FAQ

Edward Hicks, c. 1834: Peaceable Kingdom

What is the Daily Office?

A. The Daily Office is an ancient way to pray. There are many ways to pray, including your own cries to God of joy and sorrow and need. Such prayers are intensely personal, while the Office gathers up all our prayers so that we can pray together.

From monasteries to churches to private homes, people have been praying the Daily Office for thousands of years. Why? Because it brings us closer to God. Try it, see for yourself.

Q. Do I have to be Episcopalian or Anglican to use the Daily Office?

A. Not at all, we’re just Christians here. This site is for everyone who wants to get closer to God.

From the very beginning this site has been run as an ecumenical, non-denominational partnership, with leaders who are Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Free as well as Episcopalian. All are welcome here.

We get e-mails from Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Old Catholics, independents, Pentecostals, Disciples, Presbyterians, Orthodox, the whole gamut on God’s green earth. We hear from bishops, priests, deacons, pastors and laypeople of every stripe and color, from every continent and time zone. Truly, this is a way to pray for the whole universal Church.

The great thing about the Daily Office is that a fellow named Thomas Cranmer, who compiled the Book of Common Prayer (1549), distilled the seven monastic prayer services of his day into two: once in the morning and once in the evening. He simplified Christian practice into a discipline ordinary people can keep. Pray once in the morning and once at night and you’ll invariably draw closer to the Holy One. It never fails; you cannot go wrong.

In the pre-digital age, this took consulting three books. Here we present the complete services in one place, so we’re Your Online Chapel of Ease™.

There is little or nothing in the Office about doctrine; we don’t tell you what to believe. We present the Biblical record and invite you to believe. Doctrine is good, but these services merely quote the Bible, not any preacher’s pronouncements. You meet God for yourself here, in the most important encounter of your life.

Your relationship with God is what matters, not what you think of the minister or the theological details.

The Office includes the Apostles’ Creed, as mentioned below, but everything else is either prayer or Bible. It’s almost “one size fits all,” the closest anyone’s ever come to universality. And the important thing is that you simply devote a few minutes of your day to remembering God. Do that and everything else falls into place.

Q. What is prayer?

A. It is asking.

That’s the simplest way to put it. The English verb “to pray” means to ask someone; we still have a sense of this with the old-fashioned expression “pray tell,” when we want someone to tell us more. “Pray” wasn’t a holy word at all, it was mere asking, of anyone we might meet, regarding anything. But over time its definition narrowed to mean “asking God.”

Don’t ever be concerned that you shouldn’t ask God about something, or for something. We can always ask; God likes it when we ask. We don’t always like the way God answers—but 95% of the time we do.

That’s how often God says Yes. It’s one of his favorite words.

Q. Why is this service called an “office”?

A. It’s an old-fashioned word. Originally “office” simply meant service, not the place where a service is performed or business is conducted. “Daily office” means the service of the day.

When warring countries seek “the good offices” of the Pope or the UN, they’re not asking for a room at the Vatican or the Secretariat; they’re asking for a go-between for peace. But to make peace, they need some services performed. This is the sense in which the word is used here. Office means service, not just place.

Q. What is the Invitatory?

A. It’s your invitation to prayer.

Q. Why do you use such strange words?

A. Christianity, like every other discipline, has its own jargon. Church words are old-fashioned because they’ve been around for centuries. On this site we try to update and illuminate them, without dumbing them down.

Q. What are Psalms?

A. Psalms are the poetry and songbook of Jesus’ day. All we have are the words, not any music that was sung with them, but the words themselves are musical. Christ and all the Jews were taught the Psalms as children and probably memorized them. The Psalms continue to speak to us today of God’s steadfast love.

The Psalms are the essence of Morning and Evening Prayer. Scripture instructs, while prayers request; psalms worship, and that’s the point of the Office. Worship is the only intelligent response to the overwhelming lovingness of God.

Imagine facing this incredible life-force: the only thing we can do is fall to our knees.

