Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Daily Offices in the Prayer Book Tradition

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Daily Offices in the Prayer Book Tradition

Article excerpt

After tracing in some detail the evolution of the services of Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, from their roots in the revision of the medieval Breviary by Cardinal Francis de Quiñones in 1535 down to the modern forms in use today, this essay then compares the principles underlying them against the patterns and concepts of daily prayer in early Christianity that have been laid bare through recent research. It concludes by suggesting that the future direction of Anglican daily worship might be enhanced by incorporating elements from what scholars term the ancient "cathedral" tradition alongside the more monastic character of its inherited forms.

From the perspective of the clergy, the major problem with the pattern of daily offices imposed on them in the course of the Middle Ages was that it was excessively time-consuming and therefore burdensome. These offices had been created primarily for monastic communities able to spend a great part of their day in the praise of God-and even some of those found the sheer quantity of material difficult to accommodate in relation to the other demands on their time. But for clergy and members of other religious orders who were required to undertake other activities, and especially those attached as teachers or students to the universities that were springing up all over Europe in the late Middle Ages, it was impossible to adhere to the seven times of prayer each day and a further vigil of prayer and reading during part of the night that the monastic offices expected of 448 Anglican Theological Review them. It is no

wonder, therefore, that there was a tendency to group these different offices into two major blocks to be performed at the beginning and at the end of the day. It is similarly no wonder that many got even further behind

in their obligations to the office, and found themselves tiying to catch up with what should have been said several days previously-or even longer, as Martin Luther himself testified: When I was a monk I was unwilling to omit any of the prayers, but when I was busy with public lecturing and writing I often accumulated my appointed prayers for a whole week, or even two or three weeks. Then I would take a Saturday off, or shut myself in for as long as three days without food and drink, until

I had said the prescribed prayers. This made my head split, and as a consequence I couldn't close my eyes for five nights, lay sick unto death, and went out of my senses.1 He eventually fell three months behind and gave up altogether. This

experience must

have contributed to his questioning of the idea that such practices were "works" necessary to satisfy God when his reading of St. Paul suggested that Christians were on the contrary justified by faith alone. Quiñones's Breviary It was obvious to many and not just to Luther that some reform of the system of daily offices was desperately needed as far as the clergy were concerned, and in 1529 Pope Clement VII entrusted Spanish Cardinal Francis de Quiñones, the General of the Franciscans, with the task of producing a revised Breviary that would make the daily offices more manageable for those who recited them privately. The fruits of his labors were published in 1535 and authorized by the new Pope, Paul III, for use by clergy on receipt of a license from the practice), Quiñones drastically shortened and simplified each of them, allocating no more than three psalms to any office and removing their antiphons, while restricting daily Bible reading to just three lessons at the night office, with a patristic or hagiographical reading substituted for the third on a feast day.

His reforms went further than mere abbreviation, however. The limited amount that was known at the time of the early Christian practice of the daily office suggested that its roots lay in the monastic movement, where the principal aim had been to complete the whole 150 psalms as the worship of God in a particular period of time. …

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