A Case for the Daily Office or (Monks do it better)
“septies in die laudavi te”(Seven times a day do I praise thee) psalm 119:164
“Fixed-hour prayer is the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline and has its roots in the Judaism out of which Christianity came. When the Psalmist says, “Seven times a day do I praise You,” he is referring to fixed-hour prayer as it existed in ancient Judaism. ” Phyllis Tickle
Thanks to the late Phyllis Tickle, the idea or concept of reciting fixed or specific prayers at certain times of the day has taken on new interest.
She goes on to write, “We do not know the hours that were appointed in the Psalmist’s time for those prayers. By the turn of the era, however, the devout had come to punctuate their work day with prayers on a regimen that followed the flow of Roman commercial life. Forum bells began the work day at six in the morning (prime, or first hour), sounded mid-morning break at nine (terce, or third hour), the noon meal and siesta or break at twelve (sext, or sixth hour), the re-commencing of trade at three (none, or ninth hour), and the close of business at six (vespers). With the addition of evening prayers and early prayers upon arising, the structure of fixed-hour prayer was established in a form that is very close to that which Christians still use today.”
(Intro to the works of Phyllis Tickle)
There are many names for this type of ancient prayer that has been going on for centuries even thousands of years. What is generally known today as The Daily Office is also known as The Breviary, The Divine Office (Officium Divinium), The Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Horarum), Stundegebet (German) and best known by Benedictines simply as the Opus Dei (the Work of God). In the end, The Daily office is a marking special hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer.
(From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised. Psalm 113:3).
When I met Phyllis Tickle a few years ago at a conference she gave in one of our parishes, we were blessed to have dinner together and we discussed together our love for the Divine Office. She told us an anecdote of a time she was giving a conference and was caught off guard with the time. She quickly ran to the bathroom with am excuse and finished the portion of prayer that she was used to saying daily at that hour wondering what the people in the stall next to her were thinking.
Such is the affect that the Daily Office can have on individuals who pray it regularly.
I have been praying some form of the daily office nearly every day of my life since I started when I was 16 years old and aspiring to join the seminary. I am now 57 so you can do the math. But my life changed even more when I started to do the Monastic Office which according to the rule of Benedict tries to pray the entire Psalter (150 Psalms) every one or two weeks straight. In other words more Psalms are prayed at each hour than normally prayed by priests and religious who use the Liturgy of the Hours or some popular form of the Breviary.
What is amazing about this prayer practice is its power to change and transform how one sees prayer.
Its not about how you feel….
Contrary to some prayers or prayer forms which bring warm fuzzies or an emotional connection to prayer, the Daily Office or Opus Dei is not about the feelings that arise during prayer or piling up credits on your dance card with God. When one prays the Office daily for a long period of time it is about fidelity to the prayer that slowly and gradually transforms ones soul and being into a servant of God.
That is why St. Benedict spends so much of the Rule on the Opus Dei. He wants each monk to get into the rhythm of the prayer, the rest is up to God to do as the soul slowly is stamped and pounded and sealed with the energy of the Divine Presence. It is like the potter with the clay as it slowly transforms the piece of earthen clay into a beautiful design unique to God alone. The beauty of the Opus Dei is you only have to do it faithfully, stick to it, and let God do the rest.
Monks and Nuns do it better….
My experience after participating in the Monastic Office with Monks and Nuns in different communities is that they really “do it better”. This is in part because they practice it more often. Also they get to pray in an intentional community. Also purposefully, each fixed prayer at certain times of the day is short and to the point, usually lasting not less than 11-15 minutes but hardly longer than 30-45 minutes depending upon the time of the day. The cycle of most monastic prayer is centered around two main hours (laudes and vespers) during the Morning and early Evening, and two or more shorter times of prayer at midday and before bed (compline to complete the day). The fact that the prayer is done with little pause, from the beginning to the end, brings the effect of other types of prayer; like mantras of just bringing the soul to a place of rest and quiet. The Daily Office when done right and especially when it is sung or even sung in monotone (popular in German Monasteries at Morning Hours) leads the soul into a state of relaxation and meditation with little emphasis on each and every word that is being read, recited or sung. It has a lulling effect not unlike what babies love so much in their rockers or cradles with a parent holding them in their arms.
