Tag Archives: Prayers

12 Steps of Christmas | Introduction

Before we begin with Step One and Morning Prayer on Christmas Day, here’s a little background information about the Daily Office, the 12 Steps, and my plan for this series that you may find helpful.

About the Daily Office

From the beginning, Christians, like their Jewish forebears, have prayed at set times of the day. (See Acts 3:1, for example.)

Over the centuries, and especially with the rise of monastic communities, Christians gathered to pray as often as seven times a day (emulating Psalm 119:164).

That sevenfold monastic pattern was simplified during the Reformation, and in the Church of England became two “offices” of Morning and Evening Prayer.

The Roman Catholic Church may refer to these prayers as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Orthodox Churches may refer to them as divine services or divine offices, and the Episcopal Church (to which I belong) refers to them as the Daily Office.

Whatever differences there may be — in number of services, times of the day, selections from Scripture to be read at certain times — there is a basic pattern to the Daily Office that’s pretty common.

The Psalter – Reading from the Psalms has for centuries been the foundation of daily prayer.

In the Episcopal Church, the 150 psalms are read at Morning and Evening Prayer on a seven-week cycle.

The Lessons – Readings from the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) and from the New Testament are next. In some churches, those readings are relatively short (maybe just a verse or two) and may be called “chapters.”

In the Episcopal Church, we have inherited a tradition of reading a lot of Scripture in the Daily Office. Over the course of two years, we read most of the Old Testament once and the whole New Testament twice.

The schedule of what Psalms and Scripture lessons are to be read on a particular day is called the “lectionary.”

The Prayers – Beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for our own needs and those of others and we give thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy.

In the Episcopal Church, there are special prayers called “collects” that set themes for every Sunday of the year, for days of the week, and for special occasions. At each office, we commonly read two or three of these collects.

About the 12 Steps

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the history timeline on the AA website, date to 1938 and to the early experience of the first members.

They are “a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”

The 12 Steps were codified from the “Big Book” titled Alcoholics Anonymous, which also includes stories sharing members’ experience, strength, and hope.

You can read the 12 Steps in short form or in the longer form of the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

About this blog

I’ve been praying the Daily Office for about 23 years now, since before my ordination as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and I’ve been writing and teaching about it for many years.

I’ve only been practicing recovery for a little over two years now, since becoming sober in October 2013.

Three things really stand out for me as I compare the two practices:

The first thing that struck me about AA meetings is the regular reading and re-reading of the Big Book and of the “12 and 12.”

This constant return to the basic texts of AA has a lot in common with the practice of the Daily Office.

Year after year, season after season, week after week, “one day at a time,” the words of the basic texts — Bible or Big Book — soak into your imagination, and you begin a process of incorporating their wisdom into your daily living.

The second thing that I discovered is that both AA and the church talk about similar spiritual practices; we just call them by different names. For example, what AA calls a “daily self-inventory” the church calls “Confession of Sin.”

And third, both practices are done not because you feel like it, but because it’s time to do it.

We pray Morning Prayer each day at 6 am because that’s the time to do it; we go to an AA meeting on Friday evenings because that’s the time to do it. We can enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

The 12 Steps of Christmas

Each day during the 12 Days of Christmas, we will read one of the 12 steps and pray the Daily Office with its psalms and Bible lessons as appointed in the lectionary.

From the resonances between them, perhaps some wisdom will emerge that will help in our “spiritual awakening.”

I look forward to having you join me in the process for the next 12 days, and I invite you to share in the conversation by adding your comments.

Merry Christmas!

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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

…”

Having the Son of God

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

What does it mean to “have” the Son?

Does it mean saying particular things about Jesus? Reciting particular creeds of the Church?

Does it mean arguing about religion? Imposing religious laws on people?

Does it mean wearing certain Christian t-shirts? Wearing certain ecclesiastical robes? Having a certain hairstyle? Wearing a certain hat?

Does it mean reading special prayers? Making up special prayers? Singing special music?

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What might it mean to “have” life?

Might it mean owning up to our own faults? Admitting our own mistakes?

Might it mean praising God for the way things are? Thanking God for what is?

Might it mean receiving forgiveness? Giving forgiveness?

Might it mean serving God? Might it mean being served by God?

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

-George Herbert

Not only with our lips, but in our lives

New Yorker pic

 

The Prayers

This morning we look at the third and final section of the Daily Office.

Having “opened our lips,” prayed the Invitatory and other Psalms, read Lessons and responded with Canticles, and said the Apostles’ Creed, we conclude the Office with various Prayers.

Because the Daily Office is the public worship of the Church, the prayers in this section are more formal, like the Prayers of the People on Sunday morning. They serve the same purpose of reminding us to pray for people and concerns we might not otherwise remember.

