The flowering of Christian spirituality and its echoes in our prayer book
Most of our church history is Medieval history. We cannot escape it – it is a single era that lasted more than 1,000 years in our collective memory as Christians. While much of that history is ugly – the Crusades against Muslims and Jews for example – there was considerable development of Christian spirituality and mysticism in those centuries. The incubators for Christian spirituality were the monasteries and convents of Europe.
The Rule of St. Benedict is the model upon which all monastic orders and structured, and Benedict had a cycle of work and prayer. The monks and nuns prayed the “offices” or “hours” each day, in three hour increments. We still live in the echo of their prayers.
Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, author and editor of the first two BCPs (1549 and 1552) retained the monastic offices, hoping that regular Christians would adopt the monastic practice in their daily lives. But to make this practical, he simplified this into two offices, Evening Prayer and Morning Prayer. And he took it out of Latin and put it into English.
However, by the 19th century, Morning Prayer had become the primary worship on Sunday, with Communion occasionally celebrated once a month or maybe once a year. That was far from Cranmer’s intention, nor the practice of the Early Church. If you recall, Cranmer wrote his prayer books with the idea of elevating the Eucharist as a weekly celebration for all the faithful (and not just for the clergy). Cranmer’s idea was that the prayers of the offices would lead to the Eucharist.
The offices are by definition not Sunday worship.
1979 Prayer book offices
The 1979 prayer book brought Communion back as the centerpiece of our worship, and it returned the monastic offices to their classic place in a life of prayer.
Morning Prayer (Rite I p 31, Rite II p. 75) and Evening Prayer (Rite I p. 61, Rite II p. 115) should be seen as part of a daily practice of prayers and scriptural readings leading up to the full celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday. The idea of MP and EP, joined by noonday prayers and Compline, is that these offices provide a daily rhythm of prayer through the week. Sunday’s worship of the Eucharist therefore becomes the weekly celebration of the Resurrection (a mini-Easter) and it is surrounded through the week by the prayers of the offices.
The 1979 book sought to return to that rhythm of prayer, and to enhance the rhythm, added additional offices: Noonday prayers (p.103), and Compline (p. 127), or night prayers.
The 1979 book also added a calendar, or lectionary, of biblical readings in a two-year cycle, seven days a week, to go with the MP and EP (p. 934-1001); the idea was to enrich the meaning of the offices and give them their proper place as the prelude and postlude to the weekly celebration of the Eucharist. The daily office lectionary is listed as Year One and Year Two, not be confused with the eucharistic years A, B and C.
You will notice that the shorter version of the Lord’s Prayer is used in the noon prayers and Compline.
Morning and Evening Prayer are really quite simple, beginning with salutations, prayers, and a psalm. One of my liturgics professors once noted all that is really needed to make it Morning or Evening Prayer is a candle and a psalm.
The Eucharist, by definition, is done in community, not individually. But Morning and Evening Prayer can be practiced individually, in private or silent prayer.
Let’s walk through the offices:
There is a formula to Morning and Evening Prayer, which you can follow or shorten. Instructions for the formula can be found on p. 934.
Morning Prayer Rite II: Begins with the invitatory, p. 80. It can also begin with opening sentences for the season, beginning on p. 75, and confession p. 79. Note the absolution on p. 80 can be changed from “you” to “us.”
Then it moves to the one of the invitatories on p. 82, followed by the the psalms. The psalms assigned to the day are in the lectionary.
Then to the assigned biblical readings. The assigned readings for each day begin on p. 936, following the church calendar. Please note that the left page is for Morning Prayer, the right page for Evening Prayer. This lectionary goes in a two-year cycle, and this is NOT the same lectionary as the Eucharistic lectionary which is in a three-year cycle (and the readings seldom, if ever, overlap).
Between each reading is another canticle, look the chart of pps. 144-145 to see the canticles for each day of the week. Hymns can be substituted.
It is also common to do the first two readings as Morning Prayer, and the gospel reading as the only reading for Evening Prayer. In that case, the canticles of Evening Prayer (p. 145) would be done before and after the single gospel reading.
Note: There is no sermon after the readings. This is prayer, and the readings are for meditation. Not quite the same thing as our concept of amnesis, or remembering with the Eucharist. As you meditate upon a specific reading, consider how that reading reflects the presence of the holy; where is the prayer in it? We call this practice of personal reflection on Scripture: Lectio Divina.
After the readings comes the Apostles Creed (remember baptism here), the Lord’s Prayer, and then a series of “suffrages” or responsory prayers. The Lord’s Prayer can be done in 19th century language or 1970s language. If you are doing Morning Prayer daily it can be refreshing to alternate between the forms of the Lord’s Prayer and the suffrages.
Following the sufferages is the Collect of the Day, which if it is not a saint or special day, would be the collect from the previous Sunday (Sunday collects begin on p. 211), followed by more prayers on pps. 99-101. Note the rubric allowing for the free offering of prayers, or intercessions.
The Office ends with either The General Thanksgiving on p. 101, or wrapping all of our prayers together in “A Prayer of St. Chrysostom.” Then a word of blessing (though it is not a blessing) and a benediction (not a dismissal).
Begin on p. 109 – this is an optional “Order of Worship for the Evening.” You can do this as its own office, and leave it as a shortened version of Evening Prayer. Or you can use this as the introduction to Evening Prayer.
