Project Canterbury

The People's Book of Worship
A Study of the Book of Common Prayer

By John Wallace Suter and Charles Morris Addison

New York: Macmillan, 1919.

Chapter V. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer

THE first book in the Library of our Service books contains the Order for Morning and Evening Prayer. These are more frequently used than any other of our services, and so stand in the forefront.

In studying these we must say something of their history: because in Chapter I it may have seemed as if the philosophy of ritual there expressed implied a book especially compiled to set forth these ideas. This is not so. The idea of worship and its expression set forth already is inherent in all human nature and in every religion, and especially in Christianity has been full of changes and a matter of growth. Our Book of Worship was never framed, or composed--it grew. And it grew in the persistent effort of the human heart to express more and more adequately its desire for worship. Our services of Morning and Evening Prayer, then, are only a stage in this long process, the outcome of centuries of worship, each age trying out new methods and using the experiments of the past. They are the compressed expression of the Church's life of worship through eighteen centuries.

What that spirit of worship is we have seen in Chapter I, and in Chapter II we have set forth the various forms into which it has flowed. We come now after discussing some general principles to the twofold task of tracing the growth of two of these services, and then of seeing how far they fulfill the demands of our hearts when we come to worship God.

The Daily Offices have their roots in the Synagogue worship of the Jews, just as our Holy Communion reaches back to the ritual of the Temple. The early Christians worshiped still in the Synagogue, and the reading of psalms and lessons and the prayers was familiar to them. (James 2:2.) But the separation must have come early and by themselves the Christians continued the simple form to which they had been accustomed. The Lord's Prayer and the growing creed would be said in unison and the reading of portions of the scripture, the Old Testament first, and then as the years went on, a circular letter from St. Paul, or St. Peter, or a fragment of St. Mark's Gospel, as it was copied and handed about, would be read and prayers would follow, extemporaneous or more formal and pre-composed. But it was all simple, and the worshipers took some part. It was "common" prayer. Then came the days of the monks, when the times and the trend of religion drove so many men from the active life of the world into the deserts and into monasteries, when life was cut into two parts, the secular and the sacred, and the latter, the so-called "religious," was made into a life of constant worship. There was plenty of time and little to do, life's wants were easily supplied, and so the monastic life performed its necessary duties for the body in the short intervals between the services of the hours. (Ps. 55:18. Cf. Ps. 119: 164). The whole day and even the night were turned into a round of services. Between midnight and daybreak there was the service called Nocturns or Matins, with Lauds attached. At six came Prime, at nine Tierce, and noon Sext, in the afternoon at three, Nones, about six, Vespers was said, and the round closed at nine o'clock by saying the last of the services, called Compline. These services were long and repetitious, dry and formal. They continued all through the Middle Ages, with but little change.

The Christian life of worship had been expanded to its utmost. Only those who had little or nothing else to do, could join in it. It was no longer "common" prayer. The common people could have no part in it. The so-called "religious" had monopolized common worship and the laity only "assisted" by kneeling at the celebration of the Mass. If they attended any of the services mentioned above and which were contained in the book called the Breviary, they could understand nothing that was said, for Latin was the language used. The worship of God had become not only burdensome but unintelligible.

At the time of the Reformation there was felt the need, not only of purifying these old forms from false doctrine, but of simplifying and shortening them and of putting them into the tongue understood by the people. The priesthood of the laity was once more to be made vocal and effective. The men of the Church of England to whom we owe our Prayer Book undertook this work. And characteristically, in obedience to the spirit of their church and nation, they clung to all that was good in the old and refused to set forth a new order of worship. As their church was not a new creation, but a return to the principles and polity of the Apostolic times, so their Book of Worship was to retain all that the worshiping Church had developed through centuries of prayer--all that was good in it. They had at hand the Breviary, with its hours of devotion, and they found that these could easily be purified and compressed and simplified, and that when this process was completed, they had in their hands, the same expression of worship which had persisted through the accretions of the Middle Ages, the same order of approach to God, the result of the experience and experiments of centuries. These are taken up into the structure and very words of our Morning and Evening Prayer and made vital for the worship of millions to-day. And it is interesting to note that only in our Prayer Book do these appear in living form to-day. No other church has done this work. Except as recited in Latin by the Roman priests of to-day, a task they are compelled to fulfill and which is fulfilled by rapid reading each for himself, in the course of the day, no church but ours carries out by daily use the spirit and order of the old Breviary. The Breviary, as the people's book, is dead. The Breviary, as forming Book I of our Prayer Book, is alive and still growing. All that Christian men in the past had found necessary to express when they came to worship God, is here retained, in order and largely in word. Our reformers believed that the Church, through long practice, had developed an almost perfect scheme of worship, and they were wise enough to retain it. Cranmer and his fellow-workers took the seven hour devotions and out of the morning hours, Nocturns or Matins, Lauds and Prime, framed our Morning Prayer, and out of the evening hours, Vespers and Compline, made our Evening Prayer, so that what used to take the larger part of both night and day, now could be said in an hour and a half. They have given us the compressed form of a life of constant worship extending over eighteen centuries. Thus the book we are studying is plainly an evolution and not something framed to fit a theory of worship.

