Liturgy for Lent: Explaining the Pieces of The Daily Office (Supplemental Post)

Jason: Our conversation regarding prayer in the liturgical tradition went a bit longer than we anticipated. We felt there were some things we’d leave out if we kept the schedule we set in our initial post.

Mike: In the previous posts, we decided not to break down each and every part of the Services of the Daily Office in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Instead we talked about the broad categories. In this supplemental post we thought we’d break down the various pieces.

Jason: The categories in the other posts were helpful! Still, there are a lot of terms used in The Book of Common Prayer that are not used commonly today. Can we go through each of the various aspects one-by-one?

The pieces of The Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer 1979:

  • Opening Sentences: A single sentence of scripture starts the season. The phrases are fitted to the liturgical season. I sometimes laugh when Episcopalians accuse Evangelicals of taking scripture out of context, because we do it liturgically all the time.
  • Confession of Sin: We have the option to include a confession (probably a good idea during Lent). Following the confession, a priest absolves the congregation or a lay person prays for forgiveness. (A priest praying alone also prays for her own forgiveness. Priests shouldn’t try to absolve themselves. It’s messy.)
  • Invitatory: In the morning, a simple prayer for God to “Open our lips” reminds us that our praise is shaped by God, and offered to God. In the evening, we pray that God would “make speed to save us,” an ancient sense of the dangers of night permeates this service, as does the sense of God’s helping presence to us that can especially be felt in darkness.
  • Gloria Patri: A simple short phrase of praise to God (also known as a doxology): “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” The Gloria Patri is returned to again and again at the end of pieces of Morning Prayer, a bit like the savasana pose in yoga.
  • Antiphon: In Morning Prayer another short welcoming sentence, often scriptural, followed by the words “Come, let us adore him.”
  • Phos Hilaron: In Evening Prayer, the ancient hymn to Christ the light is sung “as our eyes behold the vesper light.

Jason: It seems to me that this first part is about preparation–getting our hearts and minds ready for what is to come. A “detox” from the chaos of life so that we can focus on what’s important. Is that fair?

Mike: That’s exactly what the beginning of the service does. Then we launch into scripture and praise.

Jason: The Lord’s Prayer triggers something in the design of the service. The first portion reminds us that we are broken. The second portion welcomes us into a healing community. At this point, we prepare ourselves to re-enter the world and live out what this shapes in us. True?

Mike: Indeed, the Lord’s prayer is another hinge point. The leader (officiant) says “Let us pray” and we begin to take our devotion out into our lives by asking God to be present for our needs. We also ask God to help us to be thankful.

  • The Lord’s Prayer: We begin by praying the words Jesus taught us, because, well, this is what he taught his disciples to pray.
  • Suffrages: specific prayers asking God to bless us and our world this day. These are often chanted back and forth by priest and choir.
  • Collects: Collects are formal written prayers of a few sentences. This can be a bit tricky in a public service of Morning Prayer because first you have to find the prayer for this particular week (or feast day) in the long list of Collects from pages 159-261. Then the leader the service picks some of the other collects that follow the “collect of the day,”
  • Prayer for Mission: If there is not a service of Eucharist following, we also pray one of the three prayers for mission.
  • Authorized Intercessions: This is where we pray for those we have been asked to pray for, for our own needs, for those of others. We also give thanks for the blessings in our individual lives.
  • The General Thanksgiving: We finish our morning prayer by thanking God using this form (or the form on page 836). Thankfulness helps us stay in balance with all that asking for stuff.
  • Prayer of St. Chrysostom: A simple ancient prayer including the phrase “when two or three are gathered together,” which feels reassuring when you have a small group and reminds us that we don’t really ever pray the office alone, we join with the whole church, and asking God to hear our prayers
  • The Closing: We give thanks to God and are sent out with a blessing sentence from Scripture.

Mike: As you can see from that long list, The Daily Office comprise very organized services. We have a lot of structure, and a lot of moving parts. The Office can be frustrating to pray from a book, because you have to flip pages so many times. If you find yourself stymied, I recommend the “Prayer” App from Mission St. Clare.

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

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