Reinvent the Benedictine Monastic Offices with Family Prayer

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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.

The Acclamation can be anything “appropriate”

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How does the service of Holy Communion begin?  Many churches have a processional hymn or an opening song to start things off.  The 2019 Prayer Book notes this option with a rubric on pages 105 and 123.  But after that comes the Acclamation, the textual beginning of the worship service in the modern liturgy.  It says:

The people standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting (pages 145-146)

When you turn to page 145 you find eight different Acclamations for different seasons and holy days of the year.  But they are introduced with this rubric:

The opening Acclamation may be replaced by a greeting appropriate to the season or the occasion, such as the following

This means that you can create your own acclamation!  That means you could do something like this:

Celebrant Hey there, fam!
People  ‘Sup, preacher!

This assumes, of course, that the celebrant deems this “appropriate to the season or the occasion“.  One would hope that the priest has better taste than this, haha, but it’s technically possible.

Yes, it’s Weird Rubric Wednesday, this is my chance to be silly.

Anything helpful to suggest?

Okay, yes.  First of all, it should be noted that this openness links smoothly with the Additional Directions on page 139 that authorize the assembly of a Penitential Order at the beginning of the liturgy.  It may be that an appropriate greeting be an immediate call to confession of sin, or the proclamation of the gospel of repentance, as the Daily Offices do.  In times of grave trouble, this might actually be a good idea.  The use of the Great Litany as the preface to the Communion liturgy is also appropriate to this scenario, and is provided for in the rubric on page 96, and certain dates of the year to do this are urged on page 99.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may invite the use of a canticle for the celebrant and congregation to say at the start of the liturgy.  This is, in effect, what the Burial Service does.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may benefit from a special address by the celebrant to the congregation, as the Marriage liturgy begins.

Most of us are currently in a closed-church situation where few-to-none of us can attend worship in person.  The first Sunday back may call for a special address, a call to celebrate and rejoice, and a reminder of why we do gather together and what worship is all about.  Priests and pastors across the country will be thinking about what to say and how to handle our eventual reunions, and this rubric for the Acclamation gives us leeway – not simply to mess with the liturgy for our own purposes, but to hand us the freedom to give thoughtful consideration to how we might usher the flock into a time of worship, given the particular occasion or circumstance.

Turn Antecommunion into a generic “prayer service”

wrwMany Anglicans have a love of importing liturgical and extra-liturgical devotions from other traditions into our own.  Anglo-Catholics brought in the liturgy of the palms and the Easter Vigil and the imposition of ashes before any Prayer Book (re-)authorized them.  Evangelical Anglicans have framed special worship services entirely around preaching.  And Charismatic Anglicans have brought in “prayer services.”  Today we’re looking at how such a prayer service could be licitly formed, based upon the rubrics of our own 2019 Prayer Book.

First of all, you need a day that isn’t Sunday.  That way you have freedom to pick the readings and collect practically at will.  Next, you need to use the Holy Communion service but turn it into Antecommunion (that is, omit everything after the Offertory).  Let’s walk through how this could work.

#1 Start with a music set, of course.

Lots of music is essential to charismatic worship.  Sure, sometimes it’s random, but normally there is a progression to the songs that are chosen:

  1. Start with something chill and average-sounding while people are still getting settled,
  2. follow with something loud and upbeat to help people get excited,
  3. maybe next have a slightly slower song with meatier lyrics to dig into,
  4. then crank it up to the “biggest” song of the set, forming a sort of climax to this part of the worship experience.
  5. After that, choose a slow or quiet song, or simply ad-lib for a few minutes, so people can bask in the glory of the Lord and offer their own praises and prayers spontaneously over the keyboard vamp.

I’ve written before that I do not generally approve of this approach to worship music.  But Weird Rubric Wednesday is a mix of satire and education, so let’s roll with it.

#2 The “liturgical” stuff

Following the letter of the law in the 2019 BCP, some sort of Acclamation, or “seasonal greeting” must be said, followed by the Collect for Purity.  Then follows the Summary of the Law (the Decalogue would be too long and perceived as too “formal” for a prayer & praise service) and the Kyrie.

#3 Praise the Lord

The Gloria in excelsis may be substituted with “some other song of praise”.  This is probably not the time for a full worship set, though you could put Step 1 here instead if you prefer.

#4 The Collect & Lessons

Away from Sundays and the Holy Days mandated in the Prayer Book calendar, the celebrant is free to choose just about any set of Propers desired.  For a prayer & praise service you probably want to choose one of the Various Occasions from page 733, such as “Of the Reign of Christ” or “For the Unity of the Church” or “For the Mission of the Church”.

Of course, there’s musical opportunity along the way here, too.  A common pattern I’ve observed is to split a song before and after the Gospel lesson.

#5 Preach

The sermon follows.

