Liturgy for Lent: Explaining the Pieces of The Daily Office (Supplemental Post)

Jason: Our conversation regarding prayer in the liturgical tradition went a bit longer than we anticipated. We felt there were some things we’d leave out if we kept the schedule we set in our initial post.

Mike: In the previous posts, we decided not to break down each and every part of the Services of the Daily Office in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Instead we talked about the broad categories. In this supplemental post we thought we’d break down the various pieces.

Jason: The categories in the other posts were helpful! Still, there are a lot of terms used in The Book of Common Prayer that are not used commonly today. Can we go through each of the various aspects one-by-one?

The pieces of The Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer 1979:

  • Opening Sentences: A single sentence of scripture starts the season. The phrases are fitted to the liturgical season. I sometimes laugh when Episcopalians accuse Evangelicals of taking scripture out of context, because we do it liturgically all the time.
  • Confession of Sin: We have the option to include a confession (probably a good idea during Lent). Following the confession, a priest absolves the congregation or a lay person prays for forgiveness. (A priest praying alone also prays for her own forgiveness. Priests shouldn’t try to absolve themselves. It’s messy.)
  • Invitatory: In the morning, a simple prayer for God to “Open our lips” reminds us that our praise is shaped by God, and offered to God. In the evening, we pray that God would “make speed to save us,” an ancient sense of the dangers of night permeates this service, as does the sense of God’s helping presence to us that can especially be felt in darkness.
  • Gloria Patri: A simple short phrase of praise to God (also known as a doxology): “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” The Gloria Patri is returned to again and again at the end of pieces of Morning Prayer, a bit like the savasana pose in yoga.
  • Antiphon: In Morning Prayer another short welcoming sentence, often scriptural, followed by the words “Come, let us adore him.”
  • Phos Hilaron: In Evening Prayer, the ancient hymn to Christ the light is sung “as our eyes behold the vesper light.

Jason: It seems to me that this first part is about preparation–getting our hearts and minds ready for what is to come. A “detox” from the chaos of life so that we can focus on what’s important. Is that fair?

Mike: That’s exactly what the beginning of the service does. Then we launch into scripture and praise.

Jason: The Lord’s Prayer triggers something in the design of the service. The first portion reminds us that we are broken. The second portion welcomes us into a healing community. At this point, we prepare ourselves to re-enter the world and live out what this shapes in us. True?

Mike: Indeed, the Lord’s prayer is another hinge point. The leader (officiant) says “Let us pray” and we begin to take our devotion out into our lives by asking God to be present for our needs. We also ask God to help us to be thankful.

  • The Lord’s Prayer: We begin by praying the words Jesus taught us, because, well, this is what he taught his disciples to pray.
  • Suffrages: specific prayers asking God to bless us and our world this day. These are often chanted back and forth by priest and choir.
  • Collects: Collects are formal written prayers of a few sentences. This can be a bit tricky in a public service of Morning Prayer because first you have to find the prayer for this particular week (or feast day) in the long list of Collects from pages 159-261. Then the leader the service picks some of the other collects that follow the “collect of the day,”
  • Prayer for Mission: If there is not a service of Eucharist following, we also pray one of the three prayers for mission.
  • Authorized Intercessions: This is where we pray for those we have been asked to pray for, for our own needs, for those of others. We also give thanks for the blessings in our individual lives.
  • The General Thanksgiving: We finish our morning prayer by thanking God using this form (or the form on page 836). Thankfulness helps us stay in balance with all that asking for stuff.
  • Prayer of St. Chrysostom: A simple ancient prayer including the phrase “when two or three are gathered together,” which feels reassuring when you have a small group and reminds us that we don’t really ever pray the office alone, we join with the whole church, and asking God to hear our prayers
  • The Closing: We give thanks to God and are sent out with a blessing sentence from Scripture.

Mike: As you can see from that long list, The Daily Office comprise very organized services. We have a lot of structure, and a lot of moving parts. The Office can be frustrating to pray from a book, because you have to flip pages so many times. If you find yourself stymied, I recommend the “Prayer” App from Mission St. Clare.

Liturgy for Lent: The Daily Office Continued


Jason: You ended our last post mentioning that “we respond to the readings of Scripture with praise.”  Can you say more about what you mean by this?

Mike: In Morning and Evening Prayer, we respond to God’s Word in Scripture with praise. The most repetitive form of praise in the Daily Office is the Gloria Patri, an ancient short doxology  (word of praise): “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” We return to this simple phrase again and again in the Daily Office, a bit like the savasana pose in yoga. We mark the conclusion of the psalms and many pieces of praise by giving glory to God.

We also sing or read Canticles. A Canticle is a song of praise, often (but not always) from Scripture. The Canticles have been sung as part of the Liturgy for centuries. In the Anglican tradition, some of the most beautiful pieces of choral music are arrangements for singing the Canticles.

Responding to Scripture with praise can help us keep the focus on Scripture devotional, rather than analytical, as I mentioned in the last post. In Morning Prayer there are many different options for canticles, and you can find a table of suggested canticles to use after each reading on page.

