Why pray the Breviary (iii)

Prayer of the Church

Private devotions, such as the Rosary, are prayers often performed by members of the Church but are not therefore themselves “the prayer of the Church.” The same is true with devotional or theological books. They are stand in an exegetical relation to the Book of the Church (the Bible) but are not identical to it. Both have pages with words on them dealing with spiritual subjects and have many aspects in common. They look the same in many ways but are not. As with the Bible and devotional/theological books so with prayer.

Over time the sacred authors (theologians in the words of Pseud-Dionysius) wrote the books that are now in our Bibles (73 of them) and over time the Spirit guided the Church into forming a canon of books which we now refer to as “the Bible.” Similarly the Spirit guided the Church into a “canonical” form of prayer. This is the essential structure and contents of the Divine Office. though certain features of Scripture and the Divine Office can be or must be adapted to time and geographical location as a divinely given fact they cannot simply be abandoned, replaced or radically restructured so as to be unrecognizable from what it was before. It essential form must remain identical and unchanged. The Scriptures may be translated from Latin (Vulgate) into vernacular but the number of books cannot be changed. Different choices may be made in naming certain books (opening different versions of the Bible will quickly make evident that 1 Samuel and 1 Kings can refer to the same book depending on which bibles are being compared) but the general “order” of books may not be changed without creating significant disturbance and chaos in the use and sometimes even inner coherence of the books of Scripture. The same is true for the Divine Office.

Now if we were to change the order of the 12 minor Prophets, or the books of the New Testament no significant distortion of the inner coherence and narrative of it occurs, but having been accustomed for many hundreds of years to the order in which have them a practical disturbance will occur. More problematically the impression is given that the NT can be subjected to arbitrary changes and it discourages proper reverence for the NT as divinely constituted and given. The NT becomes malleable. It becomes subject to human “creativity” rather than the authority guiding human creativity. This is why the acceptance of the Protestant Canon of Scripture is simply unthinkable as is any subscription tot Article VI (from the 39 Articles of Religion) which says that there are some books which cannot be read to establish doctrine from (referencing the universally rejected private opinion of St. Jerome). Neither Jerome’s not the Reformer’s private opinions are to be preferred over the universal judgment of the Church. Jerome and the Reformers are just men with an opinion the centuries old established tradition is the guidance of the Spirit in the Church. When private opinions are asserted over the Divine Office a similar problem occurs which explains the troubled history of the Book of Common Prayer from its first enforced public use to its troublesome position today. We ought to heed the warning from Proverbs that “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are ways of death.” (Prov. 16, 25 & 14, 12). The reforms of the 16th and late 20-ieth century have indeed brought about the near death of the Divine Office as divinely given.

The Prayer of the Church is therefore a given not unlike the Holy Writ itself is a given. Our private devotions depend on and are learned from Scripture and the Divine Office not the other way around. Both have grown in the Church and having been once for all established are untouchable in their essential features. Much the trouble in our liturgical churches today is that we think of liturgy (and Scripture) as opportunities for our creativity (our creativity being the framework within which liturgy works) rather than seeing liturgy as the framework within which our creativity is expressed. Insisting and defending the God-given tradition of the Prayer of the Church does require lots of creativity and persistence!

In the Prayer of the Church it is not the individuals that independently and creatively invent liturgy, rather the individuals are entering a preexisting Prayer-life which conforms the individuals to its Divine Author, thereby making individuals One Body. To conclude with a pregnant remark:

It is clearly the work of the sacred liturgy in which God reveals himself in the person of his Son through his Spirit to the believer who anticipates God’s self-disclosure in faith and hope. The liturgy is the interpretation of Scripture belonging to the Church. Here is a further reason why liturgy can never be ‘made’ – it is part of what is ‘given’ by God.

Laurence Paul Hemming, Worship as a Revelation, p. 115.

Gregory Wassen +

(to be continued)

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Why pray the Breviary? (ii)

… because the Breviary is the liturgical Prayer of the Church.

