The idea of going to church daily is usually associated with monasteries. But the history of daily prayer is a rich one that extends to the earliest days of Christianity, and continues to this very day. Early Christians adapted the Jewish practice of praying three times per day, and by the third century, these daily prayers at morning, noon, and night had become a regular part of the individual Christian’s devotional life. When Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, the individual prayers became public since the threat of persecution had greatly diminished. Since these prayers were now in public, they had to conform to the work day, leading the bishops to encourage the faithful to attend public church services regularly in the morning and evening of each day. Noontime prayers would be reserved for personal devotion while at work. In the western, Latin-speaking church, these two prayer services became known as Matins (of the morning) and Vespers (of the evening).
Later Monastic communities would expand these two offices into three, and later seven daily offices. Such a rigorous prayer life could only be prayed by those who had given their entire life to the Church, and laypeople were increasingly excluded from the daily prayers of the church. The Lutheran reformers, as they sought to recover not only a more apostolic understanding of the Bible, but a more ancient understanding of worship, worked to “rescue” Matins and Vespers from the monasteries and give them back again to the laypeople. In the first generation of the protestant reformation, virtually every Lutheran parish in Germany and Denmark recovered the practice of praying daily so that the laypeople could join with the clergy in singing the Psalms, hearing the words of scripture, and beginning or ending their day with prayers for themselves, the church, and the poor and needy of their communities. For churches with schools, Matins was a mainstay and a beginning to the school day. For rural parishes, Vespers would be sung on Saturdays, Sundays, and sometimes throughout the week.
Before long, however, these services began once again to go by the wayside. As many protestant churches became more extreme in rejection of all things Latin and all things traditional, the chanted services, the Latin hymns, and the robust recitation of the Psalms all fell prey to modernism and rationalism and were reduced to dusty books on shelves.
It was in the 19th century that Lutherans began to recover the ancient practice of praying the daily offices, and we at Zion are hoping to aid in the resuscitation of the ancient prayer of the church. Please join us Monday through Thursday at 8:00 a.m. for Matins. We also gather Saturdays at 5:00pm for Prayer, and the high point of our week is Sunday at 9:30 for a joyful, ancient, and Christ-filled Lutheran Mass. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church is located at 780 Grassy Hill Road in Orange, just off exit 56 from the Merritt Parkway.
The Rev. Jacob H. Benson – Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church