We are creatures of habit. We all have rhythms, routines, and rituals that make up our daily lives. Most of us wake up in the morning and drink a cup of coffee, brush our teeth, and read the newspaper. Or maybe we start the day off with a simple prayer and Bible reading. Routines and rituals are not a bad thing. They keep us on track and remind us of what matters most. In a spiritual sense, I believe that we need to have rhythms and routines to grow in our daily walk with Christ.
A Pattern for Prayer
The Daily Office is one of the ways that Christians have prayed for centuries. The Daily Office or Divine Office, which is based on the ancient practice of prescribed daily times of prayer. The name comes from the Latin officium divinum meaning “divine office” or “divine duty.” These services are accompanied by daily Scripture readings which include a reading from the Psalms, Old Testament, the New Testament, and a Gospel reading. The Daily Office includes prayers for morning, noon, and evening. J.I. Packer says, “None of us will! ever find a better pattern for private prayer and Bible-reading anywhere than that offered by the Prayer Book’s own daily offices.”
Origins of the Office
The Daily Office originated from the Jewish practice of daily prayer in the Old Testament. God commanded the Israelite priests to offer sacrifices of animals in the morning and evening (Exodus 29:38-39). As time went on, the Jewish people began to follow Torah readings, Psalms, and hymns at fixed hours of the day. By the time of the Roman Empire, forum bells began the work day at 6:00 in the morning, sounded mid-morning break at 9:00, the noon meal and siesta or break at 12:00, the recommencing of trade at 3:00, and the close of business at 6:00. Christians began to order their prayer life around these times of the day.
By the second and third centuries, early church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen wrote of the practice of the Daily Office. The prayers were prayed both individually and in group settings, as in monasteries. Monasteries followed the fixed hours of prayer individually and corporately. As the monasteries continued to grow and spread throughout the Ancient Near East and into Europe, the monks took the practice with them.
The most influential monastic rule was established by St. Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century for the community of monks at Monte Cassino. St. Benedict established a “little rule for beginners” that brought together a balance of work and prayer. Pope Gregory the Great learned of Benedict’s simple rule of prayer and adopted it for the larger Roman church. These hours of prayer continued through the Middle Ages and into the Reformation. Thomas Cranmer condensed the Daily Office into Morning and Evening Prayer, which many Christians still observe today.
The Daily Office Today
Many people find that praying the Daily Office helps add a sense of regularity and balance to their prayer life. The Daily Office can help center you in the morning before you begin your busy day, and it can help calm you as you prepare for the hours of the night. Praying through the Daily Office is an enriching way that millions of Christians around the world practice daily devotions.
The Daily Office is a meaningful way to begin and end the day in prayer. Remember, as you begin, don’t rush. Reflect on the words and take your time. Mediate on what you’re praying and saying to the Lord. Whenever you pray plural pronouns like “we” or “our,” remember that you are joining your voice with other Christians who are also praying the Daily Office.
If you would like more information on the Daily Office or the Book of Common Prayer, please check out a book I put together just for that purpose: Our Common Prayer: A Field Guide to the Book of Common Prayer.
Photo: Public Domain
Editor’s Note: If you’d like to try out the Daily Office for yourself, check out the Rookie Anglican Daily Office Booklet.
Dr. Winfield is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He also directs Asbury’s Anglican Formation program. As a seasoned practitioner, he has helped plant several churches and has used his experience to train leaders from around the world. He is the author of several books including his forthcoming book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2018). As an author, one of his passions is the intersection of spiritual formation and mission. He and his wife Kay, have three school aged children and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky.