One of the great losses of the Anglican Communion in the North and West is the demise of Mattins and Evensong on the Lord's Day and other days.
In this year when we celebrate the 450th anniversary of The Book of Common Prayer edited by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer it may be helpful to reflect a while on the two daily offices of the English Prayer Book.
When the service of Morning Prayer (Mattins) in the BCP (1552) is compared with the service of this name in the first ever BCP of 1549, one immediately notices that the former service begins differently and is significantly longer. Looking closer one also notices that that while that of 1549 is intended for personal or small group recital that of 1552 is clearly intended for congregational recital.
In the BCP (1549) "An Order for Mattins daily through the year" to be said/sung in the Choir/Chancel begins with the Lord's Prayer in its shorter form and then moves to "O Lord open thou my lips" etc. Then follows the "Venite" (Psalm 95), the Psalms of the day, the O.T. Lesson, a Canticle, the N.T. Lesson, a Canticle, Versicles and three Collects, including that of the Day.
Evensong or Evening Prayer in the BCP (1549) has the same structure but with different Canticles and Collects.
It is obvious that the medieval context, although not the medieval texts, has been preserved, where only the local priest and a few others attend the Daily Offices.
In contrast in the BCP (1552) "An Order for Morning Prayer daily throughout the year" is to be conducted as a public service. It was required:
"the Curate that ministreth in every Parish Church or Chapel.shall say the same in the Parish Church or Chapel where he ministreth, and shall toll a bell thereto, a convenient time before he begin, that such as be disposed may come to hear God's Word and to pray with him"
The 1552 Order begins with sentences from Scripture, which are followed by a Call to all present to join the Minister in confessing their sins unto Almighty God, then by a General Confession of sin. Finally there is an Absolution pronounced by the Minister. After this long introduction, the service is basically the same as that of 1549 except it is "O Lord, open thou our lips" to meet the needs of congregational participation.
Evening Prayer has the same structure and is also for congregational use.
Why these changes?
Between 1549 and 1552 the leaders of the reform movement in the Church of England realized the potential of the two Daily [Choir] Offices for becoming means of public worship and the hearing of the Word of God - whether sung, read or preached. Clergy and Churchwardens in parishes were finding it difficult and too costly to supply all the wine and bread needed for a weekly celebration of the Holy Communion (as the BCP 1549 intended). Further, many laity were hesitant to receive Holy Communion weekly, since they had been raised on non-communicating attendance at Mass. So in the BCP
(1552) the Daily Offices are made into two daily public services and the bell of the parish church is to be rung to let people know that the services are soon to start.
As a further addition to public worship and participation by laity in public prayer, the Litany was appointed to be said/sung on Wednesdays. Fridays and Sundays probably after Morning Prayer.
So the custom arose in the Church of England of the major public services being Morning and Evening Prayer, with the former, and sometimes the latter, being followed by the Litany. Gifted musicians and composers began to compose music for these services and to provide anthems to be sung by the choir in cathedrals and college chapels.
Weekly Holy Communion became rare, except in Cathedrals; but often the first half of the Order for Holy Communion (known as "Ante-Communion") was used in parishes. This meant that there was (by modern standards) a prayer marathon on Sundays --- Morning Prayer, Litany and Ante- Communion [which requires a sermon or homily], with the latter becoming the full Communion Service on Feast Days.
When one examines the BCP (1662), which has been very widely used in the English speaking world as well as in many other places in translation, one finds that it is the structure and content of 1552 not those of 1549 that are followed. This makes sense since the 1552 service was used throughout the reign of Elizabeth 1, James 1 and Charles 1 and became part of the English tradition of weekly and Sunday public prayer. However, in more recent times, permission has often been granted by Bishops and Convocations to begin the service at "O Lord open thou our lips," especially when it is to be followed by the Order for Holy Communion in which there is a call to the confession of sins and an absolution.
The American BCP (1928) follows the pattern of 1662 with appropriate modifications for use in a Republic.
Because of the Parish Communion Movement of the 1950s and 1960s followed by the emphasis on the centrality of the Eucharist in modern liturgical revision, large parts of the Anglican Communion, including its mother church, the Church of England, are neglecting, even forgetting that which were for centuries known as "the people's services." Happily the British Broadcasting Corporation presents Choral Evensong weekly and many listeners look forward to this uplifting event.
[The Prayer Book Society encourages the regular use of both Morning and Evening Prayer and is delighted to announce that the Choir of St. John's, Savannah, Georgia, has recorded Evensong and that the CD will be available from the Society for $12.50 from April 15, 2002.
Already Mattins with the Litany has been recorded by St. Thomas Church, Houston, and is available on CD from the Society at the same price. The new President of the Prayer Book Society is the Rector of this parish.
The Prayer Book Society
Philadelphia, Pa. 19128- 0220
(e-mail email@example.com) ]
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon