Category Archives: Book of Common Prayer

Daily Office Basics – The Prayers

In the final video in the series, we look at the various prayers which conclude the offices of Morning or Evening Prayer. (If you’re like Fr. Ralph Osborne, the rector of my parish, you’ll also be glad to know you can now binge-watch the whole series.)

For Christians, the Lord’s Prayer holds pride of place as the prayer that Jesus himself taught his disciples, so the third section of the office starts there.

Suffrages, which are sort of like miniature Prayers of the People, remind us to pray for “the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.”

Then a series of three collects forms the most distinctive part of this section — a Collect of the Day (the Sunday or feast day we celebrate), a Collect of the Day of the Week, and a Prayer for Mission.

The collects, like the sentences at the beginning of the office and the antiphons for the Invitatory Psalm, also serve to give a seasonal flavor to the office, which is otherwise very much the same every day.

The Daily Office is the public prayer of the Church, so the suffrages and collects are a bit formal, but they give us language to speak to God day by day, week by week, season by season.

Finally, we give voice to our own personal intercessions and thanksgivings, and we can choose from a number of lovely prayers and closing sentences to use at the end of the office.

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I hope this series of Daily Office Basics videos has been helpful to you, and I welcome your comments and suggestions if there are things you’d like to learn more about in future offerings.

The series will reside at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online, where you will also find the downloadable resources mentioned in the second video.

I am grateful to the Ven. Michele Whitford, content manager of Grace Abounds, and to Zachary and Nicholas Whitford, who filmed and edited the videos. I also commend the Theodicy Jazz Collective for their lovely album Vespers; their music is a prayer in itself.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be wth us all evermore. Amen.

 

Daily Office Basics – Lessons and Canticles

Today’s video is number four in the Daily Office Basics series.

We have looked at the origins of daily prayer in the Christian church, spent a few minutes finding our place, and begun praying the office by reciting Psalms.

Here we turn to the second part of the office, the Lessons and Canticles.

In the Episcopal Church, the schedule of readings for the Daily Office has you do a lot of course reading. That is, you will often read a “chapter” (a short selection) of the same book in the Bible day after day until you’re through with that book.

Over the two-year lectionary cycle, you basically read the majority of the Old Testament once, the whole New Testament twice, and the Psalms every seven weeks.

Separate from any other studying I’ve done, that means that by praying the Daily Office for just over 23 years now I have read the Old Testament about 23 times, the New Testament 46 times, and each of the Psalms about 171 times.

Today we try to demystify the Daily Office lectionary and this middle portion of the office so that you feel more comfortable soaking yourself in Scripture in the context of daily prayer.

The last video in this series will look at the specific Prayers that conclude the office.

All of the videos, as well as the downloadable resources, will make their home at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online.

 

Daily Office Basics – The Psalms

Today’s installment of Daily Office Basics could also be called “Beginning the Office,” as we consider the various ways to begin Morning or Evening Prayer.

The Daily Office is the public prayer of the Church, not just prayers for us to say at home, so the opening sentences are options to give a seasonal flavor to the service.

The Confession of Sin is optional, too. Some people choose to say it only occasionally, others once a day at Evening Prayer. For me, the Confession is not optional but critical, so I say it every time I pray the office.

The introduction to the Confession in Morning Prayer contains a perfect little statement about what we are doing when we pray the Daily Office:

Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of Almighty God our heavenly Father, to set forth his praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. (BCP 79)

Once we’ve looked at the opening sentences and the Confession of Sin in this video, we get to the proper start of the office, the Psalms with which we “set forth God’s praise.”

In the next two installments, we’ll look at the Lessons and Canticles in which we “hear God’s holy Word,” and then we’ll talk about the Prayers in which we “ask, for ourselves, and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and salvation.”

 

Daily Office Basics – Finding Your Place

In this installment of Daily Office Basics, we get down to specifics:

How do I know what page I’m supposed to be on in the Book of Common Prayer?

What Bible lesson am I supposed to read this morning? This evening?

How do I remember where I am when I keep flipping back and forth in the book?

All of these questions (and more) will be answered here.

As you watch the video, you’ll see that we are preparing you to start praying the offices next week, starting on the Monday after the First Sunday in Lent.

