The Services of the Daily Office

Writing continues… Here’s the next installment on the Daily Offices. At this point, I’m starting to head into the actual structure and the nuts & bolts of the Office. I start with an overview. The next part will pick up with an examination of the various elements in their respective offices.


The Anatomy of the Daily Office

The Services

When we consider the Daily Office—the regular prayer services of the Church and our official public services on all days of the year that aren’t Holy Days—we see that there are a number of items that fall under this heading. They are grouped together at the front of the prayer book:

  • Rite I (Traditional language)
      • Concerning the Service (p. 36)
    • Daily Morning Prayer: Rite One (pp. 37-60)
    • Daily Evening Prayer: Rite One (pp. 61-73)
  • Rite II (Contemporary language)
      • Concerning the Service (p. 74)
    • Daily Morning Prayer: Rite Two (pp. 75-102)
    • An Order of Service for Noonday (pp. 103-107)
      • Concerning the Service (p. 108)
    • An Order of Worship for the Evening (pp. 109-114)
    • Daily Evening Prayer: Rite Two (pp. 115-126)
    • An Order for Compline (p. 127-135)
  • Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families
      • [Concerning the Services] (p. 136)
    • In the Morning (p. 137)
    • At Noon (p. 138)
    • In the Early Evening (p. 139)
    • At the Close of Day (p. 140)
  • Additional Directions
    • [Directions]
      • Morning and Evening Prayer (pp. 141-142)
      • When there is a Communion (p. 142)
      • Order of Worship for the Evening (pp. 142-143)
    • Suggested Canticles at Morning Prayer (p. 144)
    •  Suggested Canticles at Evening Prayer (p. 145)
    • Psalm 95: Traditional (p. 146)

Let me make a few orienting observations here.

First, a distinction is drawn in the title of some services as “Daily” and others as “An Order…” Four services earn the “Daily”: Morning and Evening Prayer in Rites One and Two. (The brief devotions receive the term “Daily” as a class rather than individually.) This title reinforces their importance and their place in the Church’s understanding of the liturgical round. The others beginning with “An Order…” are recommended but do not have quite the same stamp of authority or necessity that the others do.

Second, you can’t actually pray either Morning or Evening Prayer with just the contents of this section! You need at least three other pieces to complete the service. They are:

  • The Collects for the Church Year
      • Concerning the Proper of the Church Year (p. 158)
    • Collects: Traditional
      • [Collects for Sundays of the Church Year] (pp. 159-185)
      • Holy Days (pp. 185-194)
      • The Common of Saints [for Days of Optional Observance] (pp. 195-199)
      • Various Occasions (pp. 199-210)
    • Collects: Contemporary
      • [Collects for Sundays of the Church Year] (pp. 211-236)
      • Holy Days (pp. 237-246)
      • The Common of Saints [for Days of Optional Observance] (pp. 246-250)
      • Various Occasions (pp. 251-261)

The Psalter (pp. 581-808)

  • Daily Office Lectionary
    • Concerning the Daily Office Lectionary (pp. 934-935)
    • [The Lectionary] (pp. 936-995)
    • Holy Days (pp. 996-1000)
    • Special Occasions (pp. 1000-1001) [Different from the “Various Occasions” of the collects]

Third, instructions on how to do the services are scattered throughout the book. This can be confusing… The majority of what you need to know can be found in the service itself. However, directions on who should do the service are found in the brief “Concerning the Service” notice found just before it; some directions on possible points of confusion get short answers in the “Additional Directions” at the end of the section. Items specific to the Psalms and the Readings may be found in the notes prefacing the Psalter and the Daily Office Lectionary; clarifications on the Calendar are tucked away amongst the collects.

Fourth, the Rite II services and the Daily Devotions agree in dividing the day into four chief liturgical sections: Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night. The Patristic and Medieval Churches had their own counts for daily liturgical divisions (6 and 7+1 respectively); we have one as well. The fact that we have one at all hearkens back to the Patristic and Medieval models, but the fact that the count is less than both of the earlier models reflects our intention that these hours not be burdensome and ought to be practically possible for the regular working person—not just a monk or hermit.

When it comes to services that you might experience in churches, Morning and Evening Prayer are the big ones. In my years as an Episcopalian, I’ve seen Morning and Evening Prayer done in a number of ways in a number of places. However, as the official public services of the Church on non-Holy Days they’re not as common as you might expect. You’d think that cathedrals at the least would offer these daily: some do, but more don’t. I think that sends an unfortunate message, or rather, fails to communicate an important value that we claim to hold in common. Noonday prayer is less common than the big two. I’ve only experienced it in churches that have a special vocation to keeping the full liturgical round like St. Mary the Virgin, Times Square.  It tends to be a small group or individual office. Compline too tends to be individual or small group due to its nature as a bed-time office. I’ve seen it done regularly and publicly, only in intentional liturgical communities like monasteries or seminaries. It’s not uncommon to use it to conclude evening church meetings or during multi-day retreats, though. Additionally, there seems to be a growing interest in the use of Compline as a choral experience: both St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle and Christ Church, New Haven, have famous Compline services that utilize the office to create a place of chant, candles, and beauty as a means of inviting a wide range of people—Christians, seekers, and non-Christians alike—to experience Christian liturgy as a place of holiness.

