Category Archives: Daily Office

Preparing for Lent

Here it is Epiphany and yet at my parish we are getting ready for Lent. For at least the last five years my parish has put together a booklet of Lenten reflections or meditations based on the daily office for every day of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, written by members of the parish. It takes a considerable effort to organize, recruit authors, have people across the parish write, collect the contributions, edit and produce the booklet in time to distribute it before Ash Wednesday. I think its well worth it. It is fascinating to see what 47 people across the parish will write. Many parishioners will follow the office for Lent, even if they usually don’t, to read the reflections of their church family. This year we decided to write on the psalms. Each person will have their choice of the two to four psalms assigned to the (morning or evening) office for their day.  The psalms will be a challenge but I am eager to read the results.

So here is an offer for you, if you would like a copy of our Lenten reflections on the psalms email me at hefenfelth(at) with your name and address and I will try to send you  a copy around Ash Wednesday (while supplies last).

If your parish has any unusual preparations for Lent, I’d like to hear from you in the comments section below!


A Guidebook to Daily Prayer

Christopher L Webber. A User’s Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: Morning and Evening Prayer. Morehouse, 2005. $8 on

This is a very handy little book. It is designed for people who know nothing about daily prayer, and so takes nothing for granted. This is a good thing! Webber has reprinted the pages of morning and evening prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), going so far as leaving the same page numbers, and then provides facing page commentary.

The Introduction overs a wide variety of information. One of the primary concerns here is the difference between Rite I and Rite II. Webber provides a discussion of how Rite I differs from Rite II, but all further discussion uses Rite II. He also discusses the differences between the 1928 and 1979 BCP.

The real value of the book comes when we get to the actual offices. Set up in facing page style, each section has a general description of its purpose, history, and the sources of the actual words. One of the obvious things that comes out of the discussion is changes to the canticles in the 1979 BCP. I have to say I like the additional canticles and I would be happy if there were even more of them. It always surprises me that so much from the apocrypha is included when there are so many canticles in scripture that are omitted (Jonah, Song of Songs, Hannah’s song etc). He goes on to give the sources and authors of the collects included with the offices. The bit about the Phos hilaron was considered a cherished old hymn by St Basil in 379 is interesting. I also thought it was interesting that Webber noted that the Magnificant can be used for morning prayer and that any morning canticle can be used for evening prayer. That is very good to know because always using it for evening prayer is a little too rigid for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it doesn’t always seem like the best canticle to go with the other selections. The book rounds off short discussions of the prayers and a short glossary.

As I said from the beginning, its a handy book. Its not groundbreaking scholarship or comprehensive analysis, but it suits its purpose: to introduce new people to morning and evening prayer. I think it does that quite well.

Juggling books

Derek has an interesting post here on early medieval liturgical materials. As Derek points out, to do the daily office in the early medieval period required juggling five different books — breviary, collectar (with collects, I presume?), psalter, antiphoner, and hymnal. How many clergy would want to juggle this many books, much less laity? Besides, this requires a mini-library and is not very useful for travel. Books of hours then provided primarily the laity with one book that contained everything they needed to pray the hours.

Now to be sure, some of the above books may have had a combination of materials in one book, say psalter and antiphoner or hymnal. Indeed, psalters were the most multifunctional early books, usually containing additional matierals like liturgical calendars, antiphons (sometimes in place before and after the psalms), and a collection of other prayers. Likewise, breviaries contained a wide variety of material and are the clerical version of a book of hours. As the liturgy became more complex, breviaries got not so brief, and became difficult to handle.

I think its a shame that antiphons have been largely forgotten and collects have become rather cookie cutter. I hope to post some new collects here in time.

A Modern Book of Hours

Hour by Hour

Forward Movement Publications, 2007. ISBN 0-88028-240-1, 128 pages. $17.95

Well, it may have taken me a while, but I seem to have found a modern book of hours. Its not quite a medieval style Book of Hours, but its a nice compromise.

Hour by Hour contains the four hours of daily prayer available in the Book of Common Prayer — Morning prayer, Noon, Evening prayer, and Compline– for one week. This means that there are seven sets of prayers. To make it more seasonal and applicable for daily life there are a collection of prayers at the end for the church seasons and major feasts, and for life events (births, sickness, anxiety, thanksgiving, death etc). These prayers can be added to any hour as needed. Because these seven sets of prayers are repeated every week the lessons are good for all seasons.

