Listen to a few minutes of a recent Evensong Service:
Evensong is the name for the Service of Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). This service has been the principal liturgy of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition since the year 1549, which was when the BCP was first authorized for use in the Church of England.
Evensong is taken from the monastic offices of prayer of the Medieval English Church. This monastic office was developed over a thousand years; from around the years 500 to 1500. What you experience when you hear, “O Lord, open thou our lips” and “O God, make speed to save us” has a very long history. These prayer-cries of today have been heard all the way back to the Old Testament.
After the priest and choir sing these versicles, we move to the Psalms. These are chanted, either in plainsong or in Anglican Chant. [Plainsong is at least 1500 years old; Anglican Chant is nearly 500 years old.] The Prayer Book exposes to us to the full range of the Psalms. For Jesus, the Psalms formed his own prayer life; they were his “Prayer Book and Hymnal,” as they are the foundation of his theology. Following the Psalms are the readings from Holy Scripture, punctuated by the Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis and Canticles.
The use of the canticles over the centuries has produced an amazing repertoire of choral music to accompany them, some are the greatest pieces of sacred music in existence. These choral canticles make Evensong the crown jewel of the Anglican choral tradition. The conclusion of the service of scripture at Evensong is summed up in the Apostles’ Creed, which is the creed of Holy Baptism, and it leads us to the concluding prayers: the Kyrie Eleison, the Lord’s Prayer, the lesser litany, and the concluding three collects. There is one for the day/week, and the two evening collects, deeply familiar and beloved: “Give unto thy servants that peace which world cannot give…” and “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee O Lord.”
What we have in this ancient and relevant service is the sanctification of time, morning and evening. There is something especially powerful about the sanctification of Evensong. Just as each day is given to us as a blessing with the gift of wonder in God's created order (“this is the day which the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!”), so each evening signifies a little death: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” The hope with our use of The Book of Common Prayer is to have Evening Prayer said or sung each day, if not in church then privately, by every member of the clergy – and hopefully with all those who are baptized as well. The daily user becomes quite familiar with the Psalms, and reads the bulk of Holy Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, every year in a course of the designated readings. The user then develops a biblical mind, is enabled to think biblically, and is washed in scripture with the Church. Scripture is experienced in its wholeness with the whole wondrous content of the human journey through Scripture’s words with its mysterious reasonableness, centered on the revelation and self-giving of God in Christ.
At Saint Ann’s, you are now a part of thousands who have participated in this sacred service, and participated in this wondrous act of worship. Thank you for joining us.