My post last week about seven genres of prayer generated a fair amount of interest and some positive feedback, including from one of my sisters-in-law, so I’ve decided to continue applying and expanding these thoughts by looking now at the Daily Office. If you don’t own a Book of Common Prayer, or would prefer an online copy, you can follow along here online (I’ll be using Morning Prayer Rite II from the 1979 BCP as the model).
The Office begins with an Opening Sentence, effectively a call to worship, which is just one or two verses from the Bible. There are four pages of choices (75-78) depending upon the season, holiday, or time of day. This isn’t a prayer exactly, as it more represents God calling us into his presence than us addressing God. However, it does carry an implicit sense of oblation, insofar as it prepares one to offer oneself to God.
Next comes the Confession, which is pretty obviously a prayer of penitence. But be sure to note it’s not just confessing wrong-doings, but also asking God to help us to grow in holiness: “have mercy on us… that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways…” So it’s a well-rounded prayer of penitence, not just bringing up sob stories about how much we stink at life, but also pursing the intent to improve.
Afterwards is what is called the Invitatory (pages 80-83). In virtually every tradition (monastic, Roman liturgy of the hours, Anglican) the invitatory is Psalm 95, or at least the first half of it. It’s a beautiful mix of praise and adoration.
Next comes psalmody – as many as three different psalms are read. As we saw the other day, individual psalms can be quite rich in prayer genres, so these are often considered the absolute essential staple of the Daily Office in pretty much every tradition.
Next we have (usually two) pairs of scripture reading and canticles (pages 84-95). While reading the Bible doesn’t necessarily equal prayer, it is an opportunity for meditation, which can be similar. Perhaps the definition(s) of meditation is worth another exploration at another time. Anyway, each scripture reading in the Office is followed by a canticle. Canticle is just a fancy word for song, though in this context it tends to refer to a song taken from scripture, or from ancient tradition. The big three canticles, or ‘gospel canticles,’ are:
#1 the Benedictus – Canticle of Zechariah – used in the morning,
#2 the Magnificat – Canticle of Mary – used in the evening,
#3 the Nunc Dimittis – Canticle of Simeon – used in the night.
In addition there’s the Song of Moses, three songs of Isaiah, and several others. Most of these are primarily prayers of praise for various events and prophecies. It’s kind of like the tradition of saying “the Word of the Lord – thanks be to God!” after a scripture reading in church, except expressing that thanks and praise more explicitly and using scripture to do so.
Next comes the Apostles’ Creed on page 96. I’m not sure what sort of prayer an “act of faith” constitutes – perhaps it’s another form of meditation (or opportunity for it).
Next comes “The Prayers” section of the office (starting on page 97), where this analysis can get more nit-picky and less sweepingly general. It leads off with the Lord’s Prayer which we already analyzed at the end of the original seven genres of prayer post. Then it goes to a call-and-response style of prayer (often called suffrages). These are primarily intercessory, but they also are rooted in praise – “for only in you can we live in safety.” Then after the suffrage comes a series of collects (pages 98-101). In the older Anglican prayer books, the collects were all pre-determined, but in the 1979 version there are many choices. Despite this variety, nearly every collect follows the same format; I’ll use the collect for grace as an example.
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father,
you have brought us in safety to this new day:
Preserve us with your mighty power,
that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity;
and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Collects begin with an address to God, identifying something about his character or work (lines 1 & 2 above), thus offering him praise and thanksgiving. Next comes the request – an intercession or petition (line 3 above). Then follows an explanation (lines 4 & 5 above), which is tantamount to a prayer of oblation, since it seeks to put the petition in line with God’s will. Finally, collects close with an invocation, usually either the name of Christ, or the Trinity. So although three little collects may not seem to cover very much content (in terms of for what and for whom one is praying), they do cover quite a bit of ground in terms of types of prayer.
Then comes the General Thanksgiving (on page 101). Although, as the name implies, it is primarily about thanksgiving, it does include a petition for greater awareness of God’s mercies so further thanks can be offered in both prayer and deed. Yes, it’s another implicit oblation!
The Daily Office closes with the Prayer of St. Chrysostom and a closing benedictory sentence from scripture (page 102). The Prayer of St. Chrysostom starts out with a sort of thanksgiving (for the fact that we can pray to God and be assured of Christ’s presence among us), and finishes with a petition that all the previous prayers would be answered. It’s almost like meta-prayer, because it’s praying for the answering of prayer. A fitting way of saying goodbye at the end of a conversation with God – or summing up a plea before the Throne. After all, prayer is both a conversation with a familiar friend and an interaction with the terrifying God of All.
So let’s close with a quick summary. The Daily Office opens with a sense of oblation, moves through penitence before breaking out in praise, then settling into whatever moods and genres the Psalms of the day offer. (Incidentally, this is why going through the whole book of Psalms on some sort of regular basis is important – so that whole range gets coverage!) Then Scripture reading is coupled with with more praise and thanksgiving, leading to further meditation in the Creed. From there, the Office is an amalgamation of various genres of prayer, though primarily focused on intercession and petition, all the way through to the end, where thanskgiving sets the tone.
So there you go, the Daily Office is indeed quite the full meal when it comes to prayer. To argue it’s a balanced diet would be the work of another article, but for now I’m content simply to assert that it is a healthy balance on the argument of experience.