By Graham Kings

An address given at the Covenant Conference, Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, 6 December 2008, co-published with Fulcrum

Apart from Daily Prayer, The Office reminds me of two things: firstly, the popular English comedy series, which was recontexualised in Pennsylvania; and secondly an excellent name for a pub. If I ever owned a pub — which I am very unlikely to do — I would consider calling it The Office. Then, if relatives or friends wondered where you were, you could phone and say, “I’m still at The Office.”

In the wonderful collect for Bible Sunday, we pray “help us to hear [all holy Scriptures], to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.” As we say the Daily Office, we are formed by God through his Scriptures.


Officium is the Latin word for duty. Whenever we think of duty in the Anglican Communion we also think of joy: “It is our duty and our joy at all times and places.” So, at Morning Prayer, you report for duty and get your orders. At Evening Prayer you clock off, if you like, and you salute. That is one way of looking at the Office. It has got to be done. As we shall see, it is enjoined upon clergy, but also with the “tolling of the bell,” it involves lay people as well.

The collect for Bible Sunday uses the profound vocabulary of “digestion.” The Latin words ruminatio and manducare suggest cows “chewing the cud”: they spend a long time digesting their food.

Robert Atwell, the new Bishop of Stockport, England, has compiled a very fine book, Celebrating the Seasons: Daily Spiritual Readings for the Christian Year (Canterbury Press, 1999). In his introduction he states:

Our forebears’ belief that the slow digestive process of cows was well-suited to describe the process of engaging with Scripture, stands in marked contrast to the language and expectations of a fast-food generation. Their wisdom calls us to a more gentle rhythm of prayerful reading in which patience, silence and receptivity are vital ingredients. In a world of sound-bites we need to learn again the art of listening with the ear of the heart. To this end when we are praying by ourselves, reading the Bible or saying the Office alone, perhaps we should experiment with the custom of earlier generations and speak the words out loud? (p. v)

This is something I really want to encourage people to do. If you are saying the Office, or using some other sort of Bible reading system, rather than just saying it to yourself, say it out loud. It sounds very different.

At St Mary Islington in London, Toby Hole (curate) and I say Morning Prayer during the week, Mondays to Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., in church and we discuss the readings in depth. From 5:00p.m. 5:20 p.m. we say Evening Prayer without discussion. Friday is our day off and Saturdays and Sundays we have a different rhythm.

Scripture on Scripture

Let’s consider first what Scripture says about the reading of Scripture.

Colossians 3:16

Paul writes: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.”

We are encouraged to let the Word dwell in us, so the Word inhabits us as we inhabit the Word. In this Pauline exhortation, there is a double indwelling, which is very “Johannine.”

Jeremy Begbie’s new book, Resounding the Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music (Baker, 2007 and SPCK, 2008) is very perceptive. A musician and systematic theologian, he has just moved from Ridley Hall, Cambridge to Duke University. He comments that it is very hard to draw neat lines between these three — psalms, hymns and spiritual songs — but does go on to suggest: “Perhaps ‘spiritual’ indicates that these songs were directly generated by the Spirit and thus more spontaneous than psalms and hymns” (p. 70).

1 Timothy 4:13

Paul says to Timothy, “Until I arrive give attention to the reading.” That is the literal meaning. It is usually translated in our Bibles as “Give attention to the public reading of Scripture,” which is what Paul implied. He continues: “[give attention] to exhorting, to teaching.”

Paul is referring to the public reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. Public reading is alien to our culture. We are so used to it in church that we fail to notice this. Outside of church, where does the public reading of very ancient documents happen? Sometimes at court or at an inauguration, but it is very unusual. In church, regularly, morning and evening, we read in public.

Our Anglican ancestors, Cranmer and Hooker, were clear that the ordered public reading of Scripture is theologically prior to preaching, and provides the context and text for preaching. This public reading is actually good in itself. The corporate, public reception of the read Word of God is foundational for all our formation.