The Church

Who or what is the Church in the phrase “Prayer of the Church” ? To answer that we might take a look at the word “liturgy.” The word liturgy is popularly explained as “the work of the people” where the people is understood to be “the Christian community gathered to worship” the emphasis very much upon the individuals presently gathered to perform an act of worship. Liturgy is considered and act of community it is about all the gathered people (ministers and everyone else) “doing the work together.” This explanation of the word liturgy is by no means limited to Andy Roeder Moody or to popular writing. Catherine Pickstock, neither light nor widely popular reading, wrote in her academic and philosophical masterwork After Writing in similar terms concerning the liturgy:

This manifestation in time of the effects of the historical body of Jesus in the communion of the Church and the sacrament opened the space of the liturgy as the “site” where the visible community (laos) and the mysterious work (ergon) combined, …

Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the liturgical consummation of Philosophy, p. 159.

Pickstock is exegeting Henri de Lubac’s liturgical theology as she finds it in the conclusion of his Corpus Mysticum (which I must confess I have not read) and in the process explains the word “leitourgia” from its two component parts: laos and ergon. Just like Andy Moody above liturgy is taken to mean “work of the people.” More specifically this visible community gathered presently for the purpose of worship. The liturgy is the “site” or “place” where the people (the visible community gathered for worship), performs the “mysterious work” (of liturgical worship). The same idea was also expressed by my professor of liturgical theology at Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and it was also popular among many of my friends: liturgy is the work of the (visible) people gathered for worship.

Laos or the People of God

A different, and in my view a better, way of looking at liturgy is given in The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1069 and 1070. Referencing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council the Catechism explains that the liturgy is the work of/on behalf of the people of God. It is the “participation of the People of God in the work of God.” The laos or people does not primarily refer to the visible community gathered to worship. Rather it refers to the “Mystical Body of Christ” Laurence Paul Hemming explains:

If liturgy is the ‘work’ of the ‘people’ (to give it its most naked and basic reading), the laos is not ever the visible people or ‘community,’ but rather the invisible stem and root, the tribe or nation, implied and made manifest by this one here, this man or woman who is variously, perhaps, a Briton a Catholic, and so forth.

Laurence Paul Hemming, Worship as a Revelation: the past present and future of Catholic Liturgy, p. 77.

In other words the “people” is not referring to the laity and clergy working together in this house of worship, at this time, but the Universal Church as the Body of Christ. Not the Anglican Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, or even the Roman Catholic Church but all of them together as they all are what it is to be the Body of Christ. The Anglican Breviary is the prayer of that Church as it is practiced in Anglicanized form. Again Laurence Hemming explains:

The members of the laos are the ones who represent and bring to visibility the loas as such and in itself, but they are not, even in their entirety, the entirety of the laos.

Ibid, p. 77.

This local and visible combination of clergy and laity gathered here in this house of worship at this time represents – makes visible – the People of God (Mystical Body of Christ). It is important to understand the distinction and connection between the visible community and the Body of Christ as such. The Church is what individual members are gathered into by Baptism and becomes visible (manifest) in a concrete place at a specific time in our world. To conclude with Fr. Pius Parsch: “When I speak of the prayer of the Church, I have in mind the “Church” in this exalted sense (The Breviary Explained, p. 3-4).”

(to be continued)

Gregory Wassen +

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Why pray the Breviary?

The very learned liturgical teacher Fr. Pius Parsch opens his book The Breviary Explained (1952, B. Herder Book Co. ) with a short chapter with precisely the same title above this post: “Why pray the Breviary?”