#6 Pray

The Creed can be skipped, if it’s neither a Sunday nor a Holy Day, so you can go straight to the Prayers of People.  And as we’ve explored before, technically anything is possible here.  This can be pastor-led or congregation-led, spontaneous or planned, spoken or sung.

#7 Confession & Absolution

I have yet to find any rubric that allows this to be omitted in the 2019 liturgy, so confess you must.  In my experience, charismatic Anglicans prefer the words of the “Renewed Ancient Text”, on page 130.

Alternatively, since this is basically the end of the liturgy, you might want to take advantage of the permissions of the Additional Directions and move the confession & absolution near the beginning of the service as a “Penitential Order”, so you can keep all the “liturgical” stuff in one place, and enjoy the pentecostal freedom of prayer & praise thereafter.

#8 The Peace & Dismissal

Antecommunion ends at this point.  Might as well have a closing song or two, and a spoken dismissal from the minister.

– – What did Fr. Brench just do? – –

I think it’s no secret that I’m not super positive about charismaticism being imported into the Anglican tradition.  I’ve seen some liturgical abuses result, and some sketchy theology and historical teachings promulgated as a result, much like how the Anglo-Papists skew our history to further their own ends, and the Anglo-Puritans provide their own slant regarding the establishment of Anglicanism.  Every modern “stream” is guilty of this.

So I wrote this partly as satire, but partly in realistic acknowledgement of what can actually be done in accord with the Prayer Book.  Both the 1979 and the 2019 afford a number of freedoms and points of technicality that open wide the doors to many different possibilities.  On one hand this is a bad thing – it makes the concept of “common prayer” nearly impossible to achieve when so many different interpretations of the same liturgy are possible and licit.  On the other hand, the flexibility of this book is a blessing – it provides a common ground where widely diverging traditions can share a basic common touchstone.  The charismatics will want to strip it down and add more music and prayer, the evangelicals will want to keep it simple and spend more time preaching, the anglo-catholics will want to ornament and ritualize it further.  But the basic texts remain in common.

Thus I outline this prayer & praise service not just to satirize but also to instruct and encourage.  If you are of a mind to hold a charismatic prayer & praise service in an Anglican church, don’t just make it up yourself!  Use the prayer book’s liturgy as the starting point.  I, myself, may not like the final product, but at least you’re using the book we have in common, and submitting to the authority that resides over us both.

Midday Prayer could take all afternoon!

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On page 39 of the BCP 2019 the following rubric is found:

Other suitable selections from the Psalter include Psalms 19, 67, one or more sections of Psalm 119, or a selection from Psalms 120 through 133.

This is to supplement what is said on page 33:

One or more of the following, or some other suitable Psalm, is sung or said.

So what if (and just go with me on this, okay?) we decide to put the emphasis on the “or more” part of these rubrics.  What if we opt for ALL OF THEM?  Psalms 19, 67, and 119 through 133.  That’s completely permissible, given the rubrics we’ve got.  How long would that take, maybe an hour?  I guess it depends how quickly you read, pray, or chant them.

Welcome to Weird Rubric Wednesday!  Not quite every Wednesday, but most Wednesdays for a while, we’re going to be looking at oddities, loopholes, or opportunities to do weird things to the liturgy without breaking the rules in the 2019 Prayer Book.  This is not meant to bash the Prayer Book (in any edition), but simply an opportunity for some more light-hearted learning.

As it happens, I do have a suggestion for how one might make use of all of those “suitable Psalms” in Midday Prayer over the course of time.  It can be approached in three ways.

Ordinary days of the year like during Epiphanytide and Trinitytide:
Favor the four Psalms provided in the primary text of the liturgy, and add three noteworthy Psalms mentioned in the Additional Directions (19, 67, and 130).

SUNDAY: 67
MONDAY: 119:105-112
TUESDAY: 121
WEDNESDAY: 124
THURSDAY: 126
FRIDAY: 130
SATURDAY: 19

Penitential seasons and occasions like during Lent and Advent:
Set up a two-week rotation (matching the liturgical calendar) that focuses primarily on going through Psalm 119, two sections at a time.  Sunday can use the more penitential of the two of the primary-provided Psalms, and the last slot can go to Psalm 19 which is similar to 119.

124, 126 : SUNDAY : 124, 126
19 : MONDAY : 119:81-96
119:1-16 : TUESDAY : 119:97-112
119:17-32 :WEDNESDAY: 119:113-128
119:33-48 : THURSDAY : 119:129-144
119:49-64 : FRIDAY : 119:145-160
119:65-80 :SATURDAY: 119:161-176

Festal seasons and occasions like during Christmas and Easter:
Walk through the Psalms of ascent listed in the Additional Directions, using the same sort of two-week rotation mentioned above.

120 : SUNDAY : 127
121 : MONDAY : 128
122 : TUESDAY : 129
123 :WEDNESDAY: 130
124 : THURSDAY : 131
125 : FRIDAY : 132
126 :SATURDAY: 133

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!