From the beginning of the life of the Church, the baptised remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to sharing the common life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Individuals, continuing Jewish custom, prayed at fixed times through the day and, in various parts of the Church, there developed the custom of devoting certain times of each day to pray in common.
Daily prayer, offered by the whole Christian community, was an important feature of the early life of the Church. Such prayer consisted of only a relatively small number of psalms and canticles. Certain psalms and canticles were chosen for their appropriateness to the time of day and repeated regularly. Praise, and the offering of intercession, formed the core of these daily prayers rather than the reading of the whole psalter and the entire scriptures in course. This cathedral tradition gradually gave place to the now more familiar monastic tradition as the monastic vocation came to be thought of as the higher way. The last twenty years has seen a growing awareness of the earlier emphasis, with its desire to make the Office the prayer of all Gods people, and not just the preserve of a clerical or monastic élite.
Christian prayer and worship is offered to God the Father, the Creator; through God the Son, the Redeemer; and in God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.
The prayer of the Daily Office is part of that praise that the whole creation, consciously or unconsciously, offers to its Creator. Through baptism, each Christian becomes part of that royal priesthood of believers able both to proclaim the word of God and, in faith and action, to respond to it, thereby giving voice to all creation in its ceaseless praise and glory of the eternal Creator, the source of all its being and life.
Again and again, the gospels show us Jesus at prayer: Abba, he cries. His commands to his disciples are pray, ask, seek ... in my name. Above all, in his sufferings and death, he showed us that it was prayer that enabled him to offer himself as a paschal sacrifice. Now, through his self-offering on the cross, and his being raised from the dead, he ever lives to intercede for us. In the communion of saints, all Christians pray with Christ and in Christ. Until the end of the world, we are joined to the heavenly worship of saints and angels; our liturgy is part of that heavenly liturgy of praise and intercession in which the whole Christ offers the whole Christ, before the throne of God.
We are only able to pray because we are in the Spirit: the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the whole Church, the Spirit present in each baptised person. We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. In the Spirit, we can offer true prayer to God, for when we cry Abba! Father! it is the Spirit of God affirming to our spirit. It is the Spirit who unites the whole Church and brings us through the Redeemer to the Creator.
While prayer is essentially a whole, the distinction between sacrament and Office sacraments with their sense of direction and power to transform, Offices with their cyclic, reflective form mirrors to some extent our differing experiences of God.
Some people experience God as the one who comes like a bolt from the blue, who changes their lives dramatically, drawing them out of darkness into his light; others discern God being alongside them in their experience of working and living. But these emphases are complementary: both have their roots in the Judæo-Christian tradition and both are necessary for a balanced diet.
To some extent, these very different experiences of God are reflected in the two major liturgical cycles: the paschal and the incarnational. In the paschal cycle, we progress through the barrenness of Lent towards the passion; the Easter Vigil finds us waiting for the risen Christ; then there is the expectancy of the Ascension after forty days; culminating in the preparation for the descent of the Holy Spirit after fifty days; so the living Church has been entrusted with all that Christ has bestowed. This tradition, where scene unfolds to scene, reflects the pictorial and linear quality of Lukes gospel narrative and the sequential pattern of growth, development and change we experience in celebrating the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The author of John, however, invites us to celebrate the presence of the Kingdom here and now and always: the incarnate Christ with us and among us, Gods world without end and in every moment. This much more centred theology, where John seems to be approaching the same truth from a number of different perspectives, illustrates the central thrust of the incarnation: God revealed among us.
The Offices themselves reflect some of this Johannine feeling: the Angelic Salutation, morning, noon and evening, is a gentle, if often silent, reminder of the presence of God among us in Christ and of our response with Mary: Let it be to me according to your word. Morning Prayer looks back on the night and the images of darkness in life but also forward to the new day and its unknown and unexplored frontiers that await us the true dawning of our day. The gospel canticle, Zechariahs song, is Advent in tone and speaks of the coming of the Saviour among us, opening our eyes to recognise the signs of Gods activity in his world and to co-operate with it. Midday Prayer again concentrates us on the God who is incarnate, the Christ who is with us in every aspect of our lives: the non-religious Christ whose coming in flesh was a testament to the wholeness of his nature. Evening Prayer allows us to stand back from the days activity and to reflect with Mary in the Magnificat on the opportunities God has set before us to participate in the establishment of his Kingdom. Night Prayer is the surrender of self to God heard most tellingly in the resonances of the Nunc dimittis, itself a meditative reflection on the saving grace of Christ, the light of the world.
Our prayer as a local community unites us with the whole Body of Christ as we seek to express not only our own prayer but the prayer of the whole Church, conscious always of the promise and presence of Christ in us and among us, for where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among you. Through prayer, we share in that worship which the Church and all creation is offering to the glory of God the Creator, through the intercession of Jesus the Redeemer, and in the power of the sanctifying Spirit.
In accordance with Jewish tradition, and sanctified by the practice of Christ, the Christian Church has, from the earliest times, consecrated moments of time so that, through praise and prayer, they become the vehicles of Gods time, the time of the sovereignty of God. This has been principally done through the use of two liturgical cycles: firstly of the day, the week and the year, and secondly of the memorial of the saints.
