Monday, November 23, 2009

Praying the Office

The beginning of Mattins 'daily through the year' from the first English Prayer Book (1549)
'Office' is another example of a word the Church seems to use differently from everyone else. The office is not a place but a service. Matins and Evensong are both offices, and, although most Anglicans probably think of them only as Sunday services, there are actually offices appointed for every day of the year.

Since the earliest times Christian have prayed throughout the day and principally at sunrise, sunset and before going to bed. The official services for those times are known as the 'offices' or sometimes as the 'hours'. Before the Reformation there were seven such offices, but the full recitation of them was probably confined to monasteries and cathedrals. Archbishop Cranmer, the architect of the English Reformation, reduced these to two - Mattins and Evensong (actually since 1552 just called Morning and Evening Prayer) by amalgamating parts of the old Latin offices. He saw this as a way of encouraging their wider use in parish churches and by individuals - indeed the clergy are supposed to say them publicly in church every day and to ring the bell to gather their parishioners or remind them to join in wherever they are. Common Worship has restored Night Prayer ('Compline') and a short daytime office.

All offices have a simple structure made up of a psalm or two, scriptural readings and prayers. There are special variations for saints' days and other festivals. Saying (or rather praying) the office has usually required an office book, a Bible and a 'lectionary' (to tell you what to read). However now you can find the offices for each day by clicking on Common Worship Daily Prayer. When you pray the office (or part of it) you are joining with Christians around the world listening to the word of God and seeking to incorporate it into their personal pilgrimages.