of Psalm prayer.  This is really the bread & butter of the Daily Office, and was once the backbone of Western spirituality, especially before the proliferation of hymns and songs a couple centuries after the Reformation.

At Morning Prayer today pray Psalms 1-5, and at Evening Prayer pray Psalms 6-8.
Tomorrow it’ll be Psalms 9-11 in the morning and Psalms 12-14 in the evening.
Wednesday’s Psalms are 15-17 in the morning, and Psalm 18 in the evening.

The full 30-day table of Psalms is here.

Whatever you undertake, endeavor to stick to it until you’ve gotten through the whole cycle.  And be sure to pray them out loud, pausing at the line breaks, so you have time to take in what you’re saying!