Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Joys of the Daily Office of Prayer

The cycle of day and night is consecrated and made holy by the Daily Office. These services have been handed down over centuries from the ancient Christian tradition where Jesus’ teaching was carefully considered “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). The Daily Office is composed of psalmody, hymnody, readings, and prayers which synchronize our lives with the life of Christ through recurrent prayer. The Divine Service on Sunday is the core, whereby the Divine Offices find their meaning in the Eucharist. It has been my great joy and comfort as a seminarian to pray the Daily Offices and sing the Psalter distributed over seven days. Its affects ingratiate the worshiper into the Lord’s vocabulary, in which thousands of priests have died. Hardened hearts are softened and released by David’s seraphic bands and dying sinners are ushered into heaven through the singing of angels. The Psalms spill over with the Blood of Christ and the eschatological community is eternally present in them.

The Matins service anticipates the morning. The theme is of preparation and watchfulness with the life that comes out of darkness. We do well to remember the Ten Virgins, five of whom remain vigilant, waiting dearly for their bridegroom with lamps. The Venite is a wonderful way to greet the morning and sanctify the day. The Te Deum Laudamus is profoundly moving canticle which prepares us for the prayers.

The Laudate Psalms can accompany the Matins service or can otherwise be observed at 3 A.M. The theme of Lauds is of the magnificent victory of the Lord’s resurrection. Christians can share their own awakening from sleep with the glorious resurrection of the Lord who is their joy and hope. The alleluia antiphons, celebratory psalms, and the Benedictus (Luke 1:68) move us out confidently into the day as we serve the Lord without fear. Christ has redeemed his people and the terrors of the dark no longer threaten us. We might sing “Ye clouds and darkness, hosts of night, That breed confusion and affright, Begone! O’erhead the dawn shines clear, The light breaks in and Christ is here.”

At Prime the day is consecrated with a second morning prayer. Lutherans have a great treasure with the Worship Supplement which provides the Prime office with an appropriate Versicle, Responsory, Gloria Patri, and Alleluia. Psalm 119 is the suggested psalm which should be a constant source of comfort and reference for the worshiper. I believe this is a desirable time to recite the Athanasian Creed, notably on Sundays. With prime there is a great deal of attention to the sinful man in his earthly vocation. Dedicating the day’s work to the glory of God with the oath of 1 Timothy 1:17 is an essential part of Prime. The dynamic in this office is accountability to God and pleas for his merciful protection. A suggested hymn is Jam lucis orto sidere in which the worshiper beseeches the Lord to “keep our inmost conscience pure; Our souls from folly would secure; Would bid us check the pride of sense With due and holy abstinence.”

The Office of Terce is a meditation in which worshipers briefly break from their morning activities (9 A.M.) and look to the work of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism which is indeed our own. As the Lord graciously brings us into his Kingdom through Baptism we invite the Holy Spirit to remain with us, singing, “Come Holy Ghost, with the God the Son And God the Father, ever one; Shed forth thy grace within our breast, And dwell with us a ready guest.” The psalms center on the work of the spirit which encourages us in our own work which is often lonely and tiresome.

At noon-time the worshiper is in the midst of the day and therefore within the midst of trouble and temptation. A common recommended hymn for Sext, Rector potens, verax Deus has us sing to the Lord of might, “Extinguish thou each sinful fire, And banish ev’ry ill desire; And while thou keep’st the body whole, Shed forth thy peace upon the soul.” We might see the theme of Sext in light of the Seventh Petition that we be delivered from the evil one. Psalm 119:113-20 brings us to fear and love the Lord whom indeed is our hiding place and shield.

I find the ninth hour to be a more delicate and emotional time of prayer and song. The drudgery of the day has had its way with us amidst sin and failure yet we still find ourselves in the Lord’s beautiful hands. The end of the day is now in view and therefore the eschatological things are brought into sight. The recommended psalms deal with the things to come. In our hymn we sing, “Grant us, when this short life is past, The glorious evening that shall last; That, by a holy death attained, Eternal glory may be gained.” At this time the exhaustion of our sinful and broken bodies reminds us of our certain death. Our bones and soul are sore vexed. Yet in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection we will indeed die a most holy death which is lovely in the sight of the Lord (ps. 116:15). We depart feeling restored with a renewed confidence to remain faithful until the end.

Lutherans have an immense appreciation for Vespers. It is a blessed way to close out the labor of the day by giving thanks, lifting up hands as the evening sacrifice. If sensible, it is a wonderful practice to use incense and luminaries during this time. Light is a central theme during Vespers, where the Lord is surely both our lamp, our light, and our path. In Lucis Creator optime we inherit a most lovely verse, “O Blest Creator of the light, Who mak’st the day with radiance bright, And ov’er the forming world didst call The light from chaos first of all.” Likewise we are called out of chaos through Baptism. With the singing of the Magnificat, we praise Christ our Lord and Savior, eternal God and Mary’s Son. The singing of Mary’s Song is overflowing with eschatological imagery and points us to the heavenly banquet where Christ’s Blood is spilling over. Here we anticipate the Eucharist where his hungry people are filled with good things (Lk. 1:53).

Compline finally closes out the day. The Lutheran Service Book provides an excellent order of prayer, dearly comforting to Christians who wish to hide in the shadow of the Lord’s wings. This order does not shy away from the perils of the devil embodied in the dark. Some Versicles from alternate orders are more pronounced regarding the dangers of night, “Bretheren, Be Sober, be vigilant: because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” In this way, Compline mirrors the mood of “watchfulness” prayerfully communicated at Matins. Sleep is not an escape from the world and its perils but a continuation of the devil’s assault, “From all ill dreams defend our eyes, From nightly fears and fantasies: Tread under foot our ghostly foe, That no pollution we may know.” In the suffrages we ask to be kept without sin and preserved in peace through Jesus Christ.

We should be mindful, even amidst the clutter of our chaotic lives, that Jesus Christ has destroyed death. In Christ we rest the eternal rest of the eighth day. In this way the rest of prayer should hold a divine governance over our lives. Let the Lord be continually on our lips as we devote ourselves to the consecrated day of prayer – remaining faithful to our vocations. The Lord has invited us into the most intimate of all relationships. Therefore we should come to meet our bridegroom with plenty of oil in our lamps.

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