Tag Archives: Thomas Cranmer

Offices of Praise, Silence and Readings

This is my own pattern of offices, which is a threefold form. This form is built of a Prologue Office of Praise, a Holy Office of Silence, and a Daily Office of Readings. This can be summarized as, respectively, set-prayer, silence, and scripture. Most everything is chanted.

What this reflects is “devout experimentation” within Anglican tradition in which, informed by my study of Martin Thornton’s theology and inspired by his manifold insights, I have sought to update the threefold Regula given Benedictine, Cranmerian, and contemporary spiritual influences amid the post-Christendom and media-drenched conditions of today’s Catholic Anglican pastoral reality. Description follows below with the caveat that such explanations always read more complicated than they are in actual practice.

MORNING
First is the Prologue Office of Praise. If I do nothing else in the morning because of time, I pray at least this Office, which takes ten minutes to chant. It is a glorious surrender to God through seven ancient and powerful prayers of the Church, which are teeming with true orthodox doctrine and which “praise him for his mighty acts; praise him for his excellent greatness” (Ps 150:2), giving ascetical emphasis to the primordial God the Father. This Office raises our eyes to transcendent Ultimate Reality. (And it is excellent also as prologue to the Mass.)

Second, and immediately following the Prologue Office commences a Holy Office of Silence, through 30 minutes of Centering Prayer. Derived by Cistercian monks from The Cloud of Unknowing, it is a means to live-into, and hence mysteriously embrance, the holy space cleared by the Prologue Office. (For more on Centering Prayer, see this PDF). Centering Prayer as a whole cultivates presence with God in his incarnate glory: akin to Moses’ “Here I am” at the Burning Bush (Ex 3:4) or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; an ascetical emphasis, then, on the expressive God the Son, who reveals the Father. Heaven and earth are joined and we give our heart to God in love.

Third is the morning form of the Daily Office of Readings, directly after the Holy Office of Silence. After praise and silence comes devotional attentiveness to the movements of God Immanent through the rhythms of Psalms, Canticles and Lessons. Here we are listening to inspired, authoritative Scripture: hence the ascetical emphasis shifts to the unitive God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to God the Son. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13.) 

Three notes about the Daily Office of Readings in particular:

  • in essence it is Archbishop Cranmer’s Office and conforming to the 1662 BCP. There are slight modifications: moving the Collect of the Day to first (having already moved the opening Preces to the Prologue Office of Praise), and settling on a uniform Collect for Mission as the third collect. Overall in the scheme of the 1979 BCP, this form is Rite I.
  • I chant the entire Daily Office except the Lessons. For the Psalms and for the settings of the Venite and Canticles (including the Quicunque Vult and Pascha Nostrum), I use Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.
  • On days when I officiate Morning and Evening Prayer in my Parish, the typical 1979 BCP Offices are followed.

(Total time: 60 min.)

NOON
Prologue Office of Praise, and, unless my schedule on a given day does not permit, it is followed by a Holy Office of Silence.

(Total time: 40 min.)

EVENING
Prologue Office of Praise, then a Holy Office of Silence. Thereafter is the Daily Office of Readings in the same way as the morning, using the evening portion of Psalms, Lessons, Canticles and Collects. The previous note about Lessons applies here as well.

(Total time: 60 min.)

WAKING AND GOING TO BED

1. Upon waking in bed I say a brief and silent devotion in which I ask God for His presence. This lasts a minute or two. Oftentimes it is Julian of Norwich’s prayer:

God, of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself:
for Thou art enough to me,
and I may nothing ask that is less
that may be full worship to Thee;
and if I ask anything that is less,
ever me be in want,—
but only in Thee I have all. Amen.

2. Right before bed, under the covers, I silently recite a Short Office of the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, and Benediction, all memorized.

The Divine Office, “Devotionalized”

It is my sense, based on wide observation, that the Divine Office, through well-intentioned use, has in fact become “devotionalized.” It has become optional, and it has become overly burdened by the dozens of variations through the Church. This, owing more to social and technological upheaval than to anything else, I suspect is true in many if not most places.