Q. But what do the Psalms mean?

A. According to Biblical scholars (Gunkel, Guthrie and others), psalms come in various types: hymns of praise (e.g., 33); songs of the LORD’s enthronement (47); royal psalms (61), especially songs of the House of David; community laments (89, part 2); individual laments (22); and individual thanksgivings. Many psalms combine more than one theme.

They also tend to shift voices in a dialogue that isn’t always clearly marked; at times humanity is speaking to God, then all of a sudden God answers back. Be prepared for the unmarked changes as you learn to differentiate between God’s voice and the psalmist’s.

As a whole, the Psalms speak of the majesty of God. He isn’t just the Creator, he’s the heartbeat of life, right here and now, One who lives inside your heart and mind and body.

Q. Do you think God is male?

A. Not at all. But Jesus addressed God as “Our Father,” so we stick with his language on this site, as well as using other forms of address.

For 20 centuries saints have revealed God as Our Mother, too. God is beyond the human category of gender. It’s useful to think of God both ways, as a parent.

But the book we use is traditional, and it’s a very good book; we follow the rubrics and mandates of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention.

In recent years the Convention has approved non-gendered language, so we honor that too; our psalms use inclusive language from the Psalter for the Christian People, a modest revision of the Book of Common Prayer, which addresses God as “you” instead of referring to God as “he.” God is not just an Old Man in the Sky, but a Tender Lover in our hearts. This site uses all the images Christians find useful in approaching the Holy One.

Q. Back to the Psalms; sometimes they’re pretty violent. They often wish all kinds of evil upon people. Why is that?

A. The psalms identify enemies of ancient Israel—God’s covenant people—as enemies of God’s, so the poets pray for God’s triumph in war, and passionately curse anyone who gets in Israel’s way. The biggest enemy, though, is Israel’s (our own) faithlessness, and it does seem that the only way God can get through to us sometimes is by allowing our afflictions to happen. But the Psalms demonstrate that time after time, God forgives us and restores us to wholeness, if we return to her.

Keep in mind that ecstasy in the psalms far outnumbers the curses. They can be quite nasty, as befits the human struggle, but most of the time the poets are singing.

The Psalms vividly reflect humanity’s earliest conception of God as someone to be feared. He is a righteous Judge, slow to anger and of great kindness; but sometimes he throws the book at people. Over the centuries, humanity has come to know a lot more about God’s softer side, as a lover of great tenderness. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we have both ideas of God, as an angry judge upholding the Law and as a humble Savior who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, yet who cannot be killed no matter what we do to him.

It is good that we now find a few of the Psalms repulsive. Perhaps we are slowly learning to turn away from violence to make peace; that is a sign of greater spiritual enlightenment, but sin is as prevalent as ever, and now we have ever more deadly machines to inflict more violence.

It is fine to take a critical approach to the Scriptures; God gave us brains to ask questions. The Bible is not a science text, and we should not mistake it (or our interpretation of it) as the Last Word on any subject. These holy writings are frozen in time, but God is living and active.

God’s a lover, not a fighter; it’s the humans who are fighters.

Let’s understand the Bible texts as their human writers did; they were faithful people of incomparable spiritual gifts, who lived in a certain time and place which is not our own. All-or-nothing thinking – the Bible is all true or it must be all false – is childish thinking, no matter how much Fundamentalists preach it. The existence of God does not depend on a single Bible verse we happen to like or dislike.

Even the ones we dislike contain spiritual truths if we can search them out; so keep reading, keep praying. A passage that seems to be horrible (say, the sacrifice of Isaac) often turns out to be incredibly beautiful once we’ve lived a little longer.

God chose Israel as the people most capable of understanding God as she is, but it has taken her centuries to draw us into peace and not war. We’re the ones who are slow, not God.

Every time you read that God “slew the Amalekites,” take it with a grain of salt and try to find within the sacred Scriptures the abiding love God has always had for us mere mortals. Even the violent passages reveal God’s love, if we can search him out.

