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Pray without ceasing: The Daily Office

Flickr: the prayer continued

Flickr: the prayer continued

The Liturgy Task Force of Faith, Worship, and Ministry is working on revisions to our authorized liturgical texts. In this entry, Task Force member Richard Leggett provides some background on practices of daily prayer, and introduces a new resource for Morning and Evening Prayer.

In one of the earliest documents of the Christmas movement known as the Didache (Gr. ‘teaching’) the writer responds to the question of how often a Christian should pray. ‘Pray three times a day’, the teacher advises, ‘and pray the Lord’s Prayer.’ This simple instruction provides an insight into the essential character of Christian daily prayer: regularity and simplicity.

During the centuries between the writing of the Didache and the English Reformation of the sixteenth century daily prayer underwent considerable expansion. Although the ‘average’ Christian was encouraged to pray two or three times a day, monastic communities, especially the Benedictine movement, drew upon the admonition of Psalm 119.164, ‘Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgements.’ The times of prayer in many monastic communities grew to be eight: just before dawn (‘lauds’), dawn (‘matins’), an hour after dawn (‘prime’), three hours after dawn (‘terce’), six hours after dawn (‘sext’), nine hours after dawn (‘none’), sunset (‘vespers’) and bedtime (‘compline’).

The simplicity of reciting the Lord’s Prayer two or three times a day was lost as the custom of the recitation of the Psalms became a feature of daily prayer. Readings from the Scriptures and from early Christian writers, canticles from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, responsories and litanies all gained entry into the offices. As a result the Daily Office came to be more and more a ‘professional’ liturgy, undertaken by religious communities on behalf of the laity who often attended monastic services.

Thomas Cranmer, building upon the work of Cardinal Quiñones, sought to restore a degree of simplicity. Eight offices became two: Matins and Vespers. Canticles were reduced and a monthly cycle for the recitation of the Psalms was introduced. Perhaps more importantly, a new Daily Lectionary was introduced that, if followed, would result in reading all of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament in one year. But, as is often true of liturgical revision, Cranmer’s dream was not entirely realized in the practice of the Anglican tradition.

In recent years the ancient practice of disciplined, regular daily prayer has been revived in many Christian traditions such as the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Evangelical communities. Among Anglicans the Society of Saint Francis with its ground-breaking Celebrating Common Prayer has influenced revision of Daily Prayer among Anglicans throughout the Communion.

Here in Canada the Liturgy Task Force has been working on its own revision of the Daily Office. It has long been known that the Daily Office in The Book of Alternative Services has not been used as widely as had been hoped by its creators. The Trial Use Offices, published on the national website, are an attempt to provide Canadian Anglicans with a disciplined form of regular daily prayer that is simpler to use and tied to the seasons of the Christian year.

Christians are a people of prayer, a people called to pray without ceasing. Whatever form that prayer takes, may all of us take up this vocation to hold before God the needs and concerns of the whole of creation.

The Rev’d Dr Richard Geoffrey Leggett

Eileen Scully

About Eileen Scully

I'm serving the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada as Director of Faith, Worship, and Ministry and have a passion for how worship and learning form disciples for God's mission in the world, and how that mission shapes our common prayer.
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20 Responses to Pray without ceasing: The Daily Office

  1. I love how it makes the Divine Office much more accessible!

  2. There are many of the celebrants that want the office changed in church but I don’t– the daily office is universal at church but you can do the office at home, some changes from the celebrant are not universally sound for other celebrants which can leave the pews empty..

  3. Eileen Scully

    I would submit, Darin, that this new form of daily office reaches more deeply into the tradition and more widely to the church in ways that make it both more accessible and more ecumenical. It’s realy a building on the existing BAS offices. What do you think?

  4. Kyle Norman

    I imagine that liturgical revision is always a fickle thing. I know when I have discussions with the people about the length of our service (90 minutes) one of the struggles is ‘what do I cut out’ or ‘what do I change’ without making something seem unimportant. Thus, I understand the struggle that the committee will inevitably have in creating something that would befit the breadth of Anglicanism in this country.

    That being said, I have an uneasiness about the Affirmation of Faith as written in the trial Morning and Evening prayers. For me, the Affirmation of the Faith is entering into the statements that have been definitive for the Church (big C) for centuries. The Church has, for centuries held the Apostles and Nicene creed as such statements that has informed our identity and mission. To that end, I have never had an issue with saying the Schema as an article of faith. In fact, this can be quite moving for us as we understand that the historical and creedal statement of Israel is now echoed in our midst.

    I wonder then what definitive, authoriative, and instructive role “We are Called” has played for us? I see it is dated to the ancient time of 1992. If the creeds are to be ‘authoritative’ statements about what the church believes – what authority does this poem hold?

    For me, a statement of faith is a holding up of that which defines the identity of the (big C) Church, and highlights what the Church holds theologically regarding the identity and nature of the God we worship and follow.

    I don’t think “We are Called’ does this, and thus I don’t think it should be listed as an Affirmation of Faith.

  5. Eileen Scully

    Thanks for this, Kyle. I think it is important to distinguish the Creeds from affirmations of faith. The latter can include biblical affirmations, as well as expressions by the church of speaking the faith into the present moment. The latter are by no means intended to replace the Creeds.
    And, as with all these comments, please know that they are being fed back to the Liturgy Task Force! Trial Use and Evaluation really does mean engaging a feedback and listening process!

  6. Kyle Norman

    Are you saying that this is conversation is being recorded to ensure customer satisfaction?

    I see where you are going with the distinction between affirmation of faith and the Creeds. However our liturgical texts do not give licence to ‘create our own affirmations’. Even these trial texts state “One or more may be said or sung.” I would argue that including the Creed, the Hear O Israel and the poem in the same section is essentially stating that they are of equal importance. The poem is not a canticle to be said or sung – or a litany to be prayed though. I would argue that it’s very placement suggest the desire for it be seen as a credal statement about the theology and identity of the church.

    I would argue that the Hear O Israel is seen in this regard as well – for how can we not, as a Church, read a biblical text in unison and NOT be affirming who we are and what we believe. And again, placed in the same section as the Creed, I would argue that the intention was that this was to be seen as an alternative credal expression of the Church’s testimony and witness.

    You suggest that the Liturgy Task Force assumes the Creed to be ‘optional’ for the Church, and that each community is given the expressed right and privilege to come up with their on ‘expressions’ to ‘replace’ the creed. I would suggest that we are NOT given this right and privilege. The ‘Affirmation of Faith’ is to be the affirmation of Church’s faith (Big C) and not that of the local body. I think suggesting otherwise moves us away from the notion that The Church is something involving a rich community, historicity, and tradition (one spanning many nations, tribes, tongues – and even heaven and earth itself), and moves us into a more individualistic and privatized notion.

    • You are right there should be no optional use of the creed, it is our foundation. A few years ago there was a push by the people at VST to replace the creed with the Shema. There seems to be many in the church who do not believe the affirmations put forth in the creeds and would rather make a proclamation like the “hear oh Israel” .It seem we are moving away from a faith with firm foundation to a smörgåsbord ,a build your own model and still use the umbrella tag ,Christian.It seems to me to be dishonest to call ones self a Christian and not believe the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

  7. Thank you all for your comments. One of the purposes of Trial Use is to elicit from a broader community reflections on the liturgical life of our church. As a member of the Task Force and as one who has worked on the revision of the Offices, all the comments thus far have given me grist for the mill of further refinement of Daily Prayer in our church.

    I hope that we will continue the spirit of this respectful conversation. We share a common goal of enabling Anglicans in Canada to pray in a way that is faithful to the tradition and responsive to the context of prayer in the 21st century.


  8. First, I’ll just mention that I fully agree with the concerns expressed by Fr Kyle and Tony Houghton regarding the apparent elevation of the poem “We are Called” to the Creeds, even if that is not the intent, and the fact that as an ‘affirmation of faith’ held differently than the creeds, the poem affirms a parsed and theologically narrow faith that excludes a number of key Catholic values expressed in the Creeds which informed the positions they hold for all Christians today, and to say nothing of the confusing perspective shifts in the poem itself which could well be problematic for those with limited English skills or even new Christians who may find it harder to follow the meaning of that poem.

    More generally, the concerns I hold have to do with the Penitential Rite. The site seems to be complaining about the length of my post, so I’ll break it into two separate but related posts.

    First, the invitation to confession has been limited significantly in this proposed revision. While this is the alternate authorized invitation from the BAS, I never much cared for it because it lacked the fullness of the longer invitations from the BCP and even the first invitation in the BAS. The proposed revision has us simply invited to confess our sins for no purpose. There may be a feeling that it is redundant due to the response’s petition that God forgive our sins, but that is not, in my mind, sufficient.

    In the BCP it explains in the invitation that we are to confess, “to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.” (4). The BAS (45) has a similar invitation using modernised language and offers the proposed invitation as an alternative only.

    In excluding this aspect of the invitation, we invite the question which it answers: why should we confess? We are left wondering. If we are left wondering, then is not something of the fullness of the office lost? That’s exactly how it feels to me reading it.

  9. Trying this again… I’m not sure what the problem was with the error message I was getting earlier this morning, but thank you to the Admin that deleted those extraneous posts!

    The second concern I have reading through the liturgy comes from the confession itself. In both the BCP (4f) and BAS (46) rites for confession there is a clear link to the Decalogue and the summary of the Law in respect of how we have sinned and are thus confessing.

    In the proposed revision, the terms it uses (opposing God’s will and goodness in ourselves, our neighbours and the world) seem to have in their intent a similar summary, but the link is not so obvious unless you contrast it with the existing confessions. The problem this causes then is that it opens the door for private judgements on what the confession means. Are we confessing that we believe God was calling us to do a particular thing in our lives and we did not do that thing, or are we confessing that God instructed something in Scripture and we did not do it? While it could obviously be both, I think most people would think the former. In terms of goodness, the terminology is even more broad. What is God’s goodness? Is it something we define through Scripture or is goodness defined in secular terms? For Christians just starting out their journey of faith, it may be difficult to understand what is meant by God’s goodness and they may well out of ignorance simply define this through secular terms. When you leave it as a references to the Law, that ignorance persists, but at the very least you are left with the notion that you ought to learn what is meant, rather than simply substituting the wrong answer.

    There is also a line in the proposed confession that reads, “we repent of the evil that enslaves us.” Are we slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness once we confess faith in Christ? I find this line confusing, though I am no Biblical scholar or theologian, so perhaps its reference is simply to something I am unfamiliar with.

    Overall, I feel in this section there is something lost in the decisions made to simplify the liturgy. While I understand the intent behind the restructuring and shortening of it, I feel as though something important has been lost.

  10. I agree with you and what you are saying .What is this “goodness in ourselves” ,there is no goodness in us.”THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; ” our goodness (righteousness) comes through Christ alone. God’s “goodness” transcends anything we can imagine.It seems when we try dumb down liturgy when tend to at the same time drag down the magnificence and awesomeness God. It seems that people now a days don’t want to hear that we are sinners ,we want people to feel good about themselves which reinforces the idea Hey I’m not too bad. Until we come to the realization of who God is in ALL his Holiness, we will not truly see us as we really are ,as Isaiah said when he saw Christ in his Glory “Woe is me for I am undone” he called down a curse on himself.It is time we put God back in his proper place in our worship.

  11. In all fairness, Tony, it does say God’s goodness in us. My concern is more specifically that there are references to encouraging more Christians to pray the offices, Christians for whom it may be easy to interpret God’s goodness as being equivalent to, “what society defines as good,” which again in fairness is often similar, but which Scripture shows us is not always the same.

    As a further note, in respect of my comment on the line about being enslaved to evil, the two verses I was thinking of were John 8. 34-36 and Romans 6. 17-18; there are probably others but those are the first two that came to mind. In both cases it describes how we go from being slaves to sin to slaves to God, or as Jesus puts it we are adopted into sonship and abide in him, freeing ourselves from slavery to sin. There may be other verses on which this line in the confession is based, but I suggest that if it is confusing to me (admittedly laity with no formal training, but who has been a Christian for many years) how much more confusing might it be for someone new to Christianity who is attempting the daily offices for the first time? I suggest this language does not meet the desired “faithful and fair” criteria being used to re-write the liturgy. It also seems to suggest a significant theological change from the Prayer Book (and BAS).

  12. I agree with you that when we become Christians, Christs righteousness dwells in us but the battle still rages within with sin. As we look at Paul in the early part of his ministry,he calls himself “the least of the apostles” and in the last letter he wrote ,he calls himself “the chief of all sinners” the more God revealed of Himself to Paul the clearer he say himself. I took a look at the liturgy and found it to be catering to those who have a hard time with the God and Jesus that is revealed in the bible ,making creeds optional thus circumventing the need to declare principles that they do not believe ,being Christian on their own terms. We come to God on His terms believing what He has revealed of Himself . This is a life long process as it were of working out our salvation

  13. Dawn Leger

    Adding a more practical comment on the new office.

    I love the variety of new prayers. Really lovely.

    I had hoped for a pattern of prayer that is more suited to individual prayer. I understand and appreciate the communal nature of the Daily Office, that even when we are alone we are praying with others. We have lots of those. Responsive prayers, litanies, and refrains are not as well suited to individual prayer. These can sometimes serve as a reminder that we are “filling in” for people who are not physically near us and not everyone finds that entirely comforting.

    Our Anglican Communion has many different examples of a more communal Daily Office. We can still be praying together in the silence of our thoughts through the Holy Spirit and using a pattern of individual prayer. I personally use prayer beads and meditative podcasts.

    Some examples that could be created or authorized by FWM for an individual rite of prayer are:
    -prayer bead orders.
    -suggestions for meditation.
    -collects for specific life circumstances.
    -suggestions for setting up a home altar that appeals to all senses.
    -rubrics that encourage acts of prayer such as lighting a series of candles or physical movements such as kneeling, bowing one’s head, hand gestures.
    -prayer suggestions to draw people into more spontaneous prayer.

    Thank you for this important and life giving work.

  14. Are there any plans to print the offices? Rather than printing all the pages off my ancient printer, I would rather order a copy.

  15. Eileen Scully

    Hi Carolyn,
    At this point, because the resources are only in trial-use-and-evaluation-process, and as the offerings are coming out seasonally, we are unable to offer hard copy versions.
    It would be great to hear from people what sort of ‘final product’ format would be preferred. I’ve been wondering about a well set up web page, for example, expanding upon what’s already in The Community, and an ebook version, but the question of print, hard copy versions is still to be explored. Personally, I value small books like Celebrating Common Prayer, or Common Worship Daily Prayer (with full psalter, and with readings included…). Thoughts?

  16. Something like the CoE’s Daily Prayer App (In particular note that it includes both the BCP and CW forms of prayer) would be ideal. One of the problems with CoE apps is they’re all set to GMT rather than local time and so depending on the time of day might give you the wrong readings!

  17. Pleased to find the daily lectionary online.

  18. Has anyone tried to put Morning and Evening Prayer on an App. I have to go to England to use theirs. In this age it is embarassing to tell my Lay Ministers and clergy that they can not get Canadian daily prayers on their phone.

    • Bishop Larry, the topic comes up from time to time, but it’s not currently one of the priorities for GS. I’m sure our communications director would be happy to talk it over with you, though.

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