What do we mean by Daily Prayer?
Prayer can have a number of forms – for example, prayer over the washing up, the Prayer of the Faithful (or Intercessions) at Mass, grace at the beginning of a meal, even exclamations of ‘O God!’ may be prayerful, depending on how and when and why they are made. All of these are important forms of prayer in the prayer lives of very many people.
However, to talk of ‘Daily Prayer’ suggests organised formal daily prayer. This may be private and once or twice a day, or be the between two and seven offices set out by the Church called the ‘Divine Office’ (Officio Divina or Work of God) that typically includes at least Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer (Compline). It may be said alone or in a group, and can be lead by laity as well as those who are ordained.
There is a long history of daily prayer in the life of the Church. Early Christians prayed twice a day, singing hymns (such as the hymn found at Phillipians 2:6-11) and psalms. The Didache, which describes much of the ealy life and worship of the Church suggests that Christians prayed three times a day, similar to the Jewish pattern of prayer at the 3rd, 6th and 9th hours of the day. By the 4th century, we find that prayer first thing in the morning and in the evening are the ‘hinges’ on which daily prayer is hung. A Spanish Nun, Egeria, wrote an account of her travels in Jerusalem, in which she describes very ornate and long-winded daily prayers led by the Bishop and his deacons. By the Middle Ages, monks and nuns prayed seven times a day, inspired by ‘seven times a day do I praise you’ of Ps 119:164. The pattern and forms have varied, but daily prayer has always been a vital part of the life of the Church.
We pray for a number of reasons, including because Jesus did. Jesus was an observant Jew who would have used the private devotional prayers used by Jews of his day, including forms of grace before meals, and he recited the psalms with his disciples (Mt 26:30). Jesus prayed at the start of his active earthly ministry (Lk 3:21-22). He also prayed as he approached his passion and death, and we know that he prayed in his High Priestly Prayer that his people be one as he and His Father are one (John 17). We should also remember that Jesus taught us to pray when he gave us the Our Father (or Lord’s Prayer).
Why pray regularly? (ie, according to a pattern or rule)
We pray daily to sanctify each day, to dedicate it and all we do in it to God and to His Glory. The priest, poet and hymnwriter, George Herbert, wrote a hymn which includes the line ‘Seven whole days not one in seven, I will praise thee’. We should not be ‘Sunday Christians’ for whom being Christian is like being a member of a club that we only attend once a week and forget about for the rest of the time. Having an organised pattern and practice of prayer is essential in making the Christian Faith integral to the fabric of our lives.
Why pray communally?
Prayer is a communal activity, even when it is done by someone on their own. We need the Church in order to live Christian lives, and that means praying together – not only at Mass on Sunday mornings but in families and other smaller groups as well as as an entire congregation. We can be praying together by praying in the same place; we can also be praying together by using the same form of prayer as our fellow Christians, irrespctive of whether we happen to be in the same place as them on a particular occasion.
How to pray daily
There are a number of forms of daily prayer available (such as the Divine Office – a link to an online version of this (www.universalis.com) is given at the top of this page, or Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Payer), and so there is some room for preference in the form of daily prayer that we use. However, we should be wary of being a consumer of forms of prayer that we find merely congenial. One of the greatest things to be gained from the office goes right against the flow of consumerism – doing what the Church does as a matter of discipline, not choosing your own way or switching forms as the urge strikes. It can sometimes be difficult to pray and to maintain the discipline of prayer. It is often after the event that the benefits of having maintained the discipline through a difficult patch are truly realised.
Traditional elements of daily prayer
Forms of daily prayer will generally contain the following: examination of conscience and confession of sin; one or more hymns; psalms; Scripture; a Gospel canticle (the Benedictus, Magnificat or Nunc Dimitis); intercession (prayer for the Church, the sick and those in need, the dead, and ourselves); the Our Father; a final prayer and a blessing.
One of the great benefits of a formal structure such as this is that it ensures that we read daily from the Psalms, in which we find praise, sadness, joy and prayer and realise that whatever our situation someone else has been there before and has prayed to God about it. We will also read daily from Scripture, and not just the sections we like, but the parts we find more challenging.
As the Church, we are a praying people – prayer is our work. It is not just the business of the clergy. Christians pray as part of our discipleship, we pray because it gives us support, we pray because it helps others, but most of all we pray because we God’s creatures and prayer is how we maintain our end of our relationship with Him.