By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – April 25, 2016) — Because much of the United States doesn’t have a thriving Anglican presence — particularly in smaller communities, it’s difficult to find a church or cathedral that hosts evensong services. Fortunately, BBC Radio 3 helps rectify the problem .
With weekly live broadcasts of various choral evensong services around England and Scotland, BBC Radio 3 highlights the rich, Christian tradition of evensong worship, allowing people from around the world — via the Internet — access to the music, prayers, Psalms, and canticles presented during the services.
I’ve recently made a practice to tune it to the live services (or a re-broadcast) presented on BBC Radio 3. As an example, this past weekend, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, with the Choir and Orchestra of the Swan, was the featured service. Here I was able to listen – live — to a service in commemoration of William Shakespeare that tied in with the 400th anniversary of his death. The music chosen and the Psalms read were all connected—on some level—to the Bard of England.
On the broadcast I heard, Sing Joyfully by William Byrd (1543-1623), Responses by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), a lesson from Deuteronomy 10, and readings from Ephesians 5. When you add more music by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Thomas Tallis (c. 1545), and John Dowland (1563-1626) to the program, the service was a marvelous compendium of musical praise to God.
I’ve been privileged to experience evensong services live in England during my Canterbury Christchurch sponsored school graduation , and have attended several here in the United States, but having weekly access to services is truly a blessing.
For those who are clueless as to what I’m talking about, a little history is in store as described by W.K Lowthere Clarke .
“EVENSONG is a popular service in the true sense of the term ‘popular.’ Especially when the psalms and lessons have a clear and appropriate message, it appeals to the people in a wonderful way, refreshing the soul and informing the mind. But we shall enjoy the service still more if we understand it.
“It is sometimes said that Matins and Evensong came from the monks. In a sense this is true, but the offices from which our modern services are derived were used by other priests than those in monasteries, and in a simpler form by pious lay folk in their private devotions. The great Churchman mainly responsible for our Morning and Evening Prayer was Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Mary; under Mary, as every schoolboy knows, he was burned to death at Oxford. Now Cranmer found a system of prayers for different times of the day, called the Hours, observed most fully in the monasteries, but to a large extent outside them too, which, in spite of its beauty, was unsuitable for general use because (i) there were far more services than people could be expected to attend; (ii) not enough Scripture was read; (iii) the public services were in Latin-we have a relic of this in the titles of the psalms in our Prayer-Book; and (iv) they were too elaborate for simple people to follow.
“At midnight the monks were roused from sleep and proceeded from the dormitory to the church, where they said the first prayers of the new day. This service was rather long and included several lessons from the Bible. When it was over they went back to bed until dawn, when they had the next service, called Lauds (that is, Praises), followed by another called Prime. We may reckon these two as one. The rest of the day was marked by services at the third, sixth, and ninth hours—counting from six o’clock—to which the names Terce, Sext, Nones were given, from the Latin words tertia, sexta, nona, meaning the third, sixth, and ninth hours.
“This makes five services, leaving out the daily Mass, of which we are not thinking here. The other two were Vespers at sunset, and Compline (so called because it completed the day) last thing at night. Special importance was attached to the number seven, and to the midnight rising, because of the words of the psalms: “Seven times a day will I praise Thee,” and ” At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee.” Out of these seven or eight services Cranmer made our Matins and Evensong. The early morning offices were turned into Matins, the three day offices were not used, and Vespers and Compline formed Evensong, as we shall see presently.
“We may ask next, Where did the monks get their services? The services used in the monasteries had been altered in the course of time, but were, nevertheless, essentially the same as those used in monasteries 1,200 years before, and these in their turn go back to the earliest age of the Church. The Apostles themselves had services consisting of psalms, Scripture readings and prayers, out of which was formed the first part of the primitive Liturgy. From this Ante-Communion, as we call it, the Old Testament lesson has dropped out, and all that is left of the psalm-singing is the “Glory be to Thee, O God,” before the Gospel, unless we say that the modern hymns represent the psalms. When the need for extra services arose, the model was at hand in the Ante-Communion, which was thus the link between the Apostles and the monks.”
So there you have it, a rich, historical tradition dating back a millennium. So next time you’re looking for a Biblical and enriching experience, tune in to BBC Radio 3 for a period of worship and meaningful music. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
To learn more about BBC Radio 3, click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b077j8km
Photo captions: 1) Westminster Abbey choir. 2) Choral Evensong at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (BBC). 3) Humorous sign. 4) Brian Nixon.
Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist, Brian spends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing and listening to music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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