The Daily Office
It is the duty of every priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England to say Matins and Evensong every day. In the US Episcopal Church, this duty is not mandatory, which I think is a great pity.
I have found that the Daily Office has been the mainstay of my prayer life throughout my entire ministry, which now stretches back 47 years. But I have said the Daily Office for over 50 years, since I began it several years before I was ordained. Now, I don’t want to sound like the scribes and Pharisees who “fast twice in the week and and tithe mint and dill and cumin, and yet neglect the weightier things of the law, justice and mercy and faith…straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel”. If all I did was say the Daily Office, I would come under the same condemnation.
But the Office is not all I do; and more than that, the Office for me is like a solid rock on which I can stand firm when I do the works of charity, which are the weighty things of the Christian law of liberty. Or it is like a solid platform from which I can launch myself in contemplative prayer, in which I can see God more clearly and then come down to earth strengthened for my work as a priest.
I have to confess that I have not followed the strict letter of the ordination vow to say Matins and Evensong every day. I began to deviate from this first of all when I became Vicar-General of the Diocese in Europe and went to live in the Presbytery of St Mary’s, Bourne St in Chelsea. My “rent” for my apartment there was that I would say some of the weekday Masses and offices, which of course I did very willingly. But St Mary’s had adopted the policy of using the modern Roman Catholic Morning Prayer every day before Mass, though they still said Prayer Book Evensong. So I bought the RC Office Book and followed that order for some years, coming to like even the modern version of the psalms they used. However, when I went to Milan and became Archdeacon of Italy & Malta, I decided (since I had no public morning or evening prayer) that I would say the whole office in Italian. I reckoned that this would help my learning of Italian. And so it did, as long as I asked in the market only for those vegetables mentioned in Holy Scripture!
In doing this, I have taken on the five-fold office of the RC book, the Office of Readings and Prayer during the Day being added to Morning Prayer. At St clement’s we have public Evensong every day, so that is said from the Prayer Book. And although I occasionally say Compline in the Italian version, I usually say it in English according to the version I learned off by heart many years ago when it was recited daily in Edinburgh and Cuddesdon Theological Colleges. If I am out in the evening, either visiting hospitals or parishioners, or for drinks or dinner with friends, I say Compline in this way on the way home. In the past, if you were heard talking to yourself, people thought you were mad, or at least a bit dotty. But these days they just assume you are on the phone to someone, and little do they suspect that it is God I am addressing as I walk the streets of Philadelphia.
The “obligation” of the Divine Office has been one of the great joys of my priestly life. Some duties are burdensome, but not this one. Deo gratias.