Create Your Own Prayers of the People

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On page 140 of the 2019 Prayer Book, the following Additional Direction is found:

In both the Anglican Standard and Renewed Ancient Texts, other forms of the Prayers of the People may be used, provided the following concerns are included:

   The universal Church, the clergy and people
   The mission of the Church
   The nation and all in authority
   The peoples of the world
   The local community
   Those who suffer and those in any need or trouble
   Thankful remembrance of the faithful departed and of all the blessings of our lives.

For the most part this is a clone of the rubric in the 1979 Prayer Book, which also authorized a create-your-own-adventure approach to the Prayers of the People, providing a similar structure of required topics.  I think the wording of ours is a bit more positively specific, but the freedom is basically the same.

Now, this is “Weird Rubric Wednesday”, a new series of posts that I’m running about weird, strange, or surprising things that the 2019 Prayer Book permits.  As the intentionally horrific and obnoxious banner picture at the top of the page indicates, I’m running this partly for the humour, and cautioning against abuse of the system.  But some of these will have serious and positive suggestions, too.  How you deal with the Prayers of the People is going to be one of those mixed entries.

Ideally…

The two Communion rites in our Prayer Book provide their own default Prayers of the People.  Ideally you should just use them as-is.  Tampering with them is permitted, but almost never necessary.  The special occasion once in a while may be well-highlighted by an edited set of Prayers here, but on the whole this is supposed to be a stable piece of the liturgy.  If you always keep the congregation guessing from week to week, then you’re only teaching them to rely on you, or to rely upon their own spontaneity, rather than provide the spiritual formation available in the mature historic prayers.

Try your hand at Puritanism

One of the great practices of the Free Church tradition is the “pastoral prayer”, in which the pastor prays at length for, well, anything and everything.  This can be a train wreck if he’s unprepared, but it can also be a beautiful moment of pastoral love and care for the flock.  The Puritans, in particular, had a thing for insanely long prayers, and this rubric offers them a victory in our 2019 liturgy.

Personally I don’t recommend opting for this, but it may be a positive idea to pray, as a pastor (priest, deacon, or otherwise) for your congregation at the end of the traditional set Prayers.

Shaken, not stirred

Another thing you could try here is to pull out the Occasional Prayers near the back of the Prayer Book and grab a collect or two for each of the required topics to create your own Prayers of the People.  This would result in a very piecemeal set of prayers, with little-to-no sense of flow to them, so I would not recommend that for ordinary Communion services.  But that might be a cool idea to try out in an Antecommunion service on your own!  It’s also worth noting that the list of topics in the rubric above also closely matches the organization of the Occasional Prayers, so this scheme would be easier to fulfill than you might think.

Outsourcing

This rubric also gives you the freedom to grab any other Prayer Book, official or proposed or supplementary, and use their Prayers of the People, assuming they meet the simple required topics.  This could mean the 1979, or England’s Common Worship, or the Kenyan Prayer Book, or another province.  Or, to channel that #broke/#woke/#bespoke meme, you could go all-out #bespoke and use the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Book’s Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church.  How ’bout dat?

For ever and ever, Amen.

Pray the Great Litany as the Prayers of the People.  Pray some or all the Psalms.  Pray all the Occasional Prayers.  This liturgy could last all day, baby!  DON’T STAWP!

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.

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.

Inner Renewal through the Word

One of the great principles of worship that informs how liturgy is shaped and filled is lex orandi lex credendi – the rule or prayer is the rule of faith, what we pray is what we believe.  It’s not a one-way street: the deposit of faith ought informs our prayer and the way we pray informs our faith.  So it is very important especially when we pray together that we adhere to a faithful liturgy that promulgates orthodox belief.

One of the major points of faith to an Anglican, and our Protestant brethren, is the authoritative primacy of Scripture.  Arguably the most famous prayer that has originated in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is the “scripture collect” for Advent II – “grant us to so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…”  But today let’s highlight a different one.  Occasional Prayer #70 on page 667 is entitled For Inner Renewal through the Word.  It reads thus:

Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

My goodness this prayer is packed full!  Let’s break it down.

