What is the Office?
The Daily Office has a variety of names and forms, depending on the tradition from which it comes. Some of these include:
- Divine Office
- Liturgy of the Hours
- Mattins and Evensong
The Daily Office is a form of liturgical prayer which takes psalms, readings from the Bible and prayers, and uses them as short acts of worship at fixed times during the day. The vast majority of the Daily Office comes from the Bible, or is a direct response to readings from the Bible.
Monastics and clergy have an obligation to say the Daily Office, or part of it (depending on their circumstances). It is a wonderful prayer for all Christians, because it enables us to participate in the unending prayer of the Church. It is a form of discipline which can help us to pray even when we don’t feel like it.
Saying the Office involves praying words which can be found in a number of books or on websites. The list of resources below should include something for everyone.
No matter the name, the form of the prayer is similar. In the Anglican tradition ‘the Daily Office’ (or just ‘Office’) is the best known term, so it will be used throughout this article. The Office is a form of liturgical prayer at fixed times during the day (commonly morning and evening, or morning, noon, evening and bedtime) which has origins in the Judaism out of which Christianity comes. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus the psalmist wrote “Seven times a day do I praise you” (Ps 119:164) – this is the pattern of prayer Jesus and his disciples knew, and which was carried forward into the early church and to us today. The regulated Roman society brought fixed hours regulated by the ringing of bells, and because it was in that society that the early church was formed, the fixed hour prayers of the church were influenced by that schedule. From its very earliest days the Christian community incorporated the Psalms in their prayers (Acts 4:23–30); and the Psalter has remained as the living core of the daily offices ever since. Likewise, by c. 60 a.d., the author of the first known manual of Christian practice, the Didache,was teaching the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer at least three times each day, a usage that was to expand quickly to include all the offices.
The shape of the Daily Office was, over time, enlarged, especially by monastic communities which saw prayer, and unceasing prayer (1 Thes 5:17) as their primary call from God. Benedict of Nursia was a particular influence. He described the ‘shape’ of the office in his ‘little rule for beginners’ – this has influenced the form of the office from that time forward.
As the years progressed there was a tendency to include more and more prayers and other material from outside the Bible, and to make the instructions for saying or singing the offices more complex, which resulted in lay people and clergy who did not live in monastic enclosures requiring a new form of the office, which became the breviary.
The English reformation saw the development of the Book of Common Prayer, in which Thomas Cranmer ‘collapsed’ a number of offices together, resulting in the familiar Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which became the main services of the Church of England and it’s daughter churches. Liturgical renewal in the Roman Catholic Church resulted in a similar redevelopment of the daily offices.
In modern times liturgical renewal within the Anglican Communion has resulted in new, contemporary forms of the daily office – both the ‘public’ offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the ‘daily offices’ which appear in books such as An Australian Prayer Book (1978) and A Prayer Book for Australia (1996). In some places, such as the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Church of England short offices for prayer during the day have been reintroduced.
Why say the Office?
Regardless of whether or not the fixed-hour prayers were said alone or in community, however, they were never individualistic in nature. Rather, they employed the time-honored and time-polished prayers and recitations of the faith. Every Christian was to observe the prayers; none was empowered to create them.
Christians today, wherever they practice the discipline of fixed-hour prayer, frequently find themselves filled with a conscious awareness that they are handing their worship, at its final “Amen,” on to other Christians in the next time zone. Like relay runners passing a lighted torch, those who do the work of fixed-hour prayer do create thereby a continuous cascade of praise before the throne of God. To participate in such a regimen with such an awareness is to pray, as did the Desert Fathers, from within the spiritual community of shared texts as well as within the company of innumerable other Christians, unseen but present, who have preceded one across time or who, in time, will follow one.
How to say the Office
Modern liturgists have done wonderful work to make the Daily Office accessible, more Biblical, and simpler. In most modern prayer books the instructions are clear and obvious, and will enable you to get started easily. These instructions will be applicable to most forms of the Office, but they are particularly suited to Anglican forms, such as those found in The Book of Common Prayer (1662), An Australian Prayer Book, A Prayer Book for Australia, Daily Prayer from Common Worship (Church of England) and The Book of Common Prayer (1979 – Episcopal Church of the United States of America). If you are using a self contained breviary (such as the Liturgy of the Hours, orBenedictine Daily Prayer you won’t need a Bible or the Lectionary).
