First, I would suggest for our purposes we look at this page; then read on.
I am currently part of a long-standing bulletin board community, one of whose threads concerns the celebration of the daily office. Often those who post have collections of breviaries contemporary or otherwise; some post to ask queries about minute details in the celebration; others sometimes offer helpful reviews of office books. What holds them together is a desire to continually pray to and praise God on a daily basis, using words which, astonishingly, come from Scripture. I have talked about this here before, in early 2006, but I may as well bring it up again because it has become a theme of my life in recent years.
I do not find serious problems with spontaneous prayer, and the only other form of prayer I personally prefer, other than the office, is wordless meditation. (A moment of silence, I believe, would be most appropriate in a society which is increasingly becoming diverse.) However, I have become a little more liturgical than I have had in the past. So often I catch myself giving invocations that sound suspiciously like collects, complete with ascription and doxology. It really has to do with having been immersed in a structured form of daily prayer.
I mentioned on one of my sites that there was one particular office I memorized, and whose psalter I can recite from memory, with periodic prompting. It is the office of Compline, and there is a particular reason I decided to learn it by heart. Historically, monks had to do so, because it was said in almost pitch-darkness in their dormitories. St. Benedict prescribes three unvarying psalms for Compline: 4, 91, and 134. These are the same psalms prescribed for Compline on Saturdays in Celebrating Common Prayer, which the compilers suggest can be used as the daily form of Compline. So I did.
Those who know me may think that this sort of thing comes easily. Memorizing Compline, trying to say Morning and Evening Prayer, going to the local Anglican seminary periodically to celebrate the Office with them—all these took me three years to learn. And it was only more than a year ago when I got the office book I currently use, and with which I have become comfortable. (My classmates from college may have noticed that, during one reunion, I put it out alongside the bibles of my Evangelical peers.) There are many other office books out there like mine, but they all share some common things. My book would list this under three headings: Preparation, Word of God, Prayers. What we would first find, invariably, is some invocation. The classic beginning-of-the-day invocation, “O Lord, open my lips,” is a quote from Psalm 51. Then there would be some opening psalm, usually Psalms 95 or 100, or as in my office, a weekly cycle of them. A hymn normally follows. (In the evening, the office as celebrated publicly begins, or ought to begin, with the lucernarium or blessing of the light, invoking Christ as the Light of the world.) The Word of God is the CCP compilers’ way of lumping together the following materials:
- the psalter, which can either be invariable or in a cycle. Monastic cycles of psalms emphasize that all should be used over a given period of time; others would leave a number of them out. (Psalm 58 is a good example.)
- canticles from Scripture, or in some offices, from traditional sources;
- a reading or readings, which may be short or long. Anglican offices and the RC Office of Readings usually have two readings, one from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and another from the New Testament. (However, in a variant which I wish the people at St. Andrew’s used, one reading is prescribed for Evensong. This may be the occasion to read a patristic reading, or give a brief sermon, in public celebration.)
The prayers, of course, involve the Lord’s Prayer either at the beginning or toward the end; often litanic material is included, and these culminate with the saying of one or more collects, or prose prayers. My office book, in keeping with contemporary Roman and Anglican practice, suggests using one collect.
There is always special material for feasts of heroes of the faith, and for the seasons of the year.
Now it may be daunting for those who are not used to it, and yet desire something of that sort. I have to admit that to educate people about the celebration of the office, as a way of liturgical prayer that they can celebrate together or alone, is an equally daunting task. It is equally difficult, I believe, to introduce this kind of prayer to the kind of people of whom Michael Spencer wrote in this site, and I know a fair number in this land who are in that category. I would not want to go down that road, honestly.
But to make people aware that such a way of praying exists, that this connects us with the Christians of the past and of those yet to come, and that it is something that, once tried, is something worth doing, is much easier for me, as an ordinary person, to do.
Yet there is one sign of hope in this awareness bit. The French Catholic network KTO broadcasts Morning and Noon Prayer, according to the use of the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem, every weekday. They have Evening Prayer from Notre Dame as well, I think. They have archived video online so you have an idea of what they are doing. (If you know French, it will be much better.) The music is by Andre Gouzes, and from what I have heard, it is quite beautiful.
So for the moment, I leave you to your lives of prayer, which I hope is in communion with all throughout the world, praising the Name of the Lord, from the rising of the sun to its setting. (cf. Ps. 113:2)