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The Daily Office Tutorial, part I – Morning Prayer Introduction

October 18, 2010

One of the particular geniuses of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)  is the approachability of saying daily prayers.  (You’re going to slap me for saying that after you read this tutorial, but it’s easy, I promise!)  When Thomas Cranmer was working on the first BCP (1549) he condensed the monastic prayer services of Matins, Lauds, and Prime into “Daily Morning Prayer,” and the monastic prayer services of Vespers and Compline into “Daily Evening Prayer,” thereby making them far more accessible to the common person.  As I said in my sermon yesterday, the BCP 1979 goes a few steps further and condenses the Daily Office into one page “Daily Devotions for Individuals or Families,” (BCP, p. 136).  Those are pretty self-explanatory, not needing more instruction than the text and rubrics themselves provide.

“So, Fr. Ryan, I did as you suggested and started looking through the Daily Office in my BCP, and now I’m so confused that I don’t want to try and pray with it.”  Never fear!  That’s what this series of blog posts is going to be all about!  For those of you who cannot come to Morning Prayer at St. George’s (Monday-Thursday, 9am) or have an understandable aversion to praying it online “to a computer,” and who want to be more active than to simply listen, I will hopefully be able to guide you through learning the Daily Office in these tutorials.  For those of you who are not averse to praying the Office online, the above links are wonderful resources and also apt tutors!

For the purposes of these tutorials, we will be using the Rite II forms of the Daily Office.  I suggest using an actual copy of the book, but for you digital types, the BCP is available online here and here.  To continue to the first Tutorial for Morning Prayer, keep reading!

Tutorial I: Daily Morning Prayer, Opening Sentences through the Psalter.

It is important to remember when praying the Daily Office that even if you do so by yourself, you should use the plural pronouns as they are written (you might be physically by yourself, but you are joining thousands around the globe and around time in the prayer) and you should also endeavor to pray the Office verbally, that is, out loud rather than simply to read it.  Also, the “Officiant” simply means anyone, lay or ordained, who is leading the service.  Praying the Office by yourself?  You’re the Officiant!

Your first rubric – Go get a BCP, either a hard or digital copy, with which to follow along.

1.  Opening Sentence Ok, here we go – we begin on page 75 of the BCP.  All that small type fine print?  Important stuff, so let’s pay attention to them as we go along.  These are the “rubrics” or liturgical instructions.  The first one tells us that we should begin by reading one of the following sentences of scripture. There are roughly 4.5 pages of options to choose from, so how do we pick!?  Well, they are categorized by liturgical season.  Right now we are in Ordinary time, also Trinitytide, also called the Season after Pentecost.  Wait! you say!  That isn’t an option.  No problem, just head over to p. 78 and select a sentence from under the heading “At any time.”  An easy way to select is to just go down the list and pick the next one in the list you haven’t done yet.  When you finish the list, start over.

2.  Confession of Sin Now we’re on p. 79.  You may choose to say either the longer or the shorter introduction to the confession.  The longer version is nice to hear, especially as you start out on this prayer journey.  After that there is a rubric suggesting silence may be kept.  During this time of silence, call to mind anything in particular of which you are repentant.  Then, once an appropriate amount of silent time has elapsed, pray the confession.  Traditionally you should kneel or stand to do this.  But if you are by yourself, perhaps even in a public place, sitting is just fine, as it is throughout the Office.

Following the Confession, we turn to p. 80 for the Absolution.  While only a priest can properly pronounce God’s absolution on a penitent, you as the Officiant are empowered to pray for God’s absolution.  You simply substitute pronouns, as provided for in the rubric near the top of p. 80.

3. The Invitatory Still on p. 80, the next rubric instructs you to stand.  Again, you may do so, or you can remain seated if by yourself or praying in a public place like a coffee shop or your workplace.  If by yourself, you will also say throughout both the parts of the Officiant and of the People.  These opening lines (Lord, open our lips…) are very ancient and have been prayed for centuries.  Following them is said the Gloria Patri (Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…).  If not in Lent, “Alleluia” is added.

Next comes the piece called the Invitatory – this is an a portion of a psalm or scripture, the themes of which are praise and a call to prayer.  Before and after the Invitatory a seasonal antiphon is said.  Again, you’ll select one from a list on p. 81-82 appropriate to the season we’re in.  Since we’re in Ordinary Time right now, we pick one of the three under the heading “On other Sundays and weekdays” – there are three to choose from there.

Then we say one of three options for the Invitatory, all found on p. 82-83.  You may select from the Venite (Psalm 95: 1-7), the Jubilate (Psalm 100), or the Pascha Nostrum (from different pieces of the New Testament and generally only said in Eastertide, but may be said at any time).  After you pray the Invitatory you selected, you repeat the antiphon you said before it.

4.  The Psalter Now comes one of the initially challenging parts.  You’re to pray a psalm appointed for the day, but how do you know what the appointed psalm is?  Well, you can go to a website, like this one, and click on the calendar day and it will simply tell you.  But since I believe in empowering you to do this all on your own, I’m going to teach you how to look it up in the BCP.  Starting on page 934 of the BCP, you’ll find the “Daily Office Lectionary” which has not only the appointed psalms, but also the appointed scripture readings for every day.  These are divided up into two, one-year reading tracks: Year One and Year Two.  Right now we are in Year Two.  How do I know that?  Because, in the fine print rubrics on p. 934 it tells me that Year Two begins on the First Sunday of Advent preceding even-numbered years.  Last Advent was in 2009, thus preceding 2010, which is an even numbered year, thus making this Daily Office Lectionary cycle Year Two.  Got it?  If not, no worries – suffice it say that this year we’re in Year Two and after the 1st Sunday of Advent, we’ll be back in Year One.

In order to find the psalm for today, you’ll need to know what Sunday in the church year was celebrated last.  I know that last Sunday was Proper 24 in Trinitytide (Ordinary Time/Season after Pentecost).  I know that because I read the top of the Sunday morning bulletin, I read the “This Sunday in Church” blog posts here, and I’m a liturgical dweeb.  But, in the off chance you didn’t know that, how could you find out?  On p. 989, we find the readings for Year Two, Proper 24, the week of the Sunday closest to October 19.  Last Sunday was October 17, closer to October 19 than next Sunday, so we must be in Proper 24.  (Learning more than you thought you would, eh?)

So, I look for Year Two, Proper 24 in the Daily Office Lectionary (on p. 989) and I find where it gives the readings specific for today.  Today happens to be a Monday, so I’ll look there.

The entry looks something like this:


Monday 25     *     9, 15
Ecclus. 4: 20 – 5:7          Rev. 7: 1-8          Luke 9: 51-62


How in the world do I interpret that?  Well, right now we’re only worried about what Psalm we need to pray.  We’ll deal with the other parts in part II of this tutorial.  See those numbers which are separated by an asterisk-looking thing?  Those are the psalm numbers.  The numbers before the asterisk-looking thing are for Morning Prayer, the ones after it are for Evening Prayer.  So, for today, the Monday in the week of Proper 24, we know that for Morning Prayer we read Psalm 25.  The Psalms can be found in the BCP beginning on p. 585.

Today happens to be a feast day in the church year, the Feast of St. Luke, which would normally mean we would use the daily office readings for St. Luke’s day – but because this is a basic tutorial, we won’t cover feast days just yet.


And that concludes Part I of this tutorial!  I know it seems like a lot, but I promise you, once you just do it a few times and get the hang of it, it’s a piece of cake!  Just ask our parish administrator!  Coming next, to conclude Morning Prayer, Part II – The Readings, Canticles, and Prayers.


Fr. Ryan+

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