I don’t recall that I’ve ever seen an “Order of Worship for Evening” done. To the best of my knowledge, it was an interesting idea with classic roots that was new to this prayer book, but it has never generated the interest that its framers hoped it would.

The Daily Devotions are, by their very nature, not intended to be public church services—these are individual or household liturgies. I honestly can’t say how much they’re used; I can say that I don’t hear very much about them around the church. I think that may be a missed opportunity for us… Personally, I’m fond of them as a father of small children; they instill the concept of regular ordered prayer, but are not too long or burdensome for even young children. Early on, our family adopted the devotion “At the Close of Day” as bedtime prayers for our girls. Since it’s short and sweet, both of them had (quite unconsciously) memorized it even before they were able to read. I’ve frequently thought that a colorful laminated placemat with the text of the “In the Morning” and “In the Early Evening” devotions on either side might be a wonderful way to get these little offices into the kitchens and consciousness of families with children.

The Structure of the Offices

The structures of Morning and Evening Prayer closely mirror one another. It’s readily apparent from looking at how they’re put together that these are twin offices meant to complement and reinforce one another. Noonday prayer and Compline share in the same overall movement as the main offices, but the elements are not necessarily fit together in the same way. Compline, in particular, cleaves closer to models of older liturgies, and therefore follows a slightly different logic than the other three. An Order of Worship for the Evening has its own internal structure and possibilities, some of which mirror the offices, others of which do not—it’s doing a different thing and should be considered apart from the other liturgies in this section.

If we put the elements of the four prayer offices in parallel with one another, you’ll see the common elements emerge. Optional elements are in italics, common elements are in bold:


Morning Prayer

Noonday Prayer

Evening Prayer



Opening Sentence Opening Sentence Versicles
Confession & Absolution Confession & Absolution Confession & Absolution

Invitatory & Psalms

Opening Versicles Opening Versicles Opening Versicles Opening Versicles
Invitatory Hymn Invitatory
Appointed Psalms Appointed Psalms Appointed Psalms Appointed Psalms


OT Scripture Reading OT Scripture Reading
Canticle Canticle  
NT Scripture Reading Scripture [Sentence] NT Scripture Reading Scripture [Sentence]
Canticle Canticle Hymn
Apostles’ Creed Apostles’ Creed

The Prayers

Brief Suffrages
The Lord’s Prayer The Lord’s Prayer The Lord’s Prayer The Lord’s Prayer
Suffrages Suffrages
Collects Collects Collects Collects
Hymn   Hymn Canticle
Concluding Prayers Concluding Prayers
Blessing Blessing Blessing Blessing

We’ll get lost in the details in just a moment, but first I want you to notice the arc that we have here. In all cases, we start with Scripture and then we move to prayer. One way to make sense of this pattern is that we start with edification and then we move to praise—but that’s not the best way to think about. This is the Office; it’s all praise! It would be better to say that we begin with praise that reveals and reminds us who God is (and, specifically, who God is for his people through time), then we continue with praise that offers our response to who God is.

The large headings printed in Morning and Evening Prayer divide the offices into four natural parts that can also be applied to Noonday Prayer and somewhat to Compline. (There’s no initial heading which is why I’ve supplied one—though in brackets—in the chart above. I suppose it’s as optional as its contents.) These headings reinforce the character of the arc that we’ve just noticed. The pattern starts with the psalms highlighting again their crucial function in the Office ecosystem. Notice that the presence of psalms is never optional. This book of divine praises is the Scriptural centerpiece of the Office. Then we move to the Scripture readings. I do think that the heading “The Lessons” in Morning and Evening Prayer is an unfortunate choice of words. It reflects a hold-over mentality from the early Reformation era that locates worship’s purpose in its instructional value. Even “The Readings” would be a better way to label what is about to occur that doesn’t prejudice the purpose of these Scriptures in the same way that the term “lessons” does.  Then we move to the prayers. We get several different kinds of prayer in these sections but several cut across the four offices: the Lord’s Prayer, suffrages, collects, and blessings. Our prayer is not all of one type and our offices lead us through a variety as it schools us in the arts of praise.

Now we’ll consider the various elements in detail and do some thinking about what they do for us and how they connect to each other. Because of the differences between the Offices, I’m going to treat Morning and Evening Prayer in parallel first, then will discuss Noonday Prayer and Compline separately.

[To be continued…]

8 thoughts on “The Services of the Daily Office

  1. William R. MacKaye

    Derek, in the third line of text below “The Structure of the Offices” you have “compliment” where I think you mean “complement.” We have used the Order of Worship for Evening at St. Stephen and the Incarnation, Washington, two or three times over the years, but regrettably it never took hold. Too bad. It’s an awe-inspiring liturgy. Special services outside the regular round were much more likely to be Rite III eucharists.