Let me speak more technically. By “devotionalized” I mean in the sense of Thornton’s theology of the threefold RegulaDivine Office, Mass, and Devotion, each having particular characteristics. Whereas, according to his reasoning, the Divine Office emphasizes the Father and the Mass the Son, Devotion emphasizes the immanent Holy Spirit, who guides and teaches in radically personal ways according to gifts, temperaments, and local conditions. So to claim “devotionalization” is simply to observe that instead of being a point of Unity in the Church Militant—that is, laypersons, clergy and religious praying in basically the same way—the Divine Office today signals our differences and our personal choices.

This may sounds like a perfectly reasonable development, and in many ways it is. People have different temperaments and spiritual dispositions, so it follows that allowing for liturgical variety is a good thing. Yet without a shared Divine Office form, what tangible unity in prayer do we ever actually have? None, in our current state, is the answer. Within the Anglican world, some do the Daily Office one way, others do it another way. Some do the Liturgy of the Hours, others use monastic forms, and even some use the Breviary. The American Prayer Book provides Rite I and Rite II, as well as a form for Individuals and Families. The Church of England provides a 1662 form, as well as a variety of options in Common Worship. All to the good, yet where is our Unity, then? Variation upon variation of Morning and Evening Prayer ridicule the very claim of “common” anything.

It is always instructive to look to Jesus Christ’s primary teaching on prayer. Amid his example of devotion to a variety of people around him, as well as his eucharistic command, we must always remember that the only prayer he directly taught was the Our Father, and the first Christians used it as the exemplar of corporate set-prayer. That is, the basis of the Divine Office in both scripture (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) and tradition (Didache, chapter 8) is the Our Father. It is set-prayer—a formula for eschatological praise by His children. Seen, as the Church always has, as both an actual prayer and an exemplar for prayer to the Father (and hence, liturgy itself), any such prayer which seeks to have a transcendent emphasis beyond our conditions of time and space must follow its established pattern. In short, that pattern is 1. invariable, 2. eschatological, 3. objective, and 4. corporate. Because the Our Father is each of these, it follows that the Divine Office, when it is fulfilling its ascetical need, corresponds to these attributes.

The pattern of Devotion, on the other hand, is essentially the opposite on all counts. Devotion is infinitely variable, focused on and within particular context, largely subjective, and uniquely personal. Seen scripturally in Jesus’s walk with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus and liturgically in the Passing of the Peace, our works of Devotion come and go, they vary constantly over one’s lifetime. There is an important point here: Devotion itself is not optional; but how we do Devotion is completely up to the individual. All is rooted in the biblical revelation, yet Devotion is quite different person to person, because people are quite different from one another. What reveals Jesus in the world, that is, the sacred humanity, for one person does no such thing for another person. We all have different gifts and talents, along with particular situations of family, locality, society, language, custom, etc. The Church teaches that the faithful are to be guided by the Holy Spirit in their Devotional life, and one size never fits all.

Hence, to “devotionalize” the Divine Office is to allow it to edge closer and closer to a performance of Devotion, away from the objective, invariable—and yes, away from the one-size-fits-all, because according to the Our Father, a very important building block of prayer in fact does fit all. When “devotionalized,” the ascetical emphasis shifts—from focus on the our frail offering of praise to the Father made perfect only through His Son and hence sheer transcendence—again, the Our Father—instead to the Holy Spirit immanent who binds us to Jesus through His creatures  in unique and wholly personal ways. The shift is from the radical Otherness encapsulated in the Our Father set-prayer to the radical Immediacy of “The Peace of the Lord be always with you” in infinite variation and manifestation. Ascetically these are both necessary but simply are not the same, and we confound the workings of the Body to think otherwise.

The Divine Office is devotionalized when, taken away from its sheer objectivity of set-prayer, it becomes made instead of options, variations and preferences both local, parochial, and personal. This or that “may be said,” on this or that day or season, or not said at all—we do this, we don’t do that; I personally do this, I do not like to do that, etc. How often do we hear this when people talk about the Divine Office!

