Reflections on the Daily Offices at Tom’s Digest

Tom’s Digest, a blog by one of our Anglicanorum Coetibus Society members, has an interesting series of reflections on the Daily Offices that we all hope will be approved soon by Rome.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to the series:

When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer created the first Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England in 1549, one of his stated goals was to eliminate what by that time had become an incredibly complex system for praying the Divine Office that Cranmer characterized as, “to turn the book only was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.”

To this end, he looked to the Continent, especially to the then-recent and wildly popular reformed Breviary of the Roman Church for private use, designed by Francisco Cardinal Quignonez and published with the permission of Pope Paul III. The Quignonez Breviary was a drastic simplification of the Roman Office, eliminating among other things all hymns and antiphons, and devising a new, much simpler and (as it has been critically noted) more “rationalistic” way of getting through all the psalms. Despite its popularity especially among busy priests, it came under heavy criticism for its departure from the rich complexity of developed Roman tradition, and it was completely suppressed by Pope Paul IV a couple decades later. (The Catholic Encyclopedia’s general entry on the breviary has a good overview of Quignonez’s reform principles.)

Cranmer took some (though not all) of the design elements and principles of the Quignonez Breviary, along with the old medieval Sarum (Salisbury) Rite of England, and the monastic principle that emphasized the continuous reading of both Psalms and Scripture (so-called lectio continua), and designed a Prayer Book Office that (to summarize briefly and non-exhaustively):

  • Prayed through all 150 psalms in the course of 30 days, going strictly in order;
  • Eliminated the old eight-fold distribution of the “hours” (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) and amalgamated them into two longer hours of Morning Prayer (or Mattins, a combination of the old Matins, Lauds, and Prime) and Evening Prayer (or Evensong, a combination of the old Vespers and Compline);
  • Included two lengthy lessons from Scripture in each of the two hours, distributed throughout the year in a way in which someone celebrating the Office throughout the calendar year would read through the entire Old Testament once, and the entire New Testament, about three times;
  • Followed Cardinal Quignonez in eliminating all that he considered to be extraneous elements that added needless complexity, like responsories, constantly repeated silent prayers, proper office hymns, and antiphons to the psalms and canticles.

This Prayer Book Office went through numerous iterations over the last four and a half centuries, with variations between English, Scottish, and American uses, among others, and there is no need for purposes of this post to delve into the minutiae of these developments. A good short history (although from 1893, so it does not cover 20th-century developments) can be found here.

Suffice it to say that one of Cranmer’s primary objectives, that of restoring the Office as a public, well-known and well-loved common worship of the Church (as opposed to, increasingly, a private duty of priestly and monkish prayer), was overwhelmingly fulfilled.

Here’s an excerpt from Part I.

In a previous post, I provided a general introduction to the Divine Office in the Ordinariate Use of the Roman Rite, inspired by the Anglican tradition, and often referred to simply as “the Daily Office.” In sum, it is the newest form of the divine office in the Roman Catholic Church, though with roots going back many hundreds of years and in some elements reaching back to Christian antiquity itself. It provides a unique form of liturgical prayer, quite different from both the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman Rite.

This post will begin to outline the basic structure of the two offices of Morning and Evening Prayer (known as Mattins and Evensong, respectively, particularly when they are celebrated formally in public, rather than prayed privately or in an informal group). As the general introduction noted, the original creation of the Prayer Book Office tradition involved the reduction of all canonical hours to these two, although some later editions of the Prayer Book, as well as the Ordinariate Office itself, have re-added some of the “lesser hours” (daytime prayer, night prayer/compline) to supplement the major offices. These are supplements, however. The Daily Office is designed so that Morning and Evening Prayer alone make for a complete cycle.



Go on over and read the rest of the series, and drop by Tom’s Digest to see other interesting posts on Anglican tradition in the Catholic Church.
You can find part II here; part III here: part IV here: and a post on the unique features of the Ordinariate liturgical calendar here.

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