Praying Together Alone  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

In the American Episcopal Church, the Eucharist has largely supplanted the Daily Office as the liturgy of choice.  Many congregations omit the Office entirely as a form of public worship.  This is largely the case in my own parish, where Evening Prayer is sometimes a last-minute substitution when no priest is available to celebrate a weekday Eucharist.  The Office has become a form of private prayer, recited by relatively small numbers of people with a conscious commitment to spiritual practice.  This is obviously not an ideal situation, but probably inevitable given the liturgical history of the last 50 years or so.

Anglican priest Gary W Kriss stresses in this essay that even private recitation of the Office has a definite communal aspect, even if we must sometimes remind ourselves of it.  So it is not merely an exercise in spiritual introspection.  Click here for a handy on-line tutorial  in praying the Office.


A number of years ago, while I was on a sabbatical, I spent a week at St Alban's Cathedral in England...where the whole staff is actually expected to be present  [at Matins and Evensong].  The Dean...liked to say that we prayed the Office for ourselves and for those who did not.  When he spoke of those who did not pray the Office, he was not referring to people who were simply unable for some reason to pray it.  I am quite sure that he was referring to everyone who was not praying Morning Prayer, whoever and wherever they were.

From his perspective--and I think that this is the correct understanding of the intention behind the Book of Common Prayer--reading the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer is everyone's responsibility.  What the Prayer Book envisions is the whole company of Christian people praying the offices morning and evening, every day, either with others in church, or wherever they might gather, or even by ourselves.

Whether one does this with other people or alone, he or she is in fact praying the Office communally, because we are praying the same Office that everyone else is praying, even though we may be separated in space and even time.  The Office is part of "common prayer"--common prayer is not ordinary prayer, it is communal prayer, the prayer of everyone, the prayer, in fact, that everyone says together.  So even when we are alone, we are praying it with all of the other people who pray it.  And we do so not merely because we have promised to do so, not merely because it is a good thing to do.  Rather, we do it precisely because is is something that the whole Church is called to do.  In fact, when we pray the Office, the purpose is not our own personal spiritual growth and fulfillment.  It may be, indeed it should be, spiritually enriching in a personal way to keep this rule of prayer, but that is a peripheral benefit, and not at all the basic purpose.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at Sunday, October 30, 2011 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



Wonderful! When I do the Daily Office alone, I never leave out the Dominus Vobiscum because of this very reason!

October 30, 2011 at 2:16 PM

forever indebted to abp. cranmer!

June 11, 2012 at 5:27 PM

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