There are two or three guiding principles for constructing these offices (i). One has been to make use of the prayer that Jesus gave to his first disciples in response to the request ‘Teach us to pray’. We now usually call that prayer “The Lord’s Prayer” though it has also been known as the “Our Father” (or the Latin “Paternoster”) or sometimes “the Disciples’ prayer”. There are slightly different versions of it in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Putting these together to compare them, we find that there are five kinds or moods of prayer covered. Given that there is some variation it is reasonable to suppose that the point is not the exact words but the kinds of things we are being asked to make part of our regular praying.
The second principle informing the shape of these offices has been to include the reading of scripture. For many Christians reading or hearing the Bible regularly is an important discipline, and so it seems important to give room for that in a structure for regular prayer such as this. It seems best to have this component at the start of a time of prayer, perhaps this is because it is the way so many offices and prayer-time advice recommend. In many traditional offices the liturgy around the readings doesn’t particularly support the scriptural component -at least not explicitly in the prayers. In these offices, the prayers before and after the readings are intended to prepare us for hearing the scriptures and give us forms to respond to them, if only briefly. There is also a framework for reflection offered. This might be particularly useful if you wanted to to use the scripture-centred part of the office separately from the prayer-based second part. One scenario for doing it like that might be to have two times of prayer during the day using one part in each prayer time.
A further principle has been to enable people to pray these offices together as well as singly. These offices are designed with a small group praying them in mind but also so that a person on their own could pray them -in fact for me that is the usual way it happens. It does act as a reminder, though, that prayer is considered to be a communal activity at heart. After all, the Lord’s Prayer itself supposes a community of praying people: “Our Father … give us … as we forgive…” etc. All of this means that many of the prayers are composed for two or more voices in dialogue. The default is that one voice would say one part of those prayers and the rest of the voices (whether one or more) would say the other part. Obviously, who says the first part could vary, and the ‘lead’ in that sense could rotate between participants. If you pray this physically alone, simply take both parts yourself. It works out fine,
Navigating the variety
You’ll see when you look at the contents that this site has daily prayer offices for different days and different seasons of the year. It’s not compulsory to use them but many people do find it helpful to change forms every so often and this is one way to do this. Many people also find it good to pray along with the seasons of the church year and so there are forms to help you to do that which use imagery and phrases resonant with some of the themes of that season. You’ll see that each day has a theme which references a different part of the church’s year and there are similarities between these and the seasonal prayers themselves to a greater or lesser extent. There is also an order for ‘Everyday’ which is intended to be used anytime as an alternative to any of the others.
In addition to what you would expect in terms of seasons of the church year (Advent, Lent, Easter etc), there are some additional orders of prayer for times and seasons and themes which don’t often appear -Transfiguration is one and also what I have called ‘Magnificat’ times when we might be reminded of Mary the mother of Jesus -as the name suggestsi the words of Mary in Luke 1:46ff form a central place in that office. You can also find a ‘Pauline Office’ which uses words from Paul’s letters to help us to pray. Creationtide is a new, developing, season in September up to 4 October. There is an office for “Dark Seasons” which was compiled with winter in higher latitudes in mind when darkness is a bigger part of everyday experience and it uses imagery of dark and light to draw on that experience as we pray.
i“Offices” is a way of referring briefly to regular, usually daily prayers which provide a structure and words and activities to be undertaken as part of a daily devotion to God. They have tended to be designed for use by religious communities -even when members are on their own. The word comes from the Latin ‘officium’ which means a duty because praying them (“saying them”) was part of the sworn duty of monastics and clerics in the medieval church.
Words to weigh up
When you pray, say, “Father, hallowed be your name …”Jesus of Nazareth,
You have the words of eternal life.The Apostle Peter, to Jesus
Don’t be mere hearers of the word -but doers.James, brother of Jesus