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PRAYING THE OFFICE

Of course one shouldn’t value disciplined prayer for it therapeutic qualities. Yet at this moment of some measure of crisis in my life, the round of the Daily Offices has proved to be of extraordinary value.

I’m rarely joined by anyone as I say Morning Prayer. I still “cause the bell to be tolled” as the rubric in the earlier Prayer Books required. I have no idea whether any plowmen stop in their tracks as they hear the bell and remember that the Parson is praying for them.

In an age in which earnestness and spontaneity are so valued, words like “duty” and “discipline” seem out of tune. Anglicans have often been accused of using “vain repetitions” a charge which might easily be levelled at those who tell their loved ones that they love them each day. When even the most careful of us has been caught up in the belief that things are only “meaningful” when they issue forth from our own needs or imagination, saying Matins and Evensong, Noonday Prayers and Compline daily surely fail the test of utility.

Yet praying the psalms -even in the infuriating order in which they appear in the lectionary nowadays – reminds us that these were the hymns which Jesus and his disciples used as did their ancestors. We join with a host which may not be numbered as we recite those ancient words some of which are ascribed to a petty king who lived in the Bronze Age.

Hearing the meat of Holy Scripture during the year reminds us of passages we would never bother with left to our own devices and more familiar words take on new and varied meanings as we hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” them.

Praying the Offices takes away from us the temptation to personalize all Scripture reading, all recitation of the psalms, all prayer. +Michael Ramsey warned us of the fetish of turning “God contemplation” into “self-contemplation.”  This age manages to obsess together as its obsesses individually. The most obvious example of this is our one track record about human sexuality as if sex had just been invented!

Yet in the Offices we are praying with the Church, for the Church and by the Church. We join together with our contemporaries from centuries past and centuries to be and find ourselves resting in God’s eternal “now.”

Finding ourselves employing the minutes we use to pray as a gateway into timelessness takes some getting used to. We blink from the light streaming from the entrance to “a new heaven and a new earth”. We sense fleetingly what it will be like when all our church feuds and fights, divisions and tempests are well and truly gone for ever.  The words of the liturgy make few provisions for our cluttering our minds with our problems or even pet causes. We are where God IS, where God is all in all. Nothing matters because God IS.

This unworldliness is not an abdication of concern for the poor, the victims of oppression, war, family divisions and those who starve. Far from it. Where God  is in Trinity, those who are down-trodden find their effective champion and we as the Church are enlivened by the grace which pours forth in the Daily Prayers of the Church to find Jesus in the face of the troubled.

I wish that our church set a daily obligation for clergy to say the Office in church. Such an obligation obtains in many parts of the Anglican Communion, not as something to be enforced but as something binding on the consciences of the ordained. I say this because I believe that the rhythm of daily prayer is one of the most potent means of continued formation and growth. Lent is a good time to begin to observe this holy work or to revive within us the will to pray the Offices in sincerity and truth.

One Response

  1. Last year I had the privilege of being Acting Dean of the Cathedral in Gibraltar (Diocese in Europe).

    The thought came up several times that we should give our newly ordained clergy a 6 or 8 weeks posting there as an intern, to learn the routine within their diocese, and to get a feel for its vastness and complexity.

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