What you will need:
- A prayer book (any of the ones from the list above will do)
- A Bible (a clear modern version such as NRSV, NIV, ESV or NLT will be best)
- The Lectionary (a booklet containing tables of readings for each day of the year – you will want this if you want to pray the same psalms and readings as others in the church – alternatively you can choose your own)
- Bookmarks for the Bible (and prayer book if it doesn’t have it)
- Time – around 15-20 minutes for Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer
- Space – somewhere you can be undisturbed by people and the phone
- Quiet – somewhere you can concentrate on being with God.
- Begin by marking the psalm/s and collect (prayer for the day) in the prayer book, the readings in the Bible.
- Settle down by breathing quietly.
- Pray – offer the time to God, and ask God to help you hear.
- Read the office aloud, even if you’re by yourself. At least form the words with your mouth, even if you say them silently. This helps a great deal to keep your concentration and commitment to the practice.
- Read the Bible readings aloud, meditatively.
- Don’t worry if you miss something, do something ‘wrong’ (like saying ‘Alleluia’ in Lent) or are confused to start off with. It will become clearer with time and practice.
- Stick with it for a month – perhaps saying just morning prayer or just evening prayer, or alternating them. If you alternate them, use the readings for one or another consistently (e.g. always use the morning readings, whether you say morning prayer or evening prayer), so you get a flow of scripture.
- Try to say it at the same time each day. This helps to establish the practice and your commitment to it.
- Ask for help – your parish priest will be able to help (she or he already says the office), and if you contact us we can offer you assistance too.
- Stick with the one form for a little while, to see if it suits you. Don’t jump round too much. By all means try other forms, but try to stick to one consistently, so that the words become your words, and the flow becomes your flow.
- Remember – the Holy Spirit prays within you. Even when it seems dry, hurried or pointless – just words – you are sitting before God, within God, and offering your whole self to God.
- Prepare your intercessions – make a list of the things you want to pray about.
- Say the office with someone else from time to time – it is a wonderful thing to share the office with one or more people, reminding us that we are a praying community.
‘Official’ Prayer Books (that is, the prayer books belonging to some of the churches of the Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church)
- BCP Standard Edition Prayer Book.The Book of Common Prayer (1662) or the Proposed Prayer Book (1928) – for a ‘traditional’ language version of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (and in the 1928 book, Compline).
- A Prayer Book for Australia (1995) – you only need the green edition. There is a booklet of the daily office by itself called Daily Services, which is easier to carry. You could also use An Australian Prayer Book.
- Common Worship: Daily Prayer (Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England). Daily Prayer from Common Worship – a single volume book from the Church of England.
- The Book of Common Prayer.The Book of Common Prayer (1978) – the prayer book of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America
- Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours (Roman Catholic Church) – four volume set. Try the website Universalis before you buy this very expensive set of books, which has a steep learning curve.
Other Prayer Books
- Celtic Daily Prayer. Celtic Daily Prayer – from the Northumbria Community.
- Out of the Silence, Into the Silence – by Jim Cotter
- Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary. Benedictine Daily Prayer – a shorter breviary.
- The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime: A Manual for Prayer. A contemporary book compiled by Phyllis Tickle. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime and The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime are also available. They’re keyed to the Northern hemisphere, however.
- Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2010
- Epray – A website that allows subscription to access A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). This also includes the ability to download the Epray Daily Office app which has the daily offices and assigned lectionary readings.
- Daily Prayer (Church of England – the liturgy, psalm and reading all rolled together in one webpage – great for saying in the office, or out on the road. However – it uses a different daily lectionary to Australia. This includes the BCP1662 and Common Worship forms of the liturgies.)
- Daily Prayer (Episcopal Church of the USA – the liturgy, psalm and reading all rolled together in one webpage – great for saying in the office, or out on the road. However – it uses a different daily lectionary to Australia.)
- Universalis – the Liturgy of the Hours of the Roman Catholic Church (free – try this before you buy the very expensive set of books)
- Pray-as-you-Go – a short daily office you can download and listen to on your computer or MP3 player. Also available through iTunes.
- Sacred Space – a short daily office aimed at Roman Catholic youth.