After yesterday’s post on the practice of daily prayer, one friend asked me how the Office worked as an act of worship. This is my attempt to interpret this rich discipline.
The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith
– Søren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard’s observation describes for me how the office of Daily Prayer works. I begin the office with a confession of sins, and the centre of the office is the recitation of the Creed. Daily, therefore, I am with words of my own mouth choosing to turn away from my selfish nature not toward being nicer, trying harder, gritting my teeth, but rather I am turning toward the true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I am turning from sin to faith.
- Confession & Absolution
- Opening responses
- Opening Psalm/Hymn
- Appointed Psalms
- First Reading
- Second Reading
- Apostles Creed
Daily Prayer as I have set it out here is rooted in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (hit ‘traditional’ to see the 1662 form of prayer) This is where the ancient traditions of the Catholic church are introduced into Protestant church history (and for that fact I am incredibly grateful for it). The office has been added to and adapted by many people for many different contexts. In Anglican tradition, the beautiful choral service of Evensong follows essentially this structure. The regular use of Psalms in worship has inspired many musical adaptations of the texts. Canticles, which are hymns or poems made from other parts of Scripture which are not Psalms, are a great way to turn abstract theological statements into personal responses of worship.
In the 1662 service the confession and absolution is mandatory on a Sunday but optional at other times. The opening Psalm is always either Psalm 95 or 100 and the Canticles are always the Te Deum or Benedictus (for Morning Prayer) and Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis are used in Evening Prayer. However Scripture always invites creativity and many more Canticles have been written and composed over the years which allow the worshipper to give voice to their praise.
One thing many Evangelicals stumble over with the Office of Daily Worship is that it does not hinge on preaching or extempore prayer. The texts are simply read in their appointed portions. The prayers are written and recited. The selections from the Psalms and Old and New testaments might even have very little to do with one another.
The horror! You might finish the office without three points to remember or something new you have to go and do!
I have learned to let go of unreasonable expectations of constant novelty, finding comfort instead that if I patiently and consistently read the Office, I will work through basically the entire Bible in two years. Indeed, by repeating the confession of sin, the Apostles Creed and a few familiar Canticles I have memorised many important and beautiful truths of the faith, and these stay with me and are available for me to call on in times of need.
Whilst the Daily Office may not teach you three new facts about the Bible or God, it will train you with words of penance, praise, and petition which will be a comfort in life’s trials. This for me has become far more important for my discipleship than the revelations an expositional sermon can provide, for how many years did I know the five points of Calvinism, yet did not think much about loving my neighbour or myself. Filling my mind with the simple statements of faith contained in the Daily Office has been perhaps a more valuable exercise, and one to which I commend to you.