Let me say, despite my last statement—this is all good and holy. People have particular needs, particular access to technology, particular day to day realities of family, work and transporation. It is a great gift that there continues to be a demand for daily prayer, and a hungering for something of ancient origin. No one who currently uses a personally designed approach to the Divine Office need stop what they are doing. My only plea is to stop calling it the Divine Office. Call it, instead, a “Daily Office of Readings,” something with a relatively stable structure but plenty of lattitude for change and variation. For is this not what we have, today?

Why do I ask we stop calling that the Divine Office? Only because one must so stretch and contort reason to draw actual, tangible correlations between the wildly variable Prayer Book Office forms of today and the Our Father prayer, that such a case collapses. And if we lose that correspondence and precedent, then we lose or at least obscure a fundamental connection between corporate prayer and Jesus’s own direct teaching.

Furthermore, I ask because there is a real need, if the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is to be used and applied rather than merely assented to and adored as an object, to establish and commit to a mode of corporate prayer that simply and unmistakably is oriented to the Father Almighty. That is, we must, if we are to be orthodox, have a fundamental place for praise intended for a Person who is radically, ontologically, and axiologically Other. Yes, the current Prayer Book Office forms mention prominently “Our Creator” and similar language, and yes we do so during the Mass, and certainly many people do so as a personal choice within their Devotion.

But that is not enough. The doctrine of the Trinity insists that such praise—to God who is truly incomprehensible and beyond our knowing—who created the cosmos—must be as elemental as Mass and Devotion. Transcendent praise must be as specific and liturgically obvious as mediatorial and immanent praise. Within the threefold Regula, the only foundation available is the Divine Office. Therefore it must be oriented strictly to the transcendent Father and therefore must take as paradigm the Our Father prayer and its attributes. Because if transcendent praise is not the focus and telos of the Divine Office, there simply is no where else within the Regula it can find such prominence.

Now, God is One; transcendence is not “better” than immanance. “We are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,” to quote the Quicunque Vult. Yet with this shift, which has been several centuries in the making, nothing liturgically authoritative has replaced ascetical transcendence of the Divine Office properly understood, which along with ascetical immanance and mediation, are fundamental to our baptismal DNA.

Trinitarian doctrine dicates that we need to pray transcendently, immanently, and incarnationally—and there is no single method or mode to adequately cover all three in a single performative action. These three orientations, to be sure, synthesize to some degree through time, increasing spiritual maturity and growth in holiness, particularly in the Church Expectant, and full, complete synthesis is nothing sort of the heavenly Vision of God in the Church Triumphant. Yet in our fallen conditions of space and time, the synthetic and whole Vision of God is grasped through glass darkly, which means a sort of sequential “Now we pray to God Beyond, now we pray to God Incarnate, now we pray to God immanent”—exceptions of course abounding—not because of who God is but because of who we are as contingent beings.

Because of a devotionalized Divine Office, we have seen an attempt mitigate this shift by alteration elsewhere within the threefold Regula. Specifically there are those who try to turn the transcendent emphasis of the Mass, as it were, “all the way to eleven.” The renewed attention to Rite I in some quarters is an example. This attempt seeks to take the already meditatorial emphasis of the Mass and add to it a sense of still more “Otherness”—loading up that side of the balance. This is what the recent uptick in likewise well-intentioned advocacy for Ad Orientem is really all about, as well as the initatives toward a Latin Mass in Roman Catholicism. Hence the loss or diminishment of pure transcendence in the Divine Office is compensated for by a more transcendent Mass liturgic—or so goes the ascetical logic, all well-intentioned.

Yet in so doing, what gets thereby diminished is the mediatorial balance in the Mass between transcendence and immanence, found solely and wholly in Christ alone. The Mass, because it is anchored in the Real Presence of Christ, must be BOTH transcendent and immanent, which is precisely what is meant by “Incarnate Christ our sole mediator,” because he alone is both perfectly divine and perfectly man. It is to be both transcendent and completely everyday and local. This is not a case for or against Ad Orientem or Ad Populum; rather this is a plea to examine the underlying ascetical principles inherent in corporate response (prayer) to the Holy Trinity.

