Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bringing Each Day Captive to Christ Through the Daily Office

Open the Book of Common Prayer to its first rites. There you will find a demand and promise of remarkable ambition: the unending cycle of daily prayer. The features of this daily prayer epitomize the spiritual drama of the Christian life, both in goal and in focus, for the ambition to mark each day grows out of a faith in Jesus Christ as the Alpha and Omega. We are to dwell in him, and to do so each day must brought captive to Christ.

We should not imagine that this ambition is optional or peripheral to the Christian life. Daily communal prayer, or what the Anglican tradition (following the lead of the larger Western tradition) calls the Daily Office, serves as the engine of intimacy. ...

An opening sentence for Morning Prayer expresses the need for daily prayer: "Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep" (Mark 13:35-36). We are warned, rightly, against our tendency to sleep-walk through the life of faith. Prayer morning and evening responds to the exhortations found in the book of Isaiah: "Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion! Put on your beautiful garments" (52:1). The Daily Office stands as the primary means by which the church might make us wakeful and watchful. It is in this sense an order of vigilance. The demand of the Daily Office echoes the word of Jesus who is speaking not only to Peter but also directly to us when he asks, "Are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?" (Mark 14:37)

Yet this order is more than a spur or goad; it is also a consummating celebration, for the master of the house has come. "Who can fail to do you homage, Lord, and sing the praises of your name?" asks a canticle for Morning Prayer, itself drawn from the book of Revelation (15:4). ... The sweet honey of the Psalms nourishes, and the diadems of prayer, taken from Scripture and sanctified by centuries of use, glorify God. To awaken in prayer is to put on strength. For this reason the Daily Office is not only watchful and vigilant but receptive and doxological. The purposes of the Daily Office are pentecostal and adventine, as consummating as expectant. Awakened in prayer, we receive that which we hear. Eyes open, we do not just see; we get up and go with Jesus (cf. Mark 14:42). Our minds and hearts walk down pathways of ancient prayers, many of which defined the boundaries of Jesus' own religious practice in the first century. Thus do we live in Christ, and he in us.

8 comments:

Toni said...

This sounds like a book I should read.

George Dunning said...

Bryan where would one find a simple explanation of how the Daily Office in the BCP should be conducted?

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Toni. Reno's book is good, but the chapter on the Daily Office is perhaps one of the best parts. If you're interested, I've shared other parts of the book in a posting entitled "Postmodern Flight from Authority and Truth."

Bryan Owen said...

George, it may be more than you're asking for, but there are several blog postings at Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi in the series The Daily Office Tutorial that may be helpful. I also recommend The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare.

Toni said...

Some more good internet resources for praying the daily office arePromoting the daily office and St Bede's Breviary.

BC said...

Bryan, many thanks for sharing this superb quote. It points to a distinctive aspect of Anglicanism's vocation - encouraging the whole people of God to pray the daily office. Whereas our Roman brethren tend to have a focus on the office being celebrated by clergy and religious, and our Reformed brethren largely abandoned the office, Anglicanism has a framework in the BCP which allows the entire Body of Christ to pray the office.

Toni said...

It is our most distinctive vocational, but unfortunately I feel that we are leaving by wayside. At least in this country the Daily Office offered as a communal worship as the prayer of the whole church is in being lost.

My parish is in the process of setting up a college ministry and the suggestion that we consider using the Office at least for some of the services was dismissed as not being participatory enough.

Don't get me wrong I love the Eucharist but it feels like we've lost our balance between Mass and Office. And I feel the Office can be a blessing in bringing in those who may not be ready to participate in the Holy Eucharist.

Bryan Owen said...

BC, thanks for highlighting the distinctive way in which Anglicanism's encouragement to "the whole people of God to pray the daily office" charts a middle way between the Roman Catholic and Reformed approaches to corporate prayer. Unfortunately, that point makes it all the more sad that the Daily Office is so rarely a feature of our common life as Episcopalians these days.

Which brings me to your comment, Toni, about leaving the Daily Office "by the wayside." I think we made the right move with the 1979 BCP in restoring the Holy Eucharist as "the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major Feasts" (BCP, p. 13). But the Prayer Book goes on to say that "Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are [along with the Holy Eucharist] the regular services appointed for public worship in this church" (p. 13). Having said that, the reality is that very few parish churches regularly offer Morning and Evening Prayer anymore. It's pretty much a dead relic from our past. And given what Reno says about the importance of the Daily Office for our formation in Christ in his book In the Ruins of the Church, that is a very sad state of affairs.