Modern lectionaries bear in mind that God’s revelation is progressive—we learn more about God over time, as we’re more open—so they tend to omit the most violent of the ancient Hebrew curses as needless stumbling-blocks in our approach to faith. In all things, with everyone he met, Jesus was a lover. Our God is above even the finest human wisdom ever written about him, and he cannot be contained by our words.

The Episcopal Church does not worship the Bible. The Episcopal Church worships Jesus Christ, the Living Word, and the Holy Spirit, God’s active One today.

Here’s how a theology student at Huron University College in London, Ontario, Canada (now an ordained priest, the Rev. Matt Arguin) expressed it to us in May 2010:

“Having read the Q&A section recently about violence in the Psalms, here’s something you may wish to add. In conversation with fellow theology students and faculty, we pondered about the Psalms being a safe place to express anger and hatred and to be honest with those feelings in our own lives.

“Because whether we admit it or not, there may be some point in our lives where the end of Psalm 137 is the only image that can capture the anger and hatred we feel.

“Connected with this idea… when we pray the difficult Psalms in the Daily Office (88 for example) we are praying it for those who are too exhausted, frustrated or angry to speak to God.

“This forever changed the way I understood those portions of Psalmody that are often dark and violent. We are simply being honest with God in our struggle to understand the evil that can sometimes overwhelm us. Luckily, Christ is our eternal Light which the darkness can never overcome! Christus victor! :)”

Matt, who earned an M.Div. that month, is a member of this site.

Q. What are canticles?

A. Like psalms, canticles are passages of poetry that appear throughout the Old and New Testaments. They are used as hymns and responses to the Bible readings.

A few canticles, such as the great “Te Deum, You Are God,” do not appear in Holy Scriptures, but are some of the earliest hymns in Christianity.

Q. What is the Apostles’ Creed?

A. The Apostles’ Creed is an ancient statement of Christian belief, agreed upon around 180 A.D. by the successors of Christ’s apostles (bishops) as a concise summary of what all Christians do believe, and must believe. It contains all the basics of the faith.

The Apostles’ Creed is recited in each daily office not only as a statement of belief, but also as a reminder of our covenant with God – and her covenant with us – in baptism. We made promises then that we would be faithful, and we try to live by those promises now.

If godparents made those promises on our behalf when we were children, we reaffirmed them in Confirmation; “I believe in one God…” It’s good to be reminded of our promises.

Q. What is meant by the word “catholic” in the Creed? I’m a Protestant, and I don’t like saying I believe in “the holy catholic Church.”

A. Don’t worry, the small “c” in “catholic” does not refer to the Pope. The word simply means “universal” or “international.” The Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but there are other catholic churches (and other popes) in other nations. Millions of Christians believe in and affirm this one, holy and universal church, descended from and taught by Christ and his apostles, even though we don’t have church unity here on earth.

There aren’t any denominations in heaven.

Q. Why do you use this modern-sounding version of the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father? I’m used to saying it the old way.

A. Then go ahead and say it that way. But as this dialogue illustrates, the meaning of words changes over time; the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer is more accurate and it’s easier to understand, especially by children and those who are not native speakers of English.

Here is what the translators of the New International Version of the Bible (widely respected among evangelicals) had to say about “thee and thou”:

“The Greek text uses no special pronouns to express reverence for God and Christ. Scripture is not enhanced by keeping, as a special mode of addressing Deity, forms that in the days of the King James Bible were simply the regular pronouns and verbs used in everyday speech.”

There are deeper problems with the old version too; “Lead us not into temptation” implies that God tries to trick us into misbehaving, while “Save us from the time of trial” acknowledges that we’re going to sin and face temptations of our own devising, so we ask God to help us turn away from them.

Use the version of Our Father you’re most comfortable with, but give the modern translation a try; over time you may come to prefer it. And if it causes you to think about what you’re praying instead of reciting it by rote, the new version has done its job.

