An Ode to Evensong
This coming Sunday is the second Sunday of the month when led by the St. Martin’s Chapel Consort, we sing Evensong at 4:30 pm. What, some might ask, is Evensong? So here's a little historical context.
In 1549 Thomas Cranmer, then Archbishop of Canterbury set about to create a prayer book in English for use by ordinary people. In his first
Book of Common Prayer
, that is, prayer
to the whole people of God and not confined to priests, monks, and nuns, Cranmer combined the monastic seven offices of the
Liturgy of the Hours
into two public services of Matins and Evensong.
Cranmer intended the new services of Matins and Evensong to be public services for which the clergy were to open the church doors and ring the church bells to summon the laity to daily prayer. Even today, the English clergy are required to recite the two daily offices as public services. I remember as a young curate one parishioner who lived close by the church telling me that she so appreciated hearing the bells for daily prayer as they brought her great comfort. She was less pleased when I reminded her that the purpose of ringing the bells was to summon her from the comfort of her sitting room to join me in the church. Oh the insensitivity of young clergy!
For over 650 years, Matins and Evensong were the staple services of Anglican worship. Some older St. Martin’s parishioners will remember the days before the 1979 Prayer Book revision, when Matins and Evensong were the two principal Sunday services with the Eucharist celebrated quietly at 8 am only.
Public Prayer is referred to as the
comes from the Latin
meaning the duty or the work of God. Hence our use of the word
simply follows from this - as the place where we go to work or perform our duties. Later Anglican practice revived the office of Compline - the final of the seven offices of the monastic day. The 1979 Prayer Book added both midday and night offices alongside two forms for morning prayer and three for evening prayer.
Two things more. The Daily Office is known as the Public Prayer of the church as compared with private individual prayer. Public Prayer is like a great 24/7 wave of prayer encircling the earth. When we pray the Daily Offices, we are like lamps plugging ourselves into the global electric current of Christian public prayer. Each office, morning, midday, evening and night reflects our daily circadian cycle - from the energy of awakening to the quieting in preparation for sleep as well as articulating the shifting mood of the day's progress. Note how the photo above evokes the feel of twilight, which corresponds to Evensong's tone.
At St. Martin’s all are welcome to join Linda+ and myself as we say Morning Prayer, Tuesday through Thursday at 9 am. Evensong is increasingly the worship experience of choice for Millennials and younger adults. I think its popularity is partly that 4:30 pm is a better time of day for them, and partly that Evensong requires less liturgical participation than the Eucharist. One can simply come and be soothed by its rhythms.
While officially speaking, Evensong is not a substitute for the Sunday Eucharist. However, with declining regularity of attendance at Sunday morning worship, Evensong at 4:30 pm offers an alternative for those who might want to have a more leisurely start to Sunday – at least on the Second Sunday of the month. Why only once a month? It's a matter of supply and demand. Generating higher demand will lead to increased supply.
See you in Church this Sunday - either morning or evening, and for some maybe both!