The Daily Office – a daily spiritual practice

The Daily Practice

Last week we studied the Eucharist as a form of predominantly weekly spiritual practice. Contact me for a copy of the handout if you don’t have it. Or you can buy Michelle Heyne’s little book In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life Ascension Press.

Today we take a look at spiritual practice from a day-to-day perspective. Daily spiritual practices can take many forms and are often dictated by individual tastes and patterns of life. Yet, for Episcopalians, the backbone of daily spiritual practice is something we call the Daily Office.

With the exception of A little History section and material relating useful materials and links for  the parishioners of  St Martin’s parish, this summary follows the material presented by Michelle Heyne in her book In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices in Today’s Christian Life  and Robert A. Gallagher in his companion volume- In your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practice, both published by the Ascension Press

A little History

The monks in their monasteries kept seven hours of prayer throughout the 24hour period, referred to as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office. This pattern was simplified for the parish clergy into a general pattern of morning, midday, evening and night prayer with an addition of something called the Office of Readings. Both the monks and the clergy understood the Divine Office to be the official prayer of the whole church, the church’s Common Prayer, and they as the official prayers of the church were obligated to pray it, while the laity was not expected to.

Thomas Cranmer in the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 simplified the pattern to Morning and Evening Prayer – referred to as Matins and Evensong. In addition to simplifying the monastic pattern, he had the novel idea that as the Daily Office was the prayer of the whole church, i.e. the Common Prayer prayed by everyone, Matins and Evensong were to be public services in the church for which the doors had to be open and the bell rung; still the practice in most English churches. Thus, the ancient Benedictine practice of the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours became embedded in Anglican spiritual practice as the backbone of our approach to prayer.

Common Prayer

My father was a parish priest. When I lost my faith he said, “if you find you can no longer believe just act as if you still do. If you feel you can no longer pray just go on saying the word’’ Inspector Adam Dalgliesh in P.D James’ A Taste for Death.

Today, most of us will use the Daily Office as an individual practice. When we do we unite our prayer with the perpetual prayer of the church. This can be likened to plugging into an electric current of prayer endlessly circulating the globe. Most of us now can be better supported in praying the office in front of PC, tablet or smart phone screens. See the resource list at the end of this summary.

Robert Benson author of In Constant Prayer described an agreement he and several friends made to pray the Office alone but keeping one another in mind. They prayed it for one another so that if one person was prevented from praying the Office one day then others were saying it for her. Also if one was tempted to neglect saying it because he didn’t feel like it one day, he had only to remember the others who were relying on him to pray with them in mind.

In the forward to this book, Phyllis Tickle wrote of people in today’s post-Christian world becoming evangelicals on the Canterbury trail in pursuit of intimate contact with the ancient future. 

The structure

of the Daily Office is always the same:

Psalms

Scripture

Canticles

Common Prayers

The different offices differ because the mood and feel of the psalms and collects – the common prayers of the church reflect the time of day, synching with our biorhythm. This is a very important point because praying the Office is an aid to regulating the pace and stress of our day. Morning prayer sets us moving into the day. Midday prayer marks the shift of energy and activity as we pause for lunch and transition from morning to afternoon. Evening prayer marks the further transition from the activity of the day to the settling into evening, dinner, hopefully winding down and time for relaxation. Night prayer transitions us with a looking back over the day passed, preparation for sleep, and the anticipation of new day – so to as the great Persian poet Rumi puts it: awake with the dawn with the remembrance of thee in my heart. 

Variation

The benefit of the Daily Office is in its consistency without too much variety. Yet, the BCP (Book of Common Prayer) offers three formats for common prayer:

Rite 1 – traditional language

Rite 2 – contemporary language

An alternative Order for Evening

Simplified Daily Devotions for morning, midday and evening.

The BCP has it’s own 2-year lectionary table in the back and this is for the Daily Office readings, which are different from the 3-year Sunday Lectionary. The daily lectionary gives longer pieces of scripture and allows for a more sequential pattern with reading a book from the Bible over a period of days or weeks.

Book options

The normal BCP has the Daily Offices, psalms and lectionary table for which you need to also have a Bible, or a Lectionary volume – there are 3 of these covering the entire year.

The Daily Office Volumes 1 & 2 containing the Daily Offices and the lectionary readings in one book. 

Electronic options

  • The Online Book of Common Prayer – http://www.bcponline.org/ Allowing access to the whole BCP from a PC, tablet or smartphone.
  • I highly recommend the new Electronic Common Prayer App available from the online Apple or Google App Stores, which contains the lectionary and the Daily Office and more.
  • Online Daily Office:
  1. Mission St Clare http://www.missionstclare.com/english/
  2. The Brotherhood of St Gergory – an Episcopal Community http://gregorians.org/ online Daily Office http://gregorians.org/office/

At St Martin’s

Morning Prayer is offered from Tuesday to Friday at 9am daily. Each day there is usually at least one other parishioner, sometimes more joining Linda and I. Compline is often said following evening meetings. I know one parishioner who will say Compline with another person over the phone around 8.30pm.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to offer Evening Prayer, maybe a couple of times a week. But this would need greater participation from folk. Praying the Common Prayer of the Church is not something the clergy have to lead although wherever possible they should be present to participate. Lay folk can just as easily officiate.

A Bright idea -I wonder if we might follow Robert Benson’s experience and form small groups of people who although saying the office individually, would be doing so with a strong sense of connecting with others, praying on one another’s behalf, with the group sharing in this responsibility for keeping the common prayer of God’s people alive.

If you ask Muslim about the pattern of prayer he or she will reply pray 5x a day. What if someone were to ask one of us about our pattern of prayer and we replied with a description of the Daily Office.

The value of the Office is its objectivity. It is a means by which we pray with the whole church, uniting our prayer with that of millions of other Christians living and dead. This is true whether one is alone or in a group, for the Office is essentially a corporate act. It is objective too in that it does not depend on our feelings, but gives our prayer life regularity and a disciplined framework. Kenneth Leech, True Prayer.