Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Wisdom of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer

Part II - The Daily Offices As Daily Offices.

Daily Morning and Evening Prayer constitute one of the greatest treasures to be found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (abbreviated hereafter as "BCP" in this post). They provide a rich diet of God's Word for the daily sustenance of God's people. We are told that in the early church, in different parts of the known world, there were two daily services provided for all the people which were regularly attended by them. As time passed, these daily offices seem gradually to have become the preserve of "professional" prayers, the clergy and lay-brothers/sisters in the monasteries, in the large cathedral churches and basilicas, or in the chapels of university colleges. The two early offices developed, with regional variations, into a set pattern of multiple prayer services or so-called Day Hours (Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline) and one Night Office (Mattins). Obviously, such a full daily (and nightly) round of prayer could not be observed by the ordinary folk of the parish who laboured in the fields or in the markets or in other vocations throughout the day.

The English Reformation of the 16th century has been described as, in part, a "rediscovery of the congregation". The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, in the first (1549) and second (1552) editions of the English BCP, sought to re-established two daily services of prayer for the benefit, not just of the clergy and monastics, but of all the people of England's parishes. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, as they appear in the prayer books of 1549 and 1552, use elements of the medieval Day Hours and Night Office, but in a form greatly simplified. They were designed to be vehicles for the real conversion and spiritual growth of both clergy and people by means of the consistent and systematic public reading and hearing of the Word of God.

Cranmer himself in his Original Preface (1549) to the BCP, points out that the services of the Church of England had become so complicated that "many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out" (I cannot help but see a smile pass across his face as he writes this). He also makes clear what his purpose was in supplying the simplified Daily Offices. He wanted the Scriptures to be read right through without their "continual course" being broken by interpolated bits and scraps, such as hymns, anthems, responds and invitatories. That is, whole books of the Bible were to be read through chapter by chapter, day by day, month by month, year by year. He provided a Calendar, or list of daily Bible readings, which we call the Daily Office Lectionary, "which is plain and easy to be understood". That is, he provided an
order of prayer, and for the reading of Holy Scripture, much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers, and a great deal more profitable and commodious, than that which was of late used. (from the Original Preface of 1549)

His guiding purpose, in other words, was spiritual edification, the building up of both clergy and people, by means of the constant and faithful proclamation of the Word of God. His desire was to profit the people entrusted to him by making God's truth accessible to them.

I believe that one of our greatest responsibilities as faithful Anglicans is to honour the Archbishop's purposes and intentions. I am not ashamed of being called an Anglican when that word is properly defined. The Bible, with the use of the Prayer Book, and a faithful, honest, humble submission to the 39 Articles of Religion (which includes, by definition, a submission to the three Creeds of the primitive Church, to the Homilies of the Church of England and to the Textus Receptus), with the authority of the Bible being first and foremost, these give us a way of being Christian that is healthy, rich, and deeply rooted in Christian history. For Christianity is not something that we are required to re-invent for ourselves day by day. It is a great river into which we step, by the grace of God alone, by the call of God, and by which we are carried along in one good, strong current or another. The real Anglican current of that great river carries me along just fine and I am thankful to God for it.

For those of us who are clergy, we can best respect Thomas Cranmer's vision by our own faithful, daily use of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, for this is clearly what he purposed for us:

And all priests and deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause. And the Curate that ministereth in every Parish-Church or Chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the Parish-Church or Chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God's Word and to pray with him. (from "Concerning the Service of the Church")

We may not have a bell which we can cause to be tolled. We may not even have a Church or a Chapel to which we can call the people to come. We may live very busy, tent-making sorts of lives. But saying the Daily Offices remains our daily responsibility and an example we ought to be setting for the people under our care. Let us always remember, although we tend not to use the word anymore, that we are still "curates" and have as our responsibility the "cure of souls", which "cure" has as its root meaning our care and concern for those entrusted to us.

I have always been somewhat surprised to find that many clergy, in various churches which claim to be Anglican, feel no responsibility for saying the Daily Offices but are wont instead to substitute other forms of daily devotions and disciplines. Devotional reading, as well as biblical and theological study, ought to be part of our daily lives, as time permits, as should extempore prayer throughout the day, but the Daily Offices ought to be bedrock for us, the place where we begin. They are the ground floor of our devotional life as clergy.

The compilers of the 1928 American BCP clearly had the intention of making the Daily Office much more flexible and adaptable than it might arguably be said to be in the 1662 English BCP. In 1662, there are few rubrics that allow one to shorten the service or to make it more flexible, although it is important to remember here the so-called "Shortened Services Act" passed in the English Parliament in 1872 which permitted the occasional shortening of Morning and Evening Prayer and provided guidance for the same. But we see in the 1928 American book a clear attempt to make the Daily Offices more readily adaptable to local, 20th century situations. Although it is possible to have too much flexibility and too many options, so that the basic shape of the service is so distorted as to become unrecognizable, some flexibility is surely welcome, when the heart of the service is protected. This balance seems to be struck in the 1928 book.

