There is an ancient Christian practice to pray three times a day, once in the morning (either at rising or at the third hour), at noon, and in the afternoon/evening (ninth hour or before going to bed). This practice evolved into what Rome now calls “The Liturgy of the Hours,” and is also known as The Divine or Daily Office. There are now seven “offices” derived from the monasteries and cathedrals of Western Europe.
I have been trying to experiment with praying one Office every day, preferably Morning Prayer but sometimes Evening Prayer or Compline (Night Prayer). I’d hoped that by now I would be able to write a blog post about having done this for two months and what the effect on my spiritual life has been.
Unfortunately, I keep missing days, and one time I missed almost a week. Be that as it may, I commend this experiment to you.
First, praying the Office helps ground the day. Morning Prayer sets the whole day ahead of you in perspective, and Evening Prayer and Compline set the whole day behind you in perspective. Your thoughts are turned towards God and His will. If our life with God is meant to be a relationship (as The Shack, The Dark Night of the Soul, JI Packer, Dallas Willard, and — in fact — St. Paul would have us believe), then spending time with Him at key points of our day is a truly grounding reality.
Second, praying the Office means you actually set aside time for prayer. Prayer is our lifeline to God. It is conversing with the Almighty. It is vital to the Christian life to stay grounded with God. In Prayer, Richard J. Foster points out that we will not pray everywhere at all times until we pray somewhere at some time.
Third, praying the Office usually means praying at least one Psalm. Suddenly, you are praying with words shared by the whole Communion of Saints from Israel to today. The Psalms are God’s Prayer Book, the hymnal of Israel. Praying the Office helps tie the pray-er into a spiritually formative world of prayer. Most of our predecessors have recommended the Psalms for our use; the Psalms teach us to pray, so we ought to use them in our prayers.
Fourth, praying the Office usually means praying prayers with Christians throughout the ages and around the world today (this is a similar thought as praying the Psalms).
Fifth, the value of liturgical prayer comes in the fact that we are likely to forget things, being caught up in our anxieties and worries half the time. While anyone can easily rush the Office, those who choose to take their time will benefit most by slowing down and praying prayers for things they may not have prayed for otherwise (such as for the Queen and All in Authority or for the salvation of the world or for the sick or who knows what). Liturgy slows us down and brings things to our mind that someone external to ourselves thinks ought to be brought before God. My petty concerns, though no doubt of importance to the Almighty, are not the only concerns out there. As well, the Office leaves space for extemporaneous prayer if this is a concern for you.
Sixth, if you use the same liturgy or liturgical scheme every day, the scriptural prayers contained in the Office begin to get into your blood, your head, your heart, your soul, your spirit. You find scriptural truths becoming more a part of who you are, informing how you pray without the liturgy.
If you don’t own a Book of Common Prayer, I recommend you get one. Or Celebrating Common Prayer. These are the books with which I pray the Office. If you’d like to experiment before committing yourself, here are some resources for praying the Divine Office online:
The Prayer Book Society offers the BCP online.
Celebrating Common Prayer, the Anglican Society of St. Francis’ version of the Daily Office, is online here.
The Daily Office Blog provides Morning and Evening Prayer every day based upon the 1979 Episcopal BCP.
The Northumbria Community, a Celtic neo-monastic community, offers their version of the Daily Office online as well.
There are, no doubt, other resources for praying the Daily Office. I have seen some of them on other websites as I surfed my way through the Internet. However, these are those which I have actually used and I recommend them.