  • God is a gracious and merciful Father.
  • The Bible is a rich and precious jewel granted us by God.
  • The Spirit helps write the Bible in our hearts.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible comfort us.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible reforms (corrects and redirects) us.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible renews us in the image of God.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible builds and edifies us into the perfect dwelling place of Christ Jesus.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible makes us holy.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible increases heavenly virtues (such as faith, hope, and love).
  • For the sake of Jesus Christ, we pray the Spirit would do all this in us.

For many Christians the language of the Word being written on our hearts is commonplace.  For some, especially for onlookers in other faiths or none in particular, this may sound strange.  What’s the difference between having the Bible “written in our hearts” and having the Bible “memorized”?  Think of the Pharisees in the Gospels: they had memorized the Scriptures flawlessly, and outwardly conformed their lives to what they understood them to say, but inwardly many of them were still very crooked people.  Think of the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3: “the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.”  Think of the words of our Lord in John 6: “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.”  The literal words of the Bible are not its power.  It is the god-breathed nature of those words, and the application of those words in the human heart where their true power is made manifest.

One can say the same thing Lord of the Rings or Doctor Who or any other story: there is a real difference between memorizing the contents and knowing all the trivia and the behind-the-scenes stuff, and being inspired and changed from the experience.  Good poetry, good music, good arts – these have the potential to change one’s perspective on life, to touch the heart in ways that the mind cannot explain or words express.  That is the beginning of what it means to have the words of sacred scripture written on our hearts.  It has been heard, it is been read, it has been marked (or studied), and it is being learned and inwardly digested to nourish and strengthen the reader.  You know the saying “You are what you eat”?  It’s not only true about a healthy diet of food, but the same principle applies to the ingesting of the Word of God.  (And to Holy Communion too, but we’ll save that for another time!)

Anyway, go read this prayer in the Daily Office today.  It’s good for you. 😉

Prayers to Note

Teen suicide rates are on the rise in the US.  The economy and workplace situations are worsening, as many people are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, causing in loss of stable schedules, often minimal benefits, health insurance, and vacation time.  Depression and anxiety is commonplace, and the pressures of 21st century life can be crushing when exacerbated with social media.  To these and similar challenges, our new Prayer Book presents a number of Occasional Prayers that can direct our attentions and affections, and possibly ease the weary soul.  There are three I want to point you to today, on pages 663-665.

#59 FOR THE DISCOURAGED AND DOWNCAST

O God, almighty and merciful, you heal the broken-hearted,
and turn the sadness of the sorrowful to joy,
Let your fatherly goodness be upon all whom you have made.
Remember in pity all those who are this day destitute,
homeless, elderly, infirm, or forgotten.
Bless the multitude of your poor. Lift up those who are cast down.
Mightily befriend innocent sufferers,
and sanctify to them the endurance of their wrongs.
Cheer with hope all who are discouraged and downcast,
and by your heavenly grace preserve from falling
those whose poverty tempts them to sin.
Though they be troubled on every side, suffer them not to be distressed;
though they are perplexed, save them from despair.
Grant this, O Lord, for the love of him who for our sakes became poor,
your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

#62 FOR THOSE AFFLICTED WITH MENTAL SUFFERING

Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people:
Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from anxiety,
depression, or mental illness [especially _______];
bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their needs;
help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you;
and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

#63 FOR THOSE IN BONDAGE TO ADDICTION

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you:
Look with compassion upon those who through addiction
have lost their health and freedom.
Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy;
remove from them the fears that beset them;
strengthen them in the work of their recovery;
and to those who minister to them,
give patient understanding and persevering love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday Devotions

Hey, everyone, it’s Friday again.

It’s all well and good to enjoy the appropriate Cross-related prayers that modern prayer book tradition has given us.  But there are even more traditional options that should be considered for our praying of the Office on Fridays.

