Category Archives: Book of Common Prayer

The Noon Office and Compline

I’m wondering how many people are out there like me who find that noon and bedtime are the best time for some version of the daily office? I’m just not a morning person. I’ve tried the morning office and I just don’t keep it up. The evening office is really intended for early evening, the fading vespers light, but this really isn’t a good time either. Now you might say well, make time, and I can’t argue with that.  I think the best way to to maintain a rhythm is to find a program that fits in my (and your) schedule. For people who find their best time to be on the subway or light rail system, traditional morning and evening may be just fine. I’m in the snarl of traffic about then.

I just don’t find the noon office to be very satisfying. I often do morning prayer at noon, but this is not ideal either because morning prayer is geared for starting the day. By noon I’m often well into the frustrations of the day. So my long term goal is to produce a new book of hours. It would have four hours for the day: morning, noon, evening, and compline. My book of hours/primer would be in between the modern daily office and medieval books of hours. It would not have new lessons and psalms for every day like the daily office but unlike medieval hours, there would be a seven days worth in the book of hours. I’m thinking something like this:

  • Sunday / new life
  • Monday / creation
  • Tuesday / action
  • Wednesday / piety? (or piety and study?)
  • Thursday / community
  • Friday / penance
  • Saturday / pilgrimage

There might be couple for special occasions also, like an office for the dead. By having a theme for each day, the normal seven day schedule could be changed for a particular need or perhaps for a minor feast day that fits say the theme for community better than the Tuesday office.

It would also be like medieval books of hours in that it would be intended for private rather than corporate devotions. The Book of Common Prayer is really intended for corporate worship that can be modified for individuals. This would be the opposite. Forward Movement’s Hour by Hour is a role model except that it keeps strictly to the BCP program. It will keep the flavor of the BCP but I expect there to be changes. For example, I expect there to be quotes from church fathers and saints, in addition to scripture. So what changes could be done to noon and compline to make them more equal with morning and evening, and better suited for modern life?


Paleography and the evolution of the book

Medieval Jewish Book

There has been a buzz this week among medievalists over the fate of paleography, the study of ancient writing and book production, in the current cost cutting atmosphere. Kings College in London is threatening to end its paleography program including its endowed chair. This has lead to an uproar among medievalists all over the world. Kings College had the only known endowed chair in paleography in the world. By what odd logic leads universities to get rid of what makes them unique? Shouldn’t they be highlighting their uniqueness? Besides, how can you cut a endowed chair for financial reasons — its endowed. Someone else is paying his salary. I know some endowments don’t stipulate the field of the chair but really, endowments should be there to cover fields that may need economic support. Popular fields with lots of students don’t need their professors to be endowed. There is plenty of tuition and per-student government support to cover their faculty and staff.

Paleography has to be nurtured.It takes decades of study to be able to interpret and date ancient handwriting, to learn how to preserve ancient books and know how a book was assembled after it has been disassembled. They must understand earlier forms of many languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Old English, Old French, forms of Old German, etc. Paleographers in Britain would need to be able to recognize Latin, Old English, Middle English, early modern English, Old Welsh, Middle Welsh, Scots, Gaelic, and probably Old Irish.  Not only must they understand old languages but also old forms of writing. They also have to understand how books are assembled in all ages (before and after the printing press). It is both art and science.

Paleography has obvious implications for the study of prayerbooks and theology. Most obviously it is necessary to unravel books found anywhere from bogs in Ireland to caves in Israel or Egypt. While we all love beautiful books like the Jewish manuscript above, most books look like the magnified image where an illuminated initial is probably the only consistent decoration. Interpreting handwriting is the main thrust of paleography.

As digital books become more popular, how will society’s valuation of non-digital books change? As each generation becomes less familiar with books on paper (as they probably will 2-3 generations from now), paleography will be dealing with a world all the more foreign to contemporaries. On the one hand, there should be more respect for the specialty. However, as the proposed cutbacks in paleography today show, the more obscure the specialty is to those who value economics over all else, the more likely that funding will be cut and eventually the skill will be lost.

Once the transition to mostly digital books occurs, how will we all look at book organization differently? A book is the content within an object, between two covers. In early medieval books, there might be some widely differing content in one book. On the other hand because of the practicalities of book production, the entire bible was not contained in a single book (as anything other than a huge reference tome) until very late in the medieval period. So until the late medieval period most people knew the books of the bible literally as separate books that circulated separately. It could take an entire shelf of a bookcase or more to house the books of the bible. The printing press changed our perception of books. They now contain more content, are less unique, and are cheap enough for mass production, for the  masses to own them and to be produced in a wide variety of sizes etc. Miscellanies are less common unless they are planned to be that way (an anthology etc). In the digital world, a book is a bundle of data that is hyperlinked as a package.  Content does not necessarily flow linearly. With the iBCP there are already calls for it to be integrated with a bible so that all the readings automatically are linked or plugged into the BCP. In effect this would blend the BCP and the bible into one book. Since the BCP is the order and organization of liturgy, the bible would be reduced to reference snippets. How long before the organization of the bible ceases to mean much to the average user? How will the children of 2050 view “books”?  And won’t we need digital paleographers to sort out this new mess we are creating?

iBCP: Keeping up with the times

Today I downloaded a new app on my phone, the iBCP and my head has been spinning with possibilities ever since. The iBCP is the 1979 Book of Common Prayer on my phone, the whole thing. The designer Alexander Orozco stresses that this version does not have the official seal of approval of the Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer, and is based on a private transcription of a public domain copy. (I thought all copies were in the public domain?) Its the most expensive ap I’ve ever bought but for $5 I’ll have the BCP on me at virtually all times. All aps I have so far update for free so it will only get better from here!

