The Daily Office and Private Prayer
For most of my ministry I have been involved with helping individuals form and develop a life of prayer. For reasons that are unimportant here, most of those with whom I worked were priests or on the way to becoming priests. Even when my own life seemed (to many) to be far separated from the church, this has been a very significant part of my ministry. I hope that each of those whom I worked with has learned as much about themselves, their life, their ministry, the church and the gospel as I have.
Of course, this is why I went to Seminary in the first place. I was a “missionary” from the Anglo-catholic Diocese of Albany, where we believed that we existed to help the rest of the Episcopal Church learn that prayer is the center of the life of the church. We were to become catalysts for the rest of the church, to help restore the whole Episcopal Church to its ancient catholic origins. We were not to fight and argue; we were simply to live and pray. God, the most holy Trinity, would work in and through us, and prayer would again become the essence of church life.
Prayer is the heart and soul of any life. Benedict was/is so correct when he states that “To pray is to work; to work is to pray.” THAT is why the church exists – to help people to pray. A parish exists as a local center for prayer. While many things happen at parishes, if the primary purpose is not to pray, that parish is not serving the cause of the gospel, no matter how much good may be done. And, of course, the great act of prayer is the Parish Eucharist on Sunday and Major Feasts – days for which the proper collect is printed in the Book of Common Prayer.
All else flows from this great gathering of the Baptized. The Eucharist is not an intrusion into the life of the parish; something that “needs” to be done because it is “traditional” to do it. The Eucharist is not something that intrudes on the other activities of Sunday morning – including a christian education program. The Eucharist IS the life of the parish. Nothing else has any meaning apart from the Eucharist. It is irrelevant how long the Parish Eucharist takes. This is the full life of the parish, offered, sanctified, broken and united and “missionized.” It is here, at the Parish Eucharist, that the Baptized come alive. It is here, at the Parish Eucharist, that the true and real life of individuals takes its rightful place in the living, resurrected Body of Christ. It is here, at the Parish Eucharist, that the Body of Christ – individually as an inseparable part of the whole – find their task for the Good News. It is here, in the Parish Eucharist, the life of Jesus begins a new week in the local community. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that a Baptized person does that is independent of the Body of Christ as it is fulfilled and completed at the Parish Eucharist.
A Baptized individual can have no real meaning apart from the Body of Christ. In Baptism, each person, individually, dies to “regular,” “normal” human life. Individualism dies in the font. God is resurrected in the font. The Body grows and develops in the font, nourished by the food from the altar. And together, Baptism and Eucharist together, a new being is created, making possible the action of the power of God in the local community and wherever the life goes.
This, I believe, is the essence of the Benedictine Life. Benedict simply saw that the entire Bible is a call to prayer – as the totality of life. Christians (singular cannot exist – after Baptism) ARE alive ONLY in the Body of Christ.
Therefore, I also believe that this Benedictine Life is the essence of the Book of Common Prayer.
That is why the Book of Common Prayer devotes more than half its pages to the Daily Office.
The Daily Office can be seen as the “setting” into which the jewel of the Eucharist is placed. It also can be seen as the blood that brings the “oxygen” of the Spirit to each cell in the Body of Chirst. Without oxygen, any cell will wither and die – whether speaking of a fleshly cell or a spiritual cell.
In our American society today, there is a great thirst for what is called “spirituality.” And indeed there is that thirst in all humans, anywhere. Spirituality is that which bings humans into congruence with that Reality (YHWH) responsible for all that is – whom we call “God.” All search for it; all need it; it comes to those who seek it; the Baptized are those whose task is to help others clarify their quest.
The Daily Office – for us Episcopalians – is the way in which we keep in touch with Reality (YHWH). (When I refer to the Daily Office, I do not include the Reformation peculiarities of general confession at the beginning or multitudes of prayers after the three Office prayers: just verses, psalms, readings, canticles, baptismal creed, Our Father and the daily prayer.) THAT is why the Daily Office is there – to be used each and every day by each and every baptized person in order to remind ourselves that we live in a community, that we depend on others, that this is nothing new and unique, that this is THE means of making possible our Baptismal commitments.
Obviously, it is fitting that the Daily Office should be said in the Parish Church. Benedict was convinced that the Daily Office was a function of Baptism (if he were using today’s language) and so it does not require Holy Orders to do it. In fact, Benedict seems sometimes to be anti-ordained persons! Any group of baptized persons can “do” the Daily Office Daily in any parish church. And equally, any baptized person can “do” the Daily Office anywhere, any time – and do it Daily.
It might be noted that “doing” the Daily Office should not be seen as something unusual, strange, as “earning” anything. It is, for the baptized, in the same category as breathing. Without it, life withers and dies – all life, not just “spiritual” life. And, without it, things in “ordinary” life that are indeed truly spiritual will be missed. We need this connection with each other and with our heart-beat (the Holy Spirit); with our mind (Jesus.): all of which provides both growth and fulfillment of our task to bring the message of the power that underlies the whole of Creation, bringing love and live and peace and joy to all.
Private prayer must be rooted in the Daily Office. If not, it can easily (and usually does) wander off into some never-never land called “spirituality.” Only when and as rooted in the Daily Office can we trust other, external “feelings” and “observations” that come our way. Even when we “do” the Daily Office alone, we are never really alone. Millions are there with us, somewhere saying/singing the Daily Office. It is this source of strength and power that enables us to perceive God in all that we say and do. Sometimes the Daily Office will make us change jobs or even occupations. That is, however, a result of our commitment, made at Baptism, strengthened and fed at the Eucharist, and activated byu our life within the Body of Christ.
So, if you are serious about private prayer, and you do not now “do” the Daily Office, there is no better time than today to begin it.
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