Below is included a great article on resources for daily prayer from Br. Martin at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan. It was first published in their Abbey Letter in Easter 2009.
Seven Times A Day I Praise You
So many who ask about our Daily Office are searching for a prayer book to enrich their prayer life, and since our Daily Offices are too time consuming for most people outside of a monastic context, I wish to offer some thoughts and recommendations on various office books that are available.
My first recommendation is perhaps an obvious one: The Book of Common Prayer. In the Daily Offices one will find a system of daily prayer that will include the principal forms of prayer (adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, offering, intercession, and petition), readings from Scripture, and a sharing in the worship of the Church at large (even if one is praying the office alone). The Daily Office lectionary offers one of the finest overviews of the Bible offered anywhere. The BCP (Book of Common Prayer) Daily Offices are an excellent place to begin (andto continue) using a structured round of prayer and listening to scripture. (Inone way or another, all of the prayer books I will mention do this as well.)
For those who wish a more monastic flavor for their daily prayer, yet wish to have a form similar to the BCP offices, there is A Monastic Breviary from the Order of the Holy Cross, and The St. Helena Breviary from the Order of St. Helena. Both books offer a pattern similar to that of the BCP, with some variations that reflect their monastic context, mainly in their emphasis on the Psalms. Both breviaries offer a two week cycle of psalmody distributed throughout their four daily offices (matins, diurnum, vespers, compline). In The St. Helena Breviary, there are two other options offered for the psalmody: that of the BCP Daily Office lectionary, and the traditional monthly cycle of psalms developed by Cranmer. Of the two breviaries, The St. Helena Breviary is the more recent adaptation (2006) and is therefore more up to date concerning inclusive language. Holy Cross’ A Monastic Breviary is a product of the mid 70s, so its language is that of the BCP. Both books use the Daily Office lectionary from the BCP. The main offices of matins and vespers in each breviary will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes each, so if one cannot commit to such blocks of time on a daily basis, I would recommend a shorter, simpler office book. Otherwise, these are both worthwhile books to consider.
Another prayer book from a monastic context is Celebrating Common Prayer. This is a version of the Daily Office used by the Anglican Franciscans in England. While borrowing much from the American BCP (it uses the BCP translation of the Psalms, for example), its structure is different than the BCP Daily Office. In fact, one should say ‘structures’, for it provides more than one way to pray the office, ranging from the highly involved to the bare minimum. It is therefore one of the most adaptable of office books available. There is much that is attractive here. I am particularly taken with the idea of assigning each day of the week with a seasonal theme (for example, Sunday is Easter, Monday is Pentecost, Tuesday is Advent…), using appropriate psalms, canticles, and prayers for each. If one is attracted to creativity in a Daily Office, I would recommend this book very highly.
Also coming from the Church of England is the latest offering of the Daily Office called Common Worship: Daily Prayer. This is a fascinating office book, and like Celebrating Common Prayer (from which it has borrowed material), offers a variety of structures for keeping a Daily Office. So it, too, is highly adaptable according to one’s circumstances. I personally find its translation of the Psalms very nice indeed. A Daily Office lectionary is printed in a separate book, but there would be no difficulty in using the American BCP lectionary while using this book for everything else. I must say that the quality of this book took me by surprise, since much in the past that has come from the Church of England has been disappointing. So once again, this is a highly adaptable prayer book with much to recommend it.
Coming from, of all things, the Mennonite tradition, is Take Our Moments and Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayerbook. This is a wonderful and easy to useprayer book, providing a four week cycle of morning and evening prayer.Cleverly, each week has a theme assigned to it, with that week’s office somehowa reflection of its theme. Week One’s theme is the Lord’s Prayer, Week Two isthe Beatitudes, Week Three is the Parables, Week Four is Signs and Wonders.Each office follows a pattern of praising, listening, and responding. This is a verycharming (in the best sense of the word) prayer book, and I recommend it forthose who require simplicity in their prayer structure.
For those who deeply yearn for a truly Benedictine inspired prayer book, there is Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary. This office book follows and adapts the office as set down in the Rule of St. Benedict. It is an adaptable office book, for one can keep all seven of the traditional monastic offices, or one can pray however many one is inclined to pray. This office book is the closest book available to the offices prayed here at St. Gregory’s Abbey. For example, the psalmody is on a weekly cycle, and uses the same psalms at lauds and vespers that we use (following the Rule of St. Benedict). Because it is designed for use by those who do not live in a monastery, and since it follows a weekly cycle, not all of the psalms are used. This is because most people do not have the time to pray 12 different psalms daily for the office of vigils alone. The psalms used are a moderately inclusive language version of the Grail Psalms, and the scriptures are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). This is the office book I use whenever I’m out of the monastery. Again, for anyone who wishes to pray an office that is close to the traditional Benedictine monastic office, this is the one to get.
A word of warning. When starting to keep a Daily Office, it may be tempting to think a given office is too complicated or confusing. Let me encourage you to keep at it. It becomes easier over time, for you will learn what’s next as you go through it, and thus it will become a normal part of your life. The main trick is to learn what the structure of an office is. The maintenance of the spiritual life is not always easy, but it is worth the effort.
Finally, it is crucial to be faithful in praying the office. There will be times when you will feel you are not getting anything out of the practice of the Daily Office, or that you are not as focused as you should be. Don’t be too worried about that. There is more going on than meets the eye. Over time you will have found that you have absorbed more than you thought you were. Praying a Daily Office is bound to become routine and at times thoughtless. This is unavoidable. Remain faithful inthe practice anyway. You’ll be thankful that you did.
[In a followup article (Fall 2010), Br. Martin recommended other prayer resources, including Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is “designed to be used by busy people, and is set up so as to rarely require flipping around within each book.”]
— Br. Martin
Sources for prayer books:
For most of the books reviewed:
Christian Book Distributors
140 Summit Street
Peabody, MA 01960
The St. Helena Breviary
Common Worship: Daily Prayer
Church Publishing Inc.
445 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10016
A Monastic Breviary
Order of the Holy Cross
P. O. Box 99
West Park, NY 12493
Benedictine Prayer: A Short Breviary
The Liturgical Press
St. John’s Abbey
P. O. Box 7500
Collegeville, MN 56321