It seems easy to use. The font is clear and large enough to read easily. The graphic here is uploaded full size. The only place I have found so far where I question the font size is in the psalms. The first half of the verse is regular size but the second half is quite small. Its readable, but it could be hard on the eyes over a long read. It is designed basically like a highly hyperlinked web site with a highly detailed table of contents. The table of contents replicates that in the BCP plus collections of hyperlinks on psalms, prefaces, confessions, collects etc. at the bottom of the page. For example, you can find a link directly to each of the psalms through the hyperlink collection on psalms. All references within the BCP to other areas are also linked.   The one disappointment is that it doesn’t have a search engine. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized how difficult it would be to find unique search words that would pull up a reasonably good search. The extensive hyperlinked table of contents seems like the right way to go.

Most comments I’ve seen on the iBCP refer to it as a beginning and it is a good beginning. The possibilities for bringing church resources to  smart phones and perhaps tablet computers are mind boggling. I’ll save conjecture in that realm for another day.

After reading a few reviews from priests saying how indispensable the app is and how much they use it in practical ministry, I couldn’t help imagining all afternoon various times when a priest pulls out his phone for some quick liturgy — my favorite being a dignified grave-side funeral with the priest reading from his iPhone.

St Bede’s Breviary

Derek the Ænglican over at Haligweorc released his St Bede’s Breviary on Monday. His project is a tour-de-force in both liturgy and computer design. Derek has produced a new Daily Office site that can be customized for Rite I/Rite II, six different prayerbook styles, and three different sactorales (church calendars). Once this is project is finished it will be a great gift to the church.

The appearance is fairly stark but this makes it usable by smaller devices. I’ve tried it out on my iPhone and it is manageable. I’ve read others say that it looks good on blackberries.

Check it out here:

Attempting to Correct Tradition

The way the prayer most commonly known as the Prayer of St Francis became association with St Francis is a good example of how popular tradition is created and how hard it is to break. The Vatican is making it known again this week, that there is no evidence what so ever that this prayer was associated with St Francis of Assisi or the Franciscans. It first appeared anonymously in a French Catholic magazine in 1912. According to the Vatican’s statement this week, Pope Benedict XV had it printed  in 1916 in the midst of World War I as a prayer for peace. It was apparently still printed anonymously at this point.

France and Italy have long been the global centers of Catholic religious merchandise, though France seems to have decreased in the second half of the 20th century.  Holy cards were among the most popular products produced in large quantities and shipped globally. Holy cards were especially popular because they have always been very inexpensive and are easy to use, stuck in a prayer book, bible, or missle. With the ability to print cards rapidly, they were quickly adapted for Catholic funeral cards. Holy cards usually have a color print of a religious painting on one side and text on the reverse. At some point early in the 20th century, the prayer in question was printed on the back of a holy card with a picture of St Francis of Assisi on the other side. They were wildly popular. The most popular saint of the day with one of the most popular prayers, so fitting for two successive generations that had known world-wide war. Recall that World War I was popularly known as the War to End All Wars, and yet it was only followed by an even greater war in World War II. The generation that named the War to End All Wars would have found this peace prayer irresistible, as we still do.

These holy cards were so successful that the common people assumed so strongly that the prayer was written by St Francis that it was eventually assumed to be so. As the prayer originally appeared anonymously there was no real push to correct it. Besides, it felt right. So even though the Franciscans never claimed authorship, it was accepted until its popularity attracted the attention of scholars, who couldn’t find it in the Franciscan canon. Franciscans had known it all along, but it is a nice prayer to be credited to your patron/founder saint, so they didn’t made a fuss to correct it.

Attribution of this prayer to St Francis is an example of popular religious tradition that was generated by the laity and eventually adopted by the upper levels of the Roman Catholic church because they knew they couldn’t change it. Associating the prayer with St Francis, also accelerated its wide acceptance because it gave the prayer a veneer of tradition. Yet breaking the link with St Francis may make it more acceptable to Protestants, who have recognized its iffy attribution for some time. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer reprints it under the title “A prayer attributed to St Francis” and more recently it is often just entitled A Peace Prayer. Somehow the generic peace prayer title is unsatisfying. Ironically, at nearly a century old, it is now old enough to be accepted by most Catholics (and Protestants) as traditional without the Franciscan link. Despite the Vatican’s press release this week, you can bet it will continue to be called the prayer of St. Francis for generations to come.  Perhaps this is just as well, considering that it has been so well integrated into Franciscan spirituality. Perhaps we should just call it a Franciscan Peace prayer.

Modern prayer card from Bridge Building.
Modern prayer card from Bridge Building.