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The Daily Office

By John Bauerschmidt

The Daily Office is one of the acknowledged treasures of the Anglican tradition. In the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, Thomas Cranmer combined the sevenfold medieval offices of daily prayer said by clergy and monastics into two offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, continuing the tradition of parochial and cathedral observance of Mattins and Evensong. These were the most popular of the medieval hours of prayer in England, when devout lay folk were most likely to be present.

As described by Louis Bouyer, one of the leading Roman Catholic authorities on liturgy and spirituality in the 20th century, Cranmer’s reformulation of the daily prayer of the Church — organized around psalms, canticles, and the reading of Scripture in these two offices, joined to concluding prayers and (from 1552) a penitential introduction — “made them a means of education by worship of which no Church, Catholic or Protestant, has the equivalent today” (Orthodox Spirituality and Protestant and Anglican Spirituality [Burns & Oates, 1969], p. 107). This is high praise from a significant source. Bouyer also noted that Cranmer’s recasting of the tradition, which was formative for Anglicanism, joined the more popular cathedral and parish observance to the monastic inheritance, though the regular recitation of the whole psalter and the reading of the whole Bible.

Paul Bradshaw echoes Bouyer’s point about the marriage of traditions when he describes the parallel development of daily prayer after the fourth century in churches and monastic communities. The “cathedral office” of prayer celebrated in cathedrals and parishes was marked by an emphasis on intercession and use of select psalms and canticles. The daily prayer regimen of the monastic movement, by contrast, emphasized the use of the whole psalter and the practice of lectio, reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures.

Bradshaw remarks that Cranmer set out to reclaim for average Christians the ancient practice of daily common prayer, but ended up by restoring the practice of the desert fathers in an order of prayer more influenced by the monastic tradition (“Daily Prayer” in The Identity of Anglican Worship [Morehouse, 1991], p.74). In any case, as John Booty comments, “Thus was the asceticism of the monastery to be cultivated, day by day, by kings and commoners, landlords and yeomanry” (“Communion and Commonweal: The Book of Common Prayer,” in The Godly Kingdom of Tudor England, ed. by Booty [Morehouse-Barlow, 1981], p. 149).

The Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer is the longest standing ascetical commitment of my life in Christ. In the Episcopal Church this is the case for many of our clergy and not a few laypeople. I was initiated into the recitation of the Office as a layman, before seminary, when I began to pray it by myself, and have (with some notable times away) continued it since. In a way I consider myself bound by the practice: after all, it is the Daily Office of our prayer book, which seems to commend it to us as a daily practice. The language of obligation (“bound”) will only carry one so far when it comes to prayer, which is the fruit of loving relationship. Yet there have been times of spiritual aridity when the obligation to pray the Daily Office has been precisely the thing that has sustained my relationship with God.

For a goodly portion of my life as an ordained person I have been privileged to be able to pray the Office in public with others. At seminary I was part of a praying community that said Morning and Evening Prayer publicly together. I remember the day in my first semester when I realized that this opportunity to pray in common twice a day was simply too valuable to miss.

Later, as a graduate student, serving in the Church of England, I was part of a university community that prayed the Daily Office and celebrated the Holy Eucharist together each day during term time. This 19th-century pastoral ideal, derived from the successors of the Oxford Movement, of “Mattins, Mass, and Evensong” each day may be considered a wildly impossible feat for modern day folk, but is of course still practiced in actual real live parishes of our church, gathering together what are generally small groups of people within the parish (Martin Thornton’s “remnant”) in liturgical prayer.

As a priest in two different parishes, I have also been blessed in being part of the public celebration of the Daily Office on weekdays. In part I built upon previous parochial traditions, but in part this was the commitment of the new rector that gave opportunity for gentle teaching about clergy priorities and the centrality of prayer for the congregation. At the most basic level it required a commitment on my part, and of other clergy and lay leaders of the Office, to be present consistently at the same time in the same place, and inviting the congregation to pray.

Time management experts on various vestries sometimes questioned whether this was the best use of my time. Good heavens, was that a most teachable moment! Suffice to say that everything got done (in spite of this commitment to prayer, or perhaps because of it): hospital visits, sermon preparation, formation classes, spiritual direction and pastoral conversation, not to mention vestry, board, and committee meetings. Family life was not neglected and spiritual burnout did not ensue. Like the tithing of our treasure, this tithing of time actually made more useful the time that remained.

