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.

Filling in the Blanks: Judges

Unlike its predecessor Joshua, the book of Judges gets almost full coverage in the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Office Lectionary.  Only the last five chapters are omitted.  If you want to “fill in the blanks” and read those skipped chapters, this Customary’s Midday Prayer Lectionary starts in on that material today.

So let’s take a look at what’s going on here.

The book of Judges is, mostly, a history of twelve judges (six major, six minor) who ruled the tribes of Israel in the period of history before the rise of the monarchy under Saul and David.  The last five chapters, however, are kind of like two appendixes, stuck on as additional stories that take place somewhere in line with the centuries outlined in the majority of the book.

Chapters 17 & 18 tell the story of Micah and his Levite priest, providing a sort of origin story for the rife idolatry that took hold over the tribe of Dan from early times.

Chapters 19-21 tell the story of a Levite and his concubine (legally, his actual wife, but called a concubine because Levites don’t have tribal land allotments to pass down or inherit) and of a holy war against Benjamin that results when she is brutally raped and killed.

Why are these chapters omitted from our lectionary (apart from the generic reason that you’ve got to squeeze the Bible into one year somehow)?  This time we don’t have an easy out: the original Prayer Book lectionary of the 16th-18th centuries included the entire book of Judges, so ours is a reduction of coverage, not an expansion, as is usually the case.  Ours is an improvement over what’s in the 1928 and 1979 lectionaries, but it’s not a full restoration back to the 1662 standard.  Why?

Without insight from the Liturgy Task Force, I can only guess.

The story of Micah & his Levite “priest” is a wicked story, telling of the descent of a whole tribe toward notorious apostasy.  It is a “bad example” story, with very little good in it for a Christian to seek to imitate.  Perhaps it was thought that there are enough examples of sin in the biblical literature already, that this episode was ruled expendable to make room for more immediately edifying readings elsewhere.

The story of the Levite and his concubine, the crimes against her, the resulting war and subsequent insanely sinful plans to rescue the tribe of Benjamin from extinction, is also quite low in “good examples.”  It’s a brutal story, perhaps the most vivid account of rape in the Bible – it may be that the current cultural climate would benefit from careful study of a story like this, rather than public reading.  There are also a number of concepts and events in this story that are difficult to understand without particular instruction and explanation: what it means for the Levite to have a concubine, why he chopped her dead body into twelves pieces and mailed them around the country, why genocide seemed like a good idea, and why more rape and abduction seemed like a good solution to prevent the genocide.

There may be something I’m missing here; terrible as they are, these are stories I would not have chosen to drop from the daily lectionary.  Still, every Bible-in-a-year plan or daily lectionary is going to have its shortcomings somewhere; I’m not going to say this one’s absolutely perfect.  So if you want to read those skipped stories, consider picking them up in Midday Prayer over the coming week or so.

Filling in the blanks: Ezekiel

I’m posting this a week later than I probably should have… maybe that was a mistake in my pre-planning.  Anyway, back on June 21st we read Ezekiel 47 at Evening Prayer, and then didn’t come back for its final chapter, 48.  Before that we’d skipped chapters 44-46, and 41-42, which I briefly explained and summarized in a video that Friday.  But there’s more: chapters 19-32 were skipped; that’s about 30% of the book gone right there.  Chapters 38 & 39 also were omitted.  Altogether, approximately 45% of Ezekiel is not in our daily lectionary.  The evangelical reader is probably annoyed right now.  “What gives?”

If historical precedent is any consolation….

  • less than 18 chapters (38%) appear in the 1979 Book’s daily lectionary
  • about 16 chapters (33%) appear in the 1928 lectionary
  • maybe 13 chapter (27%) appear in the 1922 lectionary in the 1662 Book
  • nearly 23 chapters (47%) are in the 19th century’s lectionary in the 1662 Book
  • only 12 chapters (25%) are read in the ORIGINAL Anglican daily lectionary

So with us reading 55% of the book, that’s a massive increase compared to every Prayer Book before ours.

But of course, someone who is not as optimistic about the wisdom of the Church and the value of the Prayer Book is still going to argue: what’s “wrong” with so much of Ezekiel?

I’m not going to analyze, explain, and defend the mentality of each prayer book in our history, other than to say that Ezekiel is one of the least-accessible Prophets to read fruitfully without a great deal of study, and so when it comes to the public daily reading in the churches it is more profitable to spend time on other portions of Scripture that are more readily understandable and clear to the people in the pews.  That said, let’s take a quick look at what the 2019 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary omits.

