daily prayer office, spiritual disciplines

Frank Answers About the Daily Prayer Office

Question: I am discerning praying the Daily Offices as part of my daily devotional practice. There are many approaches to this, in faith tradition and in format. (As a Lutheran pastor, ALPB’s “For All the Saints” comes to mind as one source.)
What are your thoughts on (1) the place of the Daily Offices in formation, (2) the various sources available, and (3) suggested approaches for getting started?

Frank answers: There’s no point in reinventing an answer.

In terms of (1), the place of the Daily Office in formation, here’s Chapter 1 of The Rule of the Society of the Holy Trinity, a (Lutheran) pastoral oratory.

“Chapter I – Formation in Daily Prayer

“1.The Society will be bound together in common prayer. The daily prayer of the Church (the divine office or the liturgy of the hours) forms the personal discipline of the members because of its biblical content, Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy, and roots in the catholic tradition.

“2. As pastors of the Church and leaders in prayer for the people of God, we pray the office as routinely as possible in some place of public access (e.g. in a church building or chapel) where others may join us. As often as possible, we provide for congregational celebrations of Matins, Vespers, and Compline.

“3. We will become acquainted with, and provide instruction in, the daily prayer offices, the course of psalmody, and the daily lectionaries as provided in the historic liturgy of the Church.

“4. The ideal use of the divine office is the full choral and corporate recitation. A private recitation of the office would include these elements:

“**Morning Prayer (Matins): Psalm 95, other Psalms, a reading from the daily lectionary, Song of Zechariah (Benedictus), the Prayer of the Day, other prayers, the Collect for Grace, and the Lord’s Prayer.
**Evening Prayer (Vespers): Psalm 141, other Psalms, a reading from the daily lectionary, Song of Mary (Magnificat), intercessory prayers, the collect for peace, and the Lord’s Prayer.
**Prayer at the Close of the Day (Compline): a prayer of confession, Psalm 4, 33, 34, 91, 134, or 136, a brief lesson, a bedtime prayer, and the Song of Simeon (Nunc dimittis).”

In terms of (2), the various sources available, here’s an excerpt from my book, Introduction to Christian Liturgy (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), pp. 94–96. The whole of chapter 4 deals with “The Liturgy of Time.” The purpose of the daily prayer offices is to sanctify the time of the day and daily life with its cycles of light and darkness, activity and rest. 

“5. How might daily prayer offices become daily once again?

“The Anglican tradition alone among the Western Christian traditions has preserved the practice of daily public morning and evening prayer. In the cathedral and collegiate churches in Great Britain and in many other parts of the Anglican world, these offices are sung daily by trained choirs of boys (children) and men (adults). Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer have been used in households as well as publicly in churches. There are historical instances of this household use during the Puritan Commonwealth in England when the Prayer Book was abolished and in colonial America in the absence of clergy or parish churches.

“The liturgy of time began as household prayer and if it is to become daily prayer once again this will take place only in the household. We cannot imagine that the whole Christian people ever gathered for daily prayer every day. Everyday secular life did not allow for this in the fourth century and it does not allow for it in the twenty-first. But the ancient Christian instinct to pray in the morning and in the evening has remained intact throughout the centuries. While Martin Luther did not provide explicit orders for morning and evening prayer, as he did with his orders of the Mass and orders of baptism, he made a lasting impression on evangelical household prayer with his orders of prayer in the Small Catechism upon arising in the morning and before retiring at night. The structure of this household office is as follows:

“Invocation of the Trinity with the sign of the cross
The Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer (kneeling or standing)
A morning prayer/An evening prayer (original compositions still widely used)
In the morning, a hymn on the Ten Commandments “or whatever your devotion may suggest”

“Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006), pp. 294–298, provides fuller forms of “Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families” and Concordia Publishing House prints laminated copies of these orders for use in homes.

“Lutheran Book of Worship envisioned its public and communal orders being used in a pared-down way in households and among small Christian groups. Little red circles in the margins indicated items that could be extracted from the public offices to provide household offices. These indications are not in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Nor does ELW include the Gloria Patri at the end of psalms and canticles.

