The Daily Office is patterned off of an ancient practice of prayer that traces back to our Hebrew ancestors. The Old Testament tell us, “Seven times a day I praise you” (Psalm 119:164), which was also taken seriously by many of the first followers of Christ. Eventually, small numbers of women and men fled from towns and cities to live in the wilderness or deserts so they could dedicate their lives to praying and working for God. When some of them gathered together in communities, which we now know as monasteries, they, too, prayed and recited the Psalms seven times a day.
The first bishops and priests in the early Christian church, many of whom came from monasteries, themselves, recognized that stopping for prayer seven times a day would be hard for ordinary women and men so they combined the various prayers and readings into two principle forms of prayer–Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This is what Episcopalians call the Daily Office. The word ‘office’ comes from the Latin word for duty, thus, the Daily Office was our ‘daily duty.’
When the Book of Common Prayer was created, shortly after the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, these forms of prayer were included in it so that individuals and families could use them in their homes if they weren’t able to attend church services where they were said. And, until the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was published, Morning Prayers was considered the main Sunday service.
Praying using the Daily Office, whether occasionally or every morning and evening, is a robust way to adopt a personal pattern of prayer. The words are beautiful and evocative and there is great comfort in having language already given when our own words fail us. Moreover, they say what we believe to be true about God and ourselves, but they also help express our desires as people who yearn for connection with God and each other.
Below are a few of our favorite online resources for exploring this practice. Let us know in the comments what you’ve found to be the most helpful for your own prayer life, or if you have questions about how to get started. And, if you are looking for a community to pray with, contact us to find out about Incarnation ATX.
Mission St. Clare has a website and an app that includes each day’s scripture readings, as well as the prayers and psalms for the day. You can find the app in the App Store or on Google Play.
Forward Movement has a number of resources, including the full format of prayer and scripture readings, or just the readings–for when you want to use your actual Book of Common Prayer to say the rest of the prayers.
The Book of Common Prayer, obviously, also has the forms for Morning and Evening Prayer (as well as lots of other prayers). It does not include the readings, but it does list them, starting on p. 934, in the Daily Office Lectionary, so you can look them up in your Bible. An online version of the whole Book of Common Prayer can be found here.