20 October 2014

The Reform of the Daily Office - Part 2

What is the purpose of the Office?

In the first part of this series, I gave a brief overview of the reform of the Office in the Western Church, and discussed the concept of the Cathedral Office, the revival of which has never really occurred in widespread practice. At the conclusion of that post, I posed a series of questions.

Today I explore the first, and quite possibly the biggest question... what is the purpose of the Divine Office?

While answers could (and have!) taken up hundreds of pages, the cliche answer, 'the sanctification of time' still works as well as any other answer that one can develop. From the earliest days of Christianity, some form of daily prayer was understood to be a part of the Christian's walk. The Didache specifically mentions offering the Lord's Prayer three times daily, which seems to roughly correspond to the morning, afternoon, and evening temple prayers referred to in the Acts of the Apostles. This parallels the practices of both the Psalmist (Ps. 55:17) and Daniel (Dan. 6:10) in the Old Testament. Of course, there is also the example of David, who said that he praised God seven times daily, but at the moment I don't wish to focus so much on how many hours to pray as to why we pray at fixed times.

When state that we keep the hours for 'the sanctification of time' we are called to remember that we, while servants of an infinite God, are people who live lives governed, to some extent, by clocks. It doesn't matter of that clock is the intricate motions of the sun, moon, and earth in an annual cycle, or the flipping of the seconds on an iPhone app, time is passing, and we along with it. Each moment we live, we continue our journey down the river of faith that leads us, ultimately, to our heavenly home.

That said, the journey is fraught with distractions, disruptions, and yes, sinful inclinations. Left to our own devices, we would often neglect to spend time in thanksgiving and prayer. We are not the best at keeping Christ in the forefront of our minds. Yes we, baptized and renewed people, can still be distracted by a multitude of earthly enticements. That doesn't mean the enticements are intrinsically evil, mind you, just that they are distractions at times. Thus, the discipline of fixed hour prayer - regardless of the number of hours we keep, is intended to ensure that our focus is recalled on a regular basis to the blessings of God, who, to this day, reaches out to us when we reach out to him. In this way, we sanctify time.

Fixed hour prayer is not a panacea that will alleviate all trouble, distraction, or concern - but it is a powerful tool to keep our minds and hearts fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

In my next post, I'll consider the question: How many hours are appropriate to keep?

02 October 2014

The Reform of the Daily Office - Part 1

In the latter decades of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, the Daily Office has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity among Christians. Long felt to be the duty of monks and the clergy, who were obligated to offer the lengthy prayer offices (in other languages in some traditions), the use of the Offices enjoyed great popular use only in the Church of England and her daughter Churches as both Morning and Evening Prayer became cornerstones of typical parish worship. Often rendered by exquisite choirs, the words of Evensong became melodious companions to generations of the English.

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, fresh revision was made of the Roman Rite's hours. But, in many ways, the Roman Breviary as it exists today still feels more monastic in root and purpose, which is unsurprising, considering the history of Office in western Christian practice.

Anciently, the Western Church's Office was known in two forms - Cathedral and Monastic. The Monastic Office, largely structured after the Rule of Saint Benedict, included a weekly recitation of the complete Psalter, lengthy readings - both Scriptural and Patristic - and eight stops along the journey of the day to offer the Opus Dei, the Work of God. Over time, the Monastic form exerted influence over the prayer life of the clergy in Rome, and from there, the general structure of the Offices took on a distinctly more monastic feel for secular clergy. The transition largely shut the laity out of full, active, and conscious participation of the Office, reducing their presence to mere attendance whilst they focused on their private devotions.

The Cathedral Office, however, was of much simpler form. A smaller corpus of psalmody was used, in order to allow the people to become familiar with at least a few psalms. Since, in the so-called Cathedral Office was intended as corporate prayer for all the people, it made sense for it to bear a mark of noble simplicity, having lavish symbolism to enhance the experience. Large candles were borne in procession as the sun set, incense was burned, and other ritual elements could be added to both teach and enrich.
In the process of the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century, it was often hoped that a Cathedral style Office would be produced, but few firm examples actually surfaced. Several Roman Catholic hymnals produced texts that could be considered Cathedral Offices (GIA and OCP both tend to include something resembling such a form in their publications - at least in their publications up through a decade ago; I have no newer hymnals to examine and see if this is still the practice); but their nature does not, strictly speaking, fulfill the obligation of the clergy to offer the Daily Office, and they are not actual authorized liturgical texts of the Church.

Three notable attempts at Daily Office reform are to be found 'down under' (to us North Americans, anyway) - they are the orders for Daily Service from An Australian Prayer Book (1978), A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (1989), and A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). These three texts appear to share a common heritage, and, while I don't know enough about the history of these Offices to know if they were designed with the intention of serving as a Cathedral Office, their simplicity of form and structure ultimately leaves one with the feel that these offerings are well on the way to meeting at least some of the goals of a Cathedral Office in contemporary liturgical use.

Additionally, while not strictly an Office form, I would note that the fourfold Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families published by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod in Hymnal Supplement 98 and Treasury of Daily Prayer, as well as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's Morning, Evening, and General Devotions in the Christian Worship line (not to be confused with the orders for Morning Praise and Evening Prayer) are likewise steps in the right direction.

In order to determine the best way to move forward today in crafting a form of the Office that will truly become a Prayer of the People, several questions need to be asked concerning the keeping of the liturgical hours:

1) What is the purpose of the Office?

2) How many hours are appropriate?

3) How long is too long, and how short is too short?

4) How shall we treat the Psalter?

5) Is the Office a form of Bible Study, a Devotional, or something unique?

6) How much variety is required, and how much is simply a vain attempt to make the Office artificially interesting?
Over the next few weeks, I hope to write several posts covering the six questions I just asked. I hope you'll join me and offer your own feedback and considerations. I also hope you'll consider sharing your experiences with the Daily Office.
Stay tuned... this could get interesting!

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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