Daily Prayer in Lent

By H. Boone Porter

Daily prayer is one of the topics that deserve our attention in Lent. It may accordingly be useful to consider some of the ways in which the penitential emphasis of this season can be expressed in the Church’s primary forms of daily worship, namely Morning and Evening Prayer.

Two hundred years ago, no Anglican needed to give much thought to this. The English Prayer Book required a penitential Opening Sentence, exhortation, General Confession, and lengthy Declaration of Forgiveness at the beginning of both Morning and Evening Prayer three hundred and sixty-five days a year. The Litany, in full, was to follow Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. A similarly penitential tone was maintained at the Eucharist with the Ten Commandments in full at all celebrations, and the Long Exhortations. In short, Lent required no special arrangement of the English liturgy. Lent was rather the season of the year in which the Prayer Book services, as they then had them, all fell neatly into place.

This highly punitive regimen throughout the year was mitigated in the American revision of 1892. Much greater rubrical changes were made in 1928 and continued in the present proposed revision. Today, anyone planning a service faces certain choices. We must ask ourselves what is most appropriate, in Lent as in other seasons.

In BCP 1928, the General Confession at the beginning of Morning Prayer is required on days of fasting and abstinence, unless “the Litany or Holy Communion is immediately to follow” (p. 3). Since all weekdays of Lent are days of abstinence, the General Confession should be used every morning in this season, unless one of the other services comes immediately after. In PBCP, the General Confession is not required on any specific occasions in the morning, but obviously it is particularly appropriate in Lent. In BCP 1928 and PBCP, the General Confession is never mandatory in the evening, but is again most suitable in this season, especially if participants have not attended some other service, earlier in the day, in which such material was used.

In all the older English editions of the Book of Common Prayer, the psalmody for the day was introduced by Psalm 95, the Venite. American editions print it as a canticle shorn of its concluding minatory verses. Both the daily office lectionary of 1943 (as now attached to BCP 1928) and that of PBCP appoint Psalm 95 as the first morning psalm for Fridays in Lent (except in BCP 1928 for Good Friday, when the inventory can be omitted altogether). This means that on these Fridays the Venite as printed in the office is not used (nor is Jubilate as given in the office in PBCP). Instead, Psalm 95 is said or sung in full as it occurs in the psalter. For Rite I in PBCP, one will find Psalm 95 in its traditional wording on P. 146. For private recitation, some people may prefer to use Psalm 95 in full daily during Lent. This is quite rubrical (BCP 1928, p. 8; PBCP, pp. 45 & 82).

In older Anglican usage, the Benedicite, omnia opera, or Song of Creation, was used daily in Lent in place of the Te Deum. There is nothing penitential about the Benedicite as such. It was used because tradition withholds the use of the Te Deum, as of the Gloria in excelsis, in this season, and the Benedicite was, in older editions of the Prayer Book, the only available alternative to the Te Deum at this point. BCP 1928 added the Benedictus es as a further option. PBCP introduces several new canticles in Rite II (which may also be used in Rite I if desired, see p. 47). Of these, Canticle 14, Kyrie Pantokrator, is a penitential utterance of great power and beauty.

This canticle comes from The Prayer of Manasses, an apocryphal book of the Greek Old Testament. (It is not part of the Latin or Vulgate Old Testament.) The fanciful attribution of this great prayer to King Manasseh of Judah was based on II Chronicles 33:10-13. Whatever its true origin, this canticle is a magnificent addition to our worship in Lent, whether said or chanted to a suitable austere tone. For daily recitation, however, this writer has found it rather overwhelming to use both the general Confession and then the Kyrie Pantokrator a few minutes later. When I was at Roanridge and the staff gathered more or less daily during the week for Morning Prayer, we found it satisfactory to use this canticle and the General Confession on alternate days. On Lenten mornings when this canticle is not used, I find it appropriate to use Canticle 10 or 19. After the second lesson, tradition favors the Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, or the Song of Zechariah. As an occasional alternative to it in Lent, this writer chooses the Song to the Lamb, Canticle 18. A more comprehensive system for assigning different canticles to different days of the week is suggested in PBCP, pp. 144-5.

Whether one is using BCP 1928 or PBCP, the Litany should not be forgotten as a traditional adjunct of the divine office. In parishes where it is not used publicly during this season, individuals may wish to include it from time to time in their personal Lenten devotions.

Other services in the daily office section of the PBCP offer a variety of possibilities. For Noonday or Compline, the rubrics freely permit one or more penitential psalms to be used in place of, or in addition to, one or more of the psalms printed in the office. Similarly, penitential lessons and collects can be used. The Order of Worship for the evening is more often used as a festal service, but it can be arranged as a strong expression of Lenten themes. After the penitential opening versicle and response, short lesson, and collect, Bianco da Siena’s great hymn, No. 376, can be used in place of the Phos hilaron. After suitable psalm, lesson, and canticle (the Magnificat is probably still usually the best here, or the Nunc dimittis), one of the several litanies or prayers of intercession found in PBCP can be said or sung, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, an evening prayer, and blessing. An evening service should usually end on a calm note, and a public service of worship should have a certain balance of different themes, even though one particular emphasis should stand out.

The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977 to 1990. This article was published in our February 5, 1978 issue.


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