If we follow the approach of Martin Thornton, then the way to deal with the obvious fact that far too few Christians pray the Divine Office—in short, to accept pastoral reality—is to anchor all analysis in doctrine and theology rather than the often insidious “rationale” of the Church’s National Anthem—”But that’s the way we’ve always done it”—which usually avoids reality and celebrates corporate Self rather than God Almighty. Liturgical tradition and ritual history have their place, but that place must take a back seat to doctrine, theology and pastoral reality—which is to say, a back seat to Our risen and glorified Lord incarnate eternally as well as amid the conditions of time and space. To ask hopefully not too obnoxious a question—if we saw Jesus siting on a park bench in prayer just after dawn, do we really think we would find Him reading Morning Prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, or the Liturgy of the Hours?

My own remedy to devotionalization is the Divine Office of Praise, which grows out of Thornton’s analysis over nearly thirty years, his tentative suggestions in Prayer: A New Encounter, as well as my own analysis and devout experiment in my family and at my parish with a group of devout souls. Although it may seem like a radical rethinking, in truth what I propose is a rearrangement. The Cranmerian form of the “Daily Office,” as well as anything similar to it, such as the “Liturgy of the Hours,” I refer to now as The Daily Office of Readings.

For Anglicans, the Daily Office of Readings will look very familiar, and this is intentional. Cranmer was on to something, and his Benedictine (and perhaps Cistercian) ascetical insights were brilliant. Yet we, the faithful People of God, are no less at the same point in the pilgrimage as Saint Benedict was when he wrote his Regula than we are at the same point of Cranmer when he wrote his. Social conditions around Cranmer were radically different than the social conditions around Benedict, and our social conditions today are radically different as well. We need to find what Martin Thornton called “Unity in the Church Militant.” We used to have it through the original Books of Common Prayer. But it has been lost over the centuries as the Cranmerian form, and all like it, have become devotional options rather than our anchor in daily togetherness.

In chapter 2 of his magisterial work, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, Robert Taft writes, “The first explicit, unambiguous reference to a system of daily prayer in the primitive Church is Didache 8, which gives the Matthean ‘Our Father’ with the doxology ‘For yours is the power and the glory unto ages,’ followed by the rubric, ‘Pray this three times a day.” He then proceeds over the subsequent 360 fascinating and informative pages to effectively ignore both that fact and any ascetical consequence it might have.

If you boil down my argument, it is essentially to stop ignoring the practice of the New Testament Church. It is time to treat the Divine Office as Jesus and the first Christians did—as a faithful elaboration of the Our Father. That means a Divine Office that is simple, memorizable, eschatological, invariable and objective. Let a Divine Office of Praise, in its ten minutes of doctrinal and ascetical glory, be the anchor of Unity in the Church Militant. All Christians can do this Divine Office—laypersons both young and old, deacons, priests, bishops, and even religious.

This does not mean abandoning our weighty tradition, for we can and should continue to use a Daily Office of Readings, or any similiar form, as we are able to—many are not, yet clergy often are required to as part of their ordination vow, and religious as part of their four-fold or seven-fold pattern of daily prayer.

My view is that If a primitive, invariable Divine Office form — the Our Father — worked for the first Christians living into the staggering experience of Pentecost, then I see no theological reason for anyone to insist that a form analoguous to it cannot work for us today.

 

Is the Psalter the heart of the Divine Office?

It is often said, by way of catechesis, that the Psalms constitite the heart of the Divine Office. Herein, I propose a slight, yet ascetically significant, modification: instead, what if it the Psalms really are at the heart of the devotional life?

Let me attempt to explain. Because Akenside Press has made a commitment to the renewal of the Catholic prayer life, we have agreed that the task of reviving the praying of the Divine Office is not an option, but a necessity. For our own part, we encourage all to give the Divine Office of Praise a look, and better yet, to try it for six months or more. You might try it first for the Noonday. Or you might try it once a day, in the morning or evening. It works anytime, and in all places: Always and everywhere to give thanks to God.

Now, particularly in Anglicanism, there is a high regard for the Cranmerian Office of the Prayer Book, and rightly so. It has stood the test of time, and weathered a great deal of change in society and ecclesial life. One might reasonably fear the loss of all things good and Anglican if the Cranmerian Office is lost. So much else has changed, and Anglicanism as a whole is in such a sickly state. We have to hold on to the essence of what Cranmer did in 1549. It is Benedictine, it is Catholic. It is a weighty tradition, they say.