Q. What is a collect?

A. A collect (pronounced COLL-ect) is a prayer that collects our thoughts and states the theme for the day. This is another of those archaic words that has stuck around because it’s quaint and, to some people, holy-sounding. God doesn’t care what you call it, but it’s good to have a theme for the day.

Q. These prayers are so structured, it’s like they’re canned. I’m not used to praying this way.

A. You’re right, these prayers are carefully formulated, written down, tested—and canned like tuna. But one of the joys of saying the Office is that you can pause at any time and insert your own spontaneous prayer. Indeed, that’s the greatest value of all.

The Office provides a framework for your thoughts, needs, concerns, thanksgivings, confessions and resolutions, so your praying becomes extremely personal. You wouldn’t build a house without a foundation; once that’s down, you follow a written plan, and after it’s done, you decorate it so it suits your personality.

Ideally, the Office provides a discipline; that’s why it’s best used Daily. If you wait until you’re inspired to pray spontaneously, God may be waiting a very long time to hear from you. Prayer becomes a mere function of your emotions; who knows when those will line up correctly so that you remember God?

But when you undertake a discipline to pray—that is, when you make a decision that you’ll be open to pray whether you feel like it or not—the framework leads to the spontaneous dialogue that you and God like best. Let the psalms, scriptures and collects spark your imagination. Since there isn’t a congregation around for you to keep up with, add your own ideas whenever they occur to you.

Most of us feed our bodies three times a day; prayer in the morning and evening feeds our soul. Jesus said, “People don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the Father.”

Q. Where do these prayers and readings come from? Who put them together?

A. This website reproduces the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (1979) of The Episcopal Church based in the United States. It is similar to the service books of Anglican churches in England, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Brazil, Australia, Scotland, the Philippines, Korea and dozens of other countries, tribes, ethnic groups and languages. It provides a simple formula for “praying the hours” as is done every day around the world by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, Quakers, Presbyterians and many others. This formula is free of sectarian controversy, and is a feature of the universal church undivided on earth, as in heaven.

You can’t go wrong praying the Office. Almost every word of it comes from the Bible.

Since 1979, The Episcopal Church has continued to publish additional prayers and canticles approved by General Convention, which do not appear in the earlier Prayer Book. The Church continually examines its worship materials to enable ever-wider expressions of faith.

We also publish occasional prayers for special situations from other sources, including some written by the website founder, Josh Thomas, our staff and members. We mark these as optional. Feel free to skip them if they don’t feel right.

Q. Morning Prayer has three Bible lessons, but Evening Prayer has only one, the same Gospel lesson as in the morning. Please explain.

A. We recently changed our policy on this because of member feedback. The Prayer Book provides for three lessons, which can all be said together or divided up, depending on the needs of the congregation. Through online polls we learned that some members are able to pray just once a day, usually in the morning. They wanted all three lessons, so we’ve accomodated that, without wanting to shortchange members who stick to the twice-a-day plan. At Evening Prayer, the Psalms are different than in the morning, while the Gospel lesson repeats. There’s nothing wrong with reading the Gospel twice in one day.

Praying twice a day is better than once a day. But once a day is certainly better than none!

To get the most out of this scheme, you have to put a little into it. Praying the Office should not be a matter of “getting it over with.” That’s the wrong attitude. Prayer is an opportunity to get closer to God, and twice a day is the pattern that works best for human beings. We’d be wrong not to commend Daily Morning and Evening Prayer.

But use it as you will – use it as you can – use it as much as you want. And note, we also offer two shorter services for Noonday and Late Night (Compline). Those are great too!

Since Archbishop Cranmer first put this together in the 1540s, times have changed. Most people live in cities, not in villages where everyday life revolved around the church. People are busier now. And prayer practices have also changed with the times. Few American parishes now offer daily Morning and Evening Prayer seven days a week, which is how this used to be done; some churches never offer it at all. The Office is now mostly said by individuals, not congregations (though if you get a chance to attend with a congregation, do it; often there’s special music you won’t hear anywhere else). And increasingly, people are reading the Office online. It’s simply easier than juggling three books.