  2. Derek Olsen

    Quite right—thanks for the correction!

    Yeah–I’ll talk about this when we get there, but I think that the whole cathedral vs. monastic concept that framed so much of the discussion of the Offices in the period of the Liturgical Renewal was more academic than practical. “An Order of Worship for the Evening” was an attempt to put a hard-core cathedral element in place and I think its failure contributes something to that discussion…

  3. Ian W

    I’ve seen the Order for evening worship used in a couple of places. The diocese of Chicago used it to open their diocesan convention two years ago in a rather beautiful and when I was a member of the Julian Year it got used at our commissioning and ending services for the year.

    I’ve also seen it used in some ways to open other kinds of evening events, meals, parish retreats, etc. because it gives a clearly liturgical opening (the lucernarium) but allows for greater flexibility after that in terms of arranging itself. I think calling it a “failure” might be a bit strong; I think its success has been in places where a full evening office would be out of place but something more than an opening prayer is appropriate.

    Personally, I think the full service of light would be especially appropriate at First Vespers for Sundays and feasts and when I have the time at home I use it (and make use of candles and incense when I can) before saying the rest of the office as usual. In that way, it is similar to the Vigil of the Resurrection found in Ambrosian offices and in the Canadian BAS.

  4. RFSJ+

    Derek, SSJE regularly opens First Evensongs, at least for Sundays, with the Order of Worship for the Evening, and they do it beautifully and joyfully. In my private observance of the Office I do the same, copying them explicitly.

    I was also curious that you included the Collects as a required part of the Office. As I read the rubrics, the Officiant says “one or more of the following Collects,” which implies at least that the Collect of the Day, which would require a flip to the Collects section, is optional. Please note I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done; I love the opportunity to repeat what we prayed on Sunday. However, the prior editions have set Collects for the Office, and at least formally the Collect of the Day was only used at the Eucharist. I suspect that’s what is behind the permissiveness of the rubric formally.

  5. Patrick

    Derek, Have you seen Paul Bradshaw’s article on the office in the latest Anglican Theological Review? He would go along with what you say about praise but (if I understood correctly) believes the big chunks of scripture and the systematic run-through of the entire psalter are a monastic development at odds with early church practice (and presumably with contemporary needs), and that some re-balancing is in order.

  6. Derek Olsen

    It depends on how we define success and failure, of course. If the criterion is whether a quality liturgy was crafted in accord with historical norms that communicates the theology of the church now, then “failure” might be too strong; on the other hand, if the criterion is related to regular and widespread use, then it has certainly not succeeded. It reads well, but when a liturgy nut like me has never seen it done corporately, It does give me pause.

    I checked with M—she’s seen it done once and that when we were in residence at the Lutheran seminary possibly due to the Bexley Hall connection. (And that the liturgy prof was very much into the Liturgical Renewal Movement.)

  7. Derek Olsen

    Yes, collects are a required part. In the schema of the Offices, that is a correct statement as I did not specify only the Collect of the Day but left it at “Collects” and—as you cited—one or more is required.

    True, the Collect of the Day doesn’t have to be used; Galley did that intentionally. This is what he writes concerning the Collect of the Day in the Prayer Book Office: “After the Lord’s Prayer and the suffrages, the office continues with the collect. In the new Prayer Book the Collect of the Day is optional. This represents a return to more ancient practice when the collect of the office normally referred to the time of day or the day of the week. In this book the use of the Collect of the Day is recommended on Saturday evenings and Sundays, feast days and their eves, and daily in the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. During the ‘green seasons’ the collect of the day of the week is suggested as the principle collect of the day.” What he doesn’t explain is why this “more ancient” practice is a better practice. A prejudice for the 4th century is not inherently better than a prejudice for the 14th century or the 16th if it’s not backed up with a solid explanation of why it’s also better now.

    I actually am planning a chapter on the Collects themselves that will explain, in part, why I think Galley’s practice is flawed—Now you’re making me think that section needs to go before the Office section. I’ll have to ponder that.

    You wrote, “…at least formally the Collect of the Day was only used at the Eucharist.” To be pedantic for a moment, this isn’t entirely accurate. All of the American books, 1789, 1892, and 1928 contain the following note after the suffrages: “Then shall follow the Collect for the day, except when the Communion Service is read ; and then the Collect for the day shall be omitted here.” The English books from 1549 through 1662 read “Then shall follow three collects; the first of the Day, which shall be the same that is appointed at the Communion…” So—in the English tradition, the Eucharistic Collect of the Day was used invariably in the Offices at this point; the American strand gives the permission to drop it if the Eucharist (or, more precisely one suppose,s the “Antecommunion”) is being read that day.

  8. Derek Olsen

    Interesting! I haven’t seen it but was just going through his Two Ways of Praying which I believe says a similar thing but from an earlier point in his studies. It looks like I’ll need to get a hold of a copy of this issue…

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