This may seem to be a rather strange topic, but it is occasioned by the arrival of a new church year. Sunday December 2 is the First Sunday in Advent and the notion of a new beginning certainly invites one into a renewed life of prayer and a deeper personal participation in the life of the Church. Some purists will object to this version of the Anglican schedule of daily scripture readings (there are several!) and one must concede that it is the work of human hands and presents some difficulties.
While I am a “fan” of the ’28 (the crack cocaine of spirituality) I do not contend that it is appropriate for regular worship. I explained all of that right here. Some will object to my seeming neglect of the original 1928 lectionary. That work is just fine and provides a good reading of scripture throughout the church year. The Church of England reading schedules follow the civil calendar and are less satisfactory. The revised 1945 readings in the 1928 BCP follow the church year with a very appropriate disposition. Nonetheless, if you embark on a reading plan based on this outline, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The readings for the year are in the front of the book and have the appointed texts for Morning and Evening Prayer. These were, for centuries, the principle worship services. Many Episcopal churches had both services as recently as 50 years ago. The expansion of cities and the increasing over-commitment of work, family and school obligations have reduced the formal public service. Many individuals, families, groups, and religious orders continue with this useful tradition, however.
Each day is represented by a line of scripture selections. Morning is on the left, Evening on the right. Each has a reading from Psalms, the Old Testament and New Testament. It takes about 20 minutes to read Morning or Evening Prayer. If that seems like a lot, here is a suggestion. Morning and Evening Prayer selections are, generally speaking, interchangeable. If you only have time to read the Office once a day, use Morning Prayer one year and Evening Prayer readings for the next year. Be careful during Advent (where the Isiah readings follow in sequence for both Morning and Evening, and Passiontide (the two weeks before Easter) when long sections of John are read in both services.
Some of the citations are broken into three sections. For example, look at the Saturday morning selection for the Trinity, 23rd week. 2 Kings 25:8-11,22,25-26. This is about the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. There are details of the looting excluded and a mass execution along with some other assorted killing. Please, this is not exegesis. I am attempting to suggest that the reader should just begin reading at the first verse and go all the way to the end of the selection. The best rule is to plan ahead and expand the assigned reading. This is the most maddening aspect of the 1945 readings. The editors were very queasy over divine retribution and sex. They completely omit the Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11) and the second half of Romans 1. All you need to do is pay attention and put them back in.
Your Bible probably does not contain the apocryphal books. In the lectionary,the titles of these books appear in italics. The original Authorized Standard Version (King James) included them and Anglicans “doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras, The rest of the Book of Esther,
The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Wisdom,
The Book of Tobias, Jesus the Son of Sirach,
The Book of Judith, Baruch the Prophet,
The Song of the Three Children, The Prayer of Manasses,
The Story of Susanna, The First Book of Maccabees,
Of Bel and the Dragon, The Second Book of Maccabees (Article VI).
Roman Catholics take these as authoritative scripture, Anglicans do not. My readings from these works turn up two problems, praying for the dead and the so-called “treasury of merit.” The latter has to do with an idea that John Doe is so super-righteous that his heavenly account is overflowing with “merit.” In fact, it is so full that there is plenty of left over merit to share with miserable offenders like me. This flies in the face of Reformational theology. We are saved by God’s grace and the blood of Christ. Period. None of those errors come up in the Daily Office readings, so take the route of least resistance, get a new Bible with Apocrypha, and benefit from the readings. These books give us a good insight into Jewish thought at the time of Christ.
Tap. Tap. Are you still there? Good.
Finally, when one reads the Daily Office, everything points to Easter. You have to know the date of Easter (or a web site that has a liturgical calendar). You make two turns every year; one in the late fall facing Christmas, and another for Easter. You may find the Churchman’s Ordo Kalendar helpful. Ignore the so-called “feast days.” This site is good for figuring out what week you are in and where you are headed, but it is under the sad influence of Anglo-Catholics and the ritualist movement. For 2013:
- Easter is March 31, 2013
- Epiphany (always January 6) falls on a Sunday
- There are two Sundays after Epiphany
- We turn toward Easter on Septuagesima (70 days) on January 27
Once you make the shift from Epiphany season toward Easter, you are fixed up for the entire year. It follows right straight through.
The Book of Common Prayer provides a schedule for observing Holy Days, These celebrate Apostles, Evangelists, and essential doctrines. These are the “feasts” on fixed dates. It is a little tricky getting them in sync with the regular readings. The good news is that there is not an over-abundance of special days. It is manageable, and if you feel lost, turn to the site referenced above. Remember, Protestant Anglicans do not follow most of the days on the calendar (and don’t get me going on liturgical colors), but it will probably assist locating the appropriate observances of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
As you can see, getting in sync with the church year involves some effort We are called to a life in Christ, and he is the head of the church – a living organism. A life of prayer and scriptural meditation in harmony with the liturgical seasons is very much worth your time. You will find, over the years, that you have a deeper appreciation of scripture. The Daily Office forms the practice of regular prayer and leads one away from the typical approach to God as the Heavenly Concierge. The God of the Prayer Book is the distinctive Christian Trinitarian Supreme Being; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Almighty God. He is the one who hears and answers our prayers.