"Stunning!" "Amazing!" "Absolutely a Beautiful Service!"
These were descriptions of the Choral Evensong this past Sunday. What a marvelous experience! Many thanks to our incredible choir and to Sue Webb, Choirmaster, Al Burgermeister at the organ, Melanie Boso, flute, and Michael Hardin playing 3 hand bells at one time!
Choral Evensong is a marvelous service of our church. So what is Evensong? It is the lovely nickname for the service of Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Its sister service is Mattins, which is the nickname for the service of Morning Prayer, also from the Book of Common Prayer. Together with the Holy Eucharist (also known as the Mass and Communion Service and instituted for his disciples by Jesus himself), these three services are the principal liturgies of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition since the year 1549, which was when the Book of Common Prayer was first authorized for the Church of England.
Both Mattins and Evensong were taken from the monastic offices of prayer of the Medieval English Church. These monastic offices in turn were developed over a thousand years, from around the years 500 to 1500. So what we have enjoyed Sunday has a very long history. As in any choral setting, it begins with a beautiful procession, usually with incense, choir in procession, and clergy bedecked in cassock, and surplice, Tippett, and hood. The prayers begin: “O Lord, open thou our lips.” “O God make speed to save us.” These prayer-cries reach all the way back to the Old Testament.
After these versicles are sung by the priest and choir, we proceed 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 plan is to expose us to the full range of the Psalms. If we were to recite them every day, they all would be familiar to us, like old friends. Following the Psalms are the readings from Holy Scripture, punctuated by the Canticles, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. There are two Scripture readings at a full Evensong, the first from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament. What we have here is the sanctification of time, morning and evening. There is something especially powerful about the sanctification of Evensong. The day is over. The night is at hand. Just as each day is a kind of whole life of its own (“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.” Thank you, Music Department!