Every day is sacred. This is the premise of the Daily Office — a set of prayers for use at various points in the day. At Saint Philip’s we pray Morning Prayer on Monday through Thursday at 8:30am in the Baptistery (a small room opening off of the Chapel). It is a simple service and it is a way of patiently engaging Psalms and Scripture together. We use a traditional language version of the Office that most closely adheres to the patterns of prayer that have shaped Christians in monasteries, churches, and dining room tables from generation to generation.
The Daily Office is meant to be a work of the whole people of God, not just clergy or people “paid” to pray — it is a way of bringing monastic wisdom and grace into each of our hearts and homes through the regular patterns of holiness and intercession. Any member who is interested is welcome to lead Morning Prayer and should contact Fr Peter to learn more.
A Bit of History
From ancient times worship has been not just a weekly but a daily affair. For devout Jews, daily prayer rested upon the divine command:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” —Deuteronomy 6:4–7
This was taken to mean that the Shema was to be said twice daily — upon waking and upon going to sleep. There is also evidence that the Temple sacrifices took place twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. Those unable to attend the Temple liturgies began to pray at the same “hours.”
As monastic communities developed, they formed their entire lives upon the rhythm of daily prayer. They consisted of prayers, a Psalm, appointed Bible readings, canticles, and the Lord’s Prayer. Eventually seven offices developed: Matins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. St. Benedict’s Rule (ca. 540) established a common pattern: Nocturns and Lauds (middle of night), Prime (6:00), Terce (9:00), Sext (12:00), Nones (3:00), Vespers (sunset), and Compline (before bed).
Each Office included Psalms, a Scripture reading, verses and responses, and set prayers. The entire Psalter was read each week. Pious Christians sometimes attended, but the Daily Office was associated mainly with monks, later required of all clergy (from 802). Sunday Vespers was celebrated in most parish churches.
Over time, the Offices became increasingly complicated. This increased complexity, combined with the abandonment of the vernacular tongue in public prayer, made it exceedingly difficult for ordinary men and women to participate in the daily prayer of the Church.
One of the beneficial effects of the English Reformation was that Thomas Cranmer, the author of the first Book of Common Prayer, made a deliberate effort to simplify the Daily Offices so that both clergy and laity could participate. The number of Offices was reduced from seven to two. Morning Prayer was based upon the Medieval Office of Matins together with elements from Prime. Evening Prayer was, in its essence, a combination of Vespers and Compline. The Office as a whole was revised around the importance of regular recitation of the Psalms and reading through the whole Bible. This gives the Anglican Office its distinctive character.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer restored Sext (Noonday Prayer) and Compline as optional Offices. The Book of Common Prayer also has a shortened version of the four “hours” called “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families.” They are titled “In the Morning,” “At Noon,” “In the Early Evening,” and “At the Close of Day.”
The purpose of the daily office is the sanctification of time — a reminder that all time is sacred since all time belongs to God — and the sanctification of the individual — a way to draw a person closer to God.
The simplest way to learn how to say the Daily Office is to join us in the mornings at 8:30am as you are able. If this is not possible, there are resources that are helpful, and any of the clergy would be delighted to talk with you about how this ancient practice might become a fresh part of your life of faith.
Some Tips for Saying the Office
- Bookmark the pages before beginning to avoid losing concentration
- It is appropriate to have others read the lessons
- Begin and end with at least 30 seconds of silence: use this time to focus your thoughts on praise of God
- Speak the Office aloud in a reverent but not overly slow way
- Develop your own system of prayer positions (i.e., will you stand for canticles, kneel for prayer, etc.)
- Try not to worry too much about the meanings of obscure passages (you can take notes to ask questions later)
- Stick to the text: don’t add in lists of intercessions or extemporary praises (these are important but are best kept separate)
- Stick with your Office book: don’t change systems of prayer, but stick with one until it becomes “second nature” to you