Of course you can use this site any way you want; it’s all good, and God’s happy every time you show up, even just once a year. But there’s good, better and best; twice a day is best, if you’re able to do it.

Morning and Evening Prayer, twice a day every day, is the greatest spiritual tool ever invented. It sanctifies your day and invariably draws you closer to God. A span of 8-12 hours between prayer occasions is plenty of time to distract us and alienate us from the Divine; even to tempt us. We get so busy in modern life that we forget the things that really matter. Returning to the Office and spending 10 minutes with God helps us consecrate our whole lives to the Holy One.

Thus this site will continue to offer the Gospel in the evening while the rest of the world watches TV. As the Psalmist noted, “That which is worthless is highly prized by everyone.”

Q. Why do you feature all these so-called saints I’ve never heard of? Do you pray to these saints? I only believe in praying to God.

A. We never pray to saints, only to God. But we’re convinced it’s useful to learn about saints ancient and modern, as role models. We follow the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints because they’re people the Church has agreed upon, by consensus, as worthy to learn from. They come from all continents and nations; they led flawed human lives, and yet their examples have much to teach us. If only one of them causes you to learn more about the challenges they faced and the faith they applied, you’ve found yourself a role model whose life and teaching can point you to God in Christ Jesus.

Q. I get discouraged if I miss a day or two of the Daily Office. I lose track of the Bible story and feel rather guilty. Is it okay to use the Office less often? I get busy and forgetful and I just can’t do it twice a day, every day.

A. I tell you again: come when you can. God would rather see you once in awhile than not at all. Don’t feel compulsive or guilty, just come; you’ll feel better afterwards and know you did the right thing.

Some people only say the Office once a week, before church on Sunday, as a way to get prepared. That works great! Some people are busy with children, work and school in the mornings, but say the Office every night; that’s fine too. Some people pray the Office in the morning, to start their day off right, but seldom pray in the evening. Find the pattern that works best for you and make a habit of it.

Of course, some folks only remember to turn to the Lord when they’re in trouble; but God is always there for us, and he likes to be relied upon.

Don’t be surprised, though, if saying the Office every day becomes the most rewarding habit of your life. That’s when the joy begins.

Q. I want to know more about the Christian faith. Where do I start?

A. First, tell God in prayer; just say, “Lord, please teach me all about yourself, everything I need to know.” Then speak to a member of the clergy. Your local church offers a variety of resources depending on your needs, from preparation for baptism and confirmation to Education for Ministry and nearby theology classes.

Ask your priest or pastor to help you find a Bible study class. The Bible is best discovered in a group setting so we can obtain multiple points of view and insights. The leader of the class should be a trained, theologically educated person; there is a lot to learn about how the Bible came to be put together, how it’s translated, whether it’s authentic (or not), what the words mean, how one part relates to another part, etc. The best teachers are trained in theology, art, history, language, archaeology, the social sciences and Christian education, and can guide people on their spiritual journeys. The teacher should not tell you what to believe, but enable you to discover the truths that you do believe, as well as what others have learned along the way. The more you learn, the better off you’ll be – and the better prepared when a crisis of faith happens; it inevitably will. The minute God appears inadequate to you (or the human record of him in the Bible, or the teachings of your church), all hell can break loose.

When it does, don’t be discouraged; this is normal, even welcome, part of God’s plan drawing you deeper into faith, so keep praying. Tell God your doubts and fears; she’s heard them all before. She welcomes questions. She knows it’s hard to believe in what you cannot see. That’s why she makes herself so visible.

If there really is a master plan to this universe, a creative force of timeless immortal lovingness, your asking will be heard, and answered, with more love than you’ve ever imagined. You may fall to your knees, or you may laugh. God enjoys both responses.

Praying the Daily Office is not the same as Bible study; it’s more about the sanctifying of your day, your need, your now, and making the now holy. It’s about the passage of time in this ever-changing world; it’s about stopping for a few minutes, getting grounded again, remembering who you are, a person in relationships, with other people and with God. Afterwards you’ll feel stronger and refreshed.