Jason: I find that when a local faith community gathers for worship, the experience ought to be like putting on a pair of glasses–it ought to bring the rest of the week into perspective, offer a particular way of looking at our week. This repetition functions for me like a reminder of Who this is about and Who this is for.

I have another question for you. Coming from a tradition that was all about smooth transitions in public services, I’m always jolted by the start-and-stop flow of an Episcopal service. Some of this is intentional, I know. Can you explain?


Mike: That stop and go is about holding space for silence. You won’t find a bold heading in the Prayer Book that says “SILENCE.” The is no “SILENCE” section. Instead, in several places the Prayer book says simply “silence may be kept.” In a congregation, this can feel like stop and go, it can feel uncomfortable. But when worship is done well, there is space for silence.

Silence can feel a bit awkward in group settings, especially when you’re not used to quiet in prayer. Our lives are noisy. Silence doesn’t come naturally. But silence can be a huge gift. My own practice of prayer has been really informed in recent years by “Centering Prayer” as taught by Thomas Keating. I find that some of the most fruitful parts of The Daily Office are the moments when “silence may be kept.” When I pray by myself, sometimes I sit in that silence for 20 minutes before going on with the rest of the prayers.

Jason: You obviously don’t have children. 20 minutes of quiet doesn’t exist in a house with 3 kids. Unless we’re all asleep. I had a conversation with two young dads a few years back and we were lamenting the lack of silence in their lives. Work, family life… our lives get busy and loud! What I have learned through my attempts to pray with the Church through the Prayer Book is that silence is a soul-shaping, counter cultural practice. I may not have 20 minutes at a time but when I have 5 minutes, I know what to do with it. It’s provided me another “life hack” as you’ve put it.


Jason: What are petitions, Mike? This is a perfect example of one of those phrases that our use in popular culture and in the Prayer Book are quite different. And what the heck does “authorized intercessions… may follow” mean?

Mike: Petitions are prayers in which we make requests to God. Morning Prayer includes a number of written and invited prayers. The Lord’s Prayer begins this section in the Prayer Book service because this prayer really contains all those prayers which we need to say. There are official petitions and responses that help us remember the state of all of creation, our government, people in need, those who have died, etc. There are a number of optional “collects” or formal prayers that can be read. The service also invites us to pray ourselves and for others specifically with the short phrase “authorized intercessions…may follow.”


Mike: The Service of Morning Prayer also includes a long prayer called the “General Thanksgiving.” It helps us to remember to start the day by thanking God. In all prayer, the Prayer Book is trying to keep a balance, helping us to both ask God to provide for our needs and to give thanks back to God. Brené Brown, the Social Scientist and TED Talker, (and Episcopalian) says that her research shows that joyful people have one thing in common: a regular practice of gratitude. Finishing with thanksgiving helps us to end on the note of gratitude to God. As a plug for a particular prayer, I really like the alternate General Thanksgiving found on BCP 836. The prayer was written by Charlie Price, a longtime professor at Virginia Seminary, and helps me frame thanksgiving to God for all aspects of life.

Jason: Brown nails it in that TED talk! I have found that gratitude is one of those important practices for being a healthy person. Speaking of silence above, one of the most frequent ways I use times of quiet is to reflect on what I am grateful for.

Hacking The Daily Office

Jason: Previously, I mentioned that I saw Morning Prayer as primarily designed for communities. What about when we pray as individuals?

Mike: I mentioned a couple of “hacks” above for using the prayer as an individual: I add to the silence. I use forms of Lectio Divina with the Scripture. But sometimes it helps to simply read through the whole service by myself, because it reminds me that I am part of something bigger. Others are also reading and praying these words, or words like them, all across the world. We are united by prayer in the Body of Christ. But the structure can be heavy lifting for every day. I find that the short “Daily Devotions for Individuals or Families” (an authorized hack if there ever was one) in the 1979 Prayer Book are often very helpful summaries of The Daily Office.

Jason: I’ve used Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours”, which I like a lot. The introduction in volume one is priceless. I would also add that it’s important to hold on to these practices with a “loose grip.” Appreciate however much time you have to pray in these ways. If life cuts it short, it’s okay. It’s like exercise, build into your schedule what you can. Try to be as routine as possible. But don’t browbeat yourself about it.

Are there are other resources that you’d recommend?

Mike: The 1979 Prayer book is also not the be all and end all for Morning Prayer. It is The Episcopal Church’s official version of the tradition, but there are other great interpretations of the tradition. Sometimes I like to vary my practice by using the Prayer Book from New Zealand or one of the Monastic Community’s services. I also have really enjoyed the new “St. Augustine’s Prayer Book” edited by The Rev. David Cobb, which includes a great distillation of Morning Prayer. Additionally I will often complement the Scripture by adding on a non-biblical reading. Lately I’ve been reading Brian Taylor’s “Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict.”

