Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A New Franciscan Office Book (Part One)

Quietly slipping onto Amazon and Church House Bookshops Lists this week, but available shortly after Easter direct from Hilfield Friary, a new Office Book for use by all three Orders of The Society of St Francis. Previous books, containing orders for the Divine Office, (Morning, Midday, Evening and Night Prayer), plus a host of extra material, have been well received and much used throughout the Church; the 1981 version cropped up all over the place, (no doubt because the Orders in the Alternative Service Book were so unhelpful), while the 1992 book, published in two slightly differing forms as The Daily Office SSF, and Celebrating Common Prayer, was a joint work between the Franciscans and a number of interested Anglican Liturgists. It is still treasured by some, (available online here), and taught English Anglicans a new, generous understanding of the practice and purpose of Daily Prayer. Many of the insights gained from using these books contributed to Common Worship: Daily Prayer (preliminary version 2002, authorised version 2005), which, in a competitive market where denominational loyalties do not necessarily count, has quickly become the prayer book of choice for the majority of clergy and parishes, and, if the sales figures are a reliable guide, for many others, notwithstanding the persistence of  the Book of Common Prayer, and the Roman Breviary in some places.

For Deacons and Priests, celebrating Morning and Evening Prayer every day is a key part of our identity, along with the Daily Mass, the deep roots of both corporate and personal prayer. Because of its roots, and its pattern of prayer 4 times a day, Common Worship: Daily Prayer (CW:DP) has a Franciscan feel in many places, and we have used it in here in Elland since it was published. Broadly speaking, its compilers intended to take the best from the 2 approaches to the Daily Office that have featured through the Christian centuries, the 'peoples' Office, (movement, ceremony, lots of repeated items and relatively small amount of Psalmody and Bible Readings)  and the 'monastic', (static, lots of options, Psalms, Readings)

As a Franciscan, there are aspects of the second that I miss, when using CW:DP, firstly the Invitatories, (sentences said at the beginning of Morning Prayer, inviting us to worship), which CW:DP has either flattened (in Seasons)or removed (in Ordinary Time); secondly, the invariable 'alleluia', at the end of the Gloria, which CW:DP either ignores (Ordinary Time) or puts elsewhere, and thirdly, the Kyries, or Shorter Litany, which CW:DP has removed in favour of responses familiar from the Eucharist. I am delighted to see that all three persist in the new Daily Office SSF.

The structure of the new book is refreshing, though taking a little time to get used to. After the 7 forms of Morning, Midday, Evening and Night Prayer, the sections of the book are arranged in a progressive, logical form  - first the Psalter, then the canticles, then the Collects and sentences for the sanctorale (saints days) and temporale (Church Year).  Anglican Books tend to arrange things the other way around, with the Psalter at the back. The versions used for Psalter and Canticles have been brought in line with CW:DP, best described as an attempt to be contemporary but dignified, following the NRSV Bible. On the whole they read well and rhythmically, with only the occasional jarring word or phrase. After the need to offer the Church a wider form of daily Prayer with the 1992 version, this definitely seems to be a distinctly Franciscan book, with Midday Prayer in particular using prayers from both Francis himself, and from within the Franciscan tradition.

I am beginning to use the Book for those times, mostly Evening Prayer, when my colleagues and I don't currently pray together, and will return to this topic soon.