Sunday I mentioned that I’d post some information about the Ancient Spiritual Practices which many Christians are rediscovering as a way to be grounded in the faith and to draw closer to God (See the Ancient Practices Series of books that have come out in the last couple of years, beginning with Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices by Brian McLaren). One of these is the keeping of regular prayer. For centuries this has been known as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Daily Office (as it’s known in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer).
The practice includes regular reading of scripture, psalms and prayers and is done at times throughout the day. It grew out of the monastic tradition in Christianity, but probably goes back further to Jewish practice — Psalm 119:164 “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” Seven times set aside for prayer was the monastic practice, however our Book of Common Prayer includes four (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayers, Evening Prayer and Compline). If you’re interested in more of the history, go to the entry at wikipedia.
Keeping the Daily Office
Making time for regular prayer may seem daunting, and the form in our prayer book is tricky to maneuver. Having said that, there are a number of resources that make the office much more understandable and, frankly, easier to do. The biggest challenge to keeping the office (that comes from the Latin, by the way, officium or “duty”) is similar to doing any lifestyle change: it’s mental. Carving out time, be it once, twice or seven times a day, takes discipline. But it’s well worth it and life-changing and life-shaping.
The best book out there on why you should pray the office is Robert Benson’s In Constant Prayer (and part of the Ancient Practices Series). Here’s a taste of his great and down to earth writing. “I stumbled into the daily office when I was almost forty years old. And I have never quite recovered….. The world of prayer and contemplation to which I was introduced still draws me deeply, and I am still fooling with all of this, still convinced that there are deep truths buried here if I can just be smart enough, or patient enough or devout enough to dig them out. I am not much holier than I was before I began, but I am still trying nonetheless.”
You might still be asking what the daily office is. So here you are.
The flow of the office: Introductory Sentences (Invitatory), Psalm, Scripture Reading, Canticle, [2nd Reading, Canticle], Creed, Prayers. [Confession once a day or more if needed]. For the longer offices in the BCP (Book of Common Prayer), the scripture readings are longer and dictated by a lectionary that prescribes readings for the day found in the BCP (an Old Testament, Epistle, Gospel and 2 Psalm selections); for the shorter offices, they are just a couple of verses.
The Psalms are the star of the office. They are read through in a six week cycle and show the range of emotion in humanity, from the highs of great joy to anger and being deeply troubled.
You can pray the office regularly by going to The Mission of St. Clare online. It’s tremendously easy if you can read on the screen. Just bookmark the page.
Books that are a single source for the Office (rather than flipping around in the BCP and a Bible):
The Divine Hours series by Phyllis Tickle. The best wholly contained daily office books, including the Pocket Edition which has the seven hours throughout the day. Highly recommended.
Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro Great new single volume book which includes Morning Prayer for every day of the year, and a seven day rotation for Evening Prayer. Also includes a few hymns at the book, as well as prayers for other occasions in it.
The Contemporary Office Book has the four offices and all the readings put together by date so you won’t need to flip around in a Bible (ie all the readings for the 2nd Wednesday in Lent are together). This is a handsome leather bound edition that is quite pricey (you may find it cheaper elsewhere), but a wonderful edition.
This is a longish post, but I have one more thing for you. If you’d like to tackle the office in the Book of Common Prayer, I’ve created a cheat sheet. You can find a pdf of it here.
Interested in praying the office together? If you are interested in saying Morning Prayer together during Lent 2011, please respond to this post. Even if there are one or two, I’ll make space in my schedule to come over to the St. Mark’s Parish House at either 7 or 7:30 Monday-Friday during Lent to pray together (because the office is easier to keep with one or two others).