How to Pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (Part 6) – The Prayers

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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.

Evening Prayer 7 (121)

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.

Evening Prayer 8 (122)

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.

211 - Collects

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.

Evening Prayer 9 (123)

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.

810

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.

147 - Litany

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.
Evening Prayer 10 (125)

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

–free intercession

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.
Evening Prayer 11 (126)

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!

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4 Responses to How to Pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (Part 6) – The Prayers

  1. Rev. Jeremy Phelps says:

    Absolutely amazing! Well done brother. I have never seen or heard of a better or unbiased explanation the BCP. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. May the Lord richly bless you for your hard work on this! Cranmer would have been proud.

  2. Sherri Wood says:

    Wow! I’ve been trying to get a handle on using the BCP for daily prayer for weeks now and raised my hands in surrender yesterday. I decided to search the web one last time this evening and stumbled on your site. This is the best, most clear explanation I found. It must have taken a tremendous amount of work. Thank you so much!
    Now for the zinger–
    I work full time and don’t have 4 hours a day for such a lengthy prayer. I just finished reading a book titled
    IN CONSTANT PRAYER by Robert Benson. I loved it. A very easy and pleasent read about getting back to the habit of the daily office. He pointed out that most of us don’t have hours a day to devote to prayer. ( The spirit may be willing,but our modern work day gets in the way.) For people like me who long for this discipline, we need a way to shorten the office. He does his in about 12 minutes. I’ll have to read it again to figure out how. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated.
    Thamnks again for a wonderful site.

  3. Richard says:

    Shari – in terms of shortening the Office my thoughts are three:
    1) Skip any part were it says “may be said” or such – these parts are optional
    2) Shorten the amount of Psalms. The original method is to pray/sing the entire book of Psalms in sequence every 30 days. You could lengthen it to every 60 days by simply using, for example, the “Day 1 Morning Prayer” psalms on a given day and then using the “Day 1 Evening Prayer” psalms on the next day. Even shorter would just be to use one psalm during each office, although Psalm lengths do vary. The longer Psalms are broken up in the BCP, so that should help.
    3) Use only one reading. If you pray morning and evening, you can use the OT reading in the AM and the Gospel in the PM for one year, then the next year use the NT in AM and Gospel in PM, or something like that.

    Another approach some take, is to say everything fast. I personally don’t like this approach. It seems difficult for me to connect with God this way. I would rather limit the amount of material covered and pray it more slowly than rush through a ton of material.

    I would also recommend, on days you don’t work, perhaps Saturday and Sunday, to schedule time when you can do a longer version of at least one of the offices and do it leisurely.

    Additionally – you might check out all of the prayer podcasts that are available for free online and in iTunes. One in particular, called “Morning Prayer from the Episcopal Church in Garrett County” prays through the BCP Morning Prayer each day with the invitatory psalm, one psalm appointed psalm and two readings and is about 15-18 minutes long. Something like this is perfect for listening to while doing something else, like getting ready for the day or driving in the car.

  4. Fred says:

    Thank you so much for providing this great explanation!! I’ve recently found my way to the Episcopal Church from the Roman Catholic Church, and wanted to continue my tradition of morning and evening prayer. You have provided an easy to understand rubric. What a gift to have the Book of Common Prayer! God bless you!

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