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.