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Simplify Daily Prayer

Daily Office

I am passionate about Daily Prayer – using the Bible, particularly the Psalms, as a disciplined way of praying. If the Eucharist is the jewel in the crown – then Daily Prayer is its setting.

From a scholarly point of view, there is the ‘cathedral’ tradition – a people’s office (another name for Daily Prayer), simple, thematic, repetitive; and there is the ‘monastic’ tradition – reading the psalms in order. Lots of psalms. I know at least one person who follows this ‘monastic’ tradition – he simply prays as many psalms as he has time for each time he stops to pray the Office, starting where he left off.

Probably most versions of the Office combines these two traditions. Most versions of the Liturgy of the Hours (yet another title for Daily Prayer), because of the complexity of combining these two traditions, end up with a separate book (or, in the case of the Roman Rite, several volumes) with several sections you have to flick between. Sometimes six ribbons doesn’t feel enough to keep track of everything. Yes – you do get used to it – but it takes a lot of time for it to become prayerful second nature. And it’s not an immediately attracting way of praying for neophytes.

I have a friend who jokes that it’s not a real Anglican service unless you are handed a wheelbarrow-load of books, pamphlets, and pewsheets as you enter a church building! Praying the Daily Office is like that.

Now, Liborius Lumma has proposed some suggestions for What a Simplified Office Book Might Look Like. The core of his idea is a ribbon in the Psalter of the 150 psalms – moving forward at each office that you pray. The other part of the book to the Psalter is a variety of offices which frame this psalm (or psalms) you are praying. Lauds (Morning Prayer) would begin with a morning psalm, then you would pray the psalm (or psalms) where you are up to in the Psalter, and return to (one of) Psalms 148-150. Then the rest of the office continues.

Read the full article by Liborius Lumma’s here.

One of the things I really like about the core of the suggestion is that you cover the whole, rather than just some of (a lot of) the, Psalter. Even those of us who follow a disciplined Daily Office can find we regularly miss some psalm(s).

Some of the critique of Liborius Lumma’s suggestions can, I think, be pretty easily sorted. Old and New Testament canticles can be part of the “other part (non-Psalter) part of the book. As can antiphons (he also has suggestions for how to do this). Yes – when a couple of you come together and want to pray the (this) Office together – you are going to have to arm-wrestle or “paper-scissors-rock” which psalm(s) will be used. But, let’s be honest, that’s no different to now: I pray the Benedictine Daily Prayer (probably eccentrically) and when I meet with others who follow (say) the NZ Prayer Book Office or the Roman Office, a decision has to be made what to pray together…

Yes – there is a bit of a loss of “common prayer”. Not everyone is praying the same psalm the same day. But again: that’s a reality already. I know I need to think more deeply about “common prayer”, but it certainly isn’t everyone praying exactly the same stuff at the same time. Even RCs have a variety of Eucharistic Prayers (let alone rites) to choose from…

The principle can already be applied to your own discipline. Say you are using the NZ Anglican Prayer Book (or another, similar resource). One ribbon can be in your ordinary rite, and another working psalm by psalm through the Psalter. [In the case of the NZ Prayer Book, you could even construct a simple two week or four week cycle of the framing part…]

Liborius Lumma writes that “Current Old Testament scholars consider the course reading the original meaning of the psalter: The psalms were meant to be meditated in exactly that order.” If you know which scholars and books Liborius is referring to, please put this in the comments. It is an interesting reflection – clearly Christians think that not just the beads of stories and sayings of Jesus in the Bible are inspired, but the string on which they are ordered in a gospel book is also regarded as inspired. Here, Liborius is saying that the same applies to the book of Psalms. Canonical criticism, which looks at the final biblical canon as a finished product is, of course, fascinating – Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and Jews order the books differently! Cranmer, of course, is a strong advocate for praying the psalms in canonical order – the whole psalter in a month. His system means that different psalms are linked to the date in the month and so fall on different days of the week. So if you regularly miss Sunday Morning Prayer, for example, you will still encounter the psalm(s) you missed that day next month on another day of the week. I have prayed all the psalms in order at one sitting – it takes about five hours. Try it.

Liborius Lumma began by critiquing the complexity of the Office. I’m still, in brackets, advocating for an app for Benedictine Daily Prayer.