The Churchs Year has two major focal points, each proclaiming and illuminating the great acts of God in the saving events of history: the incarnation and the redemption. Each of these is centred on a double festival: the former on Christmas and Epiphany, the latter on Easter and Pentecost. Each has a time of preparation, a time of celebration and a time of fulfilment. For the festival of the incarnation, we prepare for the coming of Christ in the Advent season; we celebrate the birth and manifestation of Christ in Christmas and Epiphany and find its fulfilment in the Epiphany season, as we explore the revelation of the glory of Christ through to the celebration of his presentation in the temple.
For the festival of our redemption, we begin to understand the obedience of Christ in the pre-Lent season and the season of Lent; we pass through the celebration of the passion in Holy Week and the celebration of the Lords resurrection in the Easter season, finding its fulfilment in the Ascension, when we acknowledge Christ as sovereign Lord of all. The season finds its fulfilment in the nine days leading up to Pentecost, when we, as the Church, make ready to receive the Holy Spirit of God. In the season after Pentecost, we explore the fulfilment of God the Holy Trinitys saving work in Christ through the life of the pilgrim Church on earth, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in all of the Creators creation, for God saw that it was good. The year ends with a time when we acknowledge that here we have no abiding city but confess Gods reign in our heart, our life and our death as we rejoice in the promise of sharing in Gods glory, and look for the coming of his Kingdom in our midst.
The week offers its praise to God through the sequence of the Daily Offices at morning, midday, evening and night, interspersing prayer in the regular pattern of work, study and rest, and continually recalling the presence of the love of Christ among us: Praise and prayer constitute the atmosphere in which we must strive to live. The revelation and redemption of God is made clear to us and provides the material for our personal reflection, through the proclamation of his word in psalmody and readings: Communal and personal prayer support one another and both find their source in holy scripture and in the fullness of the Christian mystery. This mystery is made known through the themes at Morning and Evening Prayer and reflected in the psalmody, which is arranged in a seven-week cycle. On Sundays, we celebrate the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord and new life in Christ; on Mondays, we call to mind the Spirit of the Lord and the apostolic mission; on Tuesdays, we wait for the advent of Christ; on Wednesdays, we celebrate the Word made flesh; on Thursdays, we are reminded that Christ prayed for his Church on this day and proclaim the mission and unity of the Church through the revelation of Christ; on Fridays, we suffer with Christ in his passion and acknowledge the need to turn to God; and on Saturdays, as we look forward to the consummation of all things in Christ our true head, we rejoice in the promise of glory. The readings at Midday Prayer complement those of the themes for Morning and Evening Prayer but with a more secular slant. In these and other ways, the Friday to Monday of each week may be an observance of the paschal mystery of the Lords passion and resurrection and Tuesday to Thursday of his incarnation.
Each week begins with the eve of Sunday, the weekly feast of the Lords resurrection. The Vigil of the Resurrection may begin with the Blessing of the Light, to remind us of the light of the risen Christ coming into a darkened world. At the end of the Office, the gospel of Sunday may be solemnly proclaimed for the first time: the day of the Lord beginning with the word of the Lord. Sunday, the day of the Lord Jesus, celebrates both the completing of Gods creation and the beginning of re-creation through the resurrection of Christ. It is the day of the Messiah and, as both an end and a beginning, it gives meaning to all the other days of the week.
Morning Prayer comes at the time of day when we pass over from darkness to light. At the time of our greatest weakness, we welcome with joy Christ our light (to which the traditional Office hymns bear witness) who through the darkness of death has brought us redemption, in the light and power of his resurrection. This theme is powerfully recalled in the gospel canticle, the Song of Zechariah (Benedictus): You have raised up for us a mighty saviour; the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace; you have come to your people and set them free. During the course of each day, we celebrate the light of Christ as we pray at sunrise and sunset, the pass over moments of each day. At midday, we recall the glory of the ascended Christ as the time when the sun is at its height; and, coming as it does in the middle of the days work, we are reminded to offer the whole of our life to God our Creator through the hands of the eternal high priest.
At the end of the days work, when we have been concerned with our stewardship of creation, we are called to turn again to God, that we might be renewed by the light of Gods word. Each day, the candles may be lit ceremonially, using the Blessing of the Light. This custom is the direct successor of the Jewish and early Christian practice of blessing God at the lighting of the lamps. The theme of Gods work in creation is recalled in the traditional Office hymns for Evening Prayer. At the heart of the Office in the gospel canticle, the Song of Mary (Magnificat): we celebrate the incarnation of the Second Adam, the Word made flesh by a new act of the Spirit in the womb of Mary. As the world was at its evening, so the true light of Christ has been revealed in our midst. According to the biblical tradition, the day begins in the evening at sunset: witness the account of creation in Genesis: so evening came and morning came, the first day. This tradition is preserved by observing the first Evening Prayer of Sunday and of major feasts.
At the end of the day, we invoke the Masters blessing of protection and peace at Night Prayer. In the Song of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) are united both the expectation and longing of humanity and the fulfilment of this waiting; that the life of the world has been placed in our hands and here is not only the end but also the beginning, for we have seen the salvation which is revealed for all people.
Each day, with its rhythm of darkness and light, night and day, work and rest, we celebrate in prayer and praise Gods mighty acts of creation, incarnation and redemption as we travel with the people of God towards that Day which has no ending.
The celebration of the Holy Spirit at work in many different ways in the lives of Christian men and women down the ages, whose examples excite us to holiness, is a sign of the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded. They remind us, who are the Church on earth, of our unity in prayer and fellowship with the Church in heaven and that the liturgy of any particular Christian community, however small, is part of the heavenly liturgy of the angels and saints, as we await the glorious manifestation of Christ at the end of time.
The Calendar has also a wide range of optional commemorations reflecting the history of the Church, local interests and outstanding Christians of the recent past. These need not be given full liturgical observance but may be commemorated simply by a mention in thanksgiving and intercession.
The structure and contents of the Office
|The Preparation ||the call to praise: versicles and responses, an opening canticle, a hymn and a prayer;|
|The Word of God ||the proclamation and praise of the work of God: psalmody, scripture readings, the gospel and other canticles, a response to the word;|
|The Prayers ||our response in intercession and thanksgiving for the Church and the world combined with the Kyries, the final prayer and concluding with the Lords Prayer and the blessing.|
This section prepares our hearts and minds that we may more readily respond to Gods word. At Morning Prayer, after the opening versicles and responses, there may be an acclamation, which is followed by the opening canticle. At Evening Prayer, there is either the Blessing of the Light or versicles and responses, followed by the opening canticle. At Night Prayer, this section may be preceded by an opportunity to reflect upon the past day and an act of penitence. To conclude this section in every Office a hymn may be sung; at Morning and Evening Prayer, this section is concluded with a short prayer.
This is the heart of the Office. At Morning and Evening Prayer, the gospel canticle (with its optional refrain) is the climax, bringing together the promises of the Old and New Covenant. The reading of scripture is both the proclamation of the word and works of God and also the means of building up Gods people through a deeper understanding of Gods ways with humanity and their response to God. Christian non-scriptural readings, drawn from the tradition of the Church or from contemporary sources, may be used in place of a scripture reading, or in addition to it.
In each Office, the reading of scripture is preceded by psalmody. Through the words of the psalms, we come before God and enter into the joys and sorrows, hopes and failures of the People of God representing all humanity and finding its fulfilment in the prayer and praise in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. At Midday Prayer, Psalm 119 is used to meditate upon the law of God, while the gradual psalms may alternate to enhance our awareness of the immanence of God. At Night Prayer, the traditional psalms are provided in Saturdays Office; an alternative course of psalms is given in the daily provision.
To the proclamation of the word of God, we respond in various ways: in silence for reflection; in canticles of praise drawn from the Old and New Testaments and the tradition of the Church and through the use of a responsory.
The pattern of all Christian prayer was given to us by Jesus in the Lords Prayer. This may be preceded by the Kyries and, at Morning and Evening, its petitions may be extended; these prayers of the Church are collected up in the collect of the day, the time or the feast and concluded with the Lords Prayer. Any additional prayers and thanksgivings which the community or individuals may wish to offer should be included in this section within the structure of the Office. Thus the realities and concerns of the present moment are gathered up into the prayer of the praying Christ. Finally a blessing is said and at Morning and Evening Prayer we proclaim Let us bless the Lord Thanks be to God! as we are commanded to love, serve and praise God in one another and in the world.
The offering of prayer and praise to God in the form of a Daily Office is not primarily a duty to be performed but a liturgy to be celebrated in thanksgiving for the saving acts of God. We celebrate our common prayer as individuals of body, mind and spirit and as members of a community, whether large or small. Both these facts have certain consequences. The celebration of the Office is not just a mental exercise but something which involves the whole person, through, for example, movement and gesture; the use of visible signs of prayer, light and incense; the use of silence, of music and of song. Each group needs to find a form of prayer which is related both to its life together and to each individual, not forgetting to look forward to what that life in Christ might fully be. Nor must the needs of visitors be forgotten whether baptised members of the Body of Christ or not, all have a right to be able to participate in worship.
The book provides a considerable degree of flexibility, of choice and of optional extra texts. However, the effectiveness of the local community prayer in any particular group is to be measured by its quality rather than its quantity.
This prayer book represents many years of exploration and experimentation in community prayer. It is for us all, as part of the body of Christ and in union with his eternal offering of prayer and praise, to bring our times of prayer to life through our commitment to it; our careful preparation for it; our use of all the means available and suitable to those participating in it; to make it a true sacrifice of praise which will bear fruit in the whole of our lives.
For here we have no permanent home, but we are seeking after the city which is to come. Through Jesus, then, let us continually offer up to God the sacrifice of praise that is the tribute of lips which acknowledge his name.