Recently one of the Divine Offices came up elsewhere in my life, and I got thinking about the matter more generally and decided to post this about the whole subject. It is revised from something I originally posted in the context of the "O" antiphons during Advent, which we'll leave for Advent. Right now, the matter is -- hey, just give me Jesus, we're free aren't we, why bother with all this set stuff? Here's why all this set stuff is part of giving you Jesus, or rather, part of Jesus giving himself to you.
Pre Messiah, there were no particular set times for prayer for hundreds of years. Not that prayer wasn't prayed at set times in various places, but there was nothing normative about it. That came at the end of the Babylonian Captivity (the one that happened to the Jews, not the Church!) with the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the reconstruction of the Temple, ie the Second Temple. Ezra and the 120 Men established set times for prayer in essentially the form they are still used in the synagogue, which was adapted and continued by the church.
Established, not originated. These were not new, but were codified into three times of prayer during the day. These times were set to correspond to the three times of sacrifice in the Temple: morning (shaharit), afternoon (minha) and evening (arvit or maariv). On top of that, in Jewish tradition they trace themselves to the times of prayer Scripture records for each of the three great Patriarchs: Abraham in the morning (Gen19:27), Isaac at dusk (Gen24:63) and Jacob in the evening (Gen28:10).
This pattern was adapted by the Church in light of the Christ having come, and is the basis of the three major times of prayer in the Divine Office we know as Matins, Vespers and Compline. Just as in the Divine Service, or mass, we have essentially a Christian synagogue service followed by a Christian seder, a service of the word followed by the sacrament of the altar, so in the Divine Office we have:
1. Matins, a Christian shaharit going back through the history of the New Israel the church to the pre-Messianic morning synagogue service which Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with morning sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the morning prayer time of Abraham;
2. Vespers, a Christian minha going back through the church to the afternoon synagogue service known to Jesus and the Apostles and aligned with the afternoon sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the afternoon prayer time of Isaac;
3. Compline, a Christian arvit or maariv going back through the church to the evening synagogue service Jesus and the Apostles knew and aligned with the evening sacrifice in the Temple and on back to the evening prayer time of Jacob.
Where can you find this stuff? There's been all kinds of versions over time in both the Eastern and Western church. You hardly have to undertake some sort of monastic regimen. Any of the hymnals in use by our beloved synod contains material for use, sometimes combining Vespers and Compline into one. The Concordia Edition of the ESV from Concordia Publishing House has excellent short ones. Or, you can just follow what is set out for Morning and Evening Prayer in the Little Catechism!
Absolutely, not commanded by Scripture. But we Lutherans aren't an "If it ain't in Scripture we ain't doing it" crowd. Our Confessions are explicit -- though unfortunately sometimes our parishes aren't -- that we happily accept the observances and ceremonies that those who came before us in faith brought about and hand on to us, rejecting not what isn't in Scripture but only what contradicts it that crept in here and there over time.
And what a great gift has been handed to us! In the Divine Office as in the Divine Service we not only have a magnificent gift from those who came before us, but we take our place with them in the forward motion toward the final fulfillment of the promises of God, and do so in a vehicle that is itself an expression and product of the advent, the coming, the unfolding through all its points leading to that great and final Coming!!
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