Saturday, October 8, 2011
Reflections on Using The Book of Common Prayer
I wanted to offer readers some personal reflection and perhaps persuasion to adopt the Book of Common Prayer for your daily prayers. I have been using the 1662 BCP for some time now as the basis for my daily prayers. I can't seem to recall exactly the day when I began doing it neither the month right now but I have used it long enough now that I have memorized large portions of the Daily Offices.
I have used a number of prayer books as the basis for my daily prayer. I was reared on the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, beginning with an abbreviated version and moving to the full office. As I moved into the Anglican tradition, I tried to adopt the 1979 BCP as my tool for daily prayer but at that time I was attached to the Roman forms of the Office. I acquired a copy of Common Worship and used that for some time since it was a fair mixture of Anglican and Roman prayers that I was familiar with. I won't list exhaustively all the forms of daily prayer which I used but I do want to highlight the two that I had used prior to adopting the Book of Common Prayer.
First, I used the Monastic Diurnal, as published by Lancelot Andrewes Press (a "Western Rite" Orthodox publisher trying to woo Anglicans with material based on the BCP). This is the Benedictine diurnal, which is slightly different from the pre-reform Roman Breviary, which LAP had adapted to "conform" to the BCP. The diurnal and Roman Breviary are known for the complexity of the rules involved in saying the Office. After saying the Office according to this manner, I can understand perfectly well why Cranmer said, "[M]any times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out." The other book I was using prior to the BCP was a peculiar little book, at least to my taste, The English Office. A book which attempts to conflate the BCP with the older Breviary tradition; the result is an inconsistent and honestly confusing office. I remember the day when I picked up the BCP and used it for Morning Prayer that day and though to myself, "That was refreshingly easy!' I have used it ever since then, not only because it is easy to follow but also because it presents Christian truths in a simple manner to be absorbed by the praying congregation while following in the tradition of the Church.
The BCP is a great tool for Daily Prayer because it has stood the test of time. It has been used in the basic form we have now since 1549, only slightly edited in the subsequent revisions of the book. The Office follows a relatively invariable form, the only variants which regularly change are the Psalms, Readings, and Collects. The BCP gives a choice of canticles, although traditional-minded clergymen tend to use the same sets every day.
In case the reader is unfamiliar with the order in the 1662 BCP, I will summarize briefly. The Service begins with a penitential sentence, Exhortation, Confession, Absolution and the Lord's Prayer before the beginning of the Service. The service opens with the versicles and responses, "Lord, open thou our lips, &. etc." these petitions come from the Breviary Office for Matins but have been revised to the third person plural, so as to include the whole praying congregation. The Venite is used every morning before the Psalms of the Day, except on Easter Sunday, in which the Prayer Book provides an alternative canticle. The Psalms follow with a Gloria Patri after each, reflecting ancient custom. There are two readings at each service, followed by a Gospel Canticle, Psalm, or Ancient Hymn, depending on the service and choice of the reader. The next section of the Office is reserved for prayers. First the Apostle's Creed is said, then the Kyries, Lord's Prayer, a series of versicles and responses, and three collects, that of the day, and two for each office. After this point, the Prayer Book offers several state prayers and a prayer for the clergy. A common deviation from this standard is to use the "Prayer for All Conditions of Man" at Morning Prayer and the "General Thanksgiving" at Evening Prayer (see Percy Dearmer). The Office concludes with the Prayer of St. Chrysostom and the Grace.
That is the basic order of service using the 1662 BCP, now I wish to discuss some unique features of it and their benefits. First, the Psalter is read through each thirty days. This was a revolution in the time of Cranmer, considering that the Psalter was read through each week in the Breviary. Nowadays, the thirty day scheme seems a bit much for modern churchgoers. I prefer this system as it covers the Psalter in a reasonable time and regularly, thus familiarzing the reader with the Psalter. The selection of readings is mostly in sequence, meaning that the majority of the OT is read and the NT read through twice each year (except the book of Revelation). Most modern 1662 BCPs have a revised lectionary from 1871 which includes more holy day readings which break the sequence in readings. The 1662 Daily Office lectionary is based on the calendar year and not the church year thus making it extremely easy to follow because all one needs to know is the civil date! The minimal variance from the sequential reading of Scripture is also refreshing in comparison to the older Breviary which had a seemingly infinite series of deviations due to feasts. The Prayer Book, likewise, only provides proper psalms for five holy days.
The 1662 BCP also dictates two other additions to the service which occur on a regular basis. The first is the addition of the Litany, which is to be said on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The Litany is a series of petitons for the Church, the State, and the World, which is an excellent reminder of the global Church and our duty to pray daily for the needs of others in addition to our own petitions. The 1662 BCP also requires the recitation of the Creed of St. Athanasius at Morning Prayer on fourteen feast days throughout the year. The Athanasian Creed, as it is called, is known for its "damnatory" clauses against those who deny Trinitarian faith. The reading of this Creed is also refreshing as it reminds us of the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the revelation that God has given through Christ to the Church about His nature.
I hope that the readers of this blog will consider using the 1662 BCP for their daily prayers. I think if they do, they will find that they will have a greater knowledge of the Scriptures, the Psalms, and be exposed to the richness of the Prayer Book, its theology, rhythm, and aesthetic quality in prose which will nourish your heart, mind, and soul, each and every day, upon waking and sleeping.