Memorizing the Office (or, at least, parts of it)

I recently listened to a recording I have of the Anglican theologian Kenneth Leech, when he spoke at an Episcopal Church here in Stone Mountain back in the mid-1990s. Leech is a true treasure, and I’m excited to note that a new anthology of his writings have been published: Prayer and Prophecy, the Essential Kenneth Leech (after I get my hands on a copy, I’ll write a review of it). Anyway, when he spoke here in 1995, he made a comment that, listening to the recording now, I find inspiring, in its common-sense simplicity.

He was speaking about the Daily Office, and commending it to his audience, mostly Episcopal laypersons. He noted that “you can memorize entire sections of the Daily Office.” As someone who has been an off-and-on reciter of daily prayers for many years now, I must confess that it never occurred to me to make the effort to actually memorize it. Of course, the repetition of the prayers said every day — like the Magnificat or the Benedictus — means that by osmosis anyone will start to memorize them, but I think Leech’s suggestion is to be a bit more pro-active, and make the effort to commit these prayers to memory.

It seems to me that we can start with the Magnificat and the Benedictus, moving on to the Nunc Dimittis, the Te Deum, the Phos Hilaron, the Salve Regina, and then on to some of the more beautiful or meaningful of the Psalms, like 95, 51, 8, 19 and 121. And then there are other scriptural canticles such as found in Colossians 1 or Philippians 2. Memorizing these sacred prayers and songs just makes so much sense. With these prayers safely stored in our hearts, we become less addicted to the prayer books — participating in the Office, on at least some level, can more easily happen even in the midst of the busiest or most unpredictable of schedules.

So… I’m thinking my new year’s resolution for 2010 will be to memorize at least all the prayers and canticles I’ve mentioned in this post. And then on to the Psalms. Care to join me?

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