Fr. Parsch observes that many priests do not turn to the Breviary in order to pray. He can think of several reasons why they don’t. The name Breviary is a misnomer. There is nothing brief about the Breviary! It takes well over an hour to pray the major Offices (Matins-Lauds, and Vespers) if one prays them slowly or sings them. Another reason is that the Breviary is misunderstood. Many see it as a canonical obligation, a chore, to get “out of the way.” To that could be added the costs of the Breviary. To purchase a Breviary is a financial bloodletting. The Baronius Press edition of the Roman Breviary will cost you a whopping $359, 95, the 1962 Monastic Diurnal is $72 and merely contains the Day Offices (Lauds to Compline) and there is no comparable Matins book for this edition. There is of course the Monastic Breviary Matins for $35 sold by Lancelot Andrewes Press with its matching Diurnal for $55 (so that for the full Divine Office you would pay $90). The Anglican Breviary – the subject if this blog – costs $90 (including shipping within the US). It must be said – in favour of lancelot Andrewes and the Anglican Breviary) that $90 for the complete Divine Office is not bad (comparatively speaking). But $90 is still a significant investment. Those of us who have overcome the costs hurdle still face a steep learning curve. The full Divine Office (as opposed to the wreckovated LOTH and BCP) is not easy to learn. Upon arrival in the mail one could simply open up an LOTH and BCP and start using it with relative ease. The rubrics are minimal and the liturgical changes are minimal  (but so are the spiritual benefits). Ergonomics does not translate into spiritual depth here. Be that as it may to learn the traditional Office of the Church takes effort and dedication (as does the Christian life in general). The investment into the Divine Office is significant financially but no less so in time and effort spent doing it and learning it. This may also deter clergy from picking up the 2000 years of continuous prayer as uniquely present in the traditional Divine Office.

If all of the above is true of the clergy, the religious professionals so to speak, it is perhaps even more true of the laity. One might indeed be tempted to think so. One would, however, be wrong to do so. In my personal experience there is more interest among the laity than there is among the clergy (from Deacons all the way to Bishops) to restore the use of the traditional Divine Office. In fact it has been objected – to me by clergy and less so by few laity – that the Breviary could not be prayed in public. In the Roman Church liturgical prayer other than the Mass is to the best of my knowledge rare (outside of monastic communities). In the Anglican Catholic Church things are not much better. Liturgical prayer other than the Mass is sometimes offered, rarely performed daily, and even where it is performed it is usually in the form of simple said Evening and Morning Prayer from the BCP rather than the traditional Divine Office.

Prayer is often thought of as “saying grace” before meals, or saying an “Our Father,” a “Hail Mary” or perhaps the Rosary or other such para-liturgical devotions. This is not to say that these devotions are not prayer. They certainly are! What they are not though is liturgical prayer – the prayer of the Church. It is a good thing to practice devotions such as the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or perhaps the “Jesus Prayer.” Those devotions are very beneficial for one’s spiritual life and growth. Liturgical prayer, however, is the Divine Office and the Mass. In the former we have access to the “prayer” that is offered up to God in unison with the Sacrifice of the Mass in the company of the Saints of the present time, of ages past and those that are still to come and enter this truly common prayer.

In the next installment I will try to unpack in what sense I am using the word Church when referring to the “prayer of the Church.” And what the benefits are of the Breviary as distinct from private prayer, meditation or even the prayerful reading of Scripture. For Catholic Anglicans the Anglican Breviary (this also holds true for the Lancelot Andrewes Press Monastic Office) is nothing less but the restoration to the Divine Office what the Anglican Missal has restored to the Mass. Tradition, spiritual depth, a meditative and doctrinal key to the understanding of Scripture, spiritual formation and direction, the common prayer prayed in continuity with Saints from all ages, the artisitic beauty of BCP language, the Coverdale Psalter, King James Bible, and much more.

Gregory +

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The chief problem

The chief problem of any Breviary is the Kalendar. Inasmuch as the Prayer-Book is based on a greatly simplified Kalendar, Anglican tradition may be said to favour those conservative Uses of the Breviary (such as the Monastic) which do not follow the Universal Kalendar in its entirety. This latter is the most inclusive, and therefore the most elaborate and complicated Kalendar of any liturgical usage today. For which reason a committee of priests has drawn up a simplified Kalendar for Anglican use, to follow which in this Breviary, one should keep only those Feasts marked with a star (*), and should begin at the beginning of the Proper of Saints with the mark SK and disregard everything marked UK.

