What is the Daily Office and why should we pray this way?
In the Psalms are found expressions like “in the morning I offer you my prayer,” “At midnight I will rise and thank you,” “Evening, morning and at noon I will cry and lament,” “Seven times a day I praise you.” The Apostles observed the Jewish custom of praying at the third, sixth and ninth hour and at midnight (Acts 10:3, 9; 16:25; etc.). The early Christians continued the practice of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day or night.
The Christian prayer of that time consisted of almost the same elements as the Jewish prayer: recital or chanting of psalms, reading of the Old Testament, to which were soon added readings of the Gospels, Acts, and epistles, and canticles. Other elements were added later in the course of the centuries.
The Liturgy of the Hours, as it was called, along with the Eucharist, has formed part of the Church’s public worship from the earliest times. Christians of both Eastern and Western traditions (including the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox,Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches) celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours under various names.
By the end of the 5th century, the Liturgy of the Hours was composed of seven offices plus Compline:
- Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office (despite the term “Matins”)
- Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
- Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
- Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
- Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
- None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
- Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”, generally at 6 p.m.)
- Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)
After Vatican II these were divided into “major and minor” hours. The major hours consist of the Office of Readings (Matins), Morning Prayer (or Lauds) and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).
After the English Reformation, the offices in the Church of England were essentially condensed into only two prayer services, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, though Midday Prayer and Compline were also retained for optional or periodic use.
Try it for a week!
As Christians, we are reminded of Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). This is more possible than is often realized, especially by 21st Christians whose every free minute is occupied by Facebook, Email, cell phones and television. It is as close as your computer or mobile device!
Within the Anglican Communion, the regular practice of Scripture reading and prayer is made simple and immediately available through the discipline of praying the daily offices. And you can access the Daily Office prayers easily and quickly. You can even find an audio version through the Trinity Mission that you can listen to when you are in your car or otherwise occupied. The Trinity Mission also offers extra helps for churches who wish to promote the reading of the Daily Office within their congregation.
There are many resources out there today to help with this important spiritual discipline. Here are but two of them.
The Trinity Mission Audio Daily Office and church resources