Whys and wherefores

Patterned praying and the wider church

The prayers on this website are intended for daily or ‘most-days’ use. In very broad terms they fit within a long tradition of prayers written and set to assist Christians to pray regularly. The guiding principles in putting these offices (that’s a word often used to describe these regular forms of prayer) together have been two-fold. The chief principle has been to make use of the prayer that Jesus gave to his first disciples in response to the request ‘Teach us to pray’. We now usually call that prayer “The Lord’s Prayer” though it has also been known as “the Gospel prayer” or often named for it’s first phrase, the “Our Father”. There are slightly different versions of it in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Putting these together to compare them, we find that there are five topics or movements of prayer covered. Given that there is some variation it is reasonable to suppose that the point is not the exact words but the kinds of things we are being asked to make part of our regular praying.

The second principle informing the shape of these offices has been to include the reading of scripture. For many Christians reading or hearing the Bible regularly is an important discipline, and so it seems important to give room for that in a structure for regular prayer such as this. It seems best to have this component at the start of a time of prayer, perhaps this is because it is the way so many offices and prayer-time advice recommend. In many traditional offices the liturgy around the readings doesn’t particularly support the scriptural component -at least not explicitly in the prayers. In these offices, the prayers before and after the readings are intended to prepare us for hearing the scriptures and give us forms to respond, if only briefly, to them. There is also a framework for reflection offered. This might be particularly useful if you wanted to to use the scripture-centred part of the office separately from the prayer-based second part. One scenario for doing it like that might be to have two times of prayer during the day using one part in each prayer time.

A further principle has been to enable people to pray these offices together as well as singly. The offices are designed with a small group praying them in mind. It doesn’t have to be that way; a person on their own could pray the office -in fact for me that is the usual way it happens. It does act as a reminder though that prayer is envisaged to be a communal activity at heart. After all, the Lord’s Prayer itself supposes a community of prayer: “Our Father … give us … as we forgive…” etc. All of this means that many of the prayers are composed for two or more voices in dialogue. The default is that one voice would say one part of those prayers and the rest of the voices (whether one or more) would say the other part. Obviously, the voice for the first part could vary, and the ‘lead’ in that sense could rotate between participants. If you pray this physically alone, simply take both parts yourself. It works out fine, just remember if you do occasionally pray with others, to be aware that you may fall into habits of speech that need adjusting when sharing the prayers with others and you may want to check whether your prayer partner is expecting you to join in with the responses or not.

Some background

Many of the existing orders of regular pre-written prayers were developed for and by people in monastic communities. Some have been developed so as to simplify or make them more serviceable for those who live outside of monastic communities -this would include Anglican Morning and Evening Prayer.  There have been, however, different approaches and we’ll come to that a bit further on. Suffice to say for now that many of the most widely available collections of offices are rooted in or simply direct copies of monastic offices.

One of the recurring characteristics of monastic offices is that they are built round saying (or, often, singing or chanting) the Psalms. The Psalms would be set, normally on a rotational basis, and during a normal full day of maybe seven offices, the whole of the book of Psalms would be recited. The nuns or monks would be expected to be praying in the rest of their time in the form of individual devotions and as they worked. They would come together up to seven times a day to recite the Psalms together and this was conceived as joining the prayer of God’s people -which arguably the Psalms are. These gatherings for reciting the Psalms would be accompanied by other prayers and scripture reading.

This is not the only pattern of praying together, historically speaking, that Christians have had. In the church of the first few Christian centuries, lay people would gather for prayer (sometimes called ‘Cathedral Offices’) where praying together rather than Psalm-recital was the central activity. It is more in the spirit of that tradition that these offices are composed. It should be said here, though, that using the Lord’s prayer as a structuring principle for a daily office has not been as common as might be expected. Probably the lack of uptake for that is that other patterns have preoccupied minds and imaginations. However, I would argue that we should consider giving pride of place to the Lord’s Prayer in our regular praying, and if it is right that it was intended to be a basis for regular prayer on the part of the disciples then we should be considering using it as a basis for a daily office. This book is an attempt to do that with a variety of forms that it is hoped will enable the Lord’s Prayer to be explored more fully and to bring fresh insight as the different forms are used.

As you use these offices you would probably become aware that many sentences and phrases in them are actually quotes or paraphrases of passages from the Christian scriptures. Part of the point of this is to help us to pray scripture to some degree. It is something that I have valued about Anglican liturgies over the years that many of the prayers quote or make use of biblical texts in this we are taking a leaf from Jesus’ book for he is depicted in the Gospels as using scripture in reflection and directly in prayer. That said, another aim in composing and compiling the prayers in these offices is to come up with fresh phrases or imagery with the hope that theses may stimulate and enliven our prayers.

The value of regular praying using set prayers.

Many Christians and others would use the word ‘liturgy’ to mean a sequence of set, pre-written, prayers. I tend to use the word with a broader meaning: for me, liturgy is the way we pattern our time with God. Thinking about it in that way puts a wider variety of ways of praying within the orbit of ‘liturgy’: For example, a Quiet Time where there is a normal pattern of asking for God’s help in reading and understanding Scripture leading into reading it, reflecting on it, perhaps learning some of it and then praying out of it, that is a liturgy. Even though there is a high degree of extemporisation in the details, the fact that it is a regular pattern (probably with very similar details of the prayers said or thought) means it is a liturgy. Many so-called ‘non-liturgical’ services of worship are actually often liturgical in the wider sense because they have a fairly predictable pattern to them from the point of view of those who regularly worship. What this means is that we need to think about the value as well as the downsides of using a pattern of set prayers on a regular basis. This is not about liturgy or no-liturgy, but rather content and Christian growth and formation.

Praying with set prayers can be helpful to us. Quite often we can find a phrase in scripture or elsewhere which captures something we would find hard to put into words. Sometimes it can do this in a style or elegance of language we find enticing in prayer and which encourages us to bring ourselves to God with it. Sometimes set prayers can awaken us to ideas of what to praise, thank or ask God for that we probably wouldn’t have done ourselves but which we are glad of as the Spirit enlivens them to us. And thene there are the times when our inner life feels dried up or weary and being able to make use of the words that are ‘there’ is helpful; it’s like being able to pray with someone else where they are able to hold us in what we cannot do. It can also be that set prayers enable us to stay focussed at times when our minds might be inclined to wonder.

One objection to set prayers -and therefore to offices of prayer- is that they are not spontaneous. The thought behind this is that only the spontaneous is authentic or genuine and therefore ‘honest’ before God. Sometimes pre-written prayers can be dismissed as ‘vain repetition’ -a phrase from Jesus’ teaching on prayer and how not to do it. I’d like to address those concerns. First of all with regard to the concern about vain repetition. It comes from the King James’ version of Matthew 6:7. Other versions have words like ‘heap up words’; ’empty phrases’; ‘babble on’ and we should note, crucially, that the next bit is to say that this meaningless repetition is like what the heathens /Gentiles /those who don’t know God do and they do it because they are trying to make God listen. Jesus’ point is that we can be confident God hears us so we don’t need to try to impress God. In relation to offices of prayer this translates to the attitude we have when we pray them: if the set prayers enable us to relate to God, fine; if we use them as a kind of bribe to impress God into listening to us, forget it. We use the forms and the words to help us to focus on God and to carry our desire to connect and to share our concerns and to be touched by God. It needn’t replace using our own words, far from it. Using set prayers can support and nurture our own prayers. In fact, in these offices, there is space written in for our own more ‘of the moment’ prayers to be brought in.

In relation to the matter of only spontaneous prayers being authentic and acceptable before God, there are a few things to think more about. One is that Jesus used set prayers or phrases as well as spontaneous ones. For example “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is a quote from Psalm 22:1 -itself a prayer. And noting the use of Psalms -these are hymns and prayers which have been used for centuries by God’s people with never a sense of it being wrong to use them as prayers (whether said, sung or inwardly articulated) -this is why they are in the Bible: to be used for praying. This reminds us that using the words of others can be ‘authentic’ or can stir up within us a real connection with God. It should be noticed, too, that singing hymns and songs to God is praying and it relies on pre-written words so that many can sing together. It is hard to see how, in principle, singing prayers using someone else’s words is different to saying prayers that have been written previously.

days and seasons

This site has offices for different days and different seasons of the year. It’s not compulsory, obviously, to use them but many people do find it helpful to change forms every so often and this is one way to do this. Many people also find it good to pray along with the seasons of the church year and so there are forms to help you to do that which use imagery and phrases resonant with some of the themes of that season. You’ll see that each day has a theme which references a different part of the church’s year and there are similarities between these and the seasonal prayers themselves to a greater or lesser extent. There is also an order for ‘Everyday’ which is intended to be used anytime as an alternative to any of the others.

