Saturday, January 21, 2006

more on prayer in general and the offices in particular

Good, good. Thanks to everyone for thoughtful responses to the prayer post. More. MORE!!!

Praying the Offices really is challenging, but I view it as a clerical obligation, and over the past few years it has become THE center of my devotional life, my "walk with the Lord" to use Evangelical Speak. I am reminded of the fact that to this day (I am told) it is technically against the law for C of E clerks in major orders NOT to say the offices every day, publicly if possible. Of course its not enforced, and I imagine its largely ignored. But the fact does point to the centrality of the offices in the life of the Church, and particularly in the life of Her ministers, who are meant to be (and who NEED to be) signposts for the laity.

Incidentally, it is my view that the vowed religious served primarily this signpost function in the Church until the Reformation (and still do among Catholics and the Orthodox). But there is a long tradition of anti-monasticism in Anglicanism, from the very beginning, and that has left a vacuum in our Communion's devotional life. Just think: at any hour of the day, there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of monks and nuns praying for the life and ministrations of the Roman Catholic Church. Our Communion has nothing like that. Nor do we have a visible pattern of Christian prayer for the laity. I mean there IS the BCP, but I don't think I've EVER met a layman who actually says the offices in ECUSA. Maybe one or two. And my impressions is that ECUSA clerks don't really say them either.

My main point is this: it is important for Christians to pray, and to pray in THIS WAY. That is, saying the Daily Office, in some form. It has been the standard of Christian prayer since, as far as anyone can tell, the VERY BEGINNING. (It has its roots in the daily prayers of the Jews and was likely the daily pattern of prayer for our Lord himself prayed.) Is it necessary for all Christians to say the offices every day? Of course not; but it ought, in my view, to be the standard from which some people, inevitably, deviate. That is not the case now. Certainly not in the Anglican Communion - so far as I can tell, even among the clergy, for whom it should be considered obligatory. And its probably not the case elsewhere. It looks to me like the rosary has replaced the offices in the lay devotional life of Roman Catholicism. I don't know much about the East, but I'd bet the conscientious layman in the East uses a chotki more than anything.

My former spiritual director used to talk about the importance of spending a set amount of time every day in prayer. I can't agree with him more about the importance of this. And I think the Daily Office is the best practice. It is the practice recommended by the whole Church throughout the centuries.

It is difficult, to be sure. But there isn't much that's worth doing that isn't difficult. It is important, I think, is to pray early. Both in the morning and in the evening. I find that if I don't say Evensong before dinner, chances are I won't say it. And I agree with J-tron that the noon office is a challenge. But maybe that's why there is no provision in the BCP for it (originally). Compline is nice, but makes little sense as an addition to Matins and Evensong. I.e. it follows Evensong too closely. Also, it is more of a challenge, in my mind, to interrupt myself throughout the day to pray, than it is to set aside half an hour in the morning and at evening to pray (which is challenge enough).

With regard to intercession, I was curious to know at what point in the office people put it. But even more: I know that some people have a weekly intercession scheme, whereby (for example) they pray for their family on Monday, their friends on Tuesday, the Church on Wednesday, Civil Authorities on Friday, etc. etc. Does anyone do that? I think that such a scheme might help.

Lastly: I encourage everyone, especially clerks in major orders, and those of you aiming at such an estate, to form a habit of praying the BCP offices every day. I do believe it is important to take time (a lot of time by today's standards) to spend with the Lord in prayer. It seems to me the time it takes to say the offices is a good minimum standard. And it is also important to spend time with the Lord in the KIND of prayer that the offices, in essence, are. I.e. in the Word of God. By praying the offices, as I mentioned before, God's own Word becomes your words. You attune yourself to his voice -- the Verbum Domini. Its spiritual training in that sense. And (I believe), as a sacrifice, it draws you into the mystery of the whole narrative of salvation. On the one hand, you are listening to that story (in the Psalms and, primarily, in the Lections). And on the other hand, by vocalizing the Psalms and Lections, you are yourself telling that story, proclaiming God's redemption, and affirming it. (I.e. the Readings are not just READINGS -- in the context of the Office, they are PRAYERS).


Garland said...