Truth told, praying every day is the best vehicle for personal growth ever invented. Even if we don’t understand the day’s psalms and lessons, prayer draws us closer to God.

Q. You address us as a congregation. But I come here by myself, an anonymous web surfer. When I pray, I’m essentially alone.

A. God loves a solitary visitor. But you’re one of thousands who come here every day, and we want you to know that others pray with you too. By coming here, you pray with them, even though you can’t see them. Notice the “Where We Come From” feature on our homepage, which tells you who else is here right now.

You don’t have to think too hard to picture them at their keyboards or handhelds. What you may not realize is that they’re conforming their prayers to yours.

We all belong here. The clothes we wear don’t matter. Millionaire or homeless person, we’re spiritually together, none of us better than anyone else; we all are sinners hoping for grace, and receiving it.

Prayer can be a very private and personal act, but when other people are around, seen or not, our prayer gets magnified many times over. We ask everyone who comes here to include their prayers in yours. We don’t necessarily think about it, but all our prayers add up.

Consider the others who come here to pray with you. This site draws individuals together into an ethereal, invisible congregation. Imagine a Korean, a New Zealander, a Colombian, a Texan, an unwed mother, a Secretary of State, a person with AIDS, a soldier overseas, a Lakota on the reservation, visiting at the same time you’re here, praying simultaneously.

God hears the prayers of his Church – a word which is always plural. We pray by ourselves, without webcams, but if we could see ourselves as God does, we’d look like “two or three gathered together in his name.”

Jesus said that when two or three gather, he always says Yes. You are not alone here. You are part of a spiritual family gathering in this place.

Lord in your mercy
Hear OUR prayer.

Tips for Beginners

• Pray at your own pace, silently or aloud.

• Feel free to ignore the Bible citations, like Hosea 2:2-14. We usually put them in italics so you know where they come from.

• Read the whole thing, or skip the parts you’re not sure of. If you only have time to hit the highlights, try this: Psalms, Lessons, Our Father/Lord’s Prayer, Collect of the Day.

• The section heads in capital letters, like THE INVITATORY & PSALTER and THE PRAYERS, are just visual reminders.

• A few parts are written as if there’s an officiant and a congregation, with a call and response, but most of us just say both lines:

Lord, open our lips.
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

• Don’t worry about not doing it right. Every time you pray you’re doing it right.++

Josh Thomas
Founder & Lay Vicar
8.14.2010
updated 5.3.13

For Joy in God's Creation: hoverfly on a Bermuda buttercup.

For Joy in God’s Creation: hoverfly on a Bermuda buttercup.

6 Responses to FAQ

  1. I am a recovering fundamentalist and having been praying the office for about 7 years and I stumbled on your site. While I love holding my Book of Common Prayer, sometimes I am too tired and it is convinient to come to this site. Your explanation of the Daily Office is lovely and simple and even my most evangelical friends could relate. I use the Office as inspriation for a blog I write. It is a spiritual discipline for me. Thank you for the effort, love and care you put into this. All is grace, Kathleen

    Like

    • josh says:

      We’re glad you’re with us, Kathleen. You and I started saying the Office every day at about the same time, so I celebrate your diligence with you.

      Other people like using their books too – except when they travel. Sometimes I’ll get e-mail saying, “That was 8.4 pounds I didn’t have to drag through the airport!” I’m just glad every time someone shows up. They’ve done it almost 2 million times so far, so I’m happy.

      josh

      Like

  2. Joanne Meads says:

    Thank you for all the info. I’d like to learn to pray the “Divine Office.” Where is it found? I couldn’t find it in the tabs above.

    Like

  3. Warren Crews says:

    I am curious about the source of your psalm texts. What is “PCP”?

    Like

  4. Josh says:

    Psalter for the Christian People, an inclusive language version of the Prayer Book psalms. It addresses God as “you” instead of referring to God as “he.” Otherwise no change.

    Like

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