Monday, January 23, 2006

the eucharistic center of the daily office

I kid not. Take, for example, the following, from Hosea (14.1-2). I have mentioned this before, elsewhere:

O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.

Remember that metonymically, the Church can often be taken, in prophecy, as the object of prophecies concerning Israel. Thus, from Hosea:

O Israel, return to the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity.

And from the Daily Office of the BCP, we (i.e. we in the Church as inheritors of the promises to Abraham - Cf. Galatians 3.7ff) confess God's just judgments about us, that we have turned away from our God and fallen by our iniquity, that we have

erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.

And we ask for mercy. But with regard to the Daily Office in general, it is sacramental. Just as the Eucharist is the offering and the receiving of the body and blood of the incarnate Word of God, so is the Daily Office the offering (on our lips) and receiving (in our ears and hearts) of the written Word of God, in the lections and psalms, as I said earlier. Thus Hosea says:

Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.

The Daily Office is the rendering of the calves (that is, sacrifices) of our lips. Because it is prayer offered to God. And just as the Eucharist is an acceptable sacrifice, because it is the Body and Blood of our Lord, offered in the power of the Lord Jesus' own High Priesthood, that is because it is not merely some work of human hands; so is the Daily Office, acceptable to God, because the content of the offices are God's own words. In the Eucharist, we offer what we have received; and in the offices, we speak what has been spoken to us. In the words of Hosea, we take with us words and turn to the Lord. We ask him to take away our iniquity by recounting to him his own promise of salvation, fulfilled, as in the Gospel, in the sacrifice of his Son for our iniquities.

We offer sacrifice out of obedience to God's command. In Leviticus 9.2 Moses (the Law) commands Aaron (the Priest) to offer a bull calf for sin. But only a rigteous sacrifice is accetable (Sirach 35.7) and there is none righteous (Romans 3.10), for only God is good (Luke 18.19).

Following the exegetical sylogism: we are commanded to offer to God sacrifice, but only God can offer an acceptable sacrifice -- which he does in his Incarnate Word. Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He is in that sense the essence and apogee of Scripture (Cf. John 1.45, Luke 24.44, Matthew 5.17, Romans 3.21)). Jesus, in a sense, is Secripture. Everything in the Old Testament pointed to him, Israel found her perfection in Him; the Gospels recount Him; the Epistles exaplain Him; and the Church again finds her perfection in Him.

When we pray the offices, God himself opens our lips ("O Lord, open thou our lips"). We take on our lips what God has spoken (Psalms and Lections), and he has spoken nothing but His Word - and that Word is solitary and unific, variegated only in the domain of creation, for our sake: it is a Word made man of the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If we acceptably open our mouths to show forth his praise, we do so by opening our mouths (and ears and hearts) to receive his Word within us. Take this, all of you, and eat it.

On a practical note: it is appropriate to make the sign of the cross (with your thumb) on your lips as you say the opening versicles:

O Lord + open thou our lips.

It is appropriate because with those lips you proclaim and affirm in the office the Holy Narrative of Salvation, fulfilled for our sakes on calvary by the Incarnate Word of God.


Garland said...

WB, you've outdone yourself. What a great post. I have one question, though, which is prompted by a recent discussion with a (mutual) friend. You say, rightly, that praying the office is offering God an acceptable sacrifice, because it is the words that God himself has given us. In that regard it is similar to Christ's exhortation before he gave us the Lord's Prayer, "After this manner therefore pray ye...." But what about personal prayer, by which I mean, praying to God with our own words? Does one take precedence over the other?

I suppose that some of this stems from my protestant background and a lingering uneasiness I have towards liturgical prayer, and the belief that you can't have a "personal" relationship with Jesus without talking to him personally, so to speak. In this regard, the prayer book could be seen as another mediator between us and God, like the priest or the sacraments. In other words, is saying the office sufficient, or just good discipline?

father wb said...

G -

Thank you, thank you.

Re: extemporaneous prayer: I think its great, and indeed important.

One way of thinking about the essence of the Christian life is as a progressive union of your will with God's, which union begins with the fear of God and ends in Wisdom. So we learn to pray, we learn what to ask for. In the end, God willing (so to speak), we will ask for nothing but the will of God. But in the meantime, we tell God what we want, even if its bad. Then its confession: i.e. "Lord, I want to commit adultery."

But at the same time, pray the offices. Or read the Bible regularly (kind of the same thing) -- with an emphasis on the Psalms as your own prayer. Then you know you are praying the Word of the Lord. And that knowledge is assurance you are trying to submit to his will - recounting his initiatives, affirming his salvation and all it entails.

That's my advice, anyway.

Anonymous said...

You write that you do not know of anyone who actually has the Daily Office in his Rule of Life. I am surprised at that. I had always wanted to say the Office but it was at General Seminary (1963-66) that I achieved the discipline required. Since then I have become aware that it is used far more generally than I had supposed, among both clergy and laity.

Anonymous said...

You write that you do not know of any/many who do use the Daily Office as part of their Rule of Life. I had always wanted to use it but didn't acquire the necessary discipline (I kept forgetting!) until attending the General Theological Seminary (1964-66) and experienced the discipline in a community setting. Since then I have become aware that many, both clerical and lay, do use it. Why else would anyone find it of any use to publish The Prayer Book Office and similar volumes?