"The Prayer Book as it stands is a long gallery of Ecclesiastical history which, to be understood and enjoyed thoroughly, absolutely compels a knowledge of the greatest events and names of all periods of the Christian Church.

"To Ambrose we owe our Te Deum, Charlemagne breaks the silence of our Ordination Prayer by the Veni Creator Spiritus. The persecutions have given us one creed, the Empire another. The name of the first great patriarch of the Byzantine Church closes our daily service. The Litany is the bequest of the first great patriarch of the Latin Church amidst the terrors of the Roman pestilence. Our Collects are the joint production of Fathers, Popes and Reformers. Our Communion Service bears the traces of every fluctuation of the Reformation, through the two extremes of the reign of Edward to the conciliatory policy of Elizabeth and the revolutionary zeal of the Restoration." Stanley.


But our purpose is not historical. Most works on the Prayer Book are concerned chiefly either with its history or with minute explanation of its parts, to its very phraseology. To some of these the reader is referred in the note at the end of this chapter.

We are concerned with the worshipful attitude and its expression in word and act in the Prayer Book. What is it that, as we have set forth already in Chapter I, should be found in the expression of the soul's worship? Praise. There are other feelings to be expressed, but praise is the highest and dominates all. To approach God and get any glimpse of his Being and glory is to burst forth into praise. This aspect is the most prominent one in the ancient Hours. They are built on the principle of Praise, they center in the saying or singing of the Psalms, so that another name for the Breviary is "Psalterium." The services for Matins and Prime began with the Invocation, "In the Name" etc., then came the Lord's Prayer with its doxology, and then the Versicle, "O Lord, open," and the response, "and our mouth" etc., and the Gloria, "Praise ye the Lord" and "The Lord's Name be praised," and then the Venite, the great invitatory to praise, "O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice," etc. This was followed by the Psalter, a selection of only twelve Psalms with their antiphons and glorias. This is the heart of our own two services, as it should be. It is the way that men have always approached the Christian's God. But the framers of our Book have added more praise. Instead of reciting daily or weekly only a dozen, or on Sunday eighteen Psalms, they have given us the whole Psalter in the course of the month, and so in time every aspect of praise is put into our mouths.

The Psalms are thus the dominant element in our worship. They dominate all the others, confession of sin, hearing God's word, profession of faith, and prayer, all these are taken up and appropriated and fused by the overpowering outpouring of praise. "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power." In this spirit the framers of our book were not afraid to sound at its very beginning the note of penitence. And so they took the Confession and Absolution from the end of the old services, where it was wont to refer to the imperfection of the congregation's worship, personal confession, being then private and auricular, and so having no place in public worship, and put these in the forefront with verses from God's word and an Exhortation as to the worship which follows. Because in the light of God's presence we first see ourselves as we really are, and that is penitence. Only on our knees can we begin to praise God, and after we have confessed our sin and begged for forgiveness and heard it freely given to such as ask for it humbly, can we be fit and ready to stand on our feet and praise. Only then do we personally feel the goodness and mercy of God,--how worthy he is. Then our book commands us to stand, invites us to praise in the Venite, and puts the words of the glorious Psalms in our mouths.

But the more we know of God, the more we shall be moved to praise him. The service of Matins had a lesson consisting of three or nine short passages, and Lauds and Prime had a short chapter and these were each followed by a burst of praise, the former by Te Deum, "We praise thee, O Lord," and the latter by the Benedictus, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel."

And so, bodily, this next stage of worship has been incorporated into our Book. And here again its compilers have generously given us more than the old monks would. Instead of short selections, with many repetitions and with bits from the lives of the Saints, they have given us, as with the Psalter, the whole of God's words in the Holy Scriptures. The Lectionary gives us in daily portions every word of the Old Testament in the course of the year, and the New Testament twice over, and the more we hear of God, the more we desire to praise him. The natural desire of the mind, after listening to the revelation which God has made of himself, is to gather up this knowledge into some form which will express our faith. And so we use here the Apostles' Creed, not a complete statement but a symbol of our Faith, collecting in a few short articles the essentials, on which our praise. rests, and which give us our confidence to approach God in prayer, which we are now ready to do at the close of our worship. The prayers begin with the Collect for the Day, thereby connecting the Divine Office, as our two services used to be called, with the Divine Liturgy, or Office of Holy Communