I just finished reading Paul F. Bradshaw’s Daily Prayer in the Early Church. It was a fascinating read but it is not what I am writing about; its conclusion is the inspiration for what I am writing about. In the conclusion he issues a challenge to make the daily prayers of the church what they were in the earliest times of the church: a teaching office and an office that asked intercessory prayers for the church.
He makes the claim that over time monasticism came to take over the cathedral office of the church and we got more hours and more Psalms. Not necessarily a bad thing if the Psalms are taught as the prayers of the church and the Christological meaning of the Psalms are taught. I know I could use brushing up on the latter point.
As a humble layman I see the Anglican Morning and Evening Prayer offices as serving the needs of the time very well, if not perfectly. It is well known that Bible reading and knowledge is dwindling in our society and even within the congregations of the church. If memory serves me correctly that is why we moved to the three year lectionary. The point of this article is to point out how this can be implemented from the point of view of a man who has two children and a busy life.
I don’t think it is realistic to think that the daily office can be prayed at the average parish daily. Ideally I wish it were, but our priests are overworked as is, and outside perhaps some of the cathedrals and very large parishes it is probably not very likely that we could even manage one of the offices every day. Combine that with the laity’s crazy hectic life and attendance would probably be poor for the daily office every day. With two kids and a 7‒5 job I know my attendance could never be every day unless the church happened to be where I worked, but I can and do read the Bible most every day and I use the lectionary.
What I propose is that we as a province challenge each parish to have the daily office once per week and encourage the laity to keep up with the readings. I say don’t be overambitious, so settle for the two year cycle of readings and the 60 day cycle of Psalms. I can’t imagine anything sweeter than to hear the assurance of God’s pardon more than once per week and the intercessions of the church for ourselves and the church.
I challenge the priests and deacons to explain and teach the daily office and the meanings behind the liturgy. Why do we read the Psalms? What are the intercessions? and much more. After the office is said this can be done over a communal meal or this can even be done as a sermon within the office. These are particularly nervous times and modern society has become so atomized that gathering together as the body of Christ regularly would be a benefit to many people. But still we should encourage the laity to come up with intercession of their own to be included in the office. There is a rubric for it right before the General Thanksgiving. This last suggestion will go a long way toward doing as much as Bradshaw said the earliest daily offices did for the church by offering them a chance to make intercessions for the church and the troubles of the time.
There are even rubrics within the 2019, 1928, and 1662 BCP for moving from one of the daily offices to the Eucharist. Perhaps every so often this could be offered at one of the daily offices. The Eucharist is a means of grace and unites us with Christ as he is truly present within our Eucharist. This is a beautiful thing and of great benefit to the body.
I am a layman, but I see a great yet challenging opportunity within this. As our culture rapidly turns against Christianity, we as Anglicans are blessed with the gift to at least turn the tide within our own parishes with the daily office. We have the ability to strengthen our faithful through the reading of God’s word, the forgiveness of sins, and the intercessory prayers of the church.
The easy thing to do is just to do nothing and let things go on as they have been for a while now, but where has this gotten us? Falling numbers of Christians in this country and less and less Bible literacy. It is time to be bold; it is time to shake things up; it is time for the body of Christ to pray together more than just Sunday and at small groups. It is time for the church to be the church, within the church, so we can more boldly go forth in faith and fulfill the great commission.
August 5, 2022 @ 9:04 am Beth
I agree with your assessment of prayer with and for the church. We have been pushed to stay home, hidden from our fellow brothers and sisters. Our isolation eventually blinds us and leads to discouragement. I need this prayer time together and would gladly welcome the opportunity to do so. Let us draw near to His marvelous throne of Grace.
Thank you for your encouragement,
August 5, 2022 @ 9:45 am Sudduth Rea Cummings
My best memories of ministry was in a smallish SE Oklahoma parish which held the Daily Office supplied by lay people. It was a blessed time.
August 5, 2022 @ 11:39 am Ben jefferies
You might be encouraged to hear that just down the road from you, here in Opelika, AL – we have matins and evensong every Tue, Wed, Thur, and Fri. At 8:30am and 4:30pm.
It’s been going for 6 years — and much of the time I (the rector) have been by myself — but now these days many times there are 3-8 parishioners making a congregation.
And we chant!
The daily office should be priority #2 for clergy (after Sunday mornings which is task #1)
August 8, 2022 @ 4:46 pm Bart Wallace
I would love to make it up there one day. Unfortunately my parish is 50 minutes from my house and that puts it even further from you. I am an Auburn fan so you never know when I might just be up there for an event and pop in. I will be sure to introduce myself.
August 5, 2022 @ 1:42 pm Paula W Heyes
This is a marvelous article, sir. It’s a known fact that in Roman Catholic parishes where a special time is set aside to adore the Lord and pray, the spiritual life of the parish deepens, and more young man discern calls to the ministry. I think that the Daily Office, in whatever limited form it can be done, as you suggest, would have the potential to do the same for Anglican parishes — in fact, that is the plot of the 1915 short story, The Archbishop’s Test, though that is set specifically within the context of the Church of England.
I am retired, with few demands on my time, so I decided about three years ago to commit to the use of Morning and Evening Prayer daily, using the American 1789 BCP for the texts. I realize that not everyone can do this, but I have found it more than revitalizing to my spiritual life, almost revolutionary in its effects.