Chapters 19-32 are a series of oracles, prophecies of condemnation and judgment, against Jerusalem, Israel & Judah, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt.  They vary in style and tone, and there are few “famous” images among these chapters, such as the Ohola & Oholiba parable for the unfaithfulness of Israel & Judah.  These aren’t “unimportant” chapters, as such, but they are “redundant” with a fair bit of the Prophetic Corpus of the Old Testament.

Chapters 38-39 form the prophecy against the mysterious Gog and his land, Magog.  This has been interpreted in many different ways, pointing to the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, and even to a yet-future world power in the End Times.  When it comes down to it, this is not mere prophecy, but apocalyptic literature, which comes with its own special interpretive challenges.  I suppose that the restoration of the book of Revelation into the daily lectionary has mitigated the need to to rely on its even-more-puzzling Old Testament forebear.

Chapters 41-42 and 44-46 are basically a series of pictures in prose form.  Here we find the lengthy description of the New Temple, which I talked about in the video post linked at the beginning of this article.  Chapter 40, in the lectionary, is sufficient for giving the reader the “establishing shot”, to use a TV/movie term, and chapter 43 describes an event or scene there.  The rest, omitted, do provide additional prophetic insights of course (they are scripture), but the majority of that material is a slow slog through a lot of measurements and repetitive formulae.

Chapter 48, similarly, is an extension of the information in chapter 47; together they describe a map of new tribal allotments.  You can read more about that here if you like.  For the Christian, the important lesson is in the promise of God that he will bless his faithful people; the specific land boundaries are simply images that prefigure the perfection of the New Heaven & New Earth, so grinding through all the geographic descriptions is not strictly necessary for getting the point across.

That said, if you are a “completionist” when it comes to reading the Scriptures, you can always pick up this Customary’s Supplementary Midday Prayer lectionary to fill you in on the missed chapters of Ezekiel, scattered throughout the summer.

Filling in the Blanks: Joshua

I skipped a Friday post for a Saturday post this week because today (June 13th) is the last consecutive reading from the book of Joshua in Morning Prayer.  After today we skip from chapter 10 to chapter 14, and after that jump all the way to chapter 22 to finish the book from there on.  That’s a lot of skipped material, what’s going on?

The book of Joshua contains a lot of writing that is stereotyped and repetitive, as well as lengthy portions that are essentially maps in prose form.  Think of the first half Joshua as a train: it starts moving very slowly (conquering one town at a time, with specific stories at each encounter), then it speeds up bit by bit as it gives an account of the conquest of the Promise Land in larger and larger pieces.  It is obvious that there is a lot of history that isn’t being handed down here; we get a few specific stories in the beginning and the rest of the territory is basically assumed under Israelite control, with very little description of how things went.

Then in the second half of the book you get some very lengthy descriptions of tribal boundaries.  This is incredibly boring reading for most people, wading through geographic references (mountains, rivers, hills, fortifications) that most of us know little about – and many of which are not even identified with certainty by archaeologists anymore.  But most Bibles today have maps in the back… if you look closely at the one(s) with the early tribal borders then you’re basically looking at a best-guess depiction of what the second half of Joshua is trying to describe.

So yes, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction, edification, and so forth, but some parts are going to be more useful than other parts.  For the Old Covenant Jew, this was extremely important, outlining when their tribes and families were to inhabit and dwell.  To the Christian, this is almost completely relegated to historical interest.  There are Gospel overtones, of course: the intricate detail God goes into as he “makes a place” for his people in Palestine is a reminder of the intricate detail he goes into now as Jesus “makes a place for us” in the heavenly Jerusalem.

And so, most daily lectionaries omit almost half of the book of Joshua; it’s a lot of reading for very little unique benefit.  But if you do want to take the time to read through the omitted chapters, consider using this Customary’s Midday Prayer Lectionary, which picks up with chapter 11 today and continues through the ten omitted chapters one day at a time.

Sometimes you should change the biblical text

wrw

Now there’s a title that will get just about any serious Christian a little worried… “sometimes we should change the biblical text”?  What mad heresy is this?

So let’s get straight to the Weird Rubric of the week.  It’s on page 737.

When a Lesson begins with a pronoun, the reader should substitute the appropriate noun.

Yeah, so the title of this article is kind of click-bait… the change to the biblical text here is actually just a swapping out of a pronoun with a noun.  For example, today at Morning Prayer we’ve got a Gospel lesson from Luke 22, starting at verse 39.  “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.”  This is a great example because you can read the entire paragraph and still never find out who “he” is.  Obviously it’s Jesus; it usually will be in the Gospels.  But sometimes it’s not immediately obvious, so it is prudent (and canonical, or rubrical) to replace the first “he” with “Jesus” so the congregation understands what’s being read.