#1 – Read the whole Venite.  The American Prayer Book tradition, I think from the very first in this country, has shortened the Venite (Psalm 95) and provided either additional options or alternative endings for it.  Our new prayer book represents an almost-complete-return to the English order on this point, except the “wrathful” second half of the Venite is optional.  The rubrics direct it to be added during Lent and other penitential occasions.  Consider every Friday (with a couple seasonal exceptions) a penitential occasion.  Read the whole Venite this morning.

#2 – Pray the Great Litany.  As discussed some time in the past, the Litany was originally appointed for the end of Morning Prayer on every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus any other occasion deemed appropriate.  The 2019 Prayer Book is not so specific in its direction for the Litany, but absent of any other plan for regular use, we’re best off simply continuing what the classical tradition appoints.  Say the Litany today.

#3 – Oh, and don’t forget to fast.  It’s not a “Roman thing”, it’s a “catholic thing”, and the Reformers (especially English reformers) saw themselves as the true catholics over against the Papists who had deviated from the catholic tradition.  Fasting on Fridays is thoroughly Anglican; only in recent times have prayer books gotten lazy about that.  The easiest way to fast is to have a small breakfast and eat nothing else until dinner.  This gives you lunchtime, at least, to spend in prayer and rest before God where one might normally be attending to one’s bodily hungers.

Here a Proper Preface is normally sung or said.

Following on the heels of the Sursum Corda, the celebrant comes to the Proper Preface.  Together, this whole sequence forms the “Great Thanksgiving” or prefatory prayers of the Eucharistic Canon.  Make sure you read about the Sursum Corda before reading this, so you have the context settled.

The “Preface” is essentially a single-sentence addition to the Great Thanksgiving.  It specifies a particular reason why it is “right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give thanks” to God.  It is called a “Proper” Preface because it is proper to a particular occasion or season.

The 1662 Prayer Book offers five Proper Prefaces:

  1. upon Christmas Day, and seven days after
  2. upon Easter Day, and seven days after
  3. upon Ascension Day, and seven days after
  4. upon Whitsunday, and six days after [that’s Pentecost Week]
  5. upon the Feast of Trinity only

Because there were just five, these were provided directly in the liturgy itself, rather than in an appendix after the main text.  This state of affairs continued until the 1979 Prayer Book brought in a larger number of Proper Prefaces to cover every season of the church year.  I’m assuming these are, for the most part, imported from general Western Catholic practice, and not entirely made up by 1970’s Episcopalian revisionists, though I haven’t personally investigated their history.  Feel free to comment if you know!

Remarkably, the 2019 Prayer Book did not roll back this expansion, but actually added to them.  A few from the 1979 book’s list have been removed, but several more have been added, such that we have 34 Proper Prefaces to choose from!  Before the traditionalists chime in with renewed accusations of choose-your-own-adventure liturgies, however, it should be noted that these are not all “choices”, but Proper to particular occasions.  You can read them in full at this link; here I will just list them:

  1. The Lord’s Day (that is, any Sunday between Trinity and Advent)
  2. At Any Time (these two are for your weekday services not celebrating a saint)
  3. At Any Time
  4. Advent (throughout the season)
  5. Christmas (throughout the season, unless it’s one of the major saints’ days)
  6. Epiphany
  7. Presentation, Annunciation, and Transfiguration (some books nickname this Preface “Theophany”)
  8. Lent
  9. Holy Week
  10. Maundy Thursday
  11. Easter
  12. Ascension (all ten days!)
  13. Pentecost
  14. Trinity Sunday
  15. All Saints’
  16. Christ the King
  17. Apostles and Ordinations (including Ember Days)
  18. Dedication of a Church
  19. Baptism
  20. Holy Matrimony
  21. Burial or Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
  22. Penitential Occasions (because of the reference to the temptation of Jesus, this is a good one to use on the First Sunday of Lent!)
  23. Rogation Days or Thanksgiving Day
  24. Canada Day or Independence Day
  25. Remembrance Day or Memorial Day
  26. Common of a Martyr
  27. Common of a Missionary or Evangelist
  28. Common of a Pastor
  29. Common of a Teacher of the Faith
  30. Common of a Monastic or Religious
  31. Common of an Ecumenist
  32. Common of a Renewer of Society
  33. Common of a Reformer of the Church
  34. Common of Any Commemoration

Those last ones, #26-34, line up with the “Commons of Saints” Collects and lessons.

