Author: Truitt, Gordon E
Date published: March 1, 2012
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. Zondervan, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-310-32619-9. 512 pages, hardback, $24.99.
When the daily office-the Church's official daily prayer-was revised after the Second Vatican Council as the "liturgy of the hours," it was hoped that this revision would be adopted not only by those bound to pray the daily office but by all Catholics as "the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ (Congregation of Rites, 1971, General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours [GILH], 2). Such daily public prayer, "by the people of God is rightly considered to be among the primary duties of the Church" (GILH, 1). It is "not a private matter but belongs to the whole Body of the Church, whose life it both expresses and affects" (GILH, 20).
That goal of widespread acceptance and use of the prayer of the hours has yet to be met, but things are moving slowly in the right direction, at least in some places. There are parish communities that pray one or other of the "hinge hours" - morning prayer and evening prayer-in public daily; others do so seasonally. Other parishes use one of the hours or a significant part thereof (psalm, canticle, intercessions) to begin meetings. Communities without the service of a priest may pray the hours, with or without the distribution of Communion, as an option on Sundays.
The prayer of the hours has become the basis, on many occasions, for ecumenical prayer, particular with communities that have a tradition of ritual, communal daily prayer, such as the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran communions, and United Methodists, each of whom has a revised version of ritual daily prayer similar to that followed by Roman Catholics.
The influence of the reform of ritual daily prayer among all these churches is expressed in a wider study of the psalms among these churches' members, and its influence is being felt even in so-called "non-liturgical" churches through books like Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. It has been compiled by three activists, primarily from evangelical and Pentecostal traditions, whose main work is social change through what is sometimes called the "new monasticism," a movement that shares communal life and prayer in traditional (for some) and non-traditional (for others) ways. They see daily ritual prayer as essential to the kind of social change they hope and work for because they understand liturgical prayer as "counterintuitive" and "countercultural" and therefore itself part of the social change they promote.
The book is designed for those unfamiliar with ritual daily prayer, to introduce them to this form of prayer, and for those well familiar with ritual prayer, to refresh their understanding of the ritual and to find new sources to enrich their daily prayer. The structure is simple; it combines the repeated familiarity of structured prayer and the variety offered by an annual liturgical calendar and a changing set of readings found in the lectionary.
The warm familiarity of repeated structure is found especially in the week of evening prayers. Each contains a call to worship, a confession of sins, a light service, a profession of faith, prayer for others, the Lord's Prayer, a biblical canticle (frequently the Magnificat), a closing prayer, and a final blessing. Variety within a familiar structure is the keynote of morning prayer, which changes daily through an annual liturgical calendar while maintaining a ritual structure that incorporates psalmody, daily biblical readings, intercession, the Lord's Prayer, and ritual opening and closings. The book also contains a brief form of midday prayer, a collection of prayers for special occasions, and a songbook.
The extended introduction to this book is amazing. In easy-to-follow language, it introduces to those unfamiliar with the terms the meaning of common prayer, liturgy, the worldview behind liturgical prayer, the kind of time evoked in ritual and in a liturgical calendar, and prayer with the saints. The introduction is worth a read even by those most familiar with liturgy, for it offers a fresh light on ritual prayer by those who have discovered and come to love such prayer-and whose view of liturgy is certainly in accord with Roman Catholic understandings.
The book is certainly worth having on one's resource shelf to enrich personal prayer as well as communal prayer in those circumstances when a full celebration of one of the daily hours might be too much for a particular occasion. Many of the non-Scriptural readings are challenging and beautiful. It is wonderful to see the daily liturgy being embraced and enriched by people in the "non-liturgical" churches, and it is a reminder to those of us who pray the daily liturgy of the hours, especially in common, to love and pray this gift that those of us from the "liturgical churches" have received as part of our ritual heritage.
Gordon E. Truitt
Dr. Gordon ?. Truitt is the senior editor for NPM's print and electronic publications.