In many times and places, daybreak has been a time of prayer. Jews prayed in their synagogues at sunrise as well as at other times each day. This Jewish pattern of prayer formed the basis of the Christian monastic Daily Office, with its prayers or “hours” at seven times in each day. Thomas Cranmer’s revision of the Daily Office for the first English Prayer Book (1549) reduced the number of services to two-one for morning (Matins) and one for evening (Evensong or vespers). In the Second English Prayer Book (1552), the morning service was given its present name, Morning Prayer.
Many elements of Morning Prayer come from the monastic hours of matins (e.g., Venite and Te Deum), lauds (e.g., Benedicte, omnia opera Domini, a “chapter” of scripture, Benedictus Dominus Deus, collect of the day), and Prime (e.g., a second “chapter” of scripture and the Apostles’ Creed). Psalms were recited at every one of the offices, with the whole Psalter recited once a week. In the 1549 BCP, psalms were read at both Morning and Evening Prayer, with the whole Psalter read “in course” once each month. In subsequent Prayer Book revisions, psalms have come to be used more selectively, although a monthly cycle of psalms read “in course” is still provided as an option. In the 1549 Prayer Book, the very short monastic “chapters” were lengthened to full chapters of both the OT and NT at both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. In the 1979 BCP, only one lesson must be read, and the appointed lessons are not so long.
Morning Prayer once was the chief Sunday service in most Anglican churches on three out of four Sundays, the First Sunday usually being a celebration of Holy Communion. This practice has not continued because the eucharist has been recognized as the “principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day” in most parishes (see BCP, p. 13), However, Morning Prayer is clearly designated as a daily service for the worship of the church. This usage reflects the ancient tradition of the Daily Office.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.