Now for a big question: How do I know which one to use?

The answer is usually simple: look at the Collect for the Day on pages 598-640.  Underneath each one, it will tell you which Preface to use.  Propers 1 through 28 do not note any Preface, which indicates three things:

  1. You can go with the classical prayer book pattern and not use a Preface at all.
  2. You can use the Lord’s Day Preface if it’s a Sunday.
  3. You can use the “At Any Time” Preface if it’s a weekday.

There, simple, all decided.

Perhaps, on very rare occasions, you may find it appropriate to use a Preface that is not normally appointed.  If the congregation (or greater social context) is experiencing a major crisis or a major celebration, perhaps a more penitential or thankful Preface, respectively, will be appropriate.  But on the whole, the Prefaces are not things to play mix-and-match with; they are Propers, just like the Collects and the Lessons, and are to be used as appointed.  They reinforce the liturgy as it stands; to meddle with them on your own is to seize control of the liturgy beyond your pay-grade, O priest!

And, a word of advice to those who publish service programs or bulletins… don’t make it a habit of including the full text of the Preface.  It’s just one sentence, let the people listen to their priest for ten seconds.  Besides, at certain times of year it changes fairly rapidly, and unless you’re really on top of the liturgy yourself you might make an error with it.  Best leave it in the hands of the celebrant and let him take the blame if something goes wrong! 😉

If you peruse other liturgical books, like the ASB, you will find some more beautiful Prefaces that are not included in the 2019 Prayer Book.  The jury is still out if The Saint Aelfric Customary will recommend any such extra Prefaces.

Praying Amidst an Impeachment Inquiry

I am not one known for being particularly #woke.  Following the news is (for me) a low-priority necessary evil.  There’s a lot of distraction out there, far too much commentary posing as facts, and let’s not even talk about the Comment Sections on news-related websites and social media.  Except this blog; comments here are pretty sparse and polite… thanks for that!  For the politeness I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they were less sparse.  Not that I’m begging.

Anyway, it did not escape my notice that a formal call to investigate the President of the United States of America and his conduct regarding foreign relations and electoral procedures, with an eye toward an impeachment inquiry, has been issued.  I had a few emotional knee-jerk reactions deep down inside, and I’m sure lots of people are going to have much stronger, and more public, reactions to this news also.  So I thought this would be a good thing to address in the realm of liturgy and prayer.

To a large extent, liturgical intercessory prayer is a matter of fill-in-the-blank.  We have a standard collection of prayers that we offer for the state, for society, and for leaders in particular.  On that level, our prayers for the nation do not change just because the word “impeachment” is officially on the table in Washington D.C.  We must not, on the one hand, devolve into that silly “sports fan” scenario of prayer, pray that we crush the Angry Orange Man of Doom.  Nor must we, on the other hand, devolve into that nationalism-over-faith sort of idolatry that we’ve seen from certain health-wealth and pentecostal extremes lately, and pray The Lord’s Anointed will be protected from such a demonic assault.  No, the President is still the President, and the inquiry is a perfectly legal procedure, whatever our personal opinions may be about either.  And so on one level we must continue to pray as we always pray:

We pray that you will lead the nations of the world in the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct their leaders, especially Donald Trump, our President, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace.  Grant that our leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and protect true religion and virtue.

