Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Daily Office as a Means of Grace

After posting some of R. R. Reno's thoughts in a piece entitled "Bringing Each Day Captive to Christ Through the Daily Office," I am pleased to see BC over at Catholicity and Covenant sharing some of Richard Hooker's defense of the daily reading of scripture in the Daily Office as a means of grace. It's not just the sermon alone that conveys the Word of God. And it's not just the dominical and ecclesial sacraments that convey grace. The daily reading of scripture in the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer also has a sacramental character.

I'm also thankful that BC points us to a posting at The Rector's Corner that offers a good introduction to the Daily Office. There we read:

The heart of the Daily Office consists of the Psalms and the Lessons. This is the “illuminative” face of prayer par excellence. When considering the vastness of the Scriptures, it can be daunting, though: “Where to start?” one might rightfully ask. A solution sometimes suggested is to start at the beginning of the Bible and go to the end. This can be useful for some people, but most find it impossible to maintain and/or mystifying in the extreme. It also means that one does not get to the Gospel for quite a while.

Fortunately, the Church has an easier and more practical answer available.

That answer is the lectionary, "an orderly and extensive reading of the Bible" with selections from the Old Testament, the New Testament epistles (sometimes the Book of Revelation), and the Gospels appointed for each day of the Church calendar year.

Reading the Bible in accordance with the lectionary and in the context of the liturgies of Morning and Evening Prayer is a disciplined yet powerful way to encounter the living Christ in our daily lives. And, as The Rector's Corner notes, the canticles - the songs of praise read or sung in thankful response to the scripture readings - help to facilitate that encounter:

The canticles ... provide a response to the lesson just read. They remind us the scriptures are not “data” to be consumed but encounters with God, moments of transformation to be pondered and integrated into our full being.

The Latin for "office" is officium meaning "service" or "duty." And so the Daily Office is one's Daily Service or Daily Duty. The ordination vows do not explicitly require clergy in the Episcopal Church to read the Daily Office, but it is one of the most reliable and deeply Anglican ways to fulfill the promise to "persevere in prayer." And while it may seem that approaching one's prayer life as a "duty" to fulfill in accordance with fixed liturgical forms in The Book of Common Prayer is old-fashioned, legalistic, and even lifeless, my experience has been just the opposite. After 15 or so years of trying to be faithful to the Daily Office, I have discovered it to be a spiritual anchor and a lifeline to God.

I have also discovered that the fixed character of the liturgy coupled with the movement through books of the Bible offers an important way to move me beyond an introspective preoccupation with myself. The Daily Office serves as a vehicle of transcendence, opening me to the grace and presence of the God who utterly surpasses all that I can think or imagine, and who is yet closer to me than my own breathing. From time to time, there can be surprises when a well-known canticle or collect, or a scripture reading that just happens to be appointed for this particular day, speaks directly to something I'm struggling with or going through. I don't know if that would have happened if I had been trying to make it happen. But it's a powerful reminder that, as the Prayer Book's catechism puts it, "God still speaks to us through the Bible," and not just through the Bible, but also through the whole of the Daily Office.

I give thanks for the gift of the Daily Office as part of the bedrock of my faith and spiritual practice. And I commend it to you.

If you are interested in learning more about how to observe the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, read the above-cited posting at The Rector's Corner entitled "Day by Day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office." Also check out "The Daily Office Tutorial" at Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. I also recommend reading Derek's posting "Promoting the Daily Office" at haligweorc. You can also pray the Daily Office online at St. Bede's Breviary and at The Daily Office from the Mission of St. Clare.


Karl Julian said...

Thank you for this discussion about the sacramental nature of the Daily Office!

I've been attempting to be diligent in the Daily Office for a long, long time (in fact, I think the discipline of it is what really brought me to the Episcopal Church), and I've found the rhythm of the readings is perfect for absorbing the Scriptures.