In Conclusion

Mike: If you’re interested in picking up a practice of The Daily Office, I would encourage you to give it some time. Commit to using the Prayer Book, or one of the other Devotional books for a season. Get into the rhythm, until you know some of the words by heart. See if you can’t find a church that has a service of morning or evening prayer, and check that out once or twice to help you get into the rhythm. It takes awhile for the service to feel natural. But the payoff for our inner life can be big.

Words often repeated can become habitual. Remembering our prayers can be helpful in times of crisis. The late Bishop Mark Dyer once spoke to a Theology on Tap gathering I hosted about the gift of the monastic office. Bishop Dyer had spent years as a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk before becoming an Anglican bishop. In the monastery, each night the monks would intone the same prayers and Canticles. He told us at Theology on Tap about  a major cardiac he had. He needed open heart surgery. His anxiety was through the roof, but as the anesthesia started to take effect, habit took over. As they wheeled him into the operating room, he found himself reciting prayers from the monastic service. When we know the rhythm of the prayers of the Daily Office, we can pick up the thread and follow it home.

Liturgy for Lent: The Daily Office as Praying Through Scripture

Mike: Let’s talk about the Daily Office of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. In the first English Prayer Books, Matins (the ancient name for Morning Prayer) began on page one. Morning Prayer is where we start, again and again, the liturgical tradition. The services in the Anglican tradition are a simplification and combination of the early morning services and the later evening services of monastic communities. Such a simplification hopes to bring the rhythm of prayer out of specialized communities of monks and nuns, and into the daily lives of common people.

Jason: The monastic community is exclusive by design. The Prayer book was created to widen access to this rhythm of life shaped by prayer and Scripture. Yet it doesn’t lose the communal aspect of the monastic tradition. It’s design is still for a community praying and dwelling on Scripture together. This doesn’t mean it can’t be used by individuals, but it is by design a book for a community.

Mike: Exactly, The Daily Office names that we’re not in the praying business alone. Jason, you may find it interesting that Morning Prayer was the most common service on Sunday Morning in Anglican Churches until about the end of the 19th century. Weekly Eucharist is relatively new in Anglicanism. Even today many of the Episcopalians who consider themselves evangelicals (yes, there are Episcopalians who enthusiastically embrace the label) often celebrate Morning Prayer, rather than Eucharist, most Sunday mornings. I think this is because Morning Prayer keeps Scripture at the center of our liturgical life.

Jason: Even a Eucharistic service has a lot of Scripture in it! We’ll get into the mechanics of the Eucharist later. Still, it’s worth noting that many evangelicals would be surprised to find how much Scripture is read during a liturgical service!

Mike: More than anything, The Daily Office is about Scripture. Morning and Evening Prayer facilitate a regular reading of The Bible. The Offices are designed especially around the Book of Psalms. The Daily Office lectionary (calendar for readings) of The Episcopal Church includes psalms to be read at Morning and Evening Prayer, and takes us through the whole book of psalms every seven weeks. Likewise the Lectionary follows a calendar for Scripture readings. Often whole books of the Bible are broken up over several weeks. Sometimes particular readings appropriate to a specific season or feast are provided.

Jason: For those of us that come from other Christian traditions, the reverence shown for the Book of Common Prayer by Episcopalians can be a bit creepy at first. We already have the Old and New Testament. Why do we need another text? This line of critique is often warranted when no one can explain the use of the book or when a Bible cannot be found in a church, only prayer books.

Mike: The Book of Common Prayer, especially in the Daily Offices, can really be seen as a guide to praying our way through Scripture. Many of the prayers in the BCP come directly from Scripture, others quote scripture. No service in the Book of Common Prayer does not include the reading of at least a little Scripture. We may not put Bibles in pews in all of our churches, but our liturgy helps us to read the Bible together. One of the gifts of the lectionary is that liturgical Christians tend to be reading the same scripture. I can turn to another Episcopalian who prays the daily office and say, “Did you read that bit of 2nd Samuel today? What were they thinking?” It’s a bit like a group of friends who all watch “The Walking Dead,” except, you know, with The Bible..

Jason: Studies on congregational health have found that biblical literacy is a key to spiritual growth for Christians. There are lots of tools for studying the Bible out there and a whole industry devoted to churning these out. What I love about the prayer book and lectionary is that these books are ancient tools for doing just this: reading and meditating on Scripture year-round. But they are not designed just for gathering information about the Bible. Rather, they are prayerful–they’re design is for reflection and life-integration of Scripture. Mike, can you explain how this actually works?

Mike: I find that the wisdom of nuns and monks becomes important when I pray Morning Prayer by myself. Because I spent a lot of time in classrooms studying the Bible, I can get distracted, wanting to look up some interpretation or translation of Scripture. The monastics knew this temptation and teach “Lectio Divina” (Divine Reading), a method to keep us from pulling out our Greek dictionaries. Tools like Lectio Divina, help us remember that we read Scripture in The Daily Office for devotion not for academic analysis. (For a great set of methods, check out this post by Sharon Ely Pearson.) The Daily Office itself helps us to keep to this method, because we respond to the readings of Scripture with praise. More on that and the other pieces of the Daily Office in the next post.