The Daily Office and the Cosmos
The other great effect of the Daily Office is it’s relation to the cosmos and to the entire universe. The General Instruction to the Daily Office after Vatican II sets up this Cosmic quality of the Opus Dei when it says;
“38. As is clear from many of the elements that make it up, morning prayer is intended and arranged to sanctify the morning. St. Basil the Great gives an excellent description of this character in these words: “It is said in the morning in order that the first stirrings of our mind and will may be consecrated to God and that we may take nothing in hand until we have been gladdened by the thought of God, as it is written: ‘I was mindful of God and was glad’ (Ps 77:4 , or set our bodies to any task before we do what has been said: ‘I will pray to you, Lord, you will hear my voice in the morning; I will stand before you in the morning and gaze on you’ (Ps 5:4-5).” 
Celebrated as it is as the light of a new day is dawning, this hour also recalls the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the true light enlightening all people (see Jn 1:9) and “the sun of justice” (Mal 4:2), “rising from on high” (Lk 1:78). Hence, we can well understand the advice of St. Cyprian: “There should be prayer in the morning so that the resurrection of the Lord may thus be celebrated.”
39. When evening approaches and the day is already far spent, evening prayer is celebrated in order that “we may give thanks for what has been given us, or what we have done well, during the day.” We also recall the redemption through the prayer we send up “like incense in the Lord’s sight,” and in which “the raising up of our hands” becomes “an evening sacrifice.” This sacrifice “may also be interpreted more spiritually as the true evening sacrifice that our Savior the Lord entrusted to the apostles at supper on the evening when he instituted the sacred mysteries of the Church or of the evening sacrifice of the next day, the sacrifice, that is, which, raising his hands, he offered to the Father at the end of the ages for the salvation of the whole world.” Again, in order to fix our hope on the light that knows no setting, “we pray and make petition for the light to come down on us anew; we implore the coming of Christ who will bring the grace of eternal light.” Finally, at this hour we join with the Churches of the East in calling upon the “joy-giving light of that holy glory, born of the immortal, heavenly Father, the holy and blessed Jesus Christ; now that we have come to the setting of the sun and have seen the evening star, we sing in praise of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. . . .” Chapter II
Those who participate in the praying of the Daily Office join with the Cosmic prayer of all Creation from the rising of the sun to its setting, where the stars of heaven shine down eternally on the whole created order groaning until its fulfillment and completion at the end of time.
Some practical tips to really “getting into” the Opus Dei.
1. Start small. Begin perhaps with one of the shorter hours Compline, Daytime Prayer, or Midday Prayer. Begin to do it at a regular time and place. If possible do it in a group when possible. Those of us who are members of NBC pray the service of Compline on-line weekly or bi-monthly together.
2. Find a rhythm. Try praying the prayers out loud or at least mouthing the words to your self. The Ancients always prayed aloud not in silence when doing the Opus Dei. Try even singing the Office on a monotone perhaps and see how it feels. If you want to hear how German Monks pray in the Morning in Monotone and other times sung click here and listen to one of the Offices. http://mp3.erzabtei.de/
3. Create or find a space to pray that is comfortable and relaxing. Light a Candle, Use an Icon for focus, light sticks of incense, and us a bell tone to ring before you begin and when you end.
4. Find a Version of the Office that works for you.
There are many online versions and even aps that are available to help you pray more easily. Here are some of the more popular ones. Many of them have apps available for your phones or devices.
Mission St. Clair. http://www.missionstclare.com/english/
Daily Office. http://dailyoffice.org/ .
Daily Prayer (C of E). https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer.aspx
New Zealand Daily Prayer. http://david.guthrie.net.nz/prayerpage
5. Be patient and do not be in a hurry to get it right. The secret to enjoying the daily office is just that…to do it daily until it becomes a part of you as are many other aspects of your daily routines from brushing your teeth, eating meals, dressing yourself, bathing and hygiene, regular communication on the phone, and watching TV. We all have daily tasks that we have incorporated into the rhythm of our daily existence. The Daily Office is a form of prayer that grows on you. With time it just becomes an automatic part of your connection to the Divine pipeline to the Sacred.