The Daily Office + Part Three: The Four Hours
The Anglican Church developed in a pre-modern, agricultural society. In their culture, our forebears didn’t experience a rigid distinction between the material and spiritual worlds. The Church helped them to remember the holiness of every moment by sanctifying (making holy) the natural patterns of the day. She did this by celebrating the four “hours.”
Four times a day, six days a week, the parish bells would ring. A short service would be held in the local church building, a service that was often duplicated by women out in the fields or men in the forest. The services were simplified versions of what the monks did in their monasteries. They had Latin names: Matins, Sext, Vespers, Compline. In English, we call them Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Nighttime Prayer.
Many Anglicans still live in agricultural societies. Most of us in the Global West do not. We wake up to the sound of alarm clocks, not roosters. We eat in our cars, we don’t know our neighbors, we do our work indoors. We have important relationships with people who live a thousand miles away. We don’t care about the position of the sun in the sky; rather, we live our lives based on numbers on the screen of a smartphone. It’s fair to say that our lives are not entirely natural.
But God made us as part of nature, to live the patterns of the earth. We find God in these rhythms. Perhaps this is why the Four Hours have become important to some of us. They ground us. They turn us from the virtual world and put us back into our bodies, if only for a few minutes. They make time and space both whole and holy.
Keeping the Four Hours means setting aside a bit of time around breakfast, around lunch, around dinner, and around bedtime to remember God’s goodness. Even doing this once a day can be transformative to the human soul.
One simple version of the Four Hours may be found beginning on page 136 of the Book of Common Prayer (1979). I usually recommend these because they’re short and sweet, maybe my favorite five pages in the entire prayer book. There are many other versions available, both in print and on-line. www.missionstclare.com and www.thetrinitymission.org are both excellent sources for full versions of Morning and Evening Prayer on the internet.
For some people, going through a written liturgy is a bit much. Instead of doing that, consider replacing the liturgy with the Lord’s Prayer and a moment of silence. Perhaps this week you could say the Lord’s Prayer quietly before or after your meals. Perhaps you could spend time in prayer before you go to sleep, or before you get started on your day. Maybe you can use a few minutes of your trip into work as a time of confession, while during your car ride home you could have a few minutes of praise and thanksgiving.
The Daily Office is meant to be read as part of these Four Hours. How can you incoporate the Daily Office into the Four Hours without becoming a) really discouraged or b) an unredeemable Pharisee? That’s the subject of my next and final post on the Daily Office.
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