I’m not a great pray-er. It just doesn’t come naturally to me, so I rely a lot on various aids to help me pray better. One of those aids in the Book of Common Prayer, specifically the Daily Office.
Officially, I’m a Presbyterian, and most true Presbyterians™ have serious qualms with set prayers. Our tradition places a high value on free prayers, particularly in public worship. But most don’t know that there is actually a place for set prayers in the Presbyterian tradition. The sadly underutilized Westminster Directory of Family Worship says this: > So many as can conceive prayer, ought to make use of that gift of God; albeit those who are rude and weaker may begin at a set form of prayer… — Article IX
So there is a place for set prayer in the Reformed tradition: in our weakness.
Now, I’ll concede that what the Directory is talking about there is people who are young or spiritually immature. But I think there’s wisdom beyond that. We all have times of weakness. We all have times when our prayers come slowly or not at all. These set prayers can give us a voice before God even when we can find no words to say.
Furthermore, many of us were never really taught to pray. I think there’s good intentions here, but it’s usually not helpful just to say that praying is “just talking to God.” Sure, we have some traditional set prayers that children are taught for meals, but for the most part it’s a free for all. And ironically, a free for all means that each person creates his own ruts (whether they be biblical or not).
How does the Book of Common Prayer solve these problems? It unites us with the people of God. The Daily Office is written for public services of worship, but people all over the world use these prayers for personal devotions as well. Even when I pray Morning Prayer alone, I pray the prayer of St. John Chrysostom which appeals to the fact that “two or three are gathered” in prayer. When I pray that prayer, I’m praying with St. John Chrysostom and with every other person praying that prayer even though we are physically apart. The Church as a community becomes a priestly mediator I can seek intercession from, and I have the opportunity to intercede for the Church.
It also brings the Church into our hearts and homes to teach us. Hopefully, prayer is modeled well in your local congregation, but even so, that only happens once or twice a week at best. The Book of Common Prayer sits on your shelf in your home and offers you a beautiful and mature guide for prayer each and every day. The Church’s prayers can guide your own prayers.
There’s also the chants. When I first started praying the Daily Office, I would simply read most of the Canticles. Occasionally, I would use the Seedbed Psalter to sing metrical versions of the Psalms, but eventually, I decided I would try chanting. This was a wonderful new door opened to me. Now, I chant almost the entire Morning Prayer service. My prayers are full of singing to God.
Don’t get me wrong, I love metrical psalms, but there’s something special about chanting. I can feel the antiquity of it as I chant. It matches the patterns of my speech, so it feels like my words. It feels like something I could say. It lifts my soul to heaven in a way that simple speech does not. It feels like a heavenly conversation, which is exactly what it is.
So how can you get started with this wonderful Christian tradition?
If you’ve ever looked into getting a Book of Common Prayer, you’ve found that it can be somewhat confusing. The BCP has a five hundred year history of revision and global use, so there’s a lot to choose from.
Personally, I’ve recently started using the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer, and I’ve been very happy with it. It uses modern language while respecting the tradition (sort of like the ESV) and is very easy to follow. It also has midday and compline prayers to complement morning and evening. For anyone starting out and seeking for a simple prayer aid, this is my recommendation.
Prior to picking up the 2019, I used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The 1662 is considered the standard edition that all others are compared with. I quite enjoyed using it, but it is very English. You’ll be praying for the Queen and the royal family quite a lot in this one (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If that’s not to you taste, however, an international version has recently been released for a broader audience. I would recommend either one of these if you’re interested in some of the history of Anglicanism.
I’ve also heard great things about the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. I’ve never personally used it, but from I understand, it will be something sort of in between the 2019 and 1662.
Perhaps even easier than all of these options is dailyoffice2019.com. This site is drawn from the 2019 BCP and updates depending on date and time. Everything is laid out for you to easily follow. Just read straight through.
Now, may the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all forevermore. Amen.