What it is not is a breviary. Monastic offices aim to be comprehensive, to cover the entire psalter every x days and to read scripture in a systematic way. Books of Hours make no attempt to do this. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, for medieval people their Book of Hours was the only book they owned so it was not complimented by a bible. I have been using Hour by Hour for a couple of weeks so far and I really don’t mind the repeating weekly. Having a full week’s worth is enough variation. That is not to say that I may not make the same choices, but that I don’t mind repeating. If I really like an office, I wouldn’t mind repeating it even more often. I like it when an office gels together well so that the lessons, psalms, and prayers all reinforce each other. This is something that the daily office doesn’t achieve for me.

Choices for readings etc brings me to another key topic in Books of Hours — they were very personal. I might make some different choices if I were to design one week’s worth of offices. I know I would choose some different prayers for the optional prayers in the back. I’ve already pasted two onto the back flyleaves of Hour by Hour. I also really miss the calendar and one that I could have added my own dates to. Hour by Hour comes completely from the Book of Common Prayer, filling in bible selections for the lessons.

Differences between Hour by Hour and medieval Books of Hours are significant. In some ways this book has more to offer. It has different offices for seven days. Medieval books of hours did not . They had two or three specialized sets of offices: The Little Office of the Virgin (seven psalms of accent), an Office of the Dead (seven penitential psalms), and sometimes another office also more themed. Late medieval Books of Hours and Breviaries had seven daily hours; the Book of Common Prayer calls for four offices daily. Books of Hours always began with a calendar to which owners could add their special memorial days (births, deaths etc); this one lacks a calendar. The earliest Books of Hours were very specialized for their patrons at least in their illustrations and in their extra content.

With all this being said, Hour by Hour is still the best book of hours I have found to date. It would be a excellent book to travel with, whether that is commuting or vacations.

Praying the Psalms

[reposted from Heavenfield]

Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. Second edition. Cascade books, 2007. 97 pages.

One of the specific aims of the distilled prayer project is to review modern scholarship on the psalms. There is quite a diversity of material available, much of it devoted to discussing individual psalms. This little book by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is one of the best I have found so far.

In the first chapter he introduces his theory that the psalms can be divided into three categories: secure orientation (status quo), painful disorientation, and surprised reorientation. Most of the psalms are disorientation, where the world is turned upside down for the psalmist. Reorientation occurs when things suddenly reverse course and psalmist is in thanksgiving. Orientation, or psalms of the status quo, are the least common and this state is best reflected in Proverbs. Overall I think these categories work well and are in terms that appeal to our generation.

The second and third chapters deal with the language of the psalms. Brueggemann wants us to appreciate the raw power and candor of the language. The depth of the language and the metaphors allows a catharsis that is necessary to move on beyond the crisis. He warns us that this catharsis is necessary and that we should not sanitize or edit offending verses. Metaphors are meant to have full range of our imagination, not restricted to mere descriptors. Brueggeman gives a rich discussion of some of the metaphors found in the psalms.

His fourth chapter focuses on Christian attitudes toward the Jewishness of the psalms. He believes that Christians must embrace this Jewishness, rather than avoid the most awkward verses. He gives a useful discussion of the meaning of Jerusalem as a place and a metaphor.

Brueggemann’s last chapter is on vengeance in the psalms. Here I think he makes two very important points. First, for all the raw, cathartic vitriol in the psalms, ultimately, vengeance is yielded to God. The psalmist never asks God to help him take vengeance or asks for forgiveness for vengeance he has already taken. Vengeance is God’s to dispense. This leads to the second point on the sovereignty of God. It is God’s decision on whether to dispense vengeance or show compassion. Several of the psalms express confusion on why God has not taken vengeance. Brueggemann stresses that judgment and vengeance are discussed in the New Testament in the same ways as the psalms. He quotes Hebrews 10:30-31: “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’. And again, ‘the Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ This last line should be familiar to those who study the venerable Bede, as Cuthbert’s letter claims that this verse is one that Bede repeated over and over in his last days.