So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition? Great, grab a prayer book and go! Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much? The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy. We understand, we’ve all been at that place before! Some just don’t remember it as well as others.
Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all. This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican. The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.
Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons
Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed
Step Five: Add Canticles
Step Six: Add the Confession
Alright, it’s time for something distinctly Anglican: the prayer of confession at the daily office. While confessing our sins before God is a universal practice (if grossly underutilized among many Evangelicals and Pentecostals today), it is a distinctly Anglican practice to include it in the Daily Office. You will find it starting on page 11 for Morning Prayer and page 41 for Evening Prayer. There is a paragraph that the Officiant (the person leading the Office) reads aloud, followed by the prayer of confession itself, followed by a choice of three responses. Two of those responses are statements of absolution to be read by a priest or bishop, but the third is a prayer for forgiveness that is to be read by anyone when no such minister is present, and that is what you’ll read when you’re doing this alone.
You’ll also see three “opening sentences of scripture” listed before this Confession set; feel free to read one of these first, too, as they serve as a sort of “call to worship”, beginning to direct your focus upon God and his Word before the act of self-examination and confession.
In the Daily Office we confess our sins at the beginning of the liturgy. This teaches us:
- that it is only in repentance that we find salvation;
- that we can only approach God in humility, not pride or presumption;
- that true worship comes from a “broken and contrite heart”;
- that there is no “health” (salvation) in us apart from God’s grace.
So it’s time to start your morning and evening prayer times with this confession. Sometimes you’ll read it quickly and move right along. Sometimes you’ll dwell on the words, or need to dwell on the words, along the way, letting their truth sink in and sober you up to reality. Sometimes a moment of silent self-examination will be necessary – think on your sins in the past day and release them to the Lord for forgiveness and healing. Sometimes this will feel merely a perfunctory feature of the Daily Office… remember this is a discipline, after all, so it’s there to shape and form you. Your heart will not always be as “into it” as other times, just like how certain psalms may appeal to you less or more than others. The point is that this is the pattern of worship you are growing in to, and that you have this opportunity to repent every time you approach the Lord in prayer.
Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:
- The Confession of Sin
- The Psalm(s) Appointed
- Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
- First Canticle
- New Testament Lesson
- Second Canticle
- The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
- The Lord’s Prayer
This makes your recitation of the Daily Office about fifteen minutes in length each morning and evening. Apart from the Canticles, the format and order of Morning and Evening Prayer are identical for you. But that will soon change.