They say the family that prays together stays together. Of course, it’s not the words spoken in prayer that keeps a family together, but the heart of devotion to Christ and to one another that fuels the prayer. C. S. Lewis argues that prayer without words can actually be more beneficial than spoken prayer, but he also warns, we shouldn’t fall into the error of the Stoics by thinking that we can do always what we can do sometimes. The fact is, as Anglican have believed for centuries, common prayer is a tremendous aid for building up the body of Christ because it expresses our one Faith and our common desires in one voice before the Lord. But, if you are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer or if you have enjoyed a service of Evensong in an Anglican parish, you don’t need me to tell you the importance of written forms of prayer, especially their ability to bring unity to our prayer life.
What most of us need, especially those of us with children whom we are duty-bound to bring up in the faith and fear of the Lord is a very brief order of prayer for praying together as a family. Our lives are full and our schedules are even fuller, and if you have a new family there is so much to get used to. How can we ever find the time (and skill!) to pray together every day, much less in the morning and the evening as the Prayer Book prescribes? Well, pardon me for sounding like a used car salesman, but have I got a deal for you! What many Anglicans do not realize is that the Prayer Book allows for a truncated service of Evening Prayer that takes about ten minutes to pray together. In our hectic lives, ten minutes may be the very most that we can offer, and if your children are very young, ten minutes is already pushing their limits of stillness and quietness.
The compilers of the 1928 Prayer Book made a number of revisions of the rubrics, allowing for a variety of truncated services. For Evening Prayer the rubrics stipulate, “that when the Confession and Absolution are omitted, the Minister may, after the Sentences, pass to the Versicles, O Lord open thou our lips, etc., in which case the Lord’s Prayer shall be said with the other prayers, immediately after The Lord be with you, etc., and before the Versicles and Responses which follow.” And, the rubric that follows the opening versicles and response says, “the Minister, at his discretion, may omit one of the Lessons in Evening Prayer, the Lesson read being followed by one of the Evening Canticles.” These two rubrics together mean that a family may omit a large portion of the normal office of Evening Prayer. The items omitted include the opening exhortation, confession of sin, absolution, one of the Scripture readings (one may choose whether to omit the Old Testament or New Testament lesson) and one of the Canticles. Finally, the rubric after the fixed collects says, “The Minister may here end the Evening Prayer with such Prayer, or Prayers, taken out of this Book, as he shall think fit.” This rubric allows a family to omit all of the prayers after the fixed collect (i.e., the prayer for the President, for the clergy, etc.).
In all, these omissions truncate the office of Evening Prayer into a much more family-friendly ten minutes or so, depending on the length of the Psalm and Scripture lesson. Those who may be confused by all of the rubrics – indeed, it takes a certain skill to master them! – may use the example of a truncated service of Evening Prayer below. This service is from the 1928 Prayer Book with the 1945 Lectionary, using the Friday after the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity as an example. If you were to copy this into a Word document, including the rubrics, it would measure up to four pages. Though this is only an example of Evening Prayer, the same rules of truncation may be followed for Morning Prayer as well. And, if you want to make this a choral service, as we do at my house, see the 1940 hymnal (pp. 699ff.) for musical settings and an explanation of the principles of chanting.
The advantage of praying this truncated form instead of the family prayers found at the back of the ’28 book, is the prayers are less lengthy, the versicles and response give everyone a role to play in praying, not to mention the singing or saying of the Canticle. Some may object, however, to the omission of certain important parts of the Prayer Book offices in this truncated form. Surely, the truncated form, due to its brevity, would not be fitting for a parish service. Many items are missing that would be needed in a larger setting, the Confession and Absolution perhaps being the more important example. The forms for family prayer in the ’28 book are also truncated by comparison, because the author of those prayers, the 17th century bishop Edmund Gibson, knew “that many of the Families under my Care are such as live by the Labour of their Hands, and have not much Time to spare.” This shows us that families of all times and generations have found it difficult to find a few minutes for prayer in the morning and evening. But, as the bishop also notes, these times of prayer together are vital for the spiritual and temporal well-being of the family. I pray that this truncated form might encourage a few more of us to follow his advice, and turn our homes into little houses of prayer.