Also, we have provided nifty bookmarks for your prayer book and Bible, as well as a guide called “Praying the Daily Offices.”

All of them are free to download at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online.

Praying the Daily Office is simple, but it’s not self-explanatory. I hope this video will help you find your place and feel more ready to begin.

 

Daily Office Basics – Daily Prayer Origins

I’m delighted to announce that my series of posts called Daily Office Basics is now available in video form!

This first video introduces you to the origins of daily prayer in the Christian church, tracing how daily prayer has changed over time and how we came to have the form of Morning and Evening Prayer that we use in the Episcopal Church today.

Over the next four days, videos will cover finding your place in the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible and then will look at the three parts of the Daily Office — Psalms, Lessons and Canticles, and Prayers — in turn.

I am particularly grateful to Grace Abounds, the online ministry of Grace Episcopal Church in Sheboygan, for filming and producing these videos. The Ven. MIchele Whitford is content manager, and Zachary and Nicholas Whitford filmed and edited the videos.

The series will reside at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online — in addition to the videos, that landing page includes some resources for you to download and use as you prepare to pray the Daily Office.

Thanks also to Andy Barnett and the Theodicy Jazz Collective for permission to use music from their album Vespers. You can listen and buy online from their website.

Tools of the trade

“Is that a Bible or a machinists’ manual?”

The man with a cast sitting near me at Starbucks pointed to the leather-bound book with ribbons next to my laptop. 

“Well, it’s a prayer book and a Bible, so I guess you could say it’s both.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a tool of the trade, so to speak. The prayer book is all about how to practice the Christian life.”

“Hm. Cool.”

And with that the conversation turned to other things: My father-in-law was a tool and die maker. Had we lived here long? What happened to his foot? I had foot surgery myself a few years ago. He was starting physical therapy this week. 

Seeds planted. Connections made. 

He gathered up his cane, but before he left he made a point of coming over and saying good-bye. 

“See you around.”

I hope so. 

You know all the prayers. You are God.

Neil Gaiman recounts this small scene in his stunning story titled, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.”

A poor man found himself in a forest as night fell, and he had no prayer-book to say his evening prayers.

So he said, “God, who knows all things, I have no prayer-book, and I do not know any prayers by heart. But you know all the prayers. You are God. So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to say the alphabet, and I will let you put the words together.”

In the “Sunday’s Readings” article in this week’s issue of The Living Church, the authors speak of the glory of God who is beyond all our words:

The consistent theme of [Trinity Sunday]’s readings is the glory of God: a glory so deep and so rich that even the exalted poetry of Psalm 29 only scratches the surface. Wise theologians have said before that we will spend the rest of eternity learning about God and never exhausting the topic, because God is infinite and we are not.

Perhaps, like Gaiman’s narrator, we find ourselves grasping only the “dictionary-shaped hole on the shelf” rather than the words.

Perhaps, at the end, that is enough.

As Trinity Sunday approaches, I urge you to listen to Gaiman’s lovely story and join him in saying:

“Dear God, hear my prayer …

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

…”

NT Wright on Scripture in worship | A big, exciting room we come in and inhabit

I couldn’t possibly agree more with N.T. Wright’s comments in this five-minute video on Scripture in worship from Glenn Packiam’s Mystery of Faith Blog.

With attention to what we are doing, we are fortunate in our “gentle Anglican liturgy”  — in the morning and evening offices and in the Holy Eucharist — “to inhabit the world of Scripture” just as Wright describes:

What one is doing is turning Scripture into a world where you come in and live, a big exciting room that you come in and inhabit.

Wright gently bemoans how the public reading of Scripture is too often sidelined in worship. He even describes being invited to preach at a “modern-style” service and at the last minute being asked, “Would you like a Scripture reading?”

The public reading of Scripture is itself the primary act of worship. It is not conveying information to the congregation; it’ll do that as well, but it does that as the byproduct … of celebrating the mighty acts of God.

And so what do we do in this “big exciting room that you come in and inhabit”?

When you have built this great house of praise and worship, which is the scriptural story surrounded with the psalms and the prayers of the people of God, then you turn it into intercession, because you’re now living in a room where intercession makes sense.

