A Quick Start Guide to Praying the Daily Office
In this week’s sermon (5/17/15), I made my case for praying the daily office (a short, scripted liturgy that is performed either alone or in a group, but always in recognition that one is a part of the full body of Christ).
In the sermon I give the historical background of the office, why I think it is the easiest way to begin a habit of prayer and how it has changed my relationship with God very much for the good! Now for the “how-to” bit…
Begin by downloading a .PDF copy of The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church, 1979). (We Presbyterians have a version of this we call The Book of Common Worship, but I like this one better.)
One of the many beauties of The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is that the page numbers are always the same. Hard copy, electronic, large print, whatever…page 75 is always page 75. Genius!
So open that .PDF and scroll your way to p. 136, Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families. On each of the next pages you will find a very short liturgy for morning prayer, prayer at noon, in the early evening and before bed (end of the day). Voila! The daily office in its shortest form (less than 2 minutes if you wish, or extend your petitions for yourself or intercession for others and the world).
If you are new to prayer, or trying to reestablish the habit after some time away, this is this place to start! Start with just morning prayer, or maybe prayer before bed. Then work your way towards more and more times per day. Perhaps you can see how just this simple exercise, repeated many times, can have a dramatic impact on making the biblical story alive within our heart.
As this practice becomes easier and you are ready for a little more variety in your diet, turn to p. 127, An Order for Compline. This is simply prayer before bed in its longer form (written for group prayer, but you can just do all the parts). This is my favorite.
You will immediately notice that the basic structure remains the same. There is a bit more content, and there is now a variety of choices for psalms, for readings, collects… Choose your own adventure prayer!
Now notice also the direction on pp. 128 and 131 about “other suitable selections” from scripture. If you are ready to add more scripture to your prayer time or to expand the readings, turn to p. 933 and find the Daily Office Lectionary. (A lectionary is simply a calendar of readings – what to read when. And the purpose of the lectionary is to be sure we read through the whole of the biblical story and not let ourselves get stuck in our favorite few spots.)
Instructions for the lectionary are at the top of p. 934. I’ll let you do the math, but May 2015 puts us in Year One. And the readings for this week are found on the bottom of p. 966. You’ll see readings for each day of the week: OT, NT and from the Gospels. Those numbers are the psalms for the day (note that BCP includes an excellent translation of the psalms, beginning on p. 585). And that diamond symbol separates morning from evening.
So let’s say you want to do Compline for today (May 17th, 2015). You’d turn to p. 964 (7th Sunday in Easter) and see that the evening psalms are 19 and 46. And the readings are from Ezekiel, Ephesians and Matthew. Pick any or all to add or substitute into Compline. You are now praying the daily office through the liturgical year! And as a result, you will never pray alone again (people all over the world are praying this with you, right now, lending you their strength and them yours!).
But you’ve got your .PDF and you’ll want to structure things your way at least some of the time. So go explore the rest of the BCP. A longer version of Morning Prayer (for a congregation, but you can always do it alone or in a small group) is found on p. 75 (Rite Two just means it’s the contemporary language version; Rite One sounds like the King James Bible). Evening Prayer is found on p. 115.
And if you feel like all this page turning – from the lectionary to the psalms to the office – is just too much… The nice people at the Episcopal Church will e-mail you the office (long versions of Morning and/or Evening Prayer) with all the pieces in place. Just click here to subscribe. How nice is that?!?
Want more collects (“collecting” the prayers of the community; i.e., short, broad prayers we all say together)? Take a look at pp. 211ff for collects arranged by the liturgical season or pp. 809ff for collects arranged by topic.
And if you want to go for the bonus round, the lectionary for corporate worship begins on p. 887. Again, I’ll let you do the math, but on May 17, 2015 we are in Year B, celebrating the 7th Sunday in Easter (see p. 906).
The office is definitely easier than assembling anything Ikea sells, and the end product will endure far longer.
If you find it helps, send me an e-mail and let me know. 🙂