How I Use the Book of Common Prayer

How I Use the Book of Common Prayer

In a previous blog post, I wrote about why the Book of Common Prayer has had such an influence on my prayer life. Today I want to share with you exactly how I’ve been using the BCP, specifically when it comes to the daily offices.
The Book of Common Prayer can be a confusing book to pick up for the first time. But in this post, I’m going to try to explain the Daily Offices in such a way that you can jump into prayer right away with as little confusion as possible.
So, how do you pray through the Daily Offices in the Book of Common Prayer? I’m going to walk you through setting up your routine in this blog post. We’re going to walk through the basic outline for the daily offices. After this, we’ll talk about deciding on a version of the BCP and choosing your schedule for daily prayer.

A Basic Outline of the Daily Office

There are four Daily Offices in the Book of Common Prayer: a morning prayer, a noonday prayer, an evening prayer, and a compline. Depending on which office you’re reading through, you’ll see different elements. But in general, here is what you can expect to see.
Static collects. A “collect” is just a fancy way of saying a collection of small prayers. These small prayers make up the bulk of the Daily Offices. I call them “static” here, because these sets of collects are the same every day. You won’t necessarily read every collect every day, as most of them you cycle through. But all of these collects are printed in the Daily Office, so there’s no need to flip from page to page.
Examples of static collects include prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for the church, prayers for the sick and the dying, and more.
Dynamic Collects. Aside from the static collects that are the same every day, you’ll also find dynamic collects that change from day to day. These collects are not found within the pages of the Daily Office, so you’ll need to flip to a different section of the BCP in order to find these. Dynamic collects are typically only prayed during the morning and evening offices, and only during one section.
Finding the collect of the day is easy. Every Sunday of the year has its own assigned collect, and most of the time the daily collect will just be the collect from the previous Sunday. The exception to this is holidays, saints days, and other special days. These holy days all have their own collects. How do you know when the special days are? There’s a handy calendar in the front of your BCP.
But here’s the thing. I don’t recommend trying to add all the special collects in at once. Try to get a feel for the Book of Common Prayer and the Daily Office before you start adding in these days. Otherwise it can be a lot to keep track of.
Static Canticles. Canticles are short portions of scripture scattered throughout the offices. The Book of Common Prayer is heavily influenced by scripture, so it makes sense that a large portion of the prayers would be taken directly from scriptures themselves. Like collects, there are canticles that are static and don’t change from day to day.
Dynamic Canticles. These are similar to dynamic collects, but instead of changing depending on the day of the year, the dynamic canticles change based on the day of the week. These dynamic canticles show up in the morning and evening prayers between the scripture readings.
Scripture readings. These are also called the “lessons” in the BCP. These are the main readings that are read during the morning and evening prayers.
The scriptures for the day are found in the Daily Office lectionary, which runs in a two-year cycle. Over the course of two years you’ll read through a vast majority of the Bible, with five scriptures assigned for each day of the year. A morning Psalm, an evening Psalm, an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading.
If all of that sounds confusing, don’t worry. We’ll continue to unpack all of this as we go through the rest of this post. But before we continue, I should let you know which version of the Book of Common Prayer I’ll be writing about. There are a few different options for you to choose from, so that’s what we’ll talk about in the next section.

Step One: Choose Your BCP

There are a couple of different options when it comes to picking out your prayer book. You can go with a physical copy of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1979). You can go with a physical copy of the updated Anglican Church in North America edition (2019). There are also a variety of mobile apps that make barrier entry much lower than a physical book.
I’ve tried out a few different apps, but my favorite is Daily Prayer by the Church of England. The app doesn’t necessarily follow the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, but the concept is the same. Plus, the app makes all the decisions for you, so you don’t have to navigate a physical book.
Personally, I prefer the physical book. It’s a bit more involved, but that’s what I need in my own prayer life. It helps me to stay more intentional and mindful about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It’s a personal preference, but the rest of this blog post will assume that you’re reading through the physical version as well.

What’s the Difference Between the 1979 BCP and the 2019 BCP?

The 1979 and 2019 BCP are two different editions from two different churches. The 1979 version is the official prayer book of the Episcopal Church, while the 2019 update is from the Anglican Church in North America. So if you’re a part of one of these denominations, then your decision will be a bit easier. I’d recommend sticking with the book that your church uses. If you’re not in an Anglican tradition and just wanting to implement the BCP into your prayer life, the choice is up to you.
The 2019 version is obviously going to be more up to date, even though it maintains a lot of the traditional Anglican language. It more closely aligns with the prayer book of the Church of England. But the main difference that I know of (I’ve never actually used the 2019 version) is the order of scriptures in the Daily Office lectionary.
In the 1979 version of the BCP, the scriptures are laid out topically and not canonically. The scripture readings jump around all over the place based on the church calendar. When it comes to the 2019 BCP, the scriptures are laid out more canonically, from start to finish.
As for me, I have a copy of the 1979 version, given to me by an Episcopal priest. I like this version because it’s more widely used, and because I’m currently attending an Episcopal church on a regular basis.

Step Two: Decide on a Time Commitment

Once you have your version of the BCP in front of you, it’s time to decide how much time you want to spend on the Daily Offices. The first question to ask is how many times a day you want to devote to prayer. Once you know the answer to this question, you need to ask yourself how long you want to spend within each session.