There is certainly also room here for your own personal prayers of intercession and thanksgiving.

Let’s take each portion in turn.

The Lord’s Prayer

If you’re praying the Office alone, you can omit the opening sentence and response (BCP 97).

The Lord’s Prayer is offered in traditional and contemporary language. Since every parish I have served uses the traditional form in worship, I like to use the contemporary form when I pray the Office; it helps keep the words fresh for me.

Suffrages

These are like miniature Prayers of the People, with versicles and responses touching on the major topics of our intercessory prayer.

Say Suffrages A most mornings; according to liturgical scholar Derek Olsen, Suffrages B were traditionally attached to the Te Deum (Canticle 21) and are most appropriately used when you have used that Canticle at Morning Prayer.

When I say Evening Prayer, I like to use Suffrages B, which in that Office take the form of a litany “that this evening may be holy, good, and peaceful” (BCP 122).

The Collect of the Day

It is customary to pray three collects at each office: The Collect of the Day, the Collect of the Day of the Week, and a Prayer for Mission.

The Collect of the Day is usually the collect from the Sunday before; so this week it would be the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent (BCP 211). Basically, you use Sunday’s collect all through the week here.

Exceptions to that rule are on Major Feasts, when you use the Collect appointed for that particular feast instead. For example, on Saturday, December 21 — the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle — you would use the Collect for that day (BCP 237) instead of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent. See the Calendar of the Church Year (BCP 15-33) for all the details of Major Feasts and other observances.

On days like today, when a saint (St. John of Damascus) is simply commemorated on the calendar (BCP 30), you might say the Collect of the Day from Sunday, and then add an appropriate collect from the Common of Saints (BCP 245 and following).

Many more exceptions abound, and we don’t need to belabor that point here. The Collect of the Day — the first of the three at the Office — is usually from the Sunday before, and it helps carry the “theme” or flavor of the Sunday throughout the week.

Collect of the Day of the Week

On BCP 98-100 you will notice seven Collects printed. Three are labeled for Sundays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The remaining four are labeled by topic, such as “For Peace” or “For Renewal of Life.” It is customary to use these four on the other days of the week, like this:

Sunday – A Collect for Sundays
Monday – A Collect for the Renewal of Life
Tuesday – A Collect for Peace
Wednesday – A Collect for Grace
Thursday – A Collect for Guidance
Friday – A Collect for Fridays
Saturday – A Collect for Saturdays

The Sunday, Friday, and Saturday collects clearly bring the themes of Resurrection, Crucifixion, and Creation/Sabbath to our prayers on those days. Just as every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, a little Easter, so every Friday is a Good Friday, and every Saturday a chance to rest from our work and “put away all earthly anxieties” (BCP 99).

The same pattern for Collects of the Day of the Week occurs in Evening Prayer.

Prayer for Mission

The rubrics allow for the Daily Office to serve as the opening portion of the Eucharist (like the Liturgy of the Word in a typical Sunday service). They also allow for the use of one of the forms of Prayers of the People, like those on BCP 383 and following.

If you aren’t doing either of those things, then the third collect at the Office is one of the Prayers for Mission. The prayer at the top of BCP 101 is especially suitable for use on Friday mornings, of course. In Evening Prayer, there are three different Prayers for Mission, too.

After the three collects — the Collect of the Day, the Collect of the Day of the Week, and the Prayer for Mission — you may take time to add your own prayers.

Many people use cycles of prayer, like the Anglican Cycle of Prayer or a diocesan cycle, to help them remember to pray for other members of our church family. Many also take some time for silent prayer or meditation here.

The General Thanksgiving

This prayer of thanksgiving has one of the longest pedigrees in our prayer book history, having been composed in 1596. Then, as now, cultivating an attitude of humility and being mindful of God’s blessings is central to our spiritual growth.

We pray that our gratitude will be “not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to [God’s] service” (BCP 101).

A Prayer of St. Chrysostom

Even if you say the Office alone, you are joining in the Church’s unceasing praise and taking your part in the communion of saints.

The Prayer of St. Chrysostom is a beautiful reminder that when we gather for prayer, Christ is in our midst.

Dismissal

 

If you’re saying the Office alone, you may omit the dismissal.

Closing Sentences

The Office ends, as it began and as it has been filled throughout, with the words of Scripture.

There are three verses here that you may use to conclude your prayer.

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I hope you have found these last four blog posts helpful, whether you are beginning to pray the Offices or have been using this part of the Church’s pattern for prayer for some time already.

Like many things in life, it takes a lot longer to explain the Daily Office that it does simply to do it. Many people find that they need only 20-30 minutes to pray the Office — the Invitatory and Psalter, the Lessons, and the Prayers. Twenty minutes, once or twice a day, is not a lot of time — but it can be an oasis of grace and peace in our otherwise busy lives.