Luke 4:16-21 

Jesus was in the synagogue at Nazareth:

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In the synagogue, through the public reading Scripture, Jesus sees himself in that Scripture. The modern Morning Prayer service of the Anglican Church of Kenya (1991) includes a “Song of the Messiah,” which echoes messianic passages from the Old Testament. For seven years I taught and learnt theology at St Andrew’s College, Kabare, in the foothills of Mount Kenya and saw the power of this song amongst the students:

Jesus the Seed of Abraham blesses the nations:
Jesus the Prophet like Moses frees the oppressed:
Jesus the Lord of King David leads his people:
Jesus the Servant of the Lord suffers and saves:
Jesus the Son of Man destroyed and raised.

Jesus saw himself in Scripture and fulfilled it. Since we are “in Christ,” we can read that passage and see that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us also, clergy and lay people, to preach good news to the poor. It is not that Jesus is over there and we are over here. We are actually in Christ, and so some of the things which apply to him, apply to us as well.

History and Contemporary Examples

Before the fourth century, the evidence for a particular type of Daily Office is scanty. In the fourth century, the monks in the Egyptian desert recited the Psalter complete. The Holy Spirit inspired the Psalms, which was Jesus’ “prayer book,” and the monks got caught up in the circular movement in saying them back to God. That is the heart of the Office.

The Daily Office eventually developed into eight offices, seven during the day and one during the night. Let’s consider now two great historical figures who were movers and shapers of liturgy, Benedict and Cranmer.

Benedict of Nursia

Benedict (d. 550 AD), the founder of the Benedictine Order, maintained the Psalter being recited once a week, rearranged the offices and the readings, introduced antiphons, versicles, responses, and set readings after the custom of the Roman church. Our Daily Office has its roots in the work of Benedict.

As Anglicans and Episcopalians we are Catholic and Reformed. We are Catholic especially because of Benedict. We are Reformed especially because of the second great mover and shaper, Thomas Cranmer.

Thomas Cranmer

Cranmer died in 1556, almost 1000 years after Benedict. Cranmer had two influences on him as he reshaped the Office. One was a Spanish Cardinal, Francisco de Quiñones, the other was a German Lutheran, Johann Bugenhagen, who wrote a form of the Daily Office for Denmark.

Quiñones wanted to reform the Daily Office. It had grown huge. In 1535 he reduced the eight offices to two: morning and evening prayer. For 30 years, Quiñones’ Breviary was very popular, but in 1568, the Council of Trent published  two authoritative editions of the Breviarium Romanum (one for monks, and one for secular clergy), whichmade the Office much more complicated again.

Johan Bugenhagen wrote the Order for Denmark in 1537, combining Compline, the night office, with Vespers, to make Evening Prayer. In 1538, King Henry VIII and Cranmer were negotiating with the Lutherans. In the end it came to nothing, but Cranmer in 1538 was also writing his first Daily Office scheme and was influenced by both Quinones and Bugenhagen.

In that scheme Cranmer reduced the Office to Morning Prayer and Vespers. Morning Prayer only used parts of Matins and Lauds, and he combined Vespers and Compline. Radically, he dropped all the lesser offices.

Cranmer’s preface to the Book of Common Prayer was heavily indebted to Quiñones. He mentioned, “the thread and order of Holy Scripture should be read entire and unbroken.” He cleared everything else out of the way, having a chapter of the Old Testament and of the New Testament at each of the two services, and not much else.

Cranmer dedicated himself (cf. Ezra 7:10) to working out a new lectionary. Detaching it from the Church’s year, he arranged it to begin on 1 January. In his 1538 scheme, he included the laity in the Office, stressing that the reading of Scripture should be from the pulpit and not from the chancel. In one year the whole of the Old Testament and Revelation were read once, the whole of the rest of the New Testament three times and the whole Psalter every month.

In 1549, Cranmer’s first Prayer Book was published, with Matins and Evensong giving the orderly reading of Scripture. He left out all the lesser offices and the Hail Mary. The central block was psalms, lesson, canticle, lesson, canticle ¾all of them from Scripture. So people were formed by God through Scripture in the Daily Office, “letting nothing interfere with the orderly reading of Scripture.”

Most of the canticles came out of Luke’s Gospel: the Benedictus, the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis. Cranmer’s famous preface adapted the one written by Quiñones. Quiñones had written:

There was never anything by man so well devised which could not later be rendered more perfect by the added insight of many.