How Many Times a Day to Pray the Daily Office

As I mentioned before, there are four daily offices for you to pray through: morning prayer, noonday prayer, evening prayer, and compline. The morning prayer and evening prayer are longer and more involved, while noonday and compline are both shorter and more straightforward.
Morning prayer is the first prayer of the day.
Noonday prayer is a short prayer to pray in the middle of the day, to thank God for God’s blessings up to that point, and to pray for the rest of the day to come.
Evening prayer is the counterpart to morning prayer. It marks the transition from the day-to-day activities to a time for family, household chores, rest, or whatever tasks remain for the rest of the evening.
Compline is the very last prayer of the day. It’s to be prayed right before bed as a way to prayerfully reflect on the day and prepare for a restful sleep.
If that sounds overwhelming to you, then I have some good news. It sounds overwhelming to me, too. Just because there are four different daily offices doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to pray through all four of them in a given day. (In fact, you shouldn’t feel obligated to read even one of them. The BCP is a great tool to help you out. But the second it becomes an obligation, it loses its effectiveness. But I digress.)
First I’ll give you a couple of possible routines you could implement into your prayer life, and then I’ll tell you the routine that I’ve settled on.

Pray All Four Offices Four Times A Day

If the thought of praying through all four daily offices excites you, then by all means go for it. I think there’s something to be said about sticking to a strict prayer routine like this. Well, I say strict. It’s nothing compared to some of the prayer schedules of other religions. To some, four prayer times might sound pretty lax. But for me and for most of the people in my religious circles, four prayer times a day is a lot. But it’s definitely doable and commendable. Here’s what that would look like in terms of time commitment.
Since we’re praying through all four daily offices, we’ll be reading through all of the scriptures listed in the Daily Office Lectionary. That said, it will be spread out across the four prayer times.
Morning Prayer (15-20 minutes): During the morning prayer, you’ll read through the whole office and read 2-3 portions of scripture. The scriptures you’ll read are going to depend on the year of the Daily Office lectionary. Remember, it’s a two-year cycle. In Year One, you’ll read the Old Testament and the New Testament reading. In Year Two, you’ll read the Gospel. Regardless of the year, you’ll read the morning Psalm or Psalms.
Noonday Prayer (2-5 minutes): The noonday prayer is very short and can be read through in a matter of minutes. You won’t be flipping around from page to page, as it’s the same prayer every time. There is a bit of variation within the liturgy, but it’s all right there on the same few pages. The Noonday prayer consists of portions of Psalms and other scriptures, the Lord’s Prayer, and some collects. You can read as many or as few of the scriptures on the page as you’d like, making this time frame flexible depending on your needs.
Evening Prayer (15-20 minutes): The evening prayer is very similar to the morning prayer. You’ll read through the entire office and read 2-3 scriptures. You’ll always read the evening Psalm. In addition, you’ll read whichever scripture you didn’t read in the morning. So in Year One, you’ll read the Gospel; in Year Two, you’ll read the Old and New Testament readings.
Compline (10 minutes): The compline is another short prayer, although not quite as short as the Noonday prayer. Like the Noonday prayer, you won’t need to jump from page to page in the BCP. Everything is read sequentially, and there are no additional scripture readings outside of what’s printed on the page.
So there you go. As you can see, it’s not much of a time commitment. The biggest issue for most people is going to be finding the time to pray through the offices four times in a day. For me, the issue is consistency. I can pray through all four offices in a day, no problem. But I know myself well enough to know that I’m not going to be consistent enough with this schedule in order for it to be worth it.

Pray One Office Per Day

This is probably the routine that most people are interested in, and it’s the routine that I would recommend for most people picking up the BCP for the very first time. If you decide to take this route, you have some more decisions to make. Which office are you going to pray, and how many scriptures do you want to read?
The time of day you choose to pray the office is totally up to you and your chronotype. If you’re a morning person, read the morning prayer. If you’re an evening person, read the evening prayer. It also might depend on your schedule. Maybe you have a lot more time in the mornings than you do in the evenings, or vice versa.
Once you figure out when you’re going to read the Daily Office, the next step is going to be deciding if you’re going to read one, two, or all three of the lectionary scriptures. For the full Daily Office experience, reading all three scriptures would probably make the total prayer time about 30 minutes. Reading just one or two of the scriptures, you could budget for 15-20 minutes from start to finish.
Again, this is going to be the schedule that most people decide to go with. So just pick what works for you and run with it! Don’t feel like you have to commit to the same time every day or the same number of scriptures. One day you could choose to do the morning prayer and read only the Old Testament reading; the next day you might do the New Testament reading in the evening. Play around with it and see what works best for you.
Now I’m going to explain how I use the Book of Common Prayer. This isn’t necessarily my recommendation for you, but this is what works forf me.

Pray One Long Office and One Short Office

The Daily Offices in the Book of Common Prayer are laid out in such a way that you can easily customize the routines to match your lifestyle. Instead of four prayers of the same length, we have a variety of lengths and styles of prayer. This means we can mix and match to find what really works for us.
Personally, I like to begin and end my day with prayer. So for me that looks like reading the morning prayer in the morning and the compline at night.
Morning Prayer (30 minutes): In the morning I read through the whole morning prayer daily office. I also read all three scriptures: the Old Testament reading, the New Testament reading, and the Gospel reading. All in all, this takes about half an hour. You could adjust this time by only reading one or two of the scripture readings, bringing the total time down to 15 or 20 minutes.
Compline (10 minutes): In the evening just before bed, I’ll read through the Compline as a way to close out the day in prayer. I will make one change to the typical compline routine. Instead of a general Psalm at the beginning, I’ll usually swap that out for the designated evening Psalm from the Daily Office Lectionary. (I’ll typically follow this compline with a spiritual practice attributed to St. Ignatius, the Examen. But that’s a topic for another blog post!)

Let Me Hear From You!

I hope you see by now just how flexible the Daily Offices really are. You can take one of the workflows I’ve outlined here, or you can even come up with your own. If you do come up with your own methods, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
Now we have everything ready to go. In the next post, we’ll move through the morning prayer from start to finish, and I’ll tell you exactly how I use the Book of Common Prayer in my own prayer life.