Personal Devotion and the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer

November 29, 2012

This essay continues the line of thought in the immediately preceding post, “How to use the Daily Office Lectionary of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (1945 edition).” Morning and Evening Prayer are the Anglican replacement for the Roman Catholic observance of the “Liturgy of the Hours,” previously known as the Roman Breviary. At the time of Archbishop Cramner, there were eight “hours,” or sets of readings established for various times of day.Two things yo must know are that,observing  the “hours” was an obligation for every clergyman and member of most religious orders. Secondly, it was complicated and every cleric needed a library just to do the obligatory readings.

The  English reformers greatly simplified the entire liturgical life of the church with the Book of Common Prayer. Morning and Evening Prayer contain Psalms, Old and New Testament readings, along with a confession, absolution, prayers of praise and thanksgiving. It was so streamlined that lay people could attend two church services each day and hear a large portion of scripture read aloud over the course of a year and be formed spiritually with trinitarian prayers addressing more than purely personal and momentary needs. The congregations made petition for the universal church, ministers, civil government.

Some churches in the Church of England tradition maintain a remnant of Morning and Evening Prayer, but it is not a common occurrence. In the past 50 or 60 years, very many Episcopal churches conducted these services on a daily schedule. Housing patterns, work schedules, and the faster pace of life have worked together to consign these two ceremonies, once considered essential to the life of a congregation, to obsolescence. Many individuals, however, retain the practice as a mater of spiritual discipline.

In fact, you may have discovered a couple of internet sites that assist one in the routine. It is unfortunate that the best and most user-friendly is based on the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  Learning how to use the lectionary is well within the capability of any reasonably literate person. The previously referenced post on this blog provides a good deal of advice for the beginner.

The best course of action is to follow the structure provided in the 1928 edition of the BCP, as revised in 1945. This version has 611 pages and may also be quickly identified by the “Certificate” immediately after the title page, “signed” by John Wallace Suter and dated September 1945. My earlier essay discussed the changes and objections to the 1945 lectionary. The purpose here is to outline a method for using the church services of Morning and Evening Prayer as personal devotion.

It is actually quite straightforward. Remember to take your time and think through the words. Stop after each segment and consider the meaning contained in the various texts. Let the Holy Spirit work! Remember that this exercise represents the prayer of the entire catholic church. You may be all alone, or with just a friend or your family, but the prayer is the voice of the body of Christ directed to the Father in Heaven, through the Son, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Morning Prayer begins on page 3, and Evening Prayer is on page 11. These are structurally identical and each contain some of the same prayers. As you devotionally enter into MP or EP, do not be discouraged. You will quickly get the hang of how it works.

  • Select one (or more) of the opening sentences of Scripture. Note that there are special ones for the important days in the calendar. Stop and set your mind in a prayerful attitude. Thank about the verse. Create a mental image.
  • The next item you will be using is the “General Confession.” Stop and confess your sins. Reflect on your actions and neglects. This is a part of your sanctification.
  • Recite the Lord’s Prayer. Thank about what it means. Take a moment with it.
  • Read the responses. Call on God to use your voice for his praise and glory.

The next section of MP/EP is the reading of scripture. Please note that I have omitted some of the daily psalms and canticles. Instead of reading these, I like to contemplate on the individual readings. You may find that you have a special appreciation for one or two and use them. Why not? There are three assigned elements and you will find them in the lectionary. This is discussed in the previous post.

  • The Creed follows the readings (and a possible canticle). The Nicene Creed is the rule of belief enacted by the universal church.
  • The traditional placement of the “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.” Follows the Creed. No, it is not in the ’38, but I think it should be. I use it there, but you don’t have to.
  • Read the responses. Soon you will know them by heart.
  • The first collect is typically the collect for the previous Sunday. It may also be a collect for a special day of celebration. That is in the lectionary.
  • There are two collects permanently set for the next position. You will need to flip back to the rite for the MP/EP.
  • Following this are set collects for national government, the clergy, all sorts and conditions of men, and a General Thanksgiving. You may add to these with other appropriate prayers from the BCP, or your own petitions.
  • Conclude with 2 Cor 13:14.

This may look like a lot of trouble, but there is enormous spiritual value. The prayers offer suitable praise to Almighty God and direct us away from the common practice of addressing Him as our Omniscient Butler. The believer is reminded that he is not only an individual seeking the face of God, but part of the worldwide assembly of faithful people. Time is one of the most important possessions of any human being, especially set in the modern culture and this practice yields to the Most High the share of our time that he is due. Finally, the scriptures that give us spiritual life are read in a setting of reflection and prayer. God will direct our hearts if we learn to be still and allow him to overwhelm our sinful nature and speak to the inner person.

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