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More than three decades ago I discovered a form of prayer that transformed what up to then had been a rather feeble prayer life. It is variously called the Daily Office, Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, and has its origins in the monastic communities of the early christian centuries, particularly those influenced by the Rule of St. Benedict. My initial introduction to this came in the form of a little volume purchased at the bookstore of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota: Herbert Lindemann, ed., The Daily Office, subtitled, “Matins and Vespers, Based on Traditional Liturgical Patterns, with Scripture Readings, Hymns, Canticles, Litanies, Collects, and the Psalter, Designed for Private Devotion or Group Worship” (St. Louis: Concordia, 1965). Although its language is by now somewhat dated, I found it a marvellous book, filled with the riches of the Christian ages, some of which were familiar to me but much of which at that point was not. Having grown up Presbyterian, with a youthful sojourn amongst the Baptists, my discovery of this ancient pattern of prayer was eye-opening. I felt as if something of great worth had been hidden from me until then.

For the benefit of North American evangelicals for whom this is unfamiliar, the Daily Office is a form of prayer growing out of the canonical hours observed in the monasteries. These are spaced about three hours apart and, in the western tradition, include Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Hence the name Liturgy of the Hours. Each of these offices consists of the following items more or less in order: opening prayer versicle (e.g., Psalm 51:15 or 70:1); followed by Psalm 95 (for Matins) or another canticle; one or more additional psalms; readings from Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels; another canticle (e.g., Te Deum, Benedictus or Magnificat); the Kyrie (“Lord have mercy!”); petitions; the Our Father; collects; and a closing doxology or benediction. The prayers and readings are structured according to the traditional church calendar.

Outside the monasteries the canonical hours have been abbreviated to two or three daily prayer offices, usually Matins and Vespers, and sometimes Compline as well. The Book of Common Prayer prescribes two daily prayer offices: Morning Prayer, which combines Matins and Lauds, and Evening Prayer, a combination of Vespers and Compline.

What if all Christians lived in communities where morning, evening and night prayer were prayed on a daily basis? Ordinary Muslims pray five times a day. The ancient Israelites appear to have prayed anywhere from three to seven times daily (Daniel 6:10; Psalm 119:164; cf., Acts 10:9). How would this change our communal relationship with God? How would it alter the way we live our lives together? One suspects that, by God’s grace, the general adoption of the Benedictine principle of ora et labora could change history. Pray God it be so.

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