In addition to what you would expect in terms of seasons of the church year (Advent, Lent, Easter etc), there are some additional orders of prayer for times and seasons and themes which don’t often appear -Transfiguration is one and what I have called ‘Magnificat’ times when we might be reminded of Mary the mother of Jesus -as the name suggests the words of Mary in Luke 1:46ff form a central place in that office. You can also find a ‘Pauline Office’ which uses words from Paul’s letters to help us to pray. Creationtide is a new, developing, season in September up to 4 October. There is an office for “Dark Seasons” which was compiled with winter in higher latitudes in mind when darkness is a bigger part of everyday experience and it uses imagery of dark and light to draw on that experience as we pray.

There are also some ‘bedtime’ offices. Having a short office before bed is something that has grown in popularity in recent years and so these draw on some of the traditional prayers and imagery for Compline (the traditional late night office) but restructure them in Lord’s Prayer format. One of the constants in these offices is the use of the Nunc Dimittis -the Song of Simeon from Luke 2. In these orders of prayer it is used to round off a time of thankful reflection on the day past rather than as a response to the scripture reading. These night prayer offices are not written ‘seasonally’ but simply with some variety to be used as you find helpful.

Praying offices more than once a day?

If you are looking to pray an office more than once a day and would like to use these liturgies but would also prefer not to pray the same one twice a day. Then (assuming that you don’t count the night prayers) I suggest that it could work to use a seasonal one and a day one. So in December you might pray the Advent office in the mornings but the days’ offices on the relevant day. Or in times outside of the seasons (so called ‘ordinary time’) you might consider the days’ prayers in the mornings and use the Everyday form or the Pauline order on your second sitting.

A Framework for Reflection

You can use these questions as a way to reflect on the readings in a way that links the reflection to the pattern of the Lord’s prayer.
Questions to ask ourselves having read the passages.

  • What in these passages speaks to us of who God is, reminds us of some facet of God’s greatness or our thankfulness to God?
  • Is there something here to inspire us, challenge us or to help us to intercede and/or to work for God’s will to be more fully seen here and now on earth?
  • Are we reminded of anything that we need from God to continue as faithful followers of Christ?
  • Does what we have read highlight anything in our own lives that we need to seek God’s mercy for? Does it make us aware of anything we need to let go of or forgive?
  • Are we alerted to something that might endanger our faithfulness to God?

Night Prayer 5

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord.
and all your faithful shall bless you.
                            [Psalms 36:5 & 145:10]

              Pause to reflect on what we have seen of God over the past day.
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

ELLC Nunc Dimittis.
Hallowed be your name Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit:
As in the beginning; so now; and forever. Amen.

                           

Hymn (suggested tune: Te Lucis)
O loving Carer, God of grace
you welcome us with smiling face,
and we may ever rest at peace
for we, to you, our cares release.

O God transform the woes of life
Bring good from ill and peace to strife.
Move greed and pride from seats of power
so justice, mercy, healing flower

And as we pause to take our sleep
bring comfort to all those who weep
and work into to the wide world’s life
the grace that ends ungodly strife.

In quietness let us recall those whose lives our lives touch and the cares of the wider world.
              A time of quiet reflection and petition.
Our help comes from the Lord
Who made heaven and earth
God keeps us, and will neither slumber or sleep
The Everliving will watch over our life.
God, be mindful of our coming and going
Now and forevermore.

Two things we ask of you, Lord; Keep falsehood and lies afar; give us neither poverty nor riches, but give us simply our daily bread.
                            [See Proverbs 30:7-9]
              … Pause to recollect our needs before God.
It is in vain that we rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives sleep to those who are beloved.

Let us recognise where we have not welcomed God to be with us or where we have perpetuated unforgiveness.
              Pause to recognise wrongness in our lives today; both what we’ve caused and what we need to forgive.
Send us your Spirit
And renew the face of our lives.
Make our hearts clean, O God
And remake a right spirit within us.
Let us attend; Christ breathes upon us the peace and forgiveness of God.

Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Amen

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Night Prayer 2

Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
we extol you, O God
and bless your name forever and ever
              [Psalms 105:4 & 145:1]

              Pause to reflect on what we have seen of God in the past day.
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
A llght to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

                            ELLC Nunc Dimittis.
Hallowed be your name Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit:
As in the beginning; so now; and forever. Amen.

