How often have you sat down to pray and have not known what to say? You may even care deeply about a specific topic, but after sixty to ninety seconds your creativity has run its course and you find yourself spending more energy and thought on determining what to say than actually relating to God. The expectation of such unimpeded flowing inspiration must be corrected by a practical realism if we indeed value prayer and believe it to be fundamentally efficacious. Few people have the ability continue long lengths of time in prayer out of their own spontaneous internal resources. Your own experience likely testifies to this. Yet if we believe prayer actually does something (a matter to which I’ll subsequently return), as in, whether one prays or stares blankly at the wall is more than a matter of having a good time or not, but rather makes a real difference in the lives of others – this is an issue we cannot avoid.
Apparently, this post is part of a series explaining how to use written prayers and structures as an aid in prayer. Many of my comments thus far have related to the irony of how a 100% spontaneous approach to prayer can be frustrating and dull while a structured prayer life can be much more dynamic. Ultimately however, we are not simply discussing how to have a better “quiet time.” If we truly believe prayer mysteriously affects the possible outcomes the future holds for real people’s lives, the issue of whether we are spending our prayer time staring at the wall, day-dreaming, thinking up what to say, or actually praying is of urgent importance.
If using written and structured prayer, such as that in the Daily Office, helps us to have a more focused and consistent, and thus enjoyable prayer life, it also means that we are making more of a difference in changing our world through prayer. This is far from incidental, because of we believe our Lord’s words concerning the efficacy of prayer, we are speaking concerning matters of life and death.
Before describing the final “Prayers” section of the Office, I’ll share one technique I’ve used in approaching this section that I’ve found helpful. For each day of the week I have specific “intentions,” a specific target for my prayers, which I carry through the entire Office, including the Psalms, Readings and Prayers. Many of the prayers in the Psalms and in the Office are intentionally general. Each day, I will focus these more general prayers on specific targets. For example, on Sunday, I focus on praying for my church. On Monday I pray for my students, on Tuesday I pray for the nations of Uganda and Rwanda, on Wednesday I pray for my family, and so forth.
After the first three sections of the Office, the Opening, the Psalms and the Readings, the Prayers begin on page 121.
When praying the Office by yourself, you can omit greetings and responses like this one.
The Lord’s Prayer is obviously the central Christian prayer, being given to us directly by Jesus himself.
Suffrages are responsive prayers. When praying individually, you will pray all the lines, but when praying with others they are said or sung antiphonally between a leader and the others assembled. One or both of the sets of suffrages can be used.
Suffrage set A draws its lines from various Psalms and includes prayer for the Church, nation and the world.
Suffrage set B is based on a litany for the sanctification of our life from the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, which dates back to the fourth century.
Here opportunity is given to commemorate a specific saint and remember those shining lights who have gone before as examples for us. If you don’t want to do that, just say “in the communion of all your saints”
A Collect is a short prayer, often one that is assigned to a specific day or season in the Christian Year.
The Collect of the Day is that which corresponds to the given week in the Church Year. The Collect for a given week in the Calendar is used every day during that week, beginning either on Sunday morning, or the evening before that Sunday.
The Collects for each week (and major holidays) are found beginning on Page 211. They are arranged chronologically beginning with Advent. Prayers for Holy Days on fixed dates (rather than according to the Seasons) begin on Page 237.
They are listed as “Contemporary” because the BCP provides duplicate prayers in both traditional (i.e., “King James”) and contemporary English.
Additionally, when I’m wanting a longer prayer time, I may also pray all of the Collects for a given Season. For example, if it was Advent, there is one Collect for each of the four weeks of Advent. On a given night in Advent, I may pray all four collects.
Additional prayers are given within the Order for Evening Prayer on the next three pages (pp. 123-5). Any or all of them can be used each evening.
You may be thinking that using just these ten fixed prayers (plus the variable Collect of the Day) may be limiting. If you find that to be the case, there are seventy additional prayers starting on Page 810, which cover a wide variety of topics. This page shows the beginning of the Table of Contents, to give a sampling of the topics included.
Another source within the Prayer Book for a more expanded time of intercession is The Great Litany. Published in 1544 and included in the 1549 BCP, The Great Litany, was first piece of liturgy ever composed in English. The current version is almost identical to that version, save a few minor changes. It is an urgent plea for God’s mercy over a wide range of topics. It generally takes 10-15 minutes to pray through in its entirety.
A further way times of prayer and intercession using the BCP can be expanded is to use each phrase in a Suffrage or the Litany, or each collect as a “bidding,” to which you would add 30-90 seconds of spontaneous prayer related to that theme or topic, possibly mentioning specific people or situations that relate. As soon as you don’t easily have something additional to pray on that theme, move on to the next phrase.
Any of these extra prayers or the Litany can be said here, where the rubric says “authorized intercessions and thanksgivings may follow.”
Other options at this point would include
–using prayers that you personally have written
–praying prayers from Scripture
–using prayers from other books
–following a prayer list
The Office begins to wrap up with a concluding prayer of thanksgiving, within which you can pause and mention specific items from the day you are thankful for.
After one more optional concluding prayer, comes the ancient closing versicle and response, “Let us Bless the Lord // Thanks be to God” and the Office is done!