Mass and Office Anglicanism

Christopher has a great post that sparked this one.

What he, I, and a number of us talk and dream about is a way of taking seriously the connection between spirituality and the daily grind: how does the daily grind become transported into a a day that is productive and meaningful yet grounded in the deep mysteries suffused by the love of God?

We keep fussing around the notion of Mass and Office practice that grounds our spirituality in specific daily habits that then give shape to the days, seasons, and years of our lives.

Specifically this means:

  • A grounding in the Psalms: The Book of Psalms is the most human and visceral book of Scripture that explores what it looks like to live a life in the presence of God that acknowledges joy, sorrow, pain, despair, and delight. It offers glimpses of faithful people overly certain of their own apprehension of the mind of God (“…Do I not hate them that hate thee, O Lord?…I hate them with a perfect hatred…”); it shows souls intent on God that yet languish in despair (…Thou hast caused lover and friend to shun me and darkness is my only companion.”) In short, it holds a mirror before our soul and dares us to deny our baser instincts and our capacities to transcend insisting that as realists we embrace both not only as who we are but also as what we bring to the spiritual life and with which the spiritual life must grapple. 
  • An embrace of the seasons: The seasons of the Church Year are designed to guide us through the full rota of the Christian affections—our emotional orientations and ways of being that parallel and bring depth to our intellectual and rational understanding of the faith. That is, joy, hope, repentence, expectation are to characterize our fundamental orientations and outlook, to form the fundamental syllables of our grammar of faith and our song of life. And the seasons enable the patterning process that sets these things in our bones.

Christopher notes: “Paul Bradshaw asks, ‘What is our intent for the Office?'” And I answer from my research and grounding in early medieval monastic liturgy that the function of the Office is catechetical while the function of the Mass is mystagogical. That is, the Office gives us the basic data that forms our life. In it we ceaslessless read through the psalms. In it we read through (ideally) the whole of Scripture. It forms us in the basics. The Mass excerpts and illuminates particular facets of the light of Christ as perceived through season and Scripture that illuminate the mysteries within which we live.

The Office provides the fundamental context within which we understand the Mass. The Mass gives us the moments (and means) of grace that shock our daily patterns deeper into a life hid in God with Christ. 

Without the Office the Mass offers disjointed and discontinuous vignettes offering little by way of a framework and master narrative. Without the Mass the Office becomes pedantica basic teaching repeated again and again lacking the hints that direct us to the spiritual depths therein.

Historically within the Western liturgy—and I think primarily here of my early medieval research subjects—Mass and Office have been bound to one another and to the season by four fundamental links:

  • Antiphons: both seasonal texts and materials from the Mass lectionary informed the psalm and canticle antiphons used with the psalms in the Office.
  • Hymns: The sense of each season was provided by the hymns which, placed after the psalms and the short Scripture “chapter” (usually a line or two long) sounded the key notes of the season that moved the prayer of the Office from the Psalms to the gospel canticle 
  • Preces: Particularly in major seasons the Epistle from the Sundays Mass would work its way into the preces, the systm of bids and responses that followed the gospel canticles in the major offices of the psalms in the minor ones.
  • The Collects: The collects of the major offices bound the season, Mass and Office together, uniting them in a common, brief, memorizable and memorable prayer. Snatches of Scripture from the Mass Lectionaries—both Gospel and Epistle tied (or had the potential to tie) the connections between season, Mass, and Office even tighter into a harmonioous whole. 

Looking at traditional Anglican Offices, though, the Books of Common Prayer have consistently jettisoned the first three and retained only the forth. However the combination of the ’79 American Prayer Book and the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary have, through ignorance or disregard, further eroded the ties that bound the three together in the collects.

Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the prayer-book collect system will make this pedagogical and theological vehicle operative again

And yet we are not without classically Anglican resources or hope. Catholic-leaning Anglicans have kept the breviary hymn tradition alive for centuries forwarding both Roman and Sarum options for the continued use of praying communities. And the 1662’s use of seasonal collects for Advent and Lent, the octave retention of the Collect for Christmas  signal an awareness and a need for the seasonal patterning in both Office and Mass.


Ok—that’s all very theoretical and all. So what do we do now? I’ve got a suggestion. It’s a simple one but it’s a place to start.

Can busy modern households manage full offices everyday?Can we incarnate full-on Mass and Office Anglicanism in modern family communities? Well, it’s not been our experience. Individuals in the households can pray the Offices given schedules with flexibility, but not the whole family, not together. However, what has been working for us is the use of the Brief Offices on pages 137 to 140 of your BCP. At breakfast we pray the morning one (p. 137) at night we use Compline (p. 140) for bedtime prayers. 

Lil’ G (the 5 yr old) memorized the latter when she was 3 and is the major driving force for morning prayer at breakfast.

No, it’s not immersion in the psalter but a bit of a couple of psalms everyday is surely better than none at all. Why not include a seasonal hymn in the space provided for it there and add in the collect of the day before the concluding collect of the office?

It’s basic. It’s doable. It points us towards the pattern of Mass and Office Anglicanism.

6 thoughts on “Mass and Office Anglicanism

  1. Pingback: Avoiding an all-candy liturgical diet « The Gifts of God

  2. Joe Rawls

    I have long used Howard Galley’s The Prayer Book Office (sadly out of print) which at least has a rich assortment of antiphons for both the psalms and canticles.

  3. Laura

    I have been wondering since I discovered your posts on raising children with the Daily Office (brief version) how you sing it with young children. Are there musical selections you recommend, or do you intone? I am trying to imagine how I could make this work at my house. I will look at my books tonight and see if I can figure it out, but if you have any tips I would be pleased to hear them.

  4. Derek the Ænglican

    Hi Laura,

    Actually Lil’ G was the one who starting singing it… We were attending an anglo-catholic parish that regularly sang all of the prayers so she picked up a traditional tone for the Lord’s Prayer from Mass and had a sense of how to chant the collects.

    And that would be the way I’d do it. Use a simple psalm tone for the psalms, a basic canticle tone for the canticles (when used) and a collect tone for the prayers. I’ve misplaced my hymnal or I’d give you some concrete suggestions… Another good source for psalm/canticle tones would be the sung offices and psalter from the Order of Julian of Norwich.

    Christopher’s right, I think—I hope to produce a small booklet that will incorporate these and some other suggestions for folks to try out at home.

    Once I get a new computer (grrr).

  5. Kendall Sims

    I say the daily office (Rite 1) every day, but w/o my prayer book open in front of me, I’m not quite able to imagine the alterations you propose.

    I also have an Anglican Breviary, but I’ve never been able to figure it out how to use it.

    Regrets for your computer difficulties. (I prefer macintosh, myself.)

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