Praying the Daily Office
“O Lord, open though our lips.” For many traditional Anglican, the opening sentences of Morning and evening Prayer inevitably produce the reflexive reply, “And our mouths shall show for thy praise.”
But for many modern worshippers, whose church experiences are focused on Sundays, the liturgies of the Daily Office are unfamiliar. For generations, Morning Prayer (or Matins) was the primary Sunday service, not the Eucharist; now, outside of seminaries, cathedrals, monasteries, and private worship, the Daily Office is most notably preserves in Choral Evensong services, including many held here in Ottawa.
The Parish of St. Barnabas, Apostle and Martyr has offered Morning and Evening Prayer more often, typically preceding weekday Masses. But lately, the number of Daily Office services has increased in this parish, that it prides itself on preserving our Book of Common Prayer (BCP) heritage in what we hope will become a new commitment to a historical tradition of prayerful devotion.
Our efforts began last winter, when Fiona Laverty and I committed to leading more of these services traditionally led by lay-people since the time of Thomas Cranmer. Both of us are students of Theology at Saint Paul University, and our Daily Office ministry at St. Barnabas, where we worship and serve, has owed naturally from our discernment of vocations to church ministry and religious life.
Matins are now said six times and evening Prayer celebrated at least five times a week; six when the St. Barnabas Choir anchors a monthly service of Choral Evensong and Benediction. Dedicated long-time parishioners and clergy preside at some services, leaving Fiona and I to least three or four times each per week.
The experience of (almost) daily corporate prayer has led to our deeper spiritual appreciation of both prayer and scripture. Following the BCP lectionary, we are immersed more fully in both Testaments, reading through books less commonly read from during the Proclamation of the Word on Sundays. As a Pauline scholar, I have found it helpful academically to this entire letters, for example, and we often break during services, as the Spirit moves us, to discuss the theology of appointed passages. This habit of contemplative reading of scripture helps put into perspective the more piecemeal Sunday readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles.
But it is in terms of corporate prayer that we have felt the greatest impact. The poetic liturgy that has served Anglicans since the time of Archbishop Cranmer has become ingrained, the routine comforting to the soul, giving us room to consider even individual words as acts of praise. The practice of saying canticles and praying both in union and responsively has a rhythm and ow that contrasts with the uncertainty, chaos, and confusion of the world outside our Lady Chapel.
Both Fiona and I feel called to ministries of healing, so for us intercessions are something more than prayers by rote. We pray regularly for those on our parish prayer list but also for people for whom we feel called to pray: those struggling with addictions, or in spiritual distress; the sick, oppressed, and so on. As presiders, we adapt prayers from the BCP, the Book of Alternative Services, and other sources according to what we judge to be the daily needs of our community and world.
We are sometimes joined by parishioners, students, and even non-Anglican mem- bers of the local commu- nity, though most often our prayers are said by us alone. We understand that our com- mitment to the Daily O ce is only possible because we are students, without spouses or families or facing a busy commute to work.
But we encourage everyone in Centretown to join us, whether before or after work, at the start or the close of a day. Maybe you can commit to one service per week for one liturgical season – just twenty minutes set aside to take part in a time-honoured Anglican tradition that offers peace through prayer: a time to feel blessed, to learn, to share in community, and to give and to receive blessings with words spoken for over two thousand years.
As it is written in the Letter to the Hebrews, “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you the Day drawing near.”
For a schedule of Daily Office services as St. Barnabas visit us online.
Written by: Bryan Bondy, Anglican Studies Student at Saint Paul University.
Originally published: Crosstalk, September 2017.