The Anglican Breviary, Liturgical Note, p. E1 (1021).

Being myself inclined toward liturgical (and theological) conservatism the Simple Kalendar (SK) has a very strong pull for me. I appreciate the ability this usage provides for the Seasons of the Church more clearly to teach us the Catholic Faith as we pray our way through the months of the year. I also appreciate that the selections of Psalms, readings, prayers for the Saints are not practically annihilated as it was done in (especially) the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer (compare the 1559 Kalendar here with the 1928 American here). It would seem that the SK of the Anglican Breviary attempts the same sort of balancing act attempted with the Roman kalendar reforms at Trent (see here). In itself such a reform seems to be necessary every few decades or perhaps centuries.

The question with such reforms is, as one might expect, what are the criteria for reforming the kalendar? The 1928 BCP celebrates biblical figures only on its kalendar with the notable exceptions of Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day which are two secular (inappropriate) intrusions into an ecclesial kalendar. The principle of celebrating feasts of saints is an ancient Christian one and it is to be commended that it was upheld – if marginally – in the 1928 American Prayer Book. Much more to be commended is the kalendar of 1559 where biblical figures and extra biblical figures are given recognition as saints (even if propers to celebrate them were often not provide for). To celebrate biblical and extra-biblical saints makes the kalendar a vehicle to promote sanctification. By means of the kalendar we are taught that holiness (which is achieved by sanctification) is not a prerogative exclusive to scriptural figures. Holiness is not an ideal safely locked up in an old religious text, but is a live issue throughout the entire history of the Church (as testified by new saints entering the kalendar even today). Even today we are supposed to hear and obey the words “be ye holy” (1 Peter 1, 16).

The kalendar, as we can also read in the People’s Anglican Missal (PAM), teaches the faith (p. B21-25):

Thus the liturgical year developed into three main cycles, in honour of three central mysteries of the Catholic religion. A moment’s thought makes clear that all Catholic doctrine is focused in three concentric mysteries, (a) the mystery of God (namely, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity), (b) the mystery of the Incarnation (which is the manifestation of God to us), (c) the mystery of the Church or of Sanctification (which reveals to us how we are to attain God and his holiness).

People’s Anglican Missal, p. B22

Though the PAM is mostly concerned with the seasons of the ecclesial year (Temporale), I am here mostly concerned with what is called the Kalendar of the Saints (Sanctorale). There are different categories of saints addressing different aspects of holiness. This is not arbitrary. The different categories give texture and concreteness to what holiness is and what it looks like in our lives. A “Martyr” shows us that our common Christian call is to be faithful to Jesus Christ even of that should cost us our lives. That requires a total and unrelenting dedication to Jesus Christ. That is not an ideal for biblical figures only (such as St. Stephen the First Martyr) but it is an ideal for Christians throughout history (martyrs are made even today as Christians suffer persecution for their faith). However, martyrdom is not the sole ingredient of holiness. Another aspect of holiness is, for example, doctrine. A “Doctor of the Church” shines a light on the growth in sanctification of our minds. Long ago, Origen, pointed out that the mind doesn’t grow by bodily foods but by knowledge. Indeed The Song Zacharias (sung at Lauds):

… thou shalt go before the face of Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins, …

Whatever the precise relation may be between preparing the way of the Lord, knowledge, and salvation it is clear that they are! Origen was on to something. But what is the food by which our minds grow?

Mind certainly needs intellectual magnitude, because it grows in an intellectual and not in a physical sense … by being cultivated through excercises in learning.

Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Chap. i, 6.

By the inclusion of doctors of the Church we are directed to their teachings as food for our minds so that digesting their teaching our minds may grow in spiritual magnitude. The same could be said for the other categories of saints and how they illuminate what holiness looks like in our lives. So even though we don’t necessarily need to follow the Universal Kalendar (UK) it is a good thing to have a more inclusive kalendar than that provided by the 1928 BCP popular among continuing Anglicans in the United States. As it is stands the 1928 kalendar fails to teach the faith as cleary as does the 1559 BCP kalendar, or the SK suggested for Anglicans on the Anglican Breviary (AB). An advantage of the AB over any BCP is the fact that it includes samples of the saint’s lives and teachings to interpret and guide our understanding and application of the Scripture readings as they are distributed over the ecclesial year.