In the 1928 American BCP version of Morning Prayer, after saying one or more of the opening Sentences of Scripture, the minister is not required to say the long Exhortation to Confession which begins "Dearly beloved brethren...". He may replace this with an exhortation which consists of a single sentence. But he may also omit altogether the Exhortation, the Confession, and the Absolution, and go directly to the first Lord's Prayer. He may also omit the Exhortation, the Confession, and the Absolution, AND the first Lord's Prayer, going directly to the Versicles and Responses, "O Lord, open thou our lips ...". After the first lesson, he has the option of saying or singing ONE OF THREE different canticles, one of which is the very short "Benedictus Es, Domine", a canticle not found in 1662, being taken from the Apocryphal book "The Song of the Three Holy Children" where it forms the first part of what we call the "Benedicite" (one of the other canticle options in both 1662 and 1928). After the second lesson, he likewise has the option of ONE OF TWO different canticles, including the short Psalm 100, the "Jubilate". After the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, further short Versicles and Responses (fewer than in 1662), the Collect of the Day, the Collect for Peace, and the Collect for Grace, the minister may simply end the service

with such general intercessions taken out of this Book as he shall think fit, or with the Grace.

In other words, he may essentially end Morning Prayer after the third Collect, just as in the original prayer books of 1549 and 1552. Clearly, he has a great deal of freedom to make Morning Prayer adaptable to even the most busy, modern, 21st century cyber-world schedule. It is difficult to see how such a service could take longer than 15 minutes. And a similar flexibility is provided for Evening Prayer.

If the clergy ought to be committed to saying the Daily Offices, it seems also incumbent upon the laity of our parishes to remember and respect Archbishop Cranmer's intentions as well. We have enjoyed in North America and England the venerable custom of having Morning Prayer celebrated regularly as our main Sunday morning service, a custom which seems to have developed in the 19th century. Previously, the pattern on Sunday morning was Morning Prayer, the Great Litany, and the Holy Communion or, more frequently, the Ante-Communion, a custom which continued up into the 20th century in many places. But many of us North-American Anglicans have grown up learning to love the beauty of Morning Prayer (it alternated with Holy Communion in varying patterns, of course), complete with its organ, choir, sung canticles, hymns, sermon, and offertory. The 1959 Canadian BCP wisely provides rubrics which recognize this custom, permitting a sermon after the Third Collect of Morning Prayer, for example, or after the Grace, followed by an offertory and a hymn.

Yet however much we have grown to love Morning Prayer in that form (and hopefully we love it in that form because it gives us so much of God's Word), we need to remember that it is a Daily Office and is meant to be PART OF OUR DAILY LIVES AS WELL. Immediately, we shall hear those voices which will say that such discipline is not required of the laity as it is of the clergy and this is so. But it was what the old Archbishop wanted for the people of the church and it will surely be profitable to them. It may be that many lay folk are unable to find the time to say Morning and Evening Prayer each day, although it will be instructive to compare the daily time spent in prayer with the daily time spent, after work, before a screen of some kind. But with the great flexibility provided, for example, in the 1928 BCP, there really does not seem to be any reason why even the laity may not learn to use the Daily Offices as such. At the least, it would be possible for our people to begin to edify themselves by reading each day the lessons provided in the Daily Office Lectionary. And once again, that Lectionary in the 1928 book is notable for providing plenty of options and variations.

What I am suggesting is that, as Anglicans, we should all be SERIOUS STUDENTS of the prayer book. We should be students of the Bible on a daily basis, of course, that really being the whole point of the Daily Offices, but being students of the prayer book can only help us to be better students of the Bible as well. A serious student of the prayer book will be familiar with what is in the book, will know the different services that are there, and how they relate to one another, for the various services are entirely interdependent. The celebration of the Holy Communion assumes, for example, the proper use of the Daily Offices, and a basic understanding of the Catechism.

Being a serious student of the prayer book also means knowing that options and variations and minor changes are going to part of our regular Sunday fare and that we should learn to welcome them. Parishes which insist, for example, on never using a particular canticle of Morning Prayer because "the Reverend Mr. Brown never used it during his 200 glorious years of ministry with us", ought to be awakened to their perversity. A minister of the Anglican Orthodox Church, without doubt, has a duty to follow the rubrics of the BCP when he leads a public liturgy in the parish, and he is wise to be sensitive to local custom, but as long as he follows those rubrics he is doing his duty faithfully, even if it means that there are some slight variations from the Sunday before or from the well-remembered patterns established by some beloved previous minister. No congregation or clergyman, even a bishop, really has the right to overrule the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or to tell a minister that what the BCP tells him is an option is entirely ruled out by fiat of the congregation or by some other unwritten, pseudo-romish tradition. This is not faithfulness to the Anglican Way ... the Bible, the Prayer Book, and the Articles ... but a perilous capitulation to local idiosyncracy and pettiness. An Anglican congregation that refuses to use portions of the prayer book has simply taken it upon itself to revise the prayer book according to its own preferences, something which it has absolutely no right to do. For example, according to the Canons of the Anglican Orthodox Church, a revision of the 1928 prayer book can only take place by decision of two separate national conventions of the church, a very healthy proviso.

Again, daily Morning and Evening Prayer are among the greatest treasures to be found in our BCP. They are instruments of grace to us because they proclaim to us, constantly, incessantly, gloriously, the great Word of Grace, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They keep us focused there. They are a daily still point in the midst of a rapidly turning world. Let us thank God for them and day by day, Sunday by Sunday, year by year, allow God, through them, that is, through His Word and Spirit, to establish in us what by His grace we trust he has already wrought in us. And to His Name be all the glory.

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