And they have a point.

However, evidence is accumulating from scholars like Paul Bradshaw, an Anglican, that the story of the history of the Divine Office we have now is far richer and more complicated than it was in the 16th century. Particularly, the claim the “the psalter is the heart of the Office” — something one hears constantly — is coming under legitimate scrutiny.

In the service of helping to make known the insights and research of Bradshaw, below are three excerpts from a journal article he wrote for Anglican Theological Review. All emphasis is added. Some additional commentary follows.

(1) “In the last few decades, however, liturgical scholars have become increasingly aware that the daily office was not a new creation in the fourth century but developed organically out of earlier traditions of daily prayer among Christians going back to the very beginnings of the church, and moreover that the monastic form was not the only pattern that the office took as it developed in the period from the fourth century onwards.

“Based on the practice of some-but not all-Jews in the first century, early Christians were expected to pray several times a day, and again in the middle of the night, the latter not being quite as extreme as it sounds to modem ears in an age when not all the hours of darkness were needed for sleep and little else could be done in the limited artificial light available. These times of prayer, usually observed by individuals on their own or within their households rather than in larger gatherings, did not center around the reading of the Bible the limited availability and cost of obtaining manuscript copies of the text, to say nothing of the low level of literacy among many of the believers, would in any case have rendered this extremely rare-but in praise on behalf of all creation and intercession for the salvation of the world. At first such occasions did not even include the use of psalms, which-like the public exposition of the rest of the scriptures belonged instead to the periodic corporate gatherings of the local Christian community, and especially their eucharistic meals. Only gradually did some psalms of praise begin to form a part of the times of daily prayer for those who were able to observe them communally.

Paul Bradshaw(2) “The traditional Anglican assertion that the daily offices ought to be founded upon the recitation of the whole Psalter and the systematic reading of the Bible is at least questionable. The regular use of every single psalm has a long history, but arises only out of the monastic movement. The rest of the church in the fourth century, and Christians in the centuries prior to that, felt no obligation to do so, and seem to have restricted their use of the Psalter in worship to very few psalms or parts of psalms. Nor is there any sign that Jewish worshippers before them made much use of the canonical psalms, and the claim sometimes made that Jesus would have known them all and sung them regularly in the synagogue lacks any evidence. Even the modem synagogue only ever makes use of about half the psalms in the course of the year.”

(3) As for Bible reading rather than praise and intercession having been at the heart of early Christian daily devotion, that too seems to be a false reading back of Anglican practice into the world of the first believers. This is not to say that studying the Bible was not important to them or that they did not take the opportunities that were possible for them to do that. But it is to say that it was something different from their practice of daily prayer, which had quite a distinct orientation. As God’s priestly people, Christians were committed both to the oblation of their whole life to God and to priestly worship—the constant offering of praise to the creator and redeemer of the world on behalf of all creation and of prayer and intercession for its present needs and its ultimate salvation. It could therefore be argued that the intense emphasis on the recitation of the Psalter and the reading of scripture each day has rather obscured this older tradition. Regular Bible reading is—or should be—a vital part of the healthy spiritual life of all Christians, but it is not—or should not be—to the detriment of their vocation to engage in prayer of a rather different kind.”

Bradshaw, Paul F. “The Daily Offices in the Prayer Book Tradition”. Anglican Theological Review, 95:3 (Summer 2013), 447-460.

From these historical insights comes the ascetical question, in line with Martin Thornton, what, exactly, is the Office for? If the theological answer Thornton develops is correct — objective praise to God the Father by the whole Church as Christ’s Body then why, exactly, must the Psalter be recited entirely to fulfill that sort of praise? As Thornton writes:

Martin Thornton, The Function of TheologyLet us be honest: if the constant repetition of a curious translation of a set of ancient religious folksongs, interspersed with doubtful legends relating to a primitive tribe, is the Church’s way of inspiring love, devotion, intellectual understanding, and religious edification, then the Church is not just out of date, it is insane” (The Function of Theology, p. 88).