The chief problem of any Prayer Book is indeed its kalendar for by it the Church distributes Scripture over the seasons and feasts and by it the Church makes that same Scipture relevant to our lives today.

Gregory +



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Made ready to hear (ii)

Receptivity to God

I have described de Vogüé’s insight at some length because it seems to me that it is important to realize that “saying the Psalms” or Psalmody has two characteristics. It is our prayer to God, but it is so only because it is first word of God: Scripture. As word of God the Psalm speaks to us, “ploughs the soil of our hearts” to paraphrase St Caesarius to prepare us for prayer as such. The Scripture directed at us – and our meditative reading/singing of it – enables us to actually pray and commune with God the Trinity in the most intimate (Evagrian) meaning of the word “prayer.”

What is it, therefore, that Psalmody (as Scripture directed at us) does in us? “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you (John 15, 3).” It seems to me that our Lord is not referring to our physical appearance but rather concerning the condition of our hearts. Our hearts must become receptive of God. This is what the continuous flow of the words of Scripture and our trained attentiveness are to accomplish: receptivity to God. St. Isaac the Syrian wrote:

When a man’s thoughts are totally immersed in the delight of pursuing the wisdom treasured in the words of Scripture by means of the faculty that extracts understanding from them, then he puts the world behind his back and forgets everything in it, and he blots out of his soul all memories that form images embodying the world. Often he does not even remember the employment of habitual thoughts which visit human nature, and his soul remains in ecstasy by reason of those new encounters that arise from the sea of the Scripture’s mysteries.

St. Isaac the Syrian, “Ascetical Homilies,” I.

The mysteries of Scripture (especially as contained in the Psalms) draw our thoughts in with an incredible power – provided we let it. Attentive hearing of the word pushes out the thoughts, memories, concepts, and other distractions of the world from our thoughts. Whatever thought-world exists in our thoughts it is built up by the concepts, memories, etc. of things we have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt in the world in which we live. Attentive hearing/reading of Scripture provides concepts and memories from Scripture so that the “memory of God” could be firmly planted in our minds. “By establishing the memory of God within the mind, prayer makes one’s thinking ‘become heaven'; in this way, prayer activates the mind’s function of being the ‘temple of God’. This, it seems to me, is what Jesus was talking about when He said that we are clean because of the word He has spoken to us.

Scripture is given to us first as God addressing us. Scripture, even in the Anglican Breviary, comes to us as a given. As such it impacts us. Cleanses us. It transforms the cluttered pagan temple that our minds are into the Temple of God. Praying the Psalms and Scripture by means of the Breviary (in sharp contrast with such derivative and minimalist things as the Book of Common Prayer) is first God’s addressing us by Scripture. Furthermore the way Scripture is itself read according to the lectionary (or in antiphons, responses, graduals, etc.) narrows the exegetical possibilities. In other words Scripture is not just given as a book, it is given as distributed over the seasons and feasts of the Church so that we might rightly interpret it. Though reading Scripture from cover to cover is commendable, it is not understood in that way. Scripture is to be understood as given in the context of liturgy. Viewed in this way, we do not lose the Psalms (or any other parts of Scripture) as reading of Scripture where it addresses us, rather there is a double movement. From God proceed His words addressing us. Being God’s words they remain His and return to Him but bringing those of us who have accepted the address with it. So that as we are addressed by God via Scripture (reading Scripture as Scripture), we are (re) united with God via Scripture (Scripture as prayer).

It seems to me that de Vogüé’s lament above, is inaccurate. By gaining the Psalter as prayer, we have not lost it as Scripture directed at us. Rather the Psalter remains Scripture addressed to us, but by gaining the Psalter as prayer we have a means to pray according to the will of the Father (John 14, 13-14) which is the same as praying in the name of Jesus (John 16, 23-28). In this respect it is interesting to note that in vs. 28 Jesus – who is the Word of God – came from the Father and returns to Him. Notice the dynamics here: the Word of God proceeds from the Father > addresses us > returns to the Father. What is Jesus? is he not the Word become flesh ? (John 1, 14) Who is Jesus addressing? and to whom is He returning? What does His coming and return mean in the context of praying in His name ?  I find it impossible to believe that there is no significance in Jesus framing prayer in His name in the very context in which He speaks of His coming and return to the Father – especially since we know that He is in fact the-Word-of-God-made-flesh. The Word of God comes to us, addresses us. The word of God returns to God. Praying in Jesus’ name, it seems to me, is to pray as Jesus would. The Word of God addresses us in the Incarnation, having become flesh (human) the Word returns to the Father. The Word does not return empty but brings humanity with Him (Isaiah 55, 11). When asked to teach us to pray Jesus gave us the Our Father. We pray the words the Word gave us. Surely the Our Father is both Scripure addressed to us, as well as prayer addressed to God. The word is given to us and retuns to Him who gave it. The opening of John’s Gospel the Word was with God contains a sense of orientation of the Word toward God (more noticeable in the Greek). It is that orientation toward God that the addressing of the Word accomplishes in us, and is expressed by us when we pray. Our (re) connection with the Father is in Christ and that is very well seen in how Scripture is both directed at us and used as prayer directed back to God who sent it. Because Jesus Christ is the Word of God addressing us, while simultaneously being oriented toward the Father.

Scripture makes us ready to hear. Makes us receptive to God (if we let it). Having become receptive to God Scripture orients us to God because the Word of God is so oriented. Psalmody is therefore hearing and praying. Not one or the other.

Gregory +

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Often have I heard/seen the filioque discussed, debated, and fretted about. Not often have I seen it explained clearly, cogently, succinctly and accurately. Stephen Holmes has the distinct advantage of doing precisely this in only a few words:

filioque“Within the bounds of classical Trinitarianism, the filioque debate was, in retrospect, inevitable: two relations of origin are proposed, the generation of the Son and the spiration of the Spirit. There are thus four relational terms: generating; being generated; spirating; and being spirated. These four terms then need to be divided between three hypostases. Two options appear natural and obvious: to identify the One who generates with the One who spirates [the Eastern Orthodox option], thus teaching the Father as sole cause and denying the filiqoue; or, following Thomas Aquinas, to affirm the filioque[the Western Catholic option] by making spiration a joint action of Father and Son, and so a non-hypostatic causal principle.”

The Quest for the Trinity, Stephen R. Holmes, (Kindle edition at 58%).

Putting it that way there seems to be no problem as far as theology is concerned with the filioque. Both “options” remain fully and undoubtedly within the patristic trinitarian framework. Neither “from the Father and the Son” nor “from the Father alone” are mandated by the Creed of Nicea-Constantinopel. But here the question must turn to the authority of the Creed as an expression of the mind of the Church (and thereby the voice of the Holy Spirit). Can the Creed be changed? Re-interpreted? and if so who has that authority? First and foremost authority in the Church is God’s. But who or what is God’s “organ” of speaking and acting authoritatively in the Church? The papal addition of the filioque to the Creed of Nicea-Constantinopel asserts that the Pope of Rome is that organ since the official addition to the Creed of the filioque was a papal act not a conciliar one. This is what should be controversial about the filioque. Not the theological content of the doctrine itself. Underneath the filioque lies the issue of papal authority and its limits. The Eastern Orthodox rightly question – nay strongly object to – the assertion that papal authority is not limited by tradition (including Scripture) but that tradition is (apparently) subject to papal authority. Clergy, especially bishops (including the Pope), should understand that they are “guardians of the tradition” not its inventors or innovators. It seems reasonable to me as a Western Catholic that the filioque be dropped from the Creed. This constitutes a clear message concerning authority in the Church and, it cannot be denied, an acknowledgment that in this the Eastern Orthodox are (and have always been) correct. It can also not be denied that the theology of filioque is simply classical, patristic trinitarianism and does not conflate hypostases, and certainly does not constitute a heresy. In that much the Western Catholics are (and have always been) correct.

