I wish I were one of those people who prays the Daily Office every day. I really do! I appreciate how a regular schedule of psalms, Scripture readings, and prayers can add substance to one’s prayer life.
There are a number of forms of Daily Office (aka the Liturgy of the Hours) out there, all of them ultimately deriving from the ancient forms of prayer and devotion the early monks hammered out in the Egyptian desert. There is, of course, the Roman Catholic version, which can be found at Universalis.com. Then there is the Episcopal version (actually, two distinct “rites”) from the Book of Common Prayer. (Click here for an online Episcopal Daily Office.) The Lutherans have their version as well. Truth be told, every Christian tradition that has been around 500 years or more has a form of daily prayer that corresponds to what I’m talking about.
The Daily Office is a way of observing the monastic “hours of prayer.” In ancient times, monks would pause for prayer at seven times during the day plus an additional Office at night. Monasticism was originally a lay-driven counter-cultural movement within the church. They would gather mainly to chant the Psalms. Traditionally, they would chant the entire Psalter over the course of a week. Some Celtic monastic leaders are said to have prayed all 150 psalms in a day, but I’m not sure I believe that!
In recent centuries, churches have streamlined the Liturgy of the Hours to make it more accessible to laypeople. The monks still observe all eight hours, but now there are also simplified forms with only two or three hours of prayer.
Most forms of the Daily Office have a common structure. In simplest terms, one begins with Psalm-singing, then moves to the reading of Scripture, and concludes with prayer–with the Lord’s Prayer enjoying a central place.
As I said, I wish I could pray the Daily Office. I would love, for example, to follow the schedule of psalmody found in the BCP, through which one prays through the Psalter once every month. I would love to order my devotional Scripture reading around the Daily Office Lectionary, with an Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel reading for each day of the year.
I’ve tried such things a few times in the past and enjoyed great benefits from them. But the same factors that distract me from daily prayer generally make it an unrealistic goal for me at this point in my life. I am learning to be an opportunistic pray-er, snatching my three times per day whenever and wherever I can get them. (And, thanks be to God, I have been getting them for a couple of weeks now!) First let me get the routines established; I’ll work on expanding the time and effort involved later.
Here is the halfway-house I’m constructing for myself: Rather than using the full-blown Office, I’ve paired it down to three essentials:
I’ve already discussed how I like to use the Lord’s Prayer as a template for private prayer. Now I’ll say a word about Psalmody and next I’ll say something about Scripture reading.
My bare-bones, opportunistic, and portable approach to Psalm-singing is to commit three psalms to memory: Psalm 100 for morning prayer, Psalm 23 for mid-day prayer, and Psalm 117 for evening prayer. The distinct advantage of this is that I already have Psalms 100 and 23 memorized, and Psalm 117 is only two verses long, so I’ll quickly have that one under my belt as well. Furthermore, I have learned a couple of very simple psalm-chants by listening to Cynthia Bourgeault’s audio-book on Singing the Psalms. So not only can I recite these psalms, I can actually chant them (after a fashion). Hey, I told you committing things to memory so you have them when you need them is key!
Would I love to spend more time in the Psalms? You bet! As but one example, I would really love to have Psalm 63 memorized so I have a suitable morning Psalm for the penitential seasons (Advent and Lent). Eventually, by God’s grace, I’ll get there. For now, I can spend a little time each day (in the car or even in the shower!) singing a Psalm from memory and praying in the words that Jesus taught. I can’t imagine the average first-century convert had much more than that available to them when they engaged in private prayer.
technorati tags: book of common prayer, daily office,monasticism, psalms, psalter