Divine Worship: Daily Office

Andrew Burnham

OF ALL the breviaries and office books on my shelves none is more handsome than Divine Worship: Daily Office (DWDO), which arrived on 20th September 2021.  It is beautifully produced, with clear type, and thin pages.  It marks a re-set, a change of direction for the UK Ordinariate, which had previously been using the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, published in 2012.    To state an interest, I was one of the compilers of the Customary, along with Fr Aidan Nichols OP, but neither of us was involved in DWDO.  The work has passed to a new generation and the underlying rationale has been revised. 

In preparing the Customary, we sought to provide for the use of the Cranmerian Offices, with the monthly psalter, co-ordinated with the Roman Office Lectionary and with post-biblical readings from the English spiritual tradition, notably from the writings of St John Henry Newman.  We envisaged that the typical user – an Ordinariate cleric, say – would be serving in both diocesan and Ordinariate contexts and that what we provided needed to work in both so that, for example, a priest could use the Liturgy of the Hours (LH) in the morning and Prayer Book Evensong in the evening.  The lectionary produced proved to be somewhat cumbersome, and it was revised in the annual Ordo.  The Customary then fitted the quirky Prayer Book tradition of having a table of lessons within it which had since been superseded!  There was an attempt to recognise various Catholic usages, such as ‘O Lord open…’ only at the beginning of the day, ‘Alleluia’ after a fully congregational Gloria Patri, a range of Invitatory psalms at Morning Prayer in LH, the New Testament canticles in LH as an alternative to Nunc Dimittis at Evening Prayer when the Order for Compline is to be used later, and the Roman pattern of psalms for Lauds and Vespers on Sundays.  Flexibility was introduced, such as allowing the suffrages as found in the North American Book of Divine Worship, and the daily Roman psalm scheme as an alternative.  There was an acknowledgement of the long-standing Roman custom of laudate psalms (hence ‘Lauds’), encouraging the pre-conciliar practice of ending the psalmody at Morning Prayer with Psalms 148-150.

All of this is now history – the Office in the Customary being superseded – but it is worth noticing that the adaptations and flexibilities acknowledged one of the features of the Prayer Book Office as celebrated in the Church of England in the twentieth century, namely the widespread practice of local variation.  Thus, at St Stephen’s House, where I was a student and taught, the psalter at Evensong was the Revised Psalter and the second lesson at Evensong was replaced with a non-biblical reading.  Many places introduced the Office Hymn – either before proper psalmody, as after the 1970 reforms, or after ferial psalmody, before the Magnificat, as before the conciliar reforms.  In England, the penitential introduction to Morning and Evening Prayer was largely replaced by the simple and direct 1928 form and the State Prayers – at least in my experience of many years in cathedral and college chapel contexts – seldom used.  The reforms of the 1960s, including changing the order of Te Deum and Benedictus and the use of other New Testament canticles all played into the mix.  In short, the Customary, commending particular practices and introducing flexibility, drew attention to the considerable number of variations and, in retrospect, made the mistake of preferring particular patterns in an area where people had particular preferences of their own.

So, what does DWDO get so spectacularly right?  Well, ‘spectacularly’ is the word because the volume looks and feels magnificent.  The compilers and publishers deserve enormous credit for this.  They also deserve credit for the important decision largely to maintain Cranmer’s Morning and Evening Prayer as found in 1662.  They have avoided temptations, such as reverting to 1549, with its differing start to the two cardinal offices.  To understand the decision to stick with 1662 it is necessary to look back to the liturgical debates of a hundred years ago, when moderate high churchmen influenced the compilation of the 1927/8 Prayer Book in ways that did not satisfy Anglo-catholics.  They made fatal compromises, such as in the placing of the epiclesis in the eucharistic prayer and the abbreviation of the psalter (by omitting the unpleasant bits), and Anglo-catholics retaliated by largely rejecting 1927/8, even in the form commended for use by the Bishops after the revision had been rejected in Parliament.    These tensions resurfaced in the 1960s, with Series 1 and Series 2, and tampering with the Prayer Book text again came to nothing.  Having said this, DWDO, by including Prime and Compline, does conform to 1927/8, as well as to the various Anglican monastic books and such publications as the Cuddesdon Office Book

In its rubrics DWDO attempts to set principles and parameters to how the material is to be used and these are sensible and mainstream.  One such is the commending of Prime and Compline as simple lay offices for morning and night prayer for the laity.  It is hard to know, incidentally, how the clergy would make use of Prime.  The old Anglo-catholic practice was often to cast Morning Prayer as Vigils and Lauds and anticipate the celebration the night before.  Prime then could be said duly at daybreak.  I cannot imagine that that arrangement ever really worked and personally, though I am usually up by 6am, I cannot sort out a schedule which would include it.  It is splendid, however, that Prime is preserved.

The great glory of DWDO is that it gives us the Anglican daily round of Common Prayer in a fine liturgical book, a book which matches the Divine Worship: The Missal (DWDM) and the books of Pastoral Services.    The Revised Standard Version (RSV), bound in with it, though not always matching the beauty of the Authorised Version of 1611, is a significant improvement in accuracy and clarity.   Nonetheless I do question the practical consequences of the decision to include the Bible.    Doubtless it will help some travellers – though most of us mostly do not travel and those who do may well find what they need on an electronic device.  Also, with the local Catholic hierarchy poised to adopt the English Standard Version (ESV) – broadly the RSV without the frequent ‘beholds’ – an argument may soon be made that the UK Ordinariate move almost imperceptibly from RSV to ESV.  Then there is the question of the diet of Scripture.  What is prescribed in the very fine table of lessons in DWDO (ultimately a solid Tractarian piece of work in 1922 as revised in 1961) is four portions a day, in addition to whatever is encountered at Mass (a further two or three portions).  Who has the stomach for this much?  And how well does it all synchronise?   It is too much for me – well fed by the more modest Roman provision – but I  shall set myself an experiment and report back.  The experiment is this: how well do the DWDO readings for Sunday Evensong fit with the readings for Sunday Mass?   

In due course I hope to see a version of DWDO without the Bible.  That would not only support the Anglican patrimony of reading lessons from an actual bible (a practice which, to be fair, DWDO encourages) but also permit the use of DWDO with different reading schemes.  If the DWDO pattern of lessons prevails then we shall have to see an end to the two-year daily eucharistic lectionary, the staple of the daily Mass.  We may also see – and this, in  some ways, would be a good outcome – increased demand for the one-year mediaeval mass lectionary which is part of Prayer Book patrimony but that would then entail a revision of DWDM….

East Hendred

Our Lady of Walsingham 2021