In other words the solution to this problem, which has surfaced on my facebook feed several times in the past few weeks, is relatively straight forward. It is also as simple as it is straight forward. Drop filioque from the Creed (with its implications for papal authority) stop bitching about it being heretical (with its implication that filioque falls well within classical, patristic theological borders).

It will never happen though.

Gregory Wassen +

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Made Ready to hear

To pray is to be made ready to hear. This book [Worship as a Revelation] springs from the understanding that praying is a kind of hearing – not a mere opening of the ears, but a trained attentiveness in a habit acquired over years, even decades; a directedness towards in a particular manner. ‘I pray you …’ is a construction now rarely heard in contempoary speech, but once it meant a gracious form of address, attempting to draw towards one the attention of one greater than oneself, and an openness for them to speak, to act, to direct their attention to the one uttering the request.

Layrence Paul Hemming, Worship as a Revelation, p. 1.

Adelbert de Vogüé and saying the Psalms

Even though prayer is indeed a divine conversation it is also an act of us listening to God – our conversation partner. The content of prayer is structured around the Scripture and the Psalter. It has been observed by the great Benedictine scholar Adelbert de Vogüé that “like the other books of Scripture, the psalter is chiefly the word of God, inspired writing. It is on this ground that the psalm precedes the prayer at the office. Before man addresses the word of prayer to God, he listens to the word which God says to him (“The Rule of St. Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary,” p. 142-3).” This observation refers to the Egyptian (4th century) monastic form of Psalmody. Psalms or as, St. John Cassian says, about ten verses of a Psalm would be recited after which a silence and – a brief – prayer followed. Evidently the Psalm is not considered as actual prayer but as preparatory to prayer. The Psalm, read by one monk alone, is God addressing us by means of Scripture. The Prayer which follows the Psalm is the fruit of having read/heard it. De Vogüé makes the point with a quote from St. Caesarius: “Saying a Psalm is like sowing in a field: praying (orare) is like burying seed and covering it over by ploughing (arare) a second time (p. 143).” The word play can, sadly, not be translated. It stands to reason that the prayer following the Psalm is a reaction to the Psalm. The Psalm engenders prayer and it seems likely (we have no written records of those Psalm-prayers) that the prayer would be structured by images, concepts, even words of the Psalm itself (p. 144). De Vogüé observes that “this law of dialogue, in which God always takes the initiative, is the same which governs the most ancient prayer of the Church: the readings of the liturgical assembly precede the prayer of the faithful and priestly Eucharist (p. 143).”

That is certainly an interesting observation, and likely to be quite correct. But de Vogüé also observes that many Psalms have the character of man’s prayer to God. The Psalms evidently have a double function: 1. they prepare for prayer; 2. they are prayer. “To have said the Psalms is already to have prayed (p. 144).” This is why the Psalm-prayer eventually disappears from the Office and its place is now (in the West) occupied by the Gloria (Glory be to the Father. etc.). The conception of Psalmody as prayer prevails and is predominant – writes de Vogüé – in the Rule of St. Benedict and would eventually almost entirely crow out the understanding of Psalmody as God’s address to man (p. 148). Though I sympathize with de Vogüé as it concerns losing an important aspect of the Divine Office (Psalmody as word of God directed at us), I do not believe things are quite as dark as he seems to suggest. In my post concerning “Prayer as entering a divine conversation” I have spelled out quite clearly that prayer is not created by us, but is given to us. To view Psalmody as prayer does not necessarily eliminate the aspect of Scripture addressing us. A Psalm is simply both the word directed at us, and our prayer directed to God. Prayer is a conversation consisting of two-way traffic. We need to be made ready to hear.

(to be concluded)

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