2019 BCP, page 110

What does change is the context of our prayers, rather than the content.  With this new inquiry in mind, we must be sure we heartily pray for:

  1. impartially administer[ed] justice” – that these proceedings will go forward wisely, without assumption of guilt without evidence, and without scorn of evidence without analysis;
  2. uphold[ing] integrity and truth” – that all involved will proceed with due dignity and gravity of the task before them, without bombast or frivolity, and earnestly seeking the truth of the matter;
  3. restrain[ment of] wickedness and vice” – if the President is guilty of crimes that he will be held accountable for them; that the proceedings will not be sullied by ad hominem tactics, and our observation will not be an occasion for sin;
  4. and the “protect[ion of] true religion and virtue” – referencing James 1:27 as well as the general plea for clear heads and pure hearts to prevail.

These are four of the major purposes of earthly governments, as we understand the teaching in the Scriptures, and we ought to keep these in mind as we pray.  Whether you want to see Trump out of the White House for good, or whether you want him to remain there, in prayer we learn to set our political preferences aside and come before the Father with a more pure request: to fulfill his Word, to mete out judgement in his own time and on his own terms, and to deliver each of us from temptation and evil in the midst of all this.

We’ve also got Occasional Prayers #29, 30, 33, 37, 38, and 39 on pages 654-7 to help spell this out further.  Resist the temptation to go on internet rampages; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Praying concerning 9/11

The 11th of September has been dubbed “Patriot Day” by the US government, but is popularly known simply as “9/11”, and it commemorates those who lost or gave their lives on this day back in 2001 when four airplanes were hijacked by terrorists and used as weapons against iconic American buildings.  (Those of us in Massachusetts are perhaps especially resistant to the name “Patriot Day” because we already have a state holiday called “Patriots Day” which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, close to April 19th.)

The American Church is not required to observe this day, of course, being a minor national observance.  But although it is of lowly status compared to other national days such as Independence Day, it is a day that weighs heavily on many of our hearts.  Ask someone “where they were on September 11th” and you’ll usually get a vivid answer (provided you ask someone who’s not much younger than 30).  This being the case, it will probably “feel right” bring this into our prayer life today.  Let’s explore some possibilities.

Occasional Prayers #27 & 28 for the Peace of the World are good places to start.  #33 for our Enemies is also an important prayer to take up, lest old anger set in.  Any other prayer for the nation in that section could be appropriate for today, as we take in the scope of how 9/11 impacted civil and foreign policy, and the way we’ve looked at ourselves and the rest of the world ever since.  More generally, #40 for all sorts and conditions of men is a traditional prayer recommended for Morning Prayer, and although it is more sweeping in scope and generic in the specifics, it can be helpful for putting things in context and perspective.

If you want to make a bigger splash in your prayers today, so to speak, pray the great Litany, making sure to include the “Supplication” section at the end.  Wednesday is one of the traditional days of the week that the Litany was appointed to be said anyway, so this is definitely worth considering.

Book Review: Shorter Christian Prayer

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

My first exposure to liturgical worship was when I played piano for Mass at a Roman Catholic church during my undergraduate years.  The beauty and purpose of liturgy didn’t really strike me until after I graduated, but during that time I did gradually get used to the different “style” of prayer involved and got curious enough to join a brief service of Vespers, which is akin to our Evening Prayer service except that it’s all psalmody and prayer with only one few-verse Scripture reading.  We did this ten-minute liturgy from a little red book called Shorter Christian Prayer, which is a compact and simplified version of the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours that forms the full current Roman Breviary (Daily Office).  When I graduated, I bought my own copy and used it sporadically during the summer and into my first year of seminary.

Shorter Christian Prayer was for me a gentle introduction to the discipline of daily prayer.  The Anglican Daily Office is much longer and more robust – definitely a healthier spiritual diet, but there’s a lot more to bite off.  This Roman book was like a stepping-stone on the path toward the real deal.  It features a four-week rotation of psalms, which is close to our Prayer Book period of time, except this doesn’t manage to include all 150 psalms, even with a separate Night Office included.