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24 thoughts on “Simplify Daily Prayer”

  1. In the Canadian Book of Alternative Services the basic outline of the Office – optional penitential rite, invitatory, space for readings and psalms, creeds, space for prayers concluding with the collect, Lord’s Prayer and closing – is at the front of the book, with canticles, responsories, forms of intercession etc, in separate sections in the pages following. I find these days that I like praying the basic, stripped-down version. The daily office lectionary is easy to follow, and Forward Day by Day has devotionals keyed to it that I like using as well. Sometimes I add a canticle (usually one I know by heart so don’t need to look up), but more often I fill in the spaces with extemporary prayer.

    We’re old fashioned in Canada – our BAS still serves as both a Sunday service book and a weekly office book. I find that if I don’t try to add to much optional material – if I fill in the spaces with my own prayers instead – it works just fine for me. Also, I’m like C.S. Lewis in that I need to know a prayer pretty well before I can really pray it – before that, I’m concentrating on the text, not on God – so fewer variations works well for me. Our DOL works through the psalter in seven weeks (bouncing around a fair bit, but you get the whole thing), but I’ve read it in Cranmerian style too, and quite enjoy that.

    Forward Day by Day and Mission St. Clare both have excellent smartphone apps for the Daily Office, based on the Episcopal BCP which is similar to our BAS.

    1. Thanks, Tim. The Canadian Book of Alternative Services has drawn well on TEC’s BCP. NZ’s Prayer Book, rather than your single office ‘outline’, has a different one for each day of the week. This means there is less page flicking, more ‘uniformity’ (although I would think per head of {clergy} population it is less used here than in Canada), but less variety. There are nothing like the responsories, forms of intercession etc. that you have.

      I’m with you on prayer being like comfortable slippers and so consistently use a single psalm and Bible translation for prayer. By the way, it is CS Lewis’ feast day today – added to our Calendar because of a motion of mine.


  2. Thanks, Bosco, for passing on this idea. I might give it a try as I have a separate Psalter and my Benedictine Daily Prayer is fitted with extra ribbons.

    1. Thanks, John. Do let us know how that goes for you (you can comment back here as long from now as you like) – I presume your separate Psalter is still the same version as used in the BDP? Blessings.

  3. I use the Aimer Daily Prayer app. I haven’t analysed its coverage of the Psalms, but at least I don’t have to manage bookmark ribbons. Maybe well thought out apps are a good solution for many of us.

      1. Belatedly – yes, that’s the one, accessed via this link on your Chapel page: “Daily Prayer (with different time-zone options) provided by the official Church of England web site, © The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, 2002-2004.”

        I find it very good.

  4. Br. Jeffrey Shy, CoS

    To some degree, the suggestions in the article would be much like the now-out-of-print office book adaptation of the 1979 US BCP under the title of The Prayerbook Office. There was the 7 week Psalter as well as the option to use the “old” 4 week Psalter. The mid-day “little office” had different Psalms for each day. The only “missing” element is (other than the option for a Laudate Psalm to end morning office), would be a “fixed” Psalm structure for morning and evening prayer. The book includes the 2 year 1979 course-reading lectionary for the office and has propers for seasons, greater and lesser feasts and also antiphons, both ordinary and seasonal” for the Psalter. I have hoped that we could revise/update this book and republish it, but that seems to be “off the agenda” for now. Many younger persons seeking a “full” office are turning to the venerable Anglican Breviary, which is an Anglicized/Prayerbook-ized version of the secular Roman office prior to Vatican II.
    I recently returned to the Benedictine Daily Prayer, as it has “in one volume” everything needed for a full version of the office on Benedictine principles, but it does omit some Psalms. It does also have a full “Vigil” office and a Psalter course rather more like the Rule of Benedict as compared to Cranmer’s course-reading version. As for the “serial or course reading” of the Psalter, I have seen some commentaries (from the traditional commenters on the psalms) that suggested that some are “in order” such as the Psalms of Ascent being “stages of the spiritual life.” Beginning with Psalm 1 and the few that follow also suggest a “path” in the spiritual life.

    1. Thanks, Br Jeffrey. You may realise I’m a Cistercian Associate – so appreciate the connection with Benedict’s Rule in my use of the BDP. I use the second edition and have a cycle that uses Vigils’ nocturns instead of Lauds some weeks. I haven’t checked what psalms I’m missing – I need to do that 🙂 Blessings.