I’m reminded here of what the founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Fr. Richard Meux Benson, says about praying for others:

As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

In the first half of the video, Wright has actually been describing the Daily Office, a point that I think might have been lost on his listeners, because he then goes on to clarify that the same thing is happening in the Eucharist.

I am grateful to Packiam and his colleagues for sharing this short glimpse of Wright’s deep, lifelong meditation on Scripture.

However, I find Packiam’s comment as he introduces the clip so poignant:

It is precisely because Prof. Wright is an ‘outsider’ to our modern worship world that his thoughts may be helpful. He may see things we miss. What he chose to address was the absence of Scripture in worship.

Here as elsewhere in his books and videos, I think N.T. Wright is explaining historic Christian worship from the “inside,” especially when he calls it “an act of humility, a way of saying ‘I’m not making this up as I go along.’ It’s a gift from the whole worldwide church, and I inhabit it gratefully.”

The public reading of Scripture — and especially the pattern we have inherited in the Daily Office — is a gift from the worldwide church, indeed, and I inhabit it gratefully. I hope you do, too.

Day by day I will fulfill my vows

So will I always sing the praise of your Name,
and day by day I will fulfill my vows. (Psalm 61:8)

Nineteen years ago today, I was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. About four years before that, however, I really became serious about reading the Bible.

Like most cradle Episcopalians, I grew up in the church hearing Scripture read Sunday by Sunday. I was in Sunday School every week. No choice, really, since my father was the parish priest.

I was six when I started serving as an acolyte, and I was 12 when I first read a lesson in church — the story of Creation (Genesis 1:1 — 2:2) at the Great Vigil of Easter.

I knew from an early age that I would eventually be ordained to serve the Church.

After I married my Lovely Wife in 1989, we attended her Seventh-Day Adventist church on Saturdays with her mother and sang in the choir of my Episcopal church on Sundays. Among the Seventh-Day Adventists I was confronted with the truth that though as an Episcopalian I was familiar with the Bible, I really did not know my way around it at all. I had heard it all my life, but had never really read it.

By 1992 I was in the discernment process that leads to ordination, about a year from beginning Deacons’ School, and that lack of knowledge of the Bible troubled me.

So I resolved to begin reading the Bible in a more disciplined way. The first thing I did to jump-start the project was to read the whole Bible in a year, and two books helped me do that.

The first was Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook, which includes a plan for reading the books of the Old and New Testament in an order that makes sense of the Scriptural story rather than just beginning “in the beginning.” Though Blair’s book is long out of print, I have found inexpensive copies on Amazon over the years (since I keep loaning mine out and having to replace it!).

The second was the Revised English Bible, the translation recommended by the Book-of-the-Month Club for its readability. The fresh English translation (at least it was fresh more than 20 years ago) makes reading the Bible feel like reading a novel — the stories feel less stilted and reading flows more naturally.

However, the most important Bible reading resource I ever found is The Prayer Book Office by Howard Galley. Sadly, this introduction to the Episcopal Church’s Morning and Evening Prayer is also out of print. Copies are hard to find and precious.

The primary way Anglicans and Episcopalians read Scripture is in the context of our worship. We organize Scripture readings not only for our Sunday services of the Holy Eucharist, but also for the prayer book services of daily Morning and Evening Prayer. The tables of readings that we organize for Sundays and for weekdays are called lectionaries. In the Book of Common Prayer you will find the Sunday lectionary starting on page 888 and the Daily Office lectionary on page 934.

After I had read the Bible through in a year, it was the Daily Office that proved to be the mainspring of my spiritual practice.

In the Daily Office lectionary, we read through the bulk of the Old Testament once every two years, the New Testament every year, and the Psalms every seven weeks.

That means in the 22 years or so since I began praying Morning and Evening Prayer regularly, I’ve read through the Old Testament at least 11 times, the New Testament 22 times, and the whole Psalter more than 165 times.

And that doesn’t count all the Bible reading I did for three years in Deacons’ School, or every Sunday since then in church, or for four years now as an Education for Ministry (EfM) mentor rereading the Old and New Testaments with my students each year.

This is honestly not about boasting (as St. Paul might say), but about beginning.