Knowing Thornton, he means that tongue-in-cheek, even impishly. To be clear, he treasures the Old Testament, and a central theme of his theologythe faithful Remnant, as well as key paradigms of the art of spiritual directioncome from it. Yet here his inquiry demands an answer as to how the lectionaries of Psalter and Lessons accomplish objective praise to the Father by the Body of Christ?

Now, to suggest that daily lectionaries might not constitute objectivd praise specifically is not to condemn Scripture, far from it. But it is to inquire, he insists, whether the practice of the historic Anglican Office, particularly the Psalter and Readings, accords with the theology of the threefold Regula, that is, corporate prayer aligned with trinitarian dogma, understood in a more broadly Catholic context, inclusive but not limited to its historic Anglican expression.

Thornton argues that it is not the Psalter, but the Lord’s Prayer, that better grasps the theology of the Office — the answer to the question, What is it for? This is because the Lord’s Prayer addresses, adores, and petitions our transcendent Father through words directly given to us by Jesus as explicit instruction in how to pray. It is set-prayer. And what’s more, the first indication in Christian history of the Office is from The Didache (early 2nd century). It indicates that the Lord’s Prayer is to be used, three times a day, as corporate prayer. That sounds an awful lot like the Office. And there is no mention at all of the Psalter recited every day, week, or month.

Let us consider pastoral facts of today. Very few people, even those who are otherwise completely committed Christians, do the Prayer Book Office. Can this be denied? Thornton points out that we should hardly be surprised. Cranmer’s Office form was arranged for a completely different kind of society than ours — a pre-industrial late medieval village-centered society of peasants — a society where people could easily go to their parish church on the way out to the fields or the shop, and then easily go to their parish church on their way back from the day’s work, before going home. It is a lovely sentiment, today. But it is the reality of very few Christians in the West, if anyone at all.

Now, it seems that the claim the “the psalms are the heart of the Office” does ring true for Benedictinism and its regal tradition. But how far does that truth really go for is today? There are two points to be made:

(1) Generally speaking, today’s committed Anglicans are not monks and nuns. Anglicanism, of course, is Benedictine because of an inherited “ethos” primarily, a “DNA”. But it is not so owing to our literal doing of monastic practice. Saint Benedict’s Rule influenced, but was indeed supplanted by, the Prayer Book as the corporate Regula.

(2) St Benedict developed his rule in reaction to desert monastics. And it was only those monastics who placed such a high priority on recitation of the entire psalter. There appears to be zero evidence that this was a value of the actual pre-Constantinian church.

Book of Common PrayerYet we as Anglicans, if we are to be true to our tradition, ought continue to live and pray according to fundamentally Benedictine paradigm — a Catholic culture, Catholic imagination, as practiced according to a Benedictine ethos. Perhaps what “fundamentally Benedictine” means actually is to pray according to Regula: that is, a prayer life that fosters balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy. And perhaps what “fundamentally Benedictine” also means is community, that is the unity of the prayer life between priest and laity: for prizing that solidarity is another highly commendable characteristic of the Cranmerian Office, and particularly important contribution to the Catholic Church by Anglicanism. There is no reason why it should not be able to continue. In fact, according to the theology of the Regula, that the Office must be capable of being prayed by the entire community is a necessity, is it not? Clericalism, particularly with respect to the Divine Office, is to be rigorously avoided, on theological grounds.

Perhaps the historic use of the entire recited psalter was an instrument and means to a greater end: that end being balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy (etc). All of the Church since the Day of Pentecost has been seeking balance and stability in the prayer life. Saint Benedict very much found that for monastic community. But is that tool required to achieve balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy (presuming, of course, orthodox doctrine, sacramental and liturgical life) in today’s Church? Of course the Psalter is fundamental to the prayer life, in general. But the Psalter by itself does not serve balance and stability. Something else does, and we see it in Acts 2.42. That is the Regula. In other words, might it be not the Psalter, but in fact the Regula, that is what is fundamentally Benedictine?

Thornton seems to think so. He writes, “The greatest Benedictine achievement … is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality…. Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer” (English Spirituality, p. 76). How Benedict formulated his Office is very important to understanding his view of monastic prayer. But to apply his insights beyond monastic contexts, but into secular contexts, means we look first to Regula as what is fundamental about Benedictinism.

