Whether you’re a Rookie Anglican or just “Angli-curious,” perhaps you’ve heard of this new Book of Common Prayer 2019 (BCP 2019) and are asking yourself, “What is this thing?” or “How do I use it?”
We’ve put together a “Rookie Anglican Guide” to the BCP 2019 for more information. However, if you’d like to dive right in and start using the new BCP on a daily basis, rather than just hearing about it, this guide is for you.
Learning how to use the BCP is a little like learning to drive a car. It feels weird at first and there seems to be a lot to remember. But after awhile, you don’t even think about the mechanics of driving, and you simply focus on the road and cars around you (with a little music thrown in!).
This is a learning process that takes some dedication, but I promise you that, if you give yourself a little bit of time, it will become very familiar. The mechanics will fade away into the background and you will focus more fully on God.
As you read this guide, I would recommend pulling out your own physical copy of the BCP 2019, or downloading an electronic copy of the text here. Follow along and look through the book as you read.
Morning and Evening Prayer, known together as the Daily Office, are the most basic building blocks of Anglican life.
Morning and Evening Prayer are basically scripts. These scripts walk you through
- confessing sin,
- worshipping God,
- reading Scripture, and
- praying for yourself and others.
Although there are also weekly, seasonal, and occasional scripts in the Prayer Book, the vast majority of the BCP 2019 is dedicated to helping you walk through these daily scripts.
Here’s why the Daily Office is so important: The meat and potatoes of the Christian life is worship, Scripture reading, and prayer, all done in community. If you want to be a strong follower of Jesus Christ, these practices must be present in your life. The Daily Office brings these things together and guides us through them together.
Go ahead and open up your BCP 2019. The very first thing you will come to, after the table of contents and preface, is the order for Morning Prayer (p. 11).
Start by simply reading through Morning Prayer. You’ll find italicized words in small print that give directions for who says what, and what posture to take while praying.
The first confusing word for you may be the word “Officiant.” Although you can do the Daily Office on your own, the assumed context is a gathering of believers with one person leading.
If you are praying alone, that won’t apply, and you can read everything. If you gather with your family, in some kind of small group, or in your church, one person can be designated the “Officiant” for the group. This position exists so that prayer can be both communal and responsive. Remember, worship, Scripture reading, and prayer are all intended for us to be done in community.
As you begin to read Morning Prayer, you will first confess your sins together (pp. 11-13). This begins our time because it is only through God’s forgiveness in Christ that we can approach him in praise or with requests.
Next is something called the Invitatory. That’s just a fancy word that means God is inviting us to worship him and we are all asking God to help us do so. This opens up our time of worship.
Next you’ll see the Venite (p. 14) and the Jubilate (p.15). Those are latin names for Psalm 95 and Psalm 100. You can pick one of those psalms and say them out to God.
For hundreds of years, these psalms have been used to usher people into a time of worship, because these are the words of God beckoning us into his presence to worship him with joyful hearts.
Another song called the Pascha Nostrum is listed for use in Eastertide, and is made up of verses from the New Testament. It’s powerful stuff!
These are all part of a larger body of poetry called “canticles.” These are songs formed mostly from Scripture itself, with a few written by early Christians and used in traditional worship.
After we’ve begun our time of worship with one of these, we are told to read or sing out the Psalms appointed. This leads us to a very exciting feature of the BCP 2019 that you can find on page 268.
Keep a finger in your spot in Morning Prayer and turn there now and meet me in the next section!
You are now looking at the explanation of the Psalter on p. 268. I’d recommend reading that entire page.
What you’ll see is “the recitation of the psalms is central to daily worship throughout the Christian Tradition.” Others have called the book of Psalms the Prayer Book of the Bible. The psalms are unique because of their many voices. These are indeed the words of God, inspired Scripture. Yet, they are also the words of a human author crying out to God. Jesus frequently quoted the Psalter and, incredibly enough, we get to pray the psalms as well!
Praying the psalms does at least three things:
- Allows us to worship and praise God in words that he himself has given us to use.
- Teaches us how to pray like we ought.
- Exposes us to the full spectrum of human emotion and experience, helping us to come to God with everything, even when our words are words of anger and frustration. This too is worship!
If you turn the page, you will see at the top of page 270 the words “Day 1: Morning Prayer” above Psalm 1. That means that, at Morning Prayer on the first day of the month, you will begin reading here.
If you turn to page 274, you’ll see the words “Day 1: Evening Prayer” above Psalm 6.
So, on January 1 (and Feb 1, Mar 1, Apr 1, etc.), you would read Psalms 1–5 in Morning Prayer, and then Psalms 6–8 in Evening Prayer.
If you follow this built-in guide, you would recite all 150 psalms every 30 days. There is also a 60-day plan, that helps reduce the amount of reading per day. We will address that in our next section on the Lectionary.
Going back to Psalm 1, you can begin by just reading the psalm straight through if you are alone (I recommend doing so out loud). If you are with multiple people, you can have one person read the psalms out loud for everyone, you can read them in unison, or you can read them responsively. Responsive reading means the leader will read the first line of each verse, up to the asterisk. Then everyone will respond by reading the second half of the verse.
