This is the first in a two-part post on electronic forms of praying the Daily Offices. Look out for the other one later today!
I’ll admit it: I’m a Daily Office junkie. I get high on Morning and Evening Prayer and the other hours celebrated in the Office. I developed my addiction when I arrived in Houston for college in 1967. The Episcopal Ministry to Rice University and to the Schools in the Texas Medical Center had services six times a week in St. Bede’s Chapel. Sunday and Wednesday were Communion services, but we said Evening Prayer on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. For the next four years, I was the officiant on Tuesdays. It’s called the Daily Office for a reason, so I also said it privately the rest of the week, and I have (with breaks) kept up the habit ever since.
I’m convinced that the Office (and the Calendar it follows) holds a major key to the sanctification of time in our lives. It hallows the significant moments of our days, weeks, months, and years, just as the Occasional Services hallow the significant moments in a lifetime. The Office provides a daily reminder that all time is God’s time. Someone who prays the Office is never alone. At every moment of every day, there are thousands of people throughout the world praying with and for us all. It is not private prayer, but the corporate offering of the entire Body of Christ. When we pray with the Church, the cloud of witnesses is praying the Office with us.
The Office reflects the complexity of God’s time. It is a tapestry as varied as life itself. A year from one vernal equinox to the next contains 365.242 solar days, 52.18 biblical weeks, or 12.36 lunar months, so the cycles are constantly precessing at different rates. It takes corrections like odd-length months and leap days to keep them approximately synchronized. Because natural time is so complicated, the Liturgy of Time is rarely very simple. The combination of psalter, readings, and prayers shifts to match the time of day, the weekday, and the day of the year.
The Coptic Church uses pretty much the same round of services every day, but that is an exception rooted in Egyptian Christianity’s monastic emphasis. In contrast, the Byzantine-Rite churches have Offices that vary in patterns as complex as the imperial court rituals formerly present in Constantinople or St. Petersburg. Anglicans fall between those extremes, and there is a range even within Anglicanism, from the stark uniformity of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer to the myriad choices offered in the Church of England’s 2002 Common Worship: Daily Prayer. The 1979 American Prayer Book represents a middle ground.
While there is great value in sticking to a single form of the Office, each of us may find that different forms offer the greatest benefit at different times of our lives. It is also helpful to “see how the other half prays.” When we pray with the Breviary that Cranmer used until 1549, we can appreciate why he made the choices he did. In a similar fashion, it is essentially impossible to understand Eastern Orthodoxy without entering its world of prayer. Seeing and using several forms of the Daily Office is not only valuable for academic purposes, but for cleansing our palate to approach our own liturgy with renewed senses.
Using any Office with variable parts represents a challenge. One must not only progress through the ordinary parts of the services, but also plug in the propers where they belong. Even the simple 1549 Office requires keeping track of one’s place within the daily framework, a 30-day psalter, and annual cycles of Old and New Testament lessons and collects. That Office replaced services that were so complicated that it took longer to figure out how to say them than to pray them once they were figured out (or so the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer claimed). Historically, anyone who determined to say the Daily Office was doomed to spend a lot of time looking things up, setting markers in two or more big books, carrying the books around, and then flipping through pages when she or he would rather be focusing on God. No longer.
In some respects, this is a Golden Age. Not only are many versions of the Office now in print and online, but Daily Office junkies can find a slew of good applications for smartphones or tablets. At a minimum, our devices are easier to carry than a bunch of books, but this approach offers much more than that. The best Daily Office apps do all the “figuring out how to say the Office” work so we don’t have to. They find all the appropriate variable parts for the hour and day and then transparently plug them into the framework for us. That helps even with services we know by heart, but it is particularly important when we are first coming to a version of the Church’s prayerbook that we have not used before. We can pray with the Church without having to worry about the mechanics that distract us from God. Our companions are not limited to the invisible cloud of witnesses, either. Unlike a book, the apps can be linked to a larger screen, TV, or projector for group use.
I have tried more than a few of these applications (Anglican and otherwise), and you might be interested in what I’ve found. My annotated list of apps will show up on Covenant later today. Whether you use them, a book, or your memory, though, I cannot urge you more strongly to take up the discipline of the Daily Office, if only as a Lenten devotion (it’s still not too late to think about it). You may be surprised with the changes it makes in your life. Our time is God’s time, and our time should be sanctified for our entry into eternity.
The featured image is “Tablet use 2” (2011), uploaded to Flickr by ebay, Inc.