Some who are especially zealous for the integrity of God’s Word may still not like this, so I should point you to another precedent for this practice.  Bible translators already do this!  In the Greek, the New Testament uses pronouns even more often than we do in English, such that in order to render the text more clearly there are plenty of instances where the Greek text says “he” but the English puts in the person’s name.  For example, slightly earlier in Luke 22, you’ll find verse 33 is a quote from Peter and verse 34 is a quote from Jesus. Now, it’s part of a dialogue, so it’s not too confusing to repeat “he” for both speakers, but it’s more clear to put the names in.  Thus does the ESV.

A similar practice, not directly mentioned in the rubrics of the 2019 Prayer Book, is to omit a proposition or connecting word (such as “therefore” or “for” or “but” or “then”) if one is placed at the beginning of a reading.  The length and contents of a lectionary reading, especially at the Holy Communion, has been evaluated already.  It presents a full and complete thought, such that having a connecting word at the beginning can prove more distracting than helpful.  Yes, these connectors remind us that the passage belongs in a larger context, but that is always going to be the case whether there is such a word there or not.  So it’s usually best to drop such words when found at the top of a reading, to allow the text to stand on its own so the hearers can receive it more easily.  Let the preacher deal with the context if and as necessary.

For the most part, this advice is more pertinent to the readings at Holy Communion than in the Daily Office. This is because the Daily Office Lectionary is continuous – nearly every reading picks up where the previous day’s reading left off.  Connecting words and pronouns are thus less distracting, because the previous chapter or passage has already been heard the day before.  In the service of Holy Communion, we almost never have that advantage; and even when we do, there’ll typically have been a whole week past since the previous contiguous lesson, so having those pronouns replaced will still be a helpful reminder.

If you find this a little tricky to keep track of, consider this instruction on page 716:

The public reading of Scripture in the liturgies of the Church is among the most important features of any act of worship. No one should be admitted to this high privilege who has not thoroughly prepared the passage to be read, so that the lesson can be read with clarity, authority, and understanding.

Make sure you practice at public reading!  A smooth reading experience makes a smooth listening experience possible. Today’s “weird rubric” is there to help you make that happen.

Summarizing Eastertide

I know Eastertide is about to shift gears, or even end, depending upon how you understand the bounds of the Easter season, but it’s better late than never… here is the next video in my series on the Church Calendar.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Definition & Major Themes
  • 05:38 Historical Features
  • 09:06 Walk-through in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 12:40 Daily Office & other features
  • 17:36 A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return

Links for further reading:

Lectionary Convergence: Psalm 23

This week we have some nice lectionary convergences in the 2019 Prayer Book.  Psalm 23 was heard yesterday at the Communion service, and now we hear it again at Evening Prayer the next day.  This week we’re also reading from 1 Peter, which is the source of the Sunday Communion Epistle lessons throughout Eastertide this year.

If you want to read a reflection on Psalm 23 for today, click here.

If you want to read about 1 Peter during Eastertide, click here.

Last of all, by way of a reminder, yesterday was the 4th Sunday of Easter, nicknamed Good Shepherd Sunday.  In the traditional lectionary, however, Good Shepherd Sunday was last Sunday.  So if you’re poking around different Anglican ministry sites and pages and noticed a Good Shepherd themed article a week off from what you would have expected, that’s why.

Reinvent the Benedictine Monastic Offices with Family Prayer

wrw

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.

7-times[1]

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.

Easter Week Readings all-in-one

I made one for Holy Week, and now for Easter as well: an all-in-one sheet laying out the Morning Prayer, Communion, Midday, Evening, and Compline lessons and psalms throughout Easter Week.

Easter Week, in particular, is often overlooked.  Folks tend to be exhausted by the end of the Easter Vigil and the many goings-on during Holy Week.  This is understandable, but also very unfortunate, as there are a number of significant angles on Easter that we have opportunity to celebrate.  There is a certain irony in the fact that those who are happy to see Pre-Lent done away with in order to “restore the balance” between Lent and Easter then fail to go on and actually celebrate Easter Week.

Historically, the Prayer Books have appointed more things for Holy Week than for Easter Week, so it’s understandable that we still tend to be more busy in the former than in the latter.  But now that most of us are at home most of the time, unable to exhaust ourselves with long and multiple church services, perhaps this is our great opportunity to discover Easter Week!  So here it is: easter week all-in-one 2020.