Friday, July 22, 2016

Verging In Depth - Mastering The Daily Office

A few prayer references on The Rev. Canon  Matthew Corkern's book shelves
By The Rev. Canon Matthew Corkern, VGEC Chaplain and Rector at Calvary Episcopal Church, Summit, NJ

The most ancient practice in our church is daily prayer. That is, prayer after the form and pattern we learned from Jesus. The form of daily prayer (or The Daily Office) is derived from the Psalms. The pattern has a long and interesting historical evolution to the current practice of providing formal services in the Book of Common Prayer for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline.

The custom of daily prayer is directly related to Christians, culturally, historically, and spiritually. At this year's annual conference in Spokane there will be a session on "Mastering the Daily Office." This service is truly a fascinating connection to Jesus.

Jesus' disciples and the earliest Christians prayed daily in groups or solitary settings. Collectively, the Psalms formed what is often referred to as "Jesus' Prayer Book." Likewise, the heart of what we do today when we pray individually and communally, is found in the Psalms.

Over the centuries, our prayers formed life and worship at the heart of the Church. As the books of the Bible were codified, a daily routine of prayer developed. Saints such as Ambrose of Milan,  Francis of Assisi, and Teresa of Avila wrote and shared prayers. Then, codified sacramentaries emerged in Latin across the Western Church and were used until the Reformation.

From the 1540's, Thomas Cranmer, with great influence from Martin Luther, gave us The Book of Common Prayer, using three main objectives in its composition:

First, the book should be written in English so that those of the "common" folk who could read would be able to understand its contents easily.

Second, the people should be able use this prayer book to pray and converse with God directly, without a priest's presence.

Third, the Bible along with the basic books of services would be available, in English, and readable by more of the population.

Additionally, the Sarum Rite's eight monastic services were collapsed into Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. These two principal daily services, to which special services for certain days which the church required to be kept holy, made the very act of getting through a day of prayer became more approachable for the "reformed Anglican Church".  Further Compline was added to be read just before bed time and could be said alone.

Thus, the structure and content for daily holy life was put directly into the hands of each individual. Our prayer book has been revised several times down the ages only in custom of culturally advancing language and theological polity.

This leads us to ask: is the Daily Office relevant today?  We know that we all have the right to sit alone and pray, extemporaneously or using formal written prayer forms. The Daily Office exists to give us a strong sense of continuity through the ages, using the same lessons, psalms, phrases, and prayer sequences in an all-inclusive version in daily fashion to commune with God, praying as is done around the world using a liturgy, now more than 500 years old, which is fully rooted in Jesus' practices with his disciples.

So, how can one follow this prayer custom? All you need is your Book of Common Prayer. Yet if you are to be intentional about praying the Daily Office, you will need to find the lessons of the day and the Psalms appointed for the day. Use the Lesser Feasts and Fasts or the currently evolving Holy Women Holy Men, to get to know the people who are the saints of the church, the cloud of witnesses for their faithfulness.

We can read straight through the prayers in Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline in the BCP, following the rubrics. Or we can access expanded contemplation by using Holy Women, Holy Men with its cited psalms and scriptures and a short biography of the saint who is celebrated on each calendar day. By taking that next step and including prayers, scripture and research of the saint(s) of the day, we get a well rounded perspective of our own position, echoing prayers of our brothers and sisters around the world who are doing the same thing, at the same time.

I believe that the Daily Office allows us to better know that we are a part of the greater whole. We are not alone.The custom of implementing the Daily Office in churches differs around the world, but centrally, we all pray daily using the same prayers and scriptures our ancient ancestor employed.

What a beautiful and comforting thought?!

REFERENCES:
The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer
SPCK Book of Christian Prayer
Give Us Grace: An Anthology of Anglican Prayer - Christopher Weber
2000 Years of Prayer - Michael Council
Commentary on the American Prayer Book - Marion J. Hatchett
A Year With American Saints - Weber and Cady
Celebrating the Seasons - Robert Atwell
Celebrating the Saints - Robert Atwell



Click the big red button to register for the 2016 Annual Conference opening on September 22nd and running through noon on the 25th, in Spokane, Washington. The conference is the most popular and anticipated VGEC activity every year - please join us!







Abstract: What is the Daily Office? Where did it originate? How is it used today? The Rev. Canon Matthew Corkern, Chaplain of the VGEC, gives us some background and practical advice on this prayer process as originated while Jesus and his disciples traveled the land, praying and preaching to anyone who wanted to hear the word.




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