I hope that others will find the beauty of the Daily Office and that the Church will again make it a priority to teach all people how to pray the Offices.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing your comments, Karl. I'm pleased that you've discovered the beauty and importance of the Daily Office in your life, and I hope you will maintain the discipline. And I'm completely with you about the Church making a priority of teaching all people how to pray the Offices (and, indeed, teaching the rest of the Prayer Book). So much of the Prayer Book remains unknown and neglected by too many within the Episcopal Church. What a difference it could make to meet the Prayer Book again, perhaps for the first time!

Ryan said...

I keep seeing folks show up at our "Daily Office Tutorial" portion of our blog, "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi" that have come from this site, so I just wanted to say thank you for referring fellow Daily Office devotees and inquirers to it!


Bryan Owen said...

You're most welcome, Ryan!

G. S. Smith said...

Please clarify if the Daily Office contains all of Scripture or omits those verses disapproved and disregarded by the Episcopal Church (you know which).

Bryan Owen said...

G. S. Smith, there are indeed verses omitted from the Episcopal Church's Daily Office lectionary. Some of those omissions may strike most folks as rather innocuous, while other omissions might make someone think that there's an agenda afoot.

I note, for example, that in the Year Two cycle, all of Paul's letter to the Romans is included except for 1:26-27 (cf. the week of Proper 5). And in the Year One cycle, several parts of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians are omitted, including 6:9-11 (cf. the week of Proper 20).

The Episcopal Church's Daily Office lectionary silences the apostle Paul on these matters. It's strange, because on the one hand we're told that Paul doesn't really mean in these passages what we might think he means. But on the other hand, we're not even allowed to so much as hear what he has to say on these topics. If it's not what most people think it's about, then why the need to censor and sanitize?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post and your earlier post on the Daily Office as well.

They are wonderful reflections and I pray they spur many on to greater perseverance and prayer and intimacy with the Father through disciplined meditation on Scripture.

I've linked both posts at Lent & Beyond today.

Karen B.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks, Karen.

wcbpolish said...

Thank you so much for your post as well as your links to the daily offices online. It's what I was looking for without knowing I was looking!!!
I was baptized in an Anglican Catholic Church (St. Paul's in Grand Rapids, MI), but was raised a Baptist (this was an odd compromise between my Anglican father and Wesleyan mother). Historical liturgy? I was taught that it was evil.
I spent a few years living in a place where the only available church was Roman Catholic (seriously, to go to another church I'd have to take an airplane), and was thus introduced to liturgy through my attendance at Mass. I moved back into mainstream society, but never fit back in the Baptist church. I just got married and my wife was raised United Methodist. Our "compromise" has lead us to a very liturgical Lutheran church (LCMS). I am finding myself increasingly drawn to the Anglican church, but not the Episcopal church (because of it's extreme liberal leanings).
When I visit my mother at Thanksgiving, I plan to see if I can find my dad's old BoCP. I think it's a 1928, but am unsure (it might be older...). Would the daily offices be laid out similar to what is described on the tutorial linked? I'd like to move my prayers back to real paper books rather than digital text.
Anyway, I'm working to incorporate the daily office in my daily life, to the ire of my wife, who I think is getting tired of my catholic leanings.

Bryan Owen said...

Hi wcbpolish. Thanks for sharing some of your journey. I wish you well as you continue to explore the riches of Anglican liturgy.

As far as I am aware, the basic structure of the Daily Office remains the same in the Prayer Books of both the Church of England and The Episcopal Church. As you continue to explore the Prayer Book, I commend to you The Book of Common Prayer website. The description on the homepage says it all:

"We present here several dozen Books of Common Prayer, and related works, from all over the Anglican Communion. Click on one of the links at left and start exploring."

Anonymous said...

Exactly . . . I've been praying the 1962 Canadian BCP Office daily for nearly 17 years. It actually gets you doing something in the way of prayer, rather than leaving you alone with a bunch of good intentions. It runs you through the Psalter in a month or 2, and all the way through the Bible in a year (if you don't mind doing a little extra reading).

The big argument against liturgical prayer seems to be that it's "just going through the motions." But given the way us fallen people work, there are many times when it's very good to have "motions" to "go through," regardless of how spiritually listless we might feel. Things like the Office and the Rosary can help carry us through spiritual troughs until the next wave from God comes along to pick us up and carry us along.