        1. Thanks, Br. Jeffrey. Sounds like I need to sit down and go and read/pray those psalms. You may be aware of the controversies around the Psalter in A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa and its omissions. If not – that is another story for another time (unless you want to read my thesis). Blessings.

    2. What Bro. Jeffrey describes is pretty much like the daily office found in our 1985 BAS (heavily based, as Bosco points out, on the 1979 TEC BCP). Personally I don’t feel the need for an ‘office book’; I’m entirely happy with the simplicity of the BAS provision as is, including the two-year lectionary and seven-week psalter as Bro. Jeffrey describes it.

      I also have to say that most of the younger people I talk to who are using a daily office are using a smartphone app version – Forward Day by Day, Mission St. Clare, the ‘Aimer’ app from the C of E Common Worship etc.

      1. Br. Jeffrey Shy, CoS

        Tim Chesterton,
        I certainly appreciate times when I have a “simple” and “bare bones” office. TEC has a Contemporary Office Book that is just that, the Psalms (no antiphons), the offices in Rite II (contemporary language) and the lectionary readings in one, chunky volume. It does the job for that.
        For the youngsters, I keep trying to direct people to a better “app” although Mission St. Clare is pretty good. For the office, I think that the best app is the webpage based version from Derek Olsen, St. Bede’s Breviary. He has hinted by taking poles that he might be involved in a future “paper” breviary. One recent pole was about having all the Psalms in canonical order so that any Psalm schema could be used versus having them “integrated” in the 7-week cursus. I think that the latter one. You probably already know it but, the address is: http://www.stbedeproductions.com/breviary

  5. Let me chime in on the side of “common prayer.” The general goal of the LL article — “preserving as much of the liturgical treasure as possible, but also making it more useful,” is good. Yet I feel that the traditions we already have for common prayer, especially in the Anglican Communion, are already the right ones, and that what we really need is the commitment to use and honor them. Specifically, we need church publishers to produce intelligently designed breviaries that allow us to go through Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer through the entire liturgical year with antiphons for each psalm and for the Benedictus and Magnificat each Sunday and daily in special seasons.

    Now, let me say that the BEST thing I saw in the linked article was the picture of the German “Benediktinisches Brevier” at the end — I can tell you just from the two photographed pages that it is at least in some respects (a slight possibility it’s “in all respects”) better than anything any Anglican body has ever produced in English.

    I am in TEC, but I have also lived in England and seen the mess of daily prayer there. England is great if you live by a cathedral, but otherwise what their raft of books and options offers is, to put it bluntly, positive discouragement to any layman to conceive or try praying the Daily Office. Those of us who have a BCP with all the bare necessities (including a perpetual Daily Office lectionary) should celebrate what we have and try to make sure it is ever continued.

    I think it is more than mere parochialism to say that something like our 1979 Daily Office, with some chant and “catholic” enhancements, is very much what the church’s common daily prayer could and should look like. Yes, each of us who cares about joining that common prayer ends up with something wonky and different and cobbled together from different sources–but I insist that this is because the church and her publishers have not bothered to put it all rationally together. The answer is not to fragment further by coming up with new “common-sense, doable” options, but to take the common prayer we have and present it with masterful design and full consideration of a whole life of prayer between two covers.

    Like the rest of us nerds, I have a “dream breviary” I’d like to own. I even think about getting it custom made for myself, but the real point is to have a good version made for common use–I’d be glad to abandon my idiosyncratic favorites for that goal. Besides a few pages out of our BCP1979, all you really need are some psalm antiphons, seasonal material of the kind Ormonde Plater made (http://www.episcopaldeacons.org/ormonde-plater-archive.html), a few bits of chant music assembled from where they have been done well (St Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter has a few necessaries, and a few more might be scattered among other hymnals and prayer books). A few more pages from Gallagher’s Venitare (http://hmcwordpress.mcmaster.ca/renwick/more-documents/), and we’re done!

    Yes, it will need 4-6 ribbons. But it will be a book any Christian can grow into over a lifetime, it will be worth it, and really good design can make for a lot less flipping and confusion.

    1. Thanks, Tarik. I think your last point is a key one – a discipline we grow into and do not grow out of. Blessings.

  6. Thanks, Bosco. Once in a rare while, an OP appears onscreen that has existed in one’s desires for years. This is one such OP.

    Even a wooden turntable lectern, eg those in Orthodox monasteries, has too few sides to give one to each part. Somehow though, spinning is more kinesthetically gratifying than ribbon-flipping.

