Fixed-hour prayer, sometimes called the Daily Office or the Divine Hours, is the regular and consistent pattern of praying at set times throughout the day. Usually these times consist of praying portions of the Scriptures along with Bible reading and prayers that have been passed down through church history.
Along with the Lord’s Supper, fixed-hour prayer is considered one of the oldest forms of Christian spirituality. It is surprising that, considering its history and longevity, it is missing from contemporary Christian practice. Jesus and the Jews of his day prayed at set hours of the day. After Jesus’ death, his disciples continued to pray this way (Acts 3:1; 10:3, 9, 30). This custom of praying at set hours throughout the day was a part of the early church and has continued up to our day and age.
There has always been some flexibility with the set times and frequency of the prayer time. In some monastic traditions there are as many as eight times set aside for prayer. Most contemporary expressions consist of three fixed times of prayer: the Morning Office (to be observed some time between 6 and 9 a.m.); the Midday Office (between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.); and the Evening Office or Vesper (between 5 and 8 p.m.). These prayer times usually take no more than ten minutes.
There are a number of daily prayer books in circulation including the Roman Catholic Breviary and the Anglican and Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. There are also Celtic, Benedictine, Franciscan and Reformed versions. One of the most easily accessible is The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle. (You can usually borrow a copy at your local library or purchase your own copy on Amazon.) The Ann Arbor Vineyard offers a link that connects you with the daily expression of The Divine Hours. (I have been using this link when praying the Divine Hours for more than 15 years).
Prayers offered at fixed hours can be spontaneous or liturgical. You can chant the Psalms, pray the Scriptures, pray the Divine Hours, worship with your iPhone or simply pour out your heart to God. It can even be a combination of all of the above. The primary thing is that you set aside a regular time for prayer.
I have been praying this expression of prayer for more that 15 years and it has proved to be one of the ways I stay anchored to God, especially when I don’t feel like praying or reading the scriptures. There are times when just “showing up” is the best I can do. I don’t have any problem singing songs other people have written or praying prayers that other people before me have prayed and written down. If you have never practiced a liturgical prayer model, step outside your faith tradition—you might be surprised by what you will discover.
(This article is adapted from my book, Recycled Spirituality.)