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Reviews > Book reviews >

THE HABIT OF HOLINESS: Daily prayer


Continuum £12.99 (0-8192-8103-4); Church Times Bookshop £11.70

YEARS AGO, as a pious teenager, I bought a copy of The Treasury of Devotion in a secondhand-bookshop. In my impressionable mind, it formed the beginnings of a habit of prayer grounded in the idea of the sanctification of time. I rapidly moved on, as Anglo-Catholic youths are wont to do, to try out various breviaries, day hours and office books, one after the other, before settling into a serious relationship, first with the Divine Office and now with Common Worship: Daily Prayer.

Why this gratuitous piece of autobiography? Well, with The Habit of Holiness, Martin Warner, formerly Administrator of the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham and now Canon Pastor at St Paul’s Cathedral, has produced the first fruit of the otium sanctum et literatum he now enjoys as a residentiary canon; and his book is a reinvigoration of the old Treasury of Devotion for our time.

Canon Warner wishes to encourage the habit of prayer, and so has compiled this little book of prayers and forms of prayer, after the model of the old Treasury, to provide us with an entry into the world of holiness.

In the introduction he plays ingeniously on the word “habit”, in a way with words which I remember from his sermons and addresses at Walsingham. He invites us to inhabit this world of holiness and to clothe ourselves with the habit of holiness as we would put on Christ (Galatians 3.28). Prayer thus becomes a form of dress — a fashion statement, indeed — as we strive to fashion our lives on that of Christ.

It is an attractive approach, and the materials he provides from which to fashion our habits are both rich and rare and plain and comfortable. He offers the rare silks of the Eastern liturgies, the crisp cambric of the Caroline divines, and the comfortable, well-worn calico of the Catholic tradition, all carefully arranged in a user-friendly way with which one can soon become familiar.

As one would expect from such a compiler and from the nature of his model, the approach is solidly Catholic and sacramental. There is an abundance of Marian devotional material, including some well-loved Walsingham prayers; useful forms of preparation for the eucharist, and a sound approach to penitence and sacramental confession.

Traditional devotions, such as the rosary and Stations of the Cross, find a place in the collection, as do devotions to the saints, a calendar, and useful prayers for all the eventualities of life.

The final section is an easy introduction to the discipline of daily prayer through a simple morning and evening office structure spread over the days of a single week.

I want the daily office to be owned by the laity, all the holy people of God, and not just to be seen as a clerical duty. If this brief taster will encourage more people to look to the habit of participating in the prayer of the Church, then it is a good thing. Personally, I would rather it were not there: that the prayers and devotions stood on their own, and that we clergy encouraged more and more lay people to buy a simple office book — preferably Common Worship: Daily Prayer — and join us day by day.

That having been said, I like the Catholic, inclusive approach to prayer and praise presented in this compilation. It is not at all precious, as some such books can be; the habit of praying is offered to the reader in a simple, unaffected way that commends itself.

The book is designed for the pocket, but I am afraid you will need a largeish pocket if you are going to carry it about with you. The hard covers are solid and the binding good, but it is a pity the paper is of poor quality. My main criticisms are of the varying print sizes, the smallest of which is too small for elderly eyes, and of the layout on the page, which is unimaginative.

Dare I say, too, that some of the attributions of the prayers are a bit suspect? The beautiful prayer about “making the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship” is given as coming from something called the Catholic Prayer Book. If the author slipped down the road to St Stephen Walbrook, he would find the prayer there, written for that church by Bishop Thomas Ken.

Canon Haselock is Precentor of Norwich Cathedral, and a member of the Liturgical Commission.

To place an order for this book, email the details to CT Bookshop

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