Using the Daily Office

Inevitably the first question that is asked is ʻWhat is that?ʼ The phrase The Divine Office comes from the Latin officium divinum meaning the ʻdivine serviceʼ or ʻdivine dutyʼ. Anglicans usually call it the Daily Office. It is a prescribed act of worship that is required daily of all who are ordained in the Anglican, as well as some other churches.

For numbers of Christians saying a ʻDaily Officeʼ whether that be in the morning or evening or both, is important. They feel deep within themselves a need to use a structured form of worship, either alone or with others, in order to give glory to God. Martin Thornton reminded us in his book ʻEnglish Spiritualityʼ, the focus of the Eucharist is on the Son, the focus of private devotions is on the Holy Spirit and the focus of the Office is on the Father. To use all three helps give balance to our relationship with God and gives a Trinitarian focus.

In saying the Office we are addressing God and praising Him. Self fades into the background. It is part of St. Paulʼs ʻdying to selfʼ (Galatians 2.20). We stand naked, as it were, in Godʼs presence. Orthodox Christians when they come into a Church will make a profound bow that reminds them that they are in the presence of the Holy One. They will also touch the ground to remind themselves that they are of the earth. A sense of humility here is a good thing.

It is as if we humans need to strip ourselves of our pretensions and just stand before God with the awareness that we are ʻof the earthʼ. As someone commented, if we are giving glory to God then we canʼt give glory to self. Perhaps one reason why there is so much narcissism in our Western world is that if we cease to focus on God and give glory to Him, then inevitably we will start to worship self, for humans must worship something or someone; we are made that way.

Pausing before beginning

Before beginning to say the Office, pause for a moment to just to collect your thoughts. This is called statio, a moment between what we have been doing and allowing that to slip away, and what we are about to do, that is say the Office. We pause to consciously place ourselves in Godʼs presence. We want to be present whole-heartedly rather than half- heartedly to Him. We are using this moment of statio to allow God to capture our attention.

Recall too that you join with countless others around the world who also say the Office. Somewhere in our world at this moment someone is saying the Office, giving praise to God. We also join with all those who have gone before us and who stand on a distant shore in the nearer presence of God who also continue to worship God. (Revelation 5.13)

In all this we are moving from chronos time to kairos time, from linear time to Godʼs time, where past present and future merge. Kairos time becomes a time of encounter with God, the Holy One. We want to take God seriously as He takes us seriously.

Saying the Office day-in-and-day-out is never easy. We can become bored, the problems and busyness of the rest of our life can impinge on this time of prayer, the utilitarian approach to modern life can cross over into our prayer (ʻIʼm wasting my time when I could be doing other thingsʼ). Itʼs important to remain faithful to this work of prayer and itʼs important to say it well. Alan Bartlett, in writing about Anglican worship in his book A Passionate Balance says, ʻAs the presence of God is honoured in worship, so excellence � �beauty� � becomes a dominant valueʼ.

In saying the Office we are never alone, even when alone

As we say the Office we are entering a bigger world than our own, for this is not simply just about me. We join the ceaseless prayers of others around the world, adding our own. We join with the whole company of heaven, all who have gone before us and who now stand in the nearer presence of God and who offer unceasing worship. This also means that when we struggle in our worship we can be carried along by and with the prayers of others. Itʼs not just about me.

We are dealing with awesome mystery, and in our better moments we realise this and recognise just how far short our efforts fall. In fact our worship is always unworthy. However we are told in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus stands at the right hand of the Father and constantly intercedes for us (7.25; 9.24). Our poor fumbling words and feelings, our lapses of concentration and inattention, Jesus lifts to another plane and makes whole and perfect. He adds a new dimension and takes us to a place we could not go on our own. He makes our worship worthy. As John OʼDonahue says memorably in his book Benedictus, ʻWe live on the shoreline of the Invisibleʼ, or as St. Paul says, ʻNow we see in a mirror dimly.ʼ (1 Corinthians 13.12)

Karen Armstrong writes in her book The Case for God that in times gone by religion was ʻnot primarily something that people thought but something they did. Its truths was acquired by practical action.ʼ A few pages later, in writing about the new militant atheists and their inability to comprehend religion she writes, ʻPeople believed that God exceeded our thoughts and concepts and could only be known by dedicated practice. We have lost sight of this important insight and this is one reason why so many Western people find the concept of God so difficult today.ʼ

Our spirituality is shaped by practice

I think this concept also applies to the saying of the Daily Office. It is in this daily round of saying the Office, year in, year out, that helps shape our spirituality and draws us more deeply into that union with God for which our heart longs. Yes, there will be times when I am bored by it all, times when I think I am wasting my time, times when, after saying the Office, I can say to myself, ʻDid I say it?ʼ for my mind was elsewhere. But then sometimes I canʼt remember what I had for lunch yesterday or I eat a meal that I know is ʻjunk-foodʼ. Overall though, I know I eat well even if sometimes I get it wrong.

One final illustration to push Karen Armstrongʼs important point of practice. I can read a travel book about Japan and I will gain some head knowledge, some information about the place from the reading. But if I really want to appreciate the place and its people, for it to have a place in my heart, not simply my memory, then I need to go and live there and immerse myself in the language and the culture. This speaks of my presence to the place and its people in a much deeper way than simply as a ʻhead-tripʼ. I think the same is true of the Daily Office. Truly, as the Benedictines would say, itʼs the work of God in which we are engaged.

If you would like to explore different forms of the Daily Office, then type in that phrase to the web and you will see numerous written examples from around the world and BBC Radio 3 also has downloadable choral Evensongs from the UK.

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