Evensong….the story







It is a wonderfully-contemplative Service and the oldest format of all our Services after Compline. It has been sung in English and other Anglican Churches for over 400 years.


The nearest equivalent in the Catholic Church is Vespers, and in fact it is a really a combination of the two old Catholic services of Vespers, and Compline.


It is structurally similar to Mattins, which up to the 1960s was the main morning service, Communion being the main service only about once a month. Why Mattins died, I’m not sure, as it covered almost every aspect of our worship and was an eclectic gathering-together of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, psalms, responses, collects, canticles, readings chants, etc with a great lectionary. The chants required a reasonable expertise in use, before practice made them easy.


This latter point may have been the stumbling point, as in many cathedrals, beautiful, but complicated, services, chants and anthems were sung by the Choir only, so members of the congregation were a bit ‘left-out’, and if you were a stranger to Anglican Liturgy then ‘heaven help you’!


There was also a movement towards Holy Communion becoming the main service and Mattins became a less popular event.


Evensong has lasted longer, and many Churches still have a sung or said service once a month; it is often the only evening service. The Psalm, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, and responses are still sung, along with some hymns, but the chants used are fewer, and easier to sing. Most choir-members love singing Evensong. The sheer beauty of the music, along with the simplicity of quietly-spoken well-known words, and the dimmed lights, tend to provide an atmosphere, which is very palpable, and for a short time, as in Iona, Heaven and earth seem to come very close together.


It brings an element of peace and tranquillity at the end of the weekend, and for those people who may find it difficult to be involved in quiet prayer in Church, they can use the minutes before, during and after Evensong in contemplation, when even music may be superfluous.




Harry Monroe

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