So, for Psalm 1:1, the leader would say, “Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.” Then everyone would respond in unison, “nor stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of the scornful.” This way of reading the psalms is fun because it gets everyone involved.
Once you’ve read all the psalms for Morning Prayer, you can flip back to page 16. You can say the “Glory be” at the bottom of page 16, signaling that this section is wrapped up.
Following this, on page 17, you are instructed to read the Lessons. A Lesson is simply a selection of Scripture designated for reading that day.
Where do you find these? Great question! Keep your finger in Morning Prayer, and flip back to page 736.
This is the last section of the BCP that we will visit together, but it is arguably the most important.
In front of you on page 736 is a description of the Daily Office Lectionary. If you read that, the purpose and logic of the Lectionary will be explained to you.
To put it briefly, a “lectionary” is a list of “lections” (“readings”) appointed to be read on specific days.
If one were to follow Morning and Evening Prayer perfectly for a year, they would read the psalms every 30 or 60 days, most of the Old Testament once, and most of the New Testament twice.
In our distracted and overscheduled world, this may seem impossible. I admit that it would take a lot of discipline and commitment, but it is certainly possible.
However, this Lectionary also has a two-year option that helps reduce the amount of reading each day, making it more feasible to stay on track with reading the Bible. No matter what, if you just read something rather than nothing, you’re off to a good start!
So, you’ve just recited the psalms in worship to God, and now you are about to read the Lessons. Flip through the Lectionary and find the current date. You are given an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading. Next to that, you’ll find a selection for the psalms. This is the 60-day option. You can follow that instead of the 30-day option we covered before, if you wish.
Pull out your Bible and read the Lessons out loud. After each reading you can say “The Word of the Lord.” To which everyone can respond, “Thanks be to God!”
After the Lessons, you can read or sing one of the responses listed on pp. 17-20, followed by the Apostle’s Creed on p. 20, which is a summary of the Christian faith.
We’ve worshipped, we’ve read Scripture, and now we pray.
We begin by greeting one another and asking for the mercy of Christ to help us as we pray.
Then, we recite the Lord’s prayer. Much like the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer is our model for how to pray and is itself a prayer worth praying.
Next come the Suffrages. These are a series of prayers said responsively that almost all are snippets of scripture put together. These three elements (Introduction, Lord’s Prayer, Suffrages) form the first section of prayer.
The second section of prayers are the Collects. “Collect” is a name for a prayer that was written as part of the “collected” prayers of the church. These are concise, theologically dense prayers that make very specific requests of God in the name of Jesus. The instructions on pp. 22-25 will help you to cycle through these prayers on a daily basis.
After the Collects, we are instructed to offer any thanksgivings or intercessions as we desire. You’ll notice that this is the first time in Morning Prayer when extemporaneous prayer has been offered.
Is that because unscripted prayer is bad and scripted prayers are better by nature? No, not necessarily.
However, the point is first to have allowed the Word of God to saturate our minds and hearts, and secondly to have allowed the prayers of the church guide our language. After this schooling in the language of prayer, we are in a far better place to be able to bring to God all those things with which are concerned.
Pray for others, pray for the lost, pray for yourself, pray for your family, your church, whoever, whatever! This can go as long as you desire, or can be skipped entirely. The important point to take away is that scripted prayers and extemporaneous prayers are both good and important and have their place in our devotional life.
The third and final section of prayer is the closing where we pray the general thanksgiving, ask God to hear us according to his will, and to request the grace and peace to go with us.
You’re done! Your first time through this, it will probably take you an hour, maybe longer. As you get more familiar with the office, it will not be uncommon for you to pray all of Morning or Evening Prayer in 20 or 25 minutes almost entirely from memory.
Why would you want to get to that point? To show off and impress your friends? To make God like you? Of course not. It boils down to mastering the fundamentals of a devotional life founded upon worship, the reading of Scripture, and prayer to God.
Vince Lombardi was a legendary coach for the professional football team, the Green Bay Packers. Legend has it that on his first day of practice with the team, Lombardi held up a football and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”
If you ever play a sport, the fundamentals are the first things you learn. Learning how to position your feet, tackle correctly, block, and hold a football are all fundamentals to the game of American football. As someone plays the sport longer they will eventually learn complex schemes for offense, defense, and special teams. But, no matter how advanced you get, you never outgrow the fundamentals.
Being Anglican, at its very core, is a kind of personal and communal spirituality—a way of being Christian in your everyday life. The fundamentals of this life are wrapped up in Morning and Evening Prayer. The Daily Office is the fundamental element of Anglican spirituality that anybody can start today, and can never outgrow.
The ultimate goal of the Daily Office is to seek to behold God in all his glory. We worship because he is worthy, for he has redeemed us at the price of his own blood. We read Scripture because it is the living word of God and he speaks to us there every time we pick it up. We pray because he says he hears us and cares about all that’s happening in our lives.
It is not prideful to say that you want to master these fundamentals. It is part and parcel of following Jesus Christ. It is mere Christianity.
David C. Smith (@_DavidCSmith) is married to Kendalyn, his lifelong friend. He is a priest for Family Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Flower Mound, TX. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Theology with a dual emphasis in New Testament and Historical Theology. He loves to read, write, do Crossfit, try new food and drinks, play video games, and meet new people in new places.