Of course, St Benedict’s Rule did work, very well, as a response to the excesses of desert monasticism, which were stretched the devotional life too far as a norm for the vast majority of people, despite the apparently widespread intrigue and secular curiosity of their life and prayer. It would be wrong and strange to suggest that the Benedictine monastic paradigm of practice is anything but glorious, fundamentally Catholic, and Church-preserving, for that is exactly what Benedictinism did: preserve the Church amid serious social strife, and did so for 1500 years and counting.

The danger is making particular “liturgics” into idols. Yet even more, to claim the Psalter exemplifies the true, fundamental character of the Benedictine Office is to risk obscuring what Thornton points out: Saint Benedict’s genius was in the overall system of prayer. So any interpretation of the Divine Office, whether it issues in reform of it or mere refinement, must situate the Office within an overall theology that underpins Regula. Because without an overall theology of prayer, the justification becomes too close to the “church’s national anthem” of “we’ve always done it that way”. And that simply won’t do when vital reform and renewal is needed.

Akenside Press is committed to Anglicanism as a Benedictine way of doing Church. And we are committed to solidarity with the pre-Constantinian Church (PDF). Both sought a Regula for a recollected life by the light of Jesus Christ. The pre-Constantinian insight is that doing so is spontaneous, joyous, and total. The Benedictine insight is that doing so requires balance, stability, and integrated life.

So what, then, for the Divine Office?

It seems that seminary life, certain cathedrals, and monastic houses would continue to benefit from the Cranmerian Office. Perhaps even some parish churches if their congregation is mostly from the nearby neighborhood. But for the rest of us who are, for better or worse, part of the “highly mobile global village” — that is, we move around a lot and lead active, busy lives that don’t orbit our parish church in any geographic way — a different Divine Office as an option seems not just appropriate, but long overdue. Yes, the American Prayer Book has shorter forms, “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families”. These are perfectly acceptable, and can be memorized. But if one is going to memorize, isn’t it better to memorize a summary of the entirety of God’s story?

The Divine Office of Praise offers that. It is to be sung, memorized, and hence deeply absorbed and internalized. It tells a full story of God’s might acts of creation, salvation, and reconciliation. It is by itself catechetical, and owing to its heavily reliance on the Doctrine of Creation, encouraging of mystagogy — “O ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord; praise him and magnify him for ever!” And as an endeavor that takes about ten minutes, and can be done with children as young as two years old — always, and everywhere we praise Him — it recognizes that we don’t live in a pre-industrial, agricultural, medieval village anymore.

Finally, what about, then, the Psalter? The answer is surprisingly simple: of course we are to be devoted to the Psalms. One way to maintain the centrality of the Psalms is making them part of, not the Divine Office, but one’s broader devotional life — that is, read and prayed with slowly, through lectio divina, in a meditative-approach: at one’s leisure, or perhaps as part of a communal, devotional formation groupall of which is summed up as seeing the Psalms as a partthe heart!of a Daily Office of Readings.

In short, we suggest a rearranging that moves the Psalter from one part of the Regula to another, from Divine Office to Devotion. Hence the Psalms become the heart of our devotion rather than used for corporate set-prayer. Is this unreasonable? It may seem strange, but it follows from understanding first the Divine Office on theological grounds (that is, doctrinally), and then understanding how to match practice with the theology. By following this method we remain on a safe, orthodox path.

In the way described here, the Regula now possesses (1) a Divine Office both theological and socially realistic for clergy and laity alike, (2) a Devotional life that regards the Psalter (and all of Holy Scripture) as the authoritative thesaurus of our emotional, mental and spiritual experience in minstry—as the heart of our devotional life. And then where both of which find source, summit, and concentration: (3) in the Mass, the central corporate eventing of Christ’s most focused presence.

All of this amount not to a “revolution” in Regula, but rather a theologically defensible re-tooling that accords with orthodox doctrine and Catholic practice, yet acknowledges and adapts to social reality: something Cranmer himself did expertly in 1549. Is it not high time that we do that ourselves, today, for the sake of the Church?