Functionally, this book is tricky to use; you need to use it with someone who knows what they’re doing with it first, before forging off on your own.  It’s very compact, abbreviating things as much as possible, printing the “Ordinary” (unchanging) elements in one place, the four-week-rotating elements in another section, and the seasonal “propers” in a third section.  The Morning & Evening Gospel Canticles (Benedictus and Magnificat) are printed on the inside front & back covers, respectively, for ease of access.  It all makes sense once you understand the system, but the learning curve is unpleasant.  I don’t think I ever quite used this book right when I actually used it, ca. 2008.

shorter-christian-prayer

Look at the Evening Prayer service start here.  Those opening sentences are short for: “God, come to my assistance.”  “Lord, make haste to help me.”  “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”  “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.”

A hymn follows, and there’s an appendix of hymns in the back (lyrics only).  Then you get the psalms.  To decipher what you see there on pages 208-209, there is an antiphon, followed by the Psalm (123), the “Glory to the Father,” then a psalm-prayer, then you repeat the antiphon.  Then you repeat that sequence with the next psalm (124).

There is often a third psalm or canticle from elsewhere in Scripture, followed by a reading (which is barely ever more than 5 verses long).  A brief responsory follows, which is sort of like an antiphonal prayer, then the Gospel Canticle (of Mary, in Evening Prayer here), with its own antiphon again.  Then follow intercessions which are like our suffrages, wrapped up with the Lord’s Prayer, a concluding prayer, and the concluding blessing.  You can get through all this in ten minutes or less, where the Anglican Daily Office is typically twice that length at least.  And yet, the Roman office manages to be more complicated in a shorter amount of time.

Visibly, this book is attractively bound and its use of red ink for rubrics and black ink for text-to-be-read-aloud is very helpful.  The typeface and artistry smack of 1980’s weirdness, but (being largely unfamiliar with liturgy at the time) I just took it as part of its charm.

On the whole, the daily office that this book gives you is one that is complex but short, varied in its content but frequent in its repetition of said content.  You don’t get all 150 psalms but you do get a nice array of other canticles mixed in.  The liturgical seasons have a much larger impact on the office than we experience in the Anglican tradition.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
Unless you really know your way around liturgy in general, this book is probably too complicated to figure out how to use on your own.  I think it’s meant either 1, for priests who don’t want to have to carry the full Liturgy of the Hours volume with them, or 2, for laymen who are following along the Office in the pews and are being guided through the service.  Or perhaps, 3, for enthusiastic laymen who have already learned the Office and want to pray it on their own.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
It’s just the Daily Office, which is only part of your spiritual life.  And given how anemic its treatment of the Scriptures is, you’re not going to get much meat here.  The antiphons and psalm-prayers can really bring the experience of praying the psalms to life, though – it’s what woke me up to the joy and virtue of praying psalms.

Reference Value: 2/5
This is a modern version of what probably used to be a much richer and more complex liturgy in the Roman tradition.  Looking at this book probably won’t give you significant insight into the depths of Papist liturgy, so its reference value is likely pretty low.  That said, its rubrics are pretty specific (once you find them), and comparative study between this and our Prayer Books can be pretty interesting.

As a last word, I should add that apart from the Liturgy of the Hours, Roman liturgy also has an “Office of Readings” which includes more substantial readings from the Bible as well as certain Church Fathers and theologians.  I doubt it still measures up to our Daily Office Lectionary, and the post-biblical readings are undoubtedly going to be unabashedly Papist in doctrine, so we’re not going to have much use for that.  Though the idea of devotional readings from the divines of our tradition is one worth considering, albeit not in our Daily Office itself.

I am thankful for this book.  Once in a blue moon I pick it up and pray the appropriate Office from it, mostly out of nostalgia and gratitude for the role that Roman Catholic chapel played in my Christian growth.  But that’s not reason enough for me to recommend anyone else get a copy.  Only do so if you plan on some comparative-liturgical study.