As we lie down to rest we lay before God the restless world.
Your lore and wisdom infuse the earth
fulfil your heavenly dreams among us.
Thwart ill-will and spiteful imaginings
Let justice, mercy and truth flourish for good.
Extend through your church a welcome to all
And entice the world to the feast of Fulfilment
Knit together Dayspring in the womb of night
Let darkness nurture new hopeful futures.
              Further concerns may be expressed …

In peace we will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety
O God, your unstinting providence sustains the world, our lives, our living: Take care for us, and keep us ever mindful that our common weal flows from each other’s toil and care.
Amen.
                            [Adapted from a prayer in Compline, The Book of Common Prayer, ECUSA, 1979]

The following hymn may be sung (Tune: ‘Te Lucis’ traditional for Compline)
As now our day draws to its close,
we rest from this life’s ebbs and flows,
God grant that when we rest this night
disturbances do not alight.

For falling short and wrong things done
we ask forgiveness in your Son
and we do now give up our aims
for recompense and vengeful claims

Search us O God and know our hearts, test us and know our anxious thoughts;
See if there is any offensive way in us.
              Pause to recognise our wrongs of the day…
Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out our transgressions.
Create in us clean hearts, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within us.
Jesus says: come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give them rest.
Thanks be to God.

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
For you have redeemed me, Lord God of truth.
I commend my spirit.
Keep me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me under the shadow of your wings.

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Night Prayer 1

You have multiplied, O God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.
We give thanks to you, O God and tell of your wondrous deeds.
we give thanks; your name is near.

              Pause to reflect on what we have seen of God in the past day.

Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

                            ELLC Nunc Dimittis.
Hallowed be your name Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit:
As in the beginning; so now; and forever. Amen.

                           

Let us pray
              … pause to recall, and perhaps to share, particular concerns before God.

(the words to the following may be sung to the tune ‘Te Lucis’ -traditional compline hymn)
O God with you we rest our cares
bring good of them in all affairs
And as the world turns on its round
may justice, peace and hope abound.

And as we pause to take our sleep
bring comfort to all those who weep
and work into to the wide world’s life
the grace that ends ungodly strife.

O God bring good news to the poor
and make your peacely rule more sure
tread underfoot all ill and woe
So right and health and goodness grow

We lie down and sleep; we wake again, for the Lord sustains us.
Save us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.

Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts.
Look well whether there be any wickedness in me.
              Pause to recognise wrongness in our lives today; both what we’ve caused and what we need to forgive.
Holy God,
holy and strong,
holy and immortal:
have mercy on us.

Let us attend: God breathes forgiveness on those who confess their sins.
From the darkness of our sins we walk.

lead us in the way that is everlasting.
Let us hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,
for in you we put our trust;
show us the way we should walk in,
for we lift up our soul to you.
                            [from Psalm 143]

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Ascension

Ascensiontide is the time between Ascension day and Pentecost Sunday. It recalls Christ’s Ascension (see Acts 1) and the theme of waiting on God’s Spirit. This order shares some material with the order for Pentecost.

Together with all in Christ, we wait
Come Holy Spirit; soak into our deepest being
We pray together with all your people
Come Holy Spirit; breeze through our staleness.

We will hear the scriptures together
Come Holy Spirit; fire up our imaginations for good

Glorious Father, give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know you better. Open the eyes of our heart that we may know the hope to which you have called us, the riches of your glorious inheritance and your incomparably great power for us.
[from Ephesians 1]
Psalm[s] and reading[s] are announced and read. When all have been read …
Reader: God has sent forth the word
May it not return empty.
There may be a time of quiet and/or shared reflection. A framework for reflection, using the pattern of the Lord’s prayer may be used.
Together we say:
We will receive power
when the Holy Spirit comes upon us;
the same mighty strength
that raised Christ from the dead
and seated him at God’s right hand
in the heavenly realms,
far above all rule and authority,
power and dominion,
and every name that is invoked
in the present age and in the one to come.
And we will be Jesus’ witnesses
to the ends of the earth

[Acts 1.8 and Ephesians 1.20ff]

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
You have blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ
to the praise of your glorious grace,
which you have freely given us in the Beloved
…Prayers and/or songs of praise and thanks may be shared here…
And now we give you thanks because In Christ you take human life to yourself, and do not leave us orphaned but give gifts by the Holy Spirit, Our God In heaven, in love you adopted us through Jesus Christ:
Hallowed be your name!

God, send your Spirit: mend your creation, fulfil your promises and inspire your people for good.
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of the earth
May your desires and values spring up and prosper throughout the world, your peace, wholeness and goodness come on earth
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of the earth.
Work righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of the earth.
Through the church, may the manifold wisdom of God be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of the earth.
We ask that all the Lord’s holy people have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God
…Other prayers or biddings may be voiced here the leader ending with:
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of the earth.
Let love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of the earth.