I ment to add a comment to the earlier post, but I didn't get to it before Whitehall, ever on the move, moved on. So, I'll add one here, which I guess, is equally appropriate:

Ever since I was with you over this recent Christmastide and we prayed Matins, I have realized the importance of the daily discipline of prayer. In general, one of the things that has always bothered me about the state of the Roman church is the lack of a prayer book. I assume that they have them, but I haven't seen them in general use, certainly nothing like the BCP.

But last week I was given a copy of a RC prayer book called The Garden of the Soul and have been praying morning and evening prayers all week to tremendous benefit in my personal life. There is a palpable difference between my thoughts and actions this past week than previous. So I really need to maintain this discipline.

I pray the prayers proscribed for Morning and Evening prayer at their respective times, usually just before or after breakfast and right before I get in bed at night.

In the morning, I say an Our Father, a Hail Mary, the Apostle's Creed, the Confiteor, and pick one: Act of Faith, Hope, Charity, and then the Angelus, because I don't plan on saying it in the afternoon (at 4?).

In the evening, I confess my sins from the day, pray the general evening prayers, sometimes the Salve Regina, and end with an in-my-own-words intercessory prayer for my family, any friends who are on my mind at the moment. I am trying to remember to regularly pray for our Bishop and the Holy Father as well, but they are not always first in my thoughts.

At the post I linked above, Bernard Brandt told me that the Vatican has approved an Anglican Use prayer book, which I should probably get my hands on. Does anyone know more about this/where I can get one? Please email me: timothy(dot)andrus(at)gmail(dot)com

The young fogey said...

Good post, Father, on what I call Mass-and-office Catholicism. You're right that the rosary (and having Mass for every occasion) has displaced the office among RC laity and has for a long time. About the East, I don't think most people use the chotki - they're monastic, even part of the habit - but rather a prayer rule with a list of several long beautiful prayers every day. As I like to say the English 'Reformation' did only two good things (the rest was a mistake): services in English and an attempt to bring the office to everyman (though literate Catholics, relatively few people, already had it in Books of the Hours). I like the BCP offices - all good content - but miss the Catholic saints' days and antiphons.

Charles said...

I, including many lay Catholics I know, pray the Office using the "Liturgy of the Hours" which is the post-Vatican II Breviary. In other words, the official prayer book of the Church. The Office has been making a steady comeback amongst the laity since Vatican II.

The official Roman Catholic Anglican Use liturgical book is called the Book of Divine Worship. It's basically the 1979 ECUSA BCP made Catholic.

I often use the Anglican Breviary, which is much better than the BoDW in my opinion (as far as the Office goes).

Karen B. said...

WB+ an excellent post. Thank you for this challenging exhortation. I found your conclusion about how in the context of the Office READINGS themselves become prayer to be wonderfully helpful and profound.

I've posted the link to this and your earlier prayer post on Lent & Beyond.

in Christ's fellowship,
Karen B.

U.B. Kule said...

WB+, I too responded late to your earlier writing so repeating here: Was there some formative experience of prayer in your home growing up, if you don't mind sharing it? And, if so, what effect you do you believe it has had vis-a-vis your current view of prayer and it's discipline?

tony c said...

Use of the Office in the Roman Rite is on the rise.

I see people w/ the 4-volume or a one volume version.

The publication Magnificat, a monthly done by some Dominicans, is VERY popular in some circles. It's a slimmed down office, with one psalm. It follows the Roman Calendar and has the Mass propers and daily Mass readings. The bonus is little short readings by some lesser knowns saints or blesseds or such. That part kinda substitutes for the Office of Readings.

fr. wb said...

UBK --

Growing up, my mother and father were never shy about praying together, nor about praying with me. They inculcated a habit of prayer in me, before bed, at meals, extemporanesously, etc. They also had a habit of blessing me. My upbringing was as an evangelical in a more or less middle-of-the-road ECUSA parish.

I didn't find the daily office until college, and didn't really start praying it in earnest until the year after I graduated from college -- and not REGULARLY (i.e. daily) until seminary.

DDX said...

"HAD" a habit of blessing you?

father wb said...

Excuse me. HAVE.