In the 1662 Prayer Book, it is stipulated that “all the priests and deacons shall be bound to say daily” the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. Sadly, this instruction was not preserved in the American Prayer Book tradition, and so we have the situation today where we have many clergymen who pray the Offices only sparsely at best. A challenge and correction to this mentality can be found in the writings of John Cosin, one of the “Caroline Divines”, who survived the Puritan Interregnum and was then Bishop of Durham from 1660 until his death in 1672. Commenting on this rubric he wrote:
So that we are also bound, as all priests are in the Church of Rome, daily to repeat and say the public prayers of the Church. And it is a precept the most useful and necessary, of any other that belong to the ministers of God, and such as have cure of other men’s souls, would men regard it, and practise it a little more than they do among us.
We are all for preaching now; and for attending the service and prayers appointed by the Church for God’s worship, and the good of all men, we think that too mean an office for us; and therefore, as if it were not worth our labour, we commonly hire others under us to do it, more to satisfy the law, than to be answerable to our duties. Here it is a command that binds us every day to say the morning and evening prayer; how many are the men that are noted to do it? It is well they have a back door for an excuse to come out at here: for, good men ! they are so belaboured with studying of divinity, and preaching the word, that they have no leisure to read these same common prayers; as if this were not the chief part of their office and charge committed unto them.
Certainly, the people whose souls they have care of, reap as great benefit, and more too, by these prayers, which their pastors are daily to make unto God for them, either privately or publicly, as they can do by their preaching: for God is more respective to the prayers which they make for the people, than ever the people are to the sermons which which they make to them.…
… Therefore Samuel [the Prophet] professes it openly, to the shame of all others, that he should sin no less in neglecting to pray for the people, than he should in leaving off to teach them the right way of God’s commandments; both which are needful, but to them that are already converted, prayer is more necessary than preaching. However we are to remember, that we which are priests are called “angeli Domini“* and it is the angel’s office, not only to descend to the people and teach them God’s will, but to ascend also to the presence of God to make intercession for the people, and to carry up the daily prayers of the Church in their behalf, as here they are bound to do.
* see Malachi 2:7, Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, etc.
This is from John Cosin’s “Notes and Collections” in an interleaved Book of Common Prayer. The bold is mine for emphasis.
For some this may be a revolutionary way of looking at the Daily Office. For others this may just be an excellent reminder and encouragement of the gravity of the duty of a priest or deacon.
So if you’re a priest or a deacon, especially if you’re a rector or vicar, or especially especially if you’re a bishop, see that you battle to overcome the apathy of our age and the quiet scorn that we cast at the Church and her Prayer Book every time we choose our own prayers in place of that which has been set forth by authority. The people need our prayers! And the prayers that we have are, indeed a divine office.