“A Lutheran breviary, For All the Saints, has been published in four volumes by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (1995–96). Compiled by Pastor Frederick Schumacher and members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in White Plains, N.Y., these volumes includes the texts of the LBW orders for Matins, Vespers, Responsive Prayer, and Compline; opening prayers for each day plus special commemorative days appropriate to the season; the full Revised Standard Version text of the three Scripture readings for each day in the LBW and the Book of Common Prayer 1979 daily lectionary; a fourth reading and a closing prayer for each day from one of the saints from the second to the twentieth century; and all 150 psalms following the thirty-day psalm course in the BCP, using the BCP/LBW translation with LBW psalm collects.

“Finally, we would note that many Christians, including clergy and lay oblates of monastic communities, continue to use a traditional breviary in their home devotions. Benedictine Daily Prayer is called a “short breviary” because it does not include the patristic and other non-scriptural readings that the standard four-volume set of Christian Prayer does. Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary, ed. Maxwell E. Johnson, Oblate of St. John’s Abbey, and the Monks of St. John Abbey (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995). It does have readings for memorials, feast days, solemnities, and two Scripture readings to use at vigils or office of readings. In the proper of saints, the Benedictine calendar is followed, which is different from the Roman calendar. For the psalter, the breviary uses the inclusive-language Grail Psalms (inclusive language with regard to humans, not to God). The sing-song nature of the Grail Psalms (they are meant to be sung) may become monotonous through regular spoken use. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is used for the Scripture readings. This breviary is pretty much what is used at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, currently the largest men’s Catholic monastery in the world. The breviary provides two biblical readings for each day (usually other than from the Gospels) and nonscriptural readings for some of the feasts.”

Having mentioned the Anglican tradition, to these resources I would add The Book of Common Prayer…According to the use of The Episcopal Church, which includes Daily Morning Prayer: Rite One (pp. 37ff.), Daily Evening Prayer: Rite One (pp. 61ff.), Daily Morning Prayer: Rite Two (pp. 75ff.), Noonday Prayer (pp. 103ff.), Order for Worship in the Evening (pp. 108ff.), Daily Evening Prayer: Rite Two (pp. 115ff.), Compline (pp. 127ff.), Day Devotions for Individuals and Families (pp. 137ff.). Rite One offices use traditional language. Since Anglicans have had a tradition of lay leadership in daily prayer and also use of the prayer offices in households, nothing precludes Anglicans/Episcopalians and those in other traditions from using the BCP for personal and household devotions.

In terms of (3), suggestions for getting started:
1. Arrange a designated prayer corner in your home where you are least likely to be distracted. Gather the books you will need for Daily Prayer. Have an icon and a candle or votive light.
2. Set a time for daily prayer. Morning Prayer will probably mean getting up before the household does (i.e. children). Evening Prayer will probably occur once the household has settled down (i.e. the children have gone to bed). You will need about 15-20 minutes for each time of prayer.
3. If you are using For All the Saints with its course of psalmody and daily readings, decide how you will divide the psalms for each day between morning and evening and also the three readings from the Daily Lectionary. I would suggest the Old Testament and Epistle in the morning and the Gospel at night.

As a pastor, you could also have set times for morning and evening prayer in your church, again early in the morning (but probably later than at home) and in the late afternoon. Invite parishioners to join you. If they come invite them to join in the psalms and singing a hymn. There might be a prayer chapel in your church facility in which 2 or 3 or more could gather to pray to the Father, through his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, in the Holy Spirit.

God’s blessing on your intention and undertaking.

Pastor Frank Senn, STS


  1. Brian Mundt

    Thank you, this is very helpful.
    It sounds like Daily Offices are best as a public office, not private?
    There are so many breviaries! “For All the Saints” and “Benedictine Daily Prayer” sound accessible. There are some breviary apps, I imagine they are even more “user friendly.”

    • Comment by post author

      Daily prayer began in households, was taken into monasteries, was incorporated into cathedrals and schools, was put into private forms in breviaries. The prayer offices connect private and household prayer with the prayer of the whole church. In other words, they are liturgical prayers. That is their advantage. But pastors of congregations have a special responsibility because of their office and leadership role to make them public for congregations. Even as a retired pastor I can’t do that. If I am to experience the full liturgical value of the prayer offices my congregation, or a religious order I may belong to, has to offer them. So say these prayers for your private devotion. Also make them available as often as possible also for your people.

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