The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) contains set formats for daily corporate morning prayer and evening prayer. These are considered regular services of the Church and are somewhat formal, containing set prayers and assigned readings from scripture. Still, they need not be led by clergy. Morning and evening prayer are the main elements of what is called the "daily office," which simply means a set of daily services. Other corporate services in the daily office are the noonday service and compline (nighttime), and there are scripture readings set for every day of the year, following a two-year cycle. Although the daily office services do not include sacramental rites such as the Eucharist, it is not uncommon for Anglican churches to offer a small midweek Eucharistic service, often held over the lunch hour.
Similar to many branches of Christianity, Anglicanism also encourages the practice of individual daily prayer and Bible reading, sometimes referred to as "daily devotions." The purpose of daily devotions is to help sustain and improve a person's relationship with God. Anglicanism teaches that God relates to Christians personally, both individually and corporately, and the practice of daily devotions furthers that relationship.
The BCP has a form for daily devotions for individuals and families, but Anglicans are by no means limited to the BCP's form. Some may choose extempore prayer, others may read scripture according to the daily office, their own pattern, or no pattern at all, and many combine both prayer and the reading of scripture. There are also numerous privately published devotional books intended to guide an individual's scripture reading and/or inspire the individual in his or her life as lived apart from formal weekly worship. Thus, daily devotions are meant to impact not only the time spent on devotion, but the believer's entire day, and therefore entire life.
There are devotional books from just about every school of thought on practical piety. Some Anglicans prefer books that focus on meditation, others on the exposition of scripture, still others on encouragement and inspiring stories. The practice of daily devotions is as varied as the needs of the individuals to whom God relates.
Anglicanism also encourages informal corporate devotion among believers. Many Anglicans gather in small groups in one another's homes for periodic (perhaps bi-weekly or monthly) study, prayer, and fellowship. Like daily devotions, the goals and structures of informal corporate gatherings vary. Some place prayer and mutual spiritual and emotional support at the center, others the study of scripture, and there are many other possibilities. However, like the daily office, informal daily devotions and corporate gatherings are generally not intended to include sacramental rites.
Like other Christians who follow the liturgical calendar, many Anglicans tailor their personal devotional practices to the liturgical seasons. For instance, during the four-week season of Advent the family dinner table might be adorned with an Advent wreath, a circle of evergreen fronds with four candles on the circle and one in the middle. Although there is some variation in the colors of the candles, typically there are four purple candles (or three purple ones and a pink one) on the circle, and a white one in the middle. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, during the first week one purple candle is lit each evening (or perhaps just on Sunday); during the second week another purple candle is added; during the third week the pink or third purple is also lit; and in the final week all four candles are lit. Then on Christmas (or Christmas Eve) the white candle is added. The lighting of the candles may be accompanied by a reading from scripture or a devotional prayer.
The symbolism of the Advent wreath includes eternal life (the circular shape and the evergreen leaves), the light of God coming into the world (the candles), penitence (Advent is a penitential season and purple is a traditional penitential color), and awaiting the coming of Christ. Each candle also has its own meaning, although there is little uniformity there. A frequent pattern of meanings is that the first candle signifies hope, the second love, the third joy, and the fourth peace. The white candle always symbolizes Christ.
Another liturgical season with a common pattern of devotional practice is the six-week penitential season of Lent. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, and the traditional practice is that Anglicans (and other Christians who observe Lent) attend a Church service that day and receive the imposition of ashes. Ashes blended with a little oil or ointment are traced onto the worshippers' foreheads in the shape of a cross, reminding them that they are from dust, and to dust they shall return. In other words, without the gracious love of Christ, they are nothing.
Many Anglicans also follow the devotional practice of "giving up something for Lent." The form ranges from giving up chocolate for the duration of Lent, to giving up some free time or television for the sake of prayer and Bible reading, to fasting one day each week. The main purpose of the discipline is to call to mind the worshipper's own tendency toward self-indulgence, and the enormity and centrality of Christ's sacrifice for the worshipper's sake.
1. What is meant by the Anglican “Daily Office”?
2. What is the purpose of daily devotions? How does one engage in them?
3. How might the liturgical year influence one’s daily devotional practice?