In the early days of England’s split with Rome, the church in England had to figure out how to move forward with worship in the country. Very quickly, the church had to create worship resources for the parishes that would eventually become the Church of England and another worldwide expression of the Christian faith. In a time in which communication was much slower than it is today, the leaders of the church had to create the items the church would need to order its worship. In many ways, our parish had to do the same from the start of this pandemic!
Of course, Sunday morning was a big part of the concern for the church, but the man tasked with creating a prayer book specifically for the church in England also had in mind to create a resource that could be used not simply by priests and bishops and monks and nuns but also by the lay members of the church as they went about their lives. Thomas Cranmer sought to create a way for ordinary people to pray, to be in relationship with God, and to encounter the Holy through daily reading of Scripture. Cranmer wanted the prayer book to be held in common: a resource that could be used by every member of the church regardless of the order to which a person belonged. (Remember, every person in the church belongs to an order! If you are not ordained, you belong to the largest order of the church – the laity!)
While Cranmer’s vision might have been a bit lofty for the average lay person, the truth is that his desire to put prayer and scripture at people’s fingertips has served the Anglican tradition well down through the ages. In our own prayer book history, the shape of the original prayer book published in 1549 (under the reign of King Edward VI and not under King Henry VIII) exerted influence on the prayer books created and published by our church. In every edition of the prayer book in The Episcopal Church, the first rite of worship that we encounter is The Daily Office. It has been part of Anglican tradition since the time of the first prayer book in England, and in our church, it was the primary worship service on most Sundays until the time of liturgical renewal in the mid-twentieth century.
The Daily Office, whilst confusing to many of us now because we do not use it as regularly, has informed how generations of Anglicans have been taught to pray. It has provided us with the shape of daily prayer and encouraged us to make prayer a daily part of our lives. As part of that prayer, it has the benefit of inviting us to read the Bible (almost) from cover to cover in the calendar of appointed lessons for The Daily Office. And, if we opt to follow Cranmer’s original calendar for the psalms, we would read the entire psalter every single month! In short, praying Morning and Evening Prayer on a daily basis gives us the most opportunity to encounter the fullness of Holy Scripture and to practice relationship with God most regularly. It is unique to our church in the form in which it exists, and it is, quite simply, vintage Anglican.
It is no surprise to anyone that worships in an Episcopal parish that our regular services are laden with Scripture. The old joke that the prayer book is so good that the Bible quotes is now a bit trite because it assumes that Episcopalians do not read Scripture regularly. I am finding that to be more and more false as our church continues to move more and more intentionally in the direction of being a missional church that is all about doing the work God has granted us in God’s vineyard. That said, we also have an opportunity to encounter Scripture a bit differently in and through Morning and Evening Prayer. We have the opportunity to encounter Scripture every day if we take on Morning and Evening Prayer as a core practice of discipleship in our lives.
But…we also need to know how to do Morning and Evening Prayer if it is to become a regular practice for us on the other six days of the week outside of Sunday. It is with this in mind that we will transition our worship service for the time that we are doing online church. Beginning on Sunday, August 23, 2020, Church of the Epiphany-Tempe will enter into a weekly practice of praying the scriptures through Morning Prayer. While some might want to say that The Daily Office is not “real” church, the truth is that our church has used Morning Prayer as its primary act of worship for longer than we have any other rite in the prayer book. When we are together in person, it is meet and right that we gather to celebrate Holy Eucharist; however, in the next few weeks, we also have the opportunity to deepen our own listening to God in and through Morning Prayer.
As with most of the liturgical shifts that we have made at Church of the Epiphany, we will do this for a time. It will inform our online worship whilst we maintain a commitment to celebrating The Holy Eucharist when we are able to return to in-person worship, and I know that all of you, like me, hunger for the day that we are able to do just that.
And before you give up on Morning Prayer, I invite you to experience it on Sunday. Come and hear the Word of God proclaimed, listen to the beautiful canticles as we speak and say them as a community, pray for our community and the world, and allow the Holy Spirit to enter your hearts through practices that are vintage Anglican.