My hope is that understanding how the Office is put together will help you feel more comfortable using it.

Every blessing!

 

To hear his holy Word

Image by Michael Podesta Graphic Design

Image by Michael Podesta Graphic Design

The Three-Part Office

The Daily Office is structured in three parts: the Invitatory and Psalter, the Lessons, and the Prayers.

Introductory material like we discussed yesterday, and the apparently complicated Daily Office Lectionary, can obscure that three-part structure, but it helps to keep it in mind.

On Sunday, we discussed finding your place and preparing to say the Office. Yesterday, we talked about beginning the Office and praying the Psalms. Today we will focus on the Lessons, the readings from Scripture organized by the lectionary in a two-year cycle.

Tomorrow we will finish this series by looking at the Prayers, especially the Collects, which are so distinctive in our prayer book worship.

The Daily Office Lectionary

On Sunday we looked briefly at the Daily Office Lectionary in order to mark our place with the Psalms and Lessons appointed for the day and the particular Office we were praying.

One of the particular treasures of the Daily Office is that it soaks you in Scripture. You can’t help it — as you follow the Daily Office lectionary, you will read all 150 Psalms every seven weeks, the New Testament in the course of a year, and the Old Testament over the course of two years.

Since the Church Year starts in Advent, a little before the calendar year, the Year Two lectionary for even-numbered years like 2014 starts a little before 2014. We’re now beginning Year Two.

Week of 1 Advent

Tuesday          5,6          *          10,11
Amos 3:1-11          2 Pet. 1:12-21          Matt. 21:12-22

We looked at the Psalms yesterday; remember that the Psalms for Morning Prayer are listed first and those for Evening Prayer second.

There are three Scripture passages appointed for each day — Old Testament (or Apocrypha), New Testament (Acts and the Epistles), and Gospel.

The instructions on BCP 934 suggest that two readings be used in the morning and one in the evening. They also suggest that in Year One, you read the Gospel in the evening and in Year Two in the morning.

So today at Morning Prayer, you will read the lessons from Amos and Matthew. At Evening Prayer, you will read the lesson from 2 Peter.

You’ll notice as you go from day to day that you are doing what is called “course reading” — reading through an entire book over the course of several days or weeks. That means most days you won’t have to move your bookmarks, because you’ll pick up reading where you left off the day before.

Lessons and Canticles

Most Episcopalians are familiar with the way Scripture lessons are read in church on Sunday mornings.

We usually read an Old Testament lesson, say or sing a Psalm, read a New Testament lesson, sing a Gradual Hymn during the Gospel procession, and then hear the Gospel read.

It’s actually not too different in the Daily Office. The pattern in the Office is to read a lesson, then respond with a “canticle,” a song made up of verses from Scripture.

So today, we read the passage from Amos, then read a canticle, read the passage from Matthew, then read another canticle.

If you turn in the service of Morning Prayer to BCP 85, you’ll see that there are 14 canticles printed over the next several pages. How do you know which canticle to read?

MP Canticles

Enter the handy-dandy Daily Office Anchor Society Canticles Bookmarks!

What they do is replicate the tables found at BCP 144 which lay out which canticles to read on any given day of the week. I suggest that you print them out from the Resources page, trim them to size, and tape them into your prayer book at BCP 84 for Morning Prayer and BCP 118 for Evening Prayer.

Since today is Tuesday, after the Old Testament reading we will turn to BCP 90 and read Canticle 13. Like the Invitatory Psalms, the Canticles have been known for centuries by their Latin names. Benedictus es, Domine is Latin for “Blessed are you, Lord.”

After the New Testament reading, we will turn back to BCP 93 and read Canticle 18, A Song to the Lamb.

Just like there are seasonal sentences of Scripture that you could say to begin the Office, there are also seasonal emphases in the Canticles. You’ll notice on Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays on the table above that there are different canticles appointed during Advent, Lent, or Easter. You’ll also see at the bottom of the table that any time there is a Major Feast on the church calendar, you would use Canticles 16 and 21 at Morning Prayer.

It feels like a lot of information, but the pattern for the Lessons is actually pretty simple:

Old Testament reading

Canticle from table

New Testament reading

Canticle from table

The Apostles’ Creed

The last thing we do in the Lessons section of the Office — after hearing God’s holy Word and responding in song — is recite the Apostles’ Creed (BCP 96).

The Apostles’ Creed is the ancient baptismal creed of the Church. When we baptize anyone even today, we renew our own baptismal covenant by reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Every day, morning and evening, we remember our baptism.

In the Daily Offices “we 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).

Tomorrow, we will conclude this series by looking at the Prayers “for ourselves and on behalf of others” which conclude the Office.