Cranmer changed that to:

There was never anything by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which through age and continuance of time hath not been corrupted.

Instead of “later be rendered more perfect”  — a sort of Thomistic idea — Cranmer has the Reformed emphasis, “hath not been corrupted.”

In 1552, his second Prayer Book, the obligation to say the Office was made more explicit:

All priests and deacons shall be bound to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, except they be letted by preaching or studying of divinity or some other urgent cause.

Then Cranmer added “to toll the bell thereto, a convenient time before he began that such as be disposed may come and hear God’s word and to pray with him” — saying, in effect, tolled you so.

Cranmer also added a penitential section. The 1549 service of Holy Communion was so strong on people examining their own lives that it had an unintended consequence: many stopped going to Holy Communion. So Cranmer needed to update Morning and Evening Prayer as the main service, and added a penitential section at the beginning.

20th-Century Revisions

The 1928 Prayer Book of the Church of England, which failed in its passage through the Houses of Parliament and so was not official, was still widely used. The services of Morning and Evening Prayer began with a shorter exhortation, confession, and absolution.

After Vatican II, The Divine Office was published by the Roman Catholic Church in 1971 and translated into vernacular languages. It simplified the services and indicated that Morning and Evening Prayer were the principle services.

In 1979, the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer included noon day and Compline services, and in 1980 the Church of England’s Alternative Service Book, included shorter, as well as longer, forms of Morning and Evening Prayer during the week.

In 1992, the Franciscans in England published a very popular and influential book, Celebrating Common Prayer (CCP), whose initials reminded some of the Russian initials of the USSR. This also had a version of noon day prayers and Compline.

In 2005, The Church of England published Common Worship: Daily Prayer. It is part of a series of eight books of Common Worship (2000-2007) and one of the most widely sold and used. As well as Morning and Evening Prayer, it has “Prayer during the Day” at the beginning and “Night Prayer” (Compline) at the end.

Finally, we return to Kenya. The Kenyan Liturgical Commission was chaired by Archbishop David Gitari and produced A Kenyan Service of Holy Communion (1989) — which was used at the opening Eucharist of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It also produced Modern Services (1991), and finally Our Prayer Book: Anglican Church of Kenya (2002).

In the confession for Morning and Evening Prayer, there is the phrase “lighten our hearts with the glory of Christ.” The word “glory,” kabod in Hebrew, related originally to the ideas of weight, heaviness, or gravitas, and then, through Ezekiel, developed into “radiance.” The Kenyan confession plays and prays on this development: “our sins weigh heavily on our hearts.” Later it goes on, “lighten our hearts with the glory of Christ” — in effect saying “make our heart less heavy by something which is heavy.” So “lighten” implies both “lift our hearts” and also “make us radiant” with the glory which comes from Christ.

The Kenyan Modern Services also changes the songs of Paul into vocative addresses to God. From Colossians 1, “Christ is the image of the invisible God” became “You are the image of the invisible God.” From Philippians 2 the song becames “You, O Christ, were in the form of God.” These echo the famous vocative shape of the Te Deum — without some of the tedium.

Concluding Scriptural Allegory

In Genesis 2:7 we read, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into this nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” This reminds me of 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God,” which means literally “God-breathed.”

Perhaps we may think about this passage at the beginning of our Bible in two allegorical ways, concerning both Scripture and ourselves?

Scripture may be seen, like man, as formed from the dust of the ground. It is something basic: people spoke, wrote, edited, gathered, decided, translated, bound, illuminated, and sold Scripture. There is a materiality about it which is striking, but there is much more than that, for God breathed Scripture into being and it is lively and active.

Out of the dust of the ground and by his own “inbreathing,” God also forms us, who say the Daily Office. When we meet in the evening and the morning of the first day and the second day and the third day etc., that is what is happening. God is actually forming us, through his Holy Scripture —from the dust of the ground and breathing into us.

God reforms us by his Word when he speaks, and he renews us by his Spirit when he breathes.

We finish, as we began, with the collect for Bible Sunday, which in Common Worship is the Last Sunday after Trinity:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


About The Author

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Kings (@GrahamRKings) is honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Ely.

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