When using the Order of Worship for the Evening, it is appropriate to begin in dim light with no candles lit. After moving through the first series of prayers, go to p. 112. It is appropriate here to light the candles while reciting “O Gracious Light.” You may also substitute Hymn 25 which is easy to sing a cappella. The service can end here, or move into Evening Prayer p. 115.
It is appropriate to begin Evening Prayer (or Morning Prayer) in Lent with the Confession on p. 116. You may omit this at other times, and begin with the Invitatory on p. 117.
Similar to Morning Prayer, this office then moves into the assigned psalm for the evening, and then the canticles. After the first canticle comes the first reading, and so on.
One difference here from MP: You can use one or both of the canticles on pps. 119-120 (The Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis) or you can use the canticles listed on the chart on p. 145 (which are often the same). Essentially, Evening Prayer is to be simpler.
If you are only hearing the gospel reading, then do a canticle before and another after the reading (surrounding it with canticles). And, again, there is no sermon. This is prayer, not eucharistic remembering (amnesis).
Next is the Apostles Creed, p. 120, followed by the Lord’s Prayer and the suffrages on p. 121.
In Anglican tradition, the suffrages are sometimes chanted, called “Evensong.”
Collects and final prayers end the evening office.
Compline ( p. 127) is an English word, with roots from the Latin completorium which means, as the word suggests, completion of the day. It harkens to the earliest of the Benedictian offices.
Compline is a series of prayers and antiphons. It is simple, and based primarily on the Song of Simeon from the Gospel of Luke. The theological idea is that as we go into the darkness of night the light of God will still shine (see Psalm 139 – darkness and light are both alike). Compline can be prayed by a group or used as individual contemplative prayer.
Compline begins with Confession p. 127, then moves into psalms. There are four psalms available on pps. 128-131 (you don’t need to look anything up), and you can alternate from night to night which psalm you can do.
There are no lectionary readings for Compline, but there are four short passages of Scripture on pps. 131-132 to select from, and again, you can alternate.
This is a contemplative service; sermons and commentaries are not appropriate.
Verses-responses on p. 132, then the office moves into the Lord’s Prayer (note the shorter ending), followed by collects. It is appropriate for all of those prayers to move seamlessly together without pause.
Intercessory prayers on p. 134, followed by the antiphons of the Song of Simeon.
Beginning on p. 136 are short versions of the Daily Office convenient for use by individuals or in a family or small group setting. They are self-explanatory.
Let’s have a look at the special services for Holy Week.
Note on p. 264 begins a series of “Proper Liturgies for Special Days” beginning with Ash Wednesday and then moving to Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week (please note: the week before Easter is NOT Easter week – it is Holy Week, the week of the Passion).
A major goal of the 1979 book was to restore the integrity of the three days of Easter, or Easter “Triduum” which begins on the night of Maundy Thursday and is completed on Saturday night and the Great Vigil of Easter. The First Sunday of Easter follows in the morning.
Notice something: We are moving with the Hebrew calendar, where the day begins at sundown. The three days of Easter are therefore starting Thursday night and finishing Saturday night.
Maundy Thursday, p. 274, marks the night of the Last Supper, and uses John’s version where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus is truly lowering himself to their feet. Being the Last Supper, it is the last time we celebrate the Eucharist before the Resurrection of Easter, so it is appropriate to strip the Altar. It is also appropriate reserve consecrated bread for use on Good Friday. The reserved Sacrament is usually kept in a place of reverence, and in many churches people will hold an all-night vigil in the “place of repose” of the reserved sacrament.
The day of crucifixion is marked by a series solemn collects and anthems beginning on p. 276. It is not appropriate to celebrate the Eucharist on Good Friday, but we are still in an act of remembering, so it is appropriate to distribute the reserved Sacrament from the place of repose.
The gospel maintains that Jesus hung on the Cross for three hours beginning at noon, so many churches hold a three hour vigil beginning at noon and concluding with the Collects.
This is the most neglected of the three days – the day Jesus descends to the dead, or into Hell, to open the gates and free sinners. Without Holy Saturday, the Resurrection doesn’t include us. With Holy Saturday, Jesus goes to the grave and takes us with him.
The 1979 prayer book restored Holy Saturday’s rightful place in the Triduum, p. 283, but unfortunately removed the Collect written by Cranmer for that day and substituted a new prayer that emphasized rest and sabbath on Saturday. The old collect was moved to Burial Rite I, and shortened, on p. 480. The key words of the original collect say the purpose of Holy Saturday: “through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection.”
Great Vigil of Easter
This is the grandest most oppulant service of the year. See the instructions on p. 284. It begins in darkness with the lighting of a fire, and from the fire a new paschal candle is lit. The procession moves into the church with chants, and then commences a lengthy series of Old Testament readings telling of God’s creation and Covenant with the people; the readings are done in the darkness.
The prayer book foresees a sermon preached in the darkness after the Old Testament, or in the light after the gospel and the declaration of Easter. I’ve experienced both ways and prefer the second.
The lights come on for the declaration of Easter and the Gospel. It is appropriate to have baptisms and confirmations (when the bishop is present), and then the first Eucharist of Easter. The Great Vigil of Easter is designed to be over the top just as the Resurrection is over the top. I hope you come!