The rector of the parish where I now serve as deacon, St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, reminded us last Sunday that you can read the Bible in a year anytime. If you missed starting on New Year’s Day, you can start now, and when February 2 of next year rolls around, it will have been a year!

I simply urge you to read the Bible as much as you can. Perhaps you’ll follow a one-year plan like the Bible Challenge, perhaps your favorite translation is the New International Version or The Message, perhaps you’re not Episcopalian but your denomination also has a lectionary you can follow.

Whatever else may be going on in your life, begin.

Start reading the Bible. Day by day, let the Scriptures work in you. Week by week, make Bible reading part of the rhythm of your life. Year by year, let the Scriptures teach you what it means for you to sing the praise of God’s Name and to fulfill your vows.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Ember Days: So what?

im_shrimp_tempura

The Ember Days are a strange item on the Church’s calendar.

They are “traditionally observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the First Sunday in Lent, the Day of Pentecost, Holy Cross Day, and December 13” (BCP 18).

The name comes, most likely, from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, or “four seasons,” so the Ember Days mark the four seasons of the natural year rather than seasons of the Church year.

Various sources link the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday observance to the early Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays attested to in the Didache (ca. 60 AD) and to the Roman practice of fasting on Saturdays, too.

Since Pope Gelasius I instituted the practice in 494, it also became customary for the Ember Days to serve as days for ordinations. The faithful would join the ordinands in fasting on Wednesday and Friday, and the ordination would happen (as is still pretty common) on Saturday.

This association with ordination is expanded upon in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, and now the three collects appointed for the Ember Days (BCP 256) invite us to pray for:

I. Those to be ordained

II. The choice of fit persons for the ministry, and

III. For all Christians in their vocation

To mark these days in the Daily Office, it would be natural simply to use the first collect on Wednesday, the second on Friday, and the third on Saturday. You will notice that the third collect is the same as one of the Prayers for Mission (BCP 100) that we use regularly in Morning Prayer.

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So what? Why should we care about the Ember Days?

Well, let me bring it closer to home and give you some examples.

I am a member of the Commission on Ministry (COM) here in the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac. Our job is to assist the bishop in the following ways:

  • to determine the present and future needs for ministry in the Diocese
  • to provide discernment processes for parishes and individuals seeking to identify and use their gifts in ministry
  • to provide continuing education for all people, lay and ordained, in their ministries
  • to support the development of the ministry of the laity in the Diocese and within parishes
  • to identify persons for Holy Orders, and to guide and examine seekers, aspirants, postulants, and candidates for the diaconate and priesthood in their journey toward ordination

Four times a year, the Ember Days specifically focus not just the COM but the whole Church on praying for all Christians in their vocation.

Today is Ember Wednesday, so we pray for those to be ordained. In our case, the next ordination in the Diocese is that of Fr. Matt Gunter, who will be ordained as our new bishop on Saturday, April 26. Today I pray not only for him but also for all who are working to make that ordination service a celebration of our life and ministry here in northeastern Wisconsin.

On Ember Friday, we pray for the choice of fit persons for the ministry. The COM just began offering a group discernment process called Circles of Light for all who are interested in seeking God’s will for their ministry, and of the 10 people in the group two think they might be interested in the diaconate and two in the priesthood. I’ll pray especially for those four people this Friday.

On Ember Saturday, we pray for all Christians in their vocation. This Saturday, I’ll be with the young adults of the Diocese at a Happening weekend, and I can’t think of a better time to pray for vocation than with high-school age Christians.

Who might you pray for during this Ember Week?

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Bonus Ember Day trivia!

I am deeply grateful to Michael P. Foley’s article on the Ember Days for this delicious — and I mean yummy! — bit of trivia:

Even the Far East was affected by the Ember days. In the sixteenth century, when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries settled in Nagasaki, Japan, they sought ways of making tasty meatless meals for Embertide and started deep-frying shrimp. The idea caught on with the Japanese, who applied the process to a number of different sea foods and vegetables. They called this delicious food—have you guessed it yet?—“tempura,” again from Quatuor Tempora.

So next time you’re out for sushi, take a moment to pray for those about to be ordained, for the choice of fit persons for the ministry, and for all Christians in their vocation. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading!