Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day by day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

1. What is the Daily Office?

One of the supreme joys of the Anglican spiritual life is the use of the Daily Office, our form of the ancient Liturgy of the Hours. Indeed, it has been said that one cannot truly come to understand Anglicanism from the inside until one has come to use this part of our tradition in one form or another.

The Daily Office is the means by which Anglican Christians pray to God in formal times of confession, scripture readings, intercession, petition, and praise. The word “office” when used in this context means a service of prayer (from the Latin word meaning “a performance of a task”), apart from the Holy Eucharist. Through the Daily Office, the holiness of time is revealed, pointing as it does to the Eternal God who transcends time in Love. Like a pilgrimage, the Office provides a context for encounter with holiness, a pathway for learning the ways of God, the purposes of creation, and the destiny of humankind. It reveals itself as we grow in it, much like a friendship or a romance.

The Daily Office is found near the front of the Book of Common Prayer because it is assumed that each community of Christians in our tradition—or, each individual Christian, if the local church does not offer it—will keep a daily cycle of prayer. This has been an assumption of the Anglican Church since the Reformation, and (in turn) the Christian Faith from Apostolic times.

In the Episcopal Church, the Daily Office consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline (prayers at the close of day). This “four-fold office” may be augmented by various other “lesser hours” from sources outside of the Prayer Book, if desired, but the basic pattern of calling upon God at morning-noon-evening-night is an ancient and sustainable one.

The basic structure of the Daily Office is simple and stable: confession of sin (to cleanse our conscience and come before our God in humility and honesty as recipients of Divine grace); Psalms and readings and songs from Scripture (to learn of his ways and praise him for his mercy), and prayers (to renew our commitment, to bring before God our needs, to intercede for others, and to grow in union with God).

The Daily Office was (and is in many places still) a public worship service of the Church, offered in great cathedrals, monasteries, and humble parish churches. When we turn to the Office in the Prayer Book, we immediately note that it is designed as a service for communal worship. However, the Office is often offered as a personal devotion, and can easily be prayed this way. Note: strictly speaking, the Office is never a “private” prayer, as all Christian prayer is part of the universal Church’s continuous offering of prayer and praise to God.

Anyone can learn to use the Daily Office. It takes a little practice, but so does anything else that is deep and worthwhile. Once one learns the basics, an entire universe of encounter between our soul, the Church, and our God opens up.

It is my honor to share with you the essential elements of learning how to use, and then how to grow in, the Daily Office. May God bless us all, that we may pray to him in heart, mind, and truth. Amen.

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