The English Office Noted can be purchased at Lulu Publishing.
From the beginning the principal act of Christian worship has been the Eucharist: the remembrance of Christ’s perfect offering of Himself, whereby He becomes present in our midst, as we recall with praise and thanksgiving the mighty acts of God undertaken for our salvation. Along with the Eucharist, however, the Church has engaged in services consisting of the singing of Psalms and hymns, the reading of Scripture and prayer. These have always been daily services, marking the passage of time and serving to sanctify time by offering it back to God in our prayers. While all Christians are encouraged to pray daily at regular times, historically the daily offices reached a highly developed form in monastic communities. The Psalmist declared “Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments” (Ps. 119:164) and the monastic pattern of Prime, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline fulfilled this pattern (Matins is a night office). In the 6th century, St. Benedict arranged many of the details of the the Office, declared it to be the Opus Dei (the “work of God”), and established it as the foundation of monastic life.
Gradually the Office became the exclusive property of the monastic communities, due to the complexity of the services and the rules governing them (and in the West due to the fact that the Offices were sung in Latin rather than in the vernacular). The most positive and helpful contribution made to the liturgy at the time of the English Reformation was the simplification of the monastic office into the Prayer Book forms of Morning and Evening Prayer. These services were meant to be sung (or read) not only in Church each day, but also by individuals at home. There was virtually nothing new added to the Office; rather Morning Prayer was created from elements of Matins and Lauds and Evening Prayer was created from Vespers and Compline. While the normal monastic practice was to recite the whole of the Psalter every week, the Prayer Book forms provided for the whole of the Psalter to be read each month. A lectionary for reading a substantial portion of Scripture over the course of the year was also provided.
While the Office was made more accessible to those not living in monastic communities, the English Reformers also removed virtually all of the non-scriptural interpretive content. The Office Hymns, Antiphons, and Responsories of the monastic Office provided important teaching, commentary on the Scripture, Season or Feast Day. Without this didactic material the Office reached a “lowest common denominator” and it was easier to maintain the “Anglican compromise” which allowed both Catholic and Protestant to read the same Scripture and say the same words but have very different understandings of the faith. For those of us who are engaged in the on-going work of restoring the Western Rite to its Orthodox home, doctrinal ambiguity is not an option – our faith is expressed in the way we pray; the words of our prayers convey what we believe.
In 1904 when Russian Church hierarchs were looking at the Book of Common Prayer to see what portions might be useful within a restored Western Rite, they found nothing that should be omitted from the Daily Office. Rather they noted that “while the recourse in prayer to the Holy Mother of God, to the Angel Hosts, and to the illustrious Saints, the glorification and invocation of them, forms an essential part of Orthodox and Catholic worship, these things are entirely foreign to Anglican worship. It is absolutely necessary that there should be introduced into this worship some such prayers (or hymns) in one or another form and degree” (Russian Observations upon the American Prayer Book, tr. W.J. Barnes, Alcuin Club Tract, 1917, p. 30).
The ancient Hymns and Antiphons of the Office supply these missing elements. The St. Ambrose Hymnal provides over eighty office hymns taken from the Roman and Sarum Breviaries, as well as the Marian Anthems (traditionally sung at the conclusion of the Office). The great majority of these hymns are pre-schism and come to us from the pens of St. Ambrose, St. Gregory, St. Bede, Prudentius and other teachers of the Church who were also gifted poets and musicians. By singing this cycle of hymns which reveal the deeper meaning of the day or season, we return to the understanding of the Fathers of the Church.
The remaining need was for a collection of Antiphons for the canticles Magnificat (at Vespers) and Benedictus (at Matins). Originally used for any music sung alternately by two cantors or choirs, the word Antiphon gradually came to be applied to sentences which convey the emphasis of the occasion, sung before and after the canticle. These Antiphons, which are sung by a cantor or cantors, most often give a brief meditation on the Sunday or feast day Gospel or the theological teaching the Church wishes to illumine. The Antiphoner draws on the works of G. H. Palmer, and The Monastic Diurnal, the Anglican Breviary, the Prayerbook Office, The Day Office of the Monastic Breviary, The Day Hours of the Church, and others. We give thanks to God for the earlier work done by those who love the prayer of the Church, preserving this heritage for others. We trust that further efforts will continue to build upon and refine this work as it is used in our worship.
For all Sundays, major feasts and Commons, the Antiphoner supplies the Office Hymn along with the proper Versicle and Response, Antiphons for First and Second Vespers and Matins, the Invitatory Antiphon, and the Collect for the Day from both the Gregorian use and the Tikhon use. The lectionary is provided and the Office Hymns are reprinted from The St. Ambrose Hymnal (without harmony), following the Antiphoner.
We hope that this collection may enrich the prayers of the faithful of our congregations. Praying the Office is not just for monastics and some liturgical “elite,” it is for all the faithful. We are all called to holiness, to life with God. The words (and music) of the Office are an important path of sanctification, one trod by saints and accompanied by the holy angels. As we pray the Offices of Matins and Vespers let us recall the words of St. Paul to the Colossians “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16).
The Daily Office: Its History, Structure and Practice (a presentation given to the 2016 ROCOR Western Rite Conference)
The Ordo available from the Western Rite Vicariate provides the official daily calendar and lectionary.
The Lessons for Saturday Vespers, Sunday Matins and Major Feast Days can be found at Daily Office Lessons.
The St. Ambrose Hymnal (SAH) provides the office hymns and Marian anthems. Get information about ordering the hymnal.
The Antiphoner provides collects and antiphons; the collects may also be found in The Orthodox Missal.
All documents below are .pdf files and require Adobe Reader.
The English Office Noted can be purchased at Lulu Publishing.