NOTE: I have had only a few days to look at DWDO if there are any factual errors in this review I would be delighted to correct them.
“To its great merit the Anglican Communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved to some extent at least the daily services of morning prayer and evensong as a living part of parish worship.”
Jesuit scholar Robert Taft writes this ecumenical compliment in his seminal work The Liturgy of the Hours East and West. The idea that there was a ‘people’s office’ (properly a ‘cathedral’ as distinct from ‘monastic’ office) was a persuasive part of liturgical renewal in the second half of the twentieth century. I wrote my dissertation at theological college (Chichester) on this in the early 90s and visited communities in France, Germany and the States to see what was being done. Often the use of liturgical action, candles, holy water, incense was encouraged. Elements of this are described, for example in Celebrating Common Prayer. Later in the parishes and schools in which I served I always promoted a Daily Office like this. Simple sung texts with liturgical action.
Like many ideas I have had in my life I now think I was wrong. Taft is right, alone among liturgies it is the absolute simplicity of the Prayer Book Office that has proved an enduring ‘people’s Office’. A simplicity that continues to draw people day by day to our Cathedrals and other churches.
Yet since very early on there have been those who seek a richer provision for the Office, notably Hours at other times of day. Perhaps the first was John Cosins’, A Collection of Private Devotions for the Hours of Prayer of 1627. The nineteenth century Catholic revival saw a multiplication of collections of prayer to enhance the Prayer Book Office orreplace it with translations of the traditional Western liturgy using the language and texts of the Book of Common Prayer. In the mid twentieth century two books represent the zenith of this tradition. The English Office and the Office Book of the Community of the Resurrection (produced for use of the community only).
Divine Worship: Daily Office draws heavily on The English Office. Like that book it adds much seasonal material, updated here for the current Roman Calendar. Hymn number references to the English Hymnal appear in both books. The English Office came in two editions with or without readings which (in the Authorised Version) were from the 1922 lectionary. In my view this is the best of the Anglican lectionaries and I am delighted to see it given new life in this book. I922 arranged Gospel readings in Ordinary Time in a sort of harmonised version. This was revised in 1961 to remove the harmonisation and replace it with lectio continua of the gospels, and it’s that form that appears in DWDO. Strangely the RSV second Catholic Edition is used rather than the English Standard Version which has been selected for future Roman Catholic liturgical books in English.
An addition to The English Office is the inclusion of the Little hours, Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline. I was delighted to hear this. The daily recitation of Psalm 119 – the norm in Latin Christianity until the 1910 reform of the Breviary – is dear to my heart and very much preserved by Anglican Religious communities. Disappointingly, rather than the very popular Prime and Hours being used as the source of these, which includes full seasonal Propers, the 1928 deposited book which included just Prime was used as the model. This has no seasonal material for these Hours. Much has been made of DWDO being an ‘all in one’ book but for me this lack makes it a book I would not want to use. I can’t imagine praying Terce on Christmas Day without Proper material.
There are two further disappointments for me, and one reservation. I am sad that no ferial antiphons are included for the psalter, a minor point. My other disappointment is in the arrangement of material, separating Collects from other Propres (put into a Supplement) it is easy to see why this has been done but it does make the book even more complicated to use. My reservation is that the lectionary, excellent as it is, was designed for use with the one-year Prayer Book Eucharistic lectionary (the use of which I much favour, but that’s another story). I haven’t had the chance to check but I wonder how much overlap there will be between this Office lectionary and the current two year Daily Eucharistic Lectionary and indeed, the three year Sunday cycle. Finally, I just don’t think I could cope with four substantial office readings in addition to the daily Mass cycle: six readings a day. A much better provision is the DEL with the Office of Readings’ two year cycle.
Not only is the lectionary designed to be used with the one-year lectionary for Mass, so are the proper antiphons. Thus on Epiphany 4 (Gospel of the day Matthew 8:23) the Gospel canticle antiphons all come from Matthew 8. The antiphons on the Magnificat at First Vespers of Sundays were traditionally drawn from the Vigils reading of the following day and The English Office does this from the 1922 lectionary, as does this book.
DWDO is designed to look like a liturgical book of a past era. The sense lines and spacious pages of post-Vatican 2 books have gone and the double columns, and small print of earlier books return. It will be a matter of taste if this appeals to you. For a certain generation (younger than me) the ‘return to tradition’ will make this attractive, but it remains to be seen if that is a niche audience based on a nostalgia for an era that has disappeared, or that perhaps never really existed.
DWDO includes a weekly cycle of Old Testament Canticles (from the old Roman Rite Lauds) to replace Te Deum/Benedicite at Mattins. This is helpful. The CR Office Book used these over Mattins and Evensong to replace Psalm 119 in the monthly course since that was prayed daily at the Little Hours.
DWDO is a thing of beauty. CTS, the publisher, have done a wonderful job. For those who want a traditional language Office for Matins and Evensong this is a superb book. I hope that Prime might, like Compline, become a popular household Office. That would be a very good thing indeed. However, it didn’t happen after 1928. I don’t think this complex book will make that happen, I hope the Ordinariate will publish equally beautiful but small books of just these Offices.
DWDO is an ecumenical gift and compliment to the Anglican Communion. The Prayer Book Office has been the principle means of grace for Anglican Christians since the break with Rome. That Rome now not only acknowledges this but encourages this prayer is a celebration of the Anglican gift to the church catholic. Anglicanism is a means to holiness, a gift of grace. The Ordinariate, eccentric as it is, as is, surely, all of Anglicanism, is welcomed within an authentically Vatican 2 ecclesiology. The ecumenical spring may seem like a distant memory, but we are still a long way from winter.
A Manual of Plainsong provides the basics. For the Gospel Canticle antiphons the Wantage, CSMV books provide the texts set to traditional Plainsong. The St Dunstan Plainsong Psalter is also a useful reource including the OT Canticles set to plainsong tones.
See my blog post here with links to plainsong for the BCP Office:
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