    1. Thanks, Bowman. Could your suggestion be combined with the Buddhist tradition of a prayer wheel? We already have the Christian version of beads – though the connection between the rosary and the Psalter (the rosary as a simplified Daily Prayer) was lost when Pope John Paul II changed the number of the Hail Mary prayers from 150 (cf the psalms) to 200 🙁 Blessings. Ps – we could have a new project for Roman Catholics: write 50 more psalms!

  7. The divine office is… boring.

    Every time I see the word «simplify», I know that it hides the meaning of an enhanced opposite. That is true in language planification, railway reglementations, and, among other things, liturgy.

    What you are saying about the combination of the cathedral (or asmatic) office and the monastic office is true. In fact, we have it both in West and East. And throughout the world, those two officed overlap partly. For instance, for what pertains to the divine office, the nowadays Byzantine rite is a combination (by the Studite monks) of the cathedral rite (inherited by today’s Armenian rite) and the Palestinian monastic rite (inherited by today’s Coptic rite). But the Constantinopolitan cathedral rite only had evensong and matins, as normal people with a job only could afford a twice a day attendance. But today, when the Byzantine rite evensong or matins are celebrated in “full”, you will have both the sung psalms with rich antiphons, and recited psalms without antiphons. Weird. The first are fixed psalms that have to say something about the hour of the day; the latter are just a following, from 1 to 150, of the psalter, throughout the week (Saturday night begins with psalm 1, and Saturday morning over seven days ends with psalm 150).

    The cathedral office in the West only had evensong and matins in the beginning. The minor hours were imported from the monastic tradition.
    In the West, unfortunately, the council of Trent freezed the liturgical development, and imposed the Roman breviary to every diocese over which Rome had authority (with some exceptions). The breviary, as a book, was intended for the private use, and everything simplified, but still holding the minor hours.

    It was the genius of Thomas Cranmer that gave us a third sort, that is the parish office. Although is was meant to supplant both the monastic and the cathedral offices, I belive that the contemplatives and the big cathedrals should keep and use all the large books, giving only psalters to the pews.

    However, Cranmer’s office is too raw, and therefore really BORING, if used as such. Let me explain that. If one prays the monastic or cathedral office, among the many things there would be the Venite, Benedictus, maybe Benedicite, which are not addressed to God, but merely to the worshippers. Without proper antiphons and hymns, especially when you have one historical psalm in the monthly course, and when the litany is not said, the BCP matins are reduced to a montage of propaganda, and the people are sent out with not much prayer. Why then bother with the divine office?

    Therefore, what we need is the parish divine office, as compiled by Thomas Cranmer, but supplemented with antiphons and hymns that are addressed to God, and with tunes. The book that is called The English Office does this well, except that: the psalms are written too small, the antiphons are in a different compartiment of the book, and there are no tunes. The untrained worshipper is not able to flip the book back and forth, as explained by you.

    Therefore, the solution should be a book that has everything arranged day by day for the whole week, and by season, at the risk of printing the Magnificat and Benedictus and Te Deum and the collects for peace twenty times over the whole book. The worshipper would have to flip the book only at the psalter, and eventually for the collects of the day (which maight be replaced by a common collect for all the days, for the sake of simplicity).

    And, if different tunes are assigned to each of the days for the Magnificat, Benedictus and Te Deum, the boring factor will fall out. And I am saying that from my experience of daily evensong and matins.

    1. Thanks, George. I would add my own perspective that boring, in and of itself, is not bad or evil. Our inability to live with appropriate boredom is a problem, I believe, in our culture. The goal is prayer, union with God, not overcome boredom. Some boring things enhance union with God. Some parts of church are so complex, many new people cannot get into them. Or the focus is on fulfilling the complexity more than union with God. I checked up on “The English Office Book“. Amazon has it for sale for $5,572.00 – I think I’ll leave that just for the moment. Blessings.

      1. What you write about the boredom is interesting. I had never thought about it that way. However, I remember the times I used to attend the Byzantine mass every day, with the exactly the same text every day, except for the readings, same vestments, same incense, and we never got bored. Or mayeb we did manage the boredom?

        Yes, the English Office is really expensive. When I think that we have produced the “Hymnaire traditionnel en français” (text+tunes= 245 pages) for only five € per piece. I am just saying that it is possible to make good and cheap liturgical stuff (without enslaving little children in Asia or Africa).

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