As a bishop my context is now much different. Bishops are idiorhythmic (what a great word!): that is, having their own rhythm or style, which in this case means their pattern of life is so varied that it scarcely constitutes a pattern. Another way of saying this is that bishops are irregular, in that whatever “regular” pattern attaches to episcopal ministry is largely indiscernible to outside observers. These commitments over space and time make bishops largely undependable when it comes to being in the same place at the same time with any consistency.

So for the last eleven and a half years of episcopal ministry I have been thrown back on saying the Daily Office by myself. In spite of this I’ve continued to grow in my appreciation of liturgical prayer. Reading the appointed lessons and saying the psalms each day has led me to more consistent study of the Holy Scriptures. Daily prayer, as well, has made me more mindful of my role as intercessor. This, after all, is the basic “priestly work” of the People of God. No matter where, and no matter how intractable the issue, at the very least the bishop can pray.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you pray the Daily Office:

Whatever form of the Office you are using, you are joining in the prayer of the Church. If you are a part of a regularly praying community, all the better. But even if you are praying by yourself you are still praying with “the whole company of heaven” and the Church throughout the world. The Office is objective, not subjective. It’s the Church’s prayer, not yours.

Because it is the prayer of the Church, the Office is really the prayer of Christ within us to the Father. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ’s priestly work is eternal, for he ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). He is the head of the Body and we are the members. As Augustine once said in a sermon, “He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in him and his in us” (Sermons on the Psalms 85.1).

The psalms are the heart of the Office. The Psalter was the first prayer book of the Church. St. Benedict knew this and made the recitation of the psalms the central act of his ordo. In the psalms the Word of God becomes our word. If you can pray nothing else from the Office regularly, pray the psalms.

Daily Prayer sanctifies time, and redeems our time. The very identifier daily is a marker of temporality. We are creatures of time who serve a God who intervened in history, in these times of ours. As we experience time we mark it with the sign of the cross, turning to God in the regular succession of time because it is the territory we inhabit and where we desire God to dwell with us.

The Daily Office is the “praise of the mystery” (Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety [Notre Dame, 1955]). Like the whole liturgy, it centers on the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The psalms, hymns, and prayers of the Church are lavish with praise because of what God has done in Christ. His life means life for us. Praise is the antidote to our spiritual aridity, and the Office keeps this before us.


  1. I very much appreciate your comments as one who has been seeking some help along these lines. My question (as a Presbyterian!) is where would I find this daily office so that I can reflect and pray it? Sorry for such a basic question.

    • You can find the Daily Office in many places online. Dailyoffice.org posts all the readings, prayers, and psalms twice a day for Morning and Evening Prayer. They also host a daily webcast where folks from all corners of the country pray Morning Prayer together.

      • Thanks to both of you. This gives me a start. If the value of the daily office is that the readings call people into united prayer and reading, why are there multiple sites? Are these different from one another? If so, where is the unity? It is confusing to me.

      • The edition I have does not seem to structure readings and prayers in a daily fashion (published in 1945). So perhaps you mean a more recent edition. Thanks again for your thoughts.

        • Many earlier editions of the BCP have the Daily Office Lectionary in the opening pages of the book. The Lectionary details the appointed readings.

        • Exploring the sites are fun as they offer other resources in addition to the daily office. Some sites have audio versions, and the style of the audio versions vary. Missionstclare has beautiful but light background music for its “audio book” of morning, noon and compline daily office. But it also offers the day’s morning and evening prayer as text with associated recorded choral music if you chose to listen. I like the daily office at the WordPress site due to the beautiful imagery associated to the day’s prayers and also the additional info on whom we are remembering that day, such as a saint. And you know, I just love to read the offices in the BOOK of CP with the audio. When the audio gets to the specific day’s readings, I close my eyes and listen.

  2. Any edition of the Book of Common Prayer will have all you need, apart from a Bible! There are a number of Roman Catholic resources, including The Liturgy of the Hours (multiple volumes) and also Shorter Christian Prayer. Best wishes as you make your way.

    • The best explanation I have ever read for the origin of the Book of Common Prayer. It helped me a lot. Many thanks,


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