Be the wind in the sails of our lives and as we are blown forward by your Spirit may we know your comfort and provision
…prayers or biddings asking for God’s provision may be added here the leader ending with
Send forth your Spirit:
And renew the face of our lives.

We have quenched your Spirit in our self-serving or grudge-bearing

Forgive us and renew us:
To know and to offer joyful forgiveness.

Blow upon us the breath of life:
And renew the face of our lives.
Make our hearts clean, O God
And reform a right spirit within us.
Let us attend; Christ breathes upon us the peace and forgiveness of God.
A moment for quiet reflection on our forgiveness.

As we seek to walk in the Spirit let us pause before the likely events and involvements and the unpredictable happenings that face us.
Pause for reflection
Since we live by the Spirit,
let us keep in step with the Spirit.
[Gal 5:25 ]
Now to you who by the power at work within us are able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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Eastertide

Eastertide lasts until the celebration of Christ’s Ascension, ten days before Pentecost.The prayers for this time reflect Christ’s rising from death and its implications.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Our hopes are raised
Life emerges from death
Right is wrested from wrong
The uprising of Love has begun!

Draw alongside us, Lord Jesus,
Open up the scriptures to us by your Spirit,
so our hearts might be lit with fresh understanding
and fired up by your presence.
Psalm[s] and reading[s]. The reader or service leader, after the readings may say:
Here ends the reading.
Here begins its outworking.
There may be a time of quiet and/or shared reflection. A framework for reflection, using the pattern of the Lord’s prayer may be used.
Jesus said: ‘Do not doubt but trust.’ With Thomas we respond,
‘My Lord and my God!’
Let us hear for ourselves what Jesus replied,
‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.’

We have these words so that we may come to believe and trust:
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
we have life in his name.
[ based on John 20:19ff ]

We set God always before us:
who is at our right hand; we shall not fall.
Our hearts are glad
and our spirits rejoice;
Our flesh shall also rest secure.
For you will not abandon our souls to Death,
nor let your faithful know the Pit.
You will show us the path of life;
in your presence is the fullness of joy
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore
[ From Psalm 16 ]
Further appreciation of God may be voiced
O God, roll away the stone from our hearts, and brighten our imaginations with the dayspring of new life. In Christ you spoke into the unmaking void of death,raising your Life from death and enfolding us in that victory.
God of new creation:
Hallowed be your name

We ask for God’s eternal-life-giving to be known in our world, saying:
Living God:
glorify your name
Concerns for the world and its people are brought before God, either at this point closing with the series of one-line responses below,or after that series or using each one-liner to prompt further prayers.
In our world’s global community, in our world’s living systems;
Living God:
glorify your name.
In your church as we proclaim your new life in thought and word and deed;
Living God:
glorify your name.
Among all whose lives our lives touch, friends, colleagues and families;
Living God:
glorify your name.
In this world of sin and death, and yet of blessings and common grace;
Living God:
glorify your name.
[rewritten from a prayer in Patterns of Worship, 1995]

In our needs and weakness in our provision and supply;
Living God:
glorify your name.
We consider what we need to continue living in Christ
The risen Jesus makes common table with us.
As we make common cause with Christ:
Give us each day our daily bread.

Full-lively God, we come to you in sorrow for our sins, and confess to you our weaknesses and unbelief.
Recollection of what we need to confess.
We have fallen back into the law of sin and death, and failed to live the new life of the risen Christ.
Merciful God, forgive us.
And restore us to life.
We have laid others in the tomb of our unforgiveness,
enshrouding them in our contempt and withholding the word of life.
Forgive us, Merciful God
And restore us to life-giving.
Let us attend; Christ breathes upon us the peace and forgiveness of God.
A moment for quiet reflection on our forgiveness.
Who will rescue us from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
As we seek to forge a new future living the life of Christ let us pause before the likely events and involvements and the unpredictable happenings that face us.

A collect prayer may be said.
In our laughter, and tears, in our fear and our hope;
Living God:
Glorify your name.

Jesus comes to us and says,
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
He breathes on us and says; ‘Receive the Holy Spirit….
Pause to reflect on Christ’s risen presence and call before we return to the rest of our lives.
Let us bless the Lord:
Thanks be to God
Who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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A commentary on this order of prayer can be found here.