only rather patchily achieved [Cranmer’s] other purpose of being the regular worship attended by the whole congregation and offered day by day in parish churches throughout the land.
By contrast, the orders for morning and evening prayer in the Alternative Service Book 1980 (at the time, the biggest revision of the Church of England’s liturgy since 1549) were decidedly uninspiring. They removed the great strength of the BCP services – Cranmer’s exalted prose – while retaining their great weakness: a monotonous lack of daily or seasonal variation.
It’s hard not to suspect that the growing (and otherwise laudable) emphasis on parish communion as the key Sunday service resulted in the daily office being somewhat out of fashion when the ASB was being compiled. Whatever the reason, the result was that many churches ended up with a pattern like that of the parish whose choir I sang in as a boy: ASB holy communion in the morning, BCP evening prayer in the evening, with the ASB offices languishing unused.
Meanwhile, the Society of Saint Francis had been developing its own daily office. Initially, the Daily Office SSF provided supplementary materials rather than supplanting the “official” offices. However, in 1989 the Daily Office SSF was extensively revised to reflect “increased liturgical knowledge … not least in the use of language” (a not-so subtle dig at the ASB’s bland language, one suspects). A decision was made to produce two versions, one of which was intended:
to meet the expressed needs of a wider public – both groups and individuals – who were articulating a longing for a form of daily prayer to enrich their common worship at the Sunday Eucharist.
This “non-Franciscan” version was published in 1992 as Celebrating Common Prayer (CCP).
CCP was revolutionary (for an Anglican office) in its combination of simplicity of structure and richness of content. Each office – morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer and night prayer – has a simple structure consisting of:
- Preparation (an opening prayer and/or canticle).
- The Word of God (psalms and scripture readings).
Variety is then provided by a “seven by seven” structure of daily and seasonal provision, providing a seven-week cycle during ordinary time and daily variations during each season.
CCP became widely used in the Church of England, helped by the “semi-official” status conferred on it by the involvement of David Stancliffe (who, in 1993, became both chairman of the Liturgical Commission and bishop of Salisbury) and a foreword from the-then archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. So it was not surprising when its forms for morning and evening prayer became the basis for the corresponding orders in Common Worship in 2000 – an historic shift away from Cranmer’s pattern.
Subsequently the Church of England produced Common Worship: Daily Prayer, which drew even more heavily on Celebrating Common Prayer – while (mistakenly, in my view) splitting up the provisions for seasonal and ordinary time.
The wheel has now turned full circle with the publication last year of a new edition of the Daily Office SSF. This revision of the Franciscan version of CCP adopts Common Worship texts for the canticles, psalter and prayers, while restoring the combined daily/seasonal pattern for the office itself. I’m currently awaiting delivery of a copy of this, and will try to report back once I’ve had chance to look at it.
What’s the lesson of all this? Simply this: it shows the influence that a relatively small (but, admittedly, well-connected) group of people who are passionately committed to a project can have within the wider church. At a time when the Church of England as a whole seemed to have stopped caring about its daily office, the Society for Saint Francis produced (out of its own daily experience over several decades) a form of office that ended up sweeping all before it.
Finally, I still think it’s a shame that the Lutheran church hasn’t really followed suit. I know lots of people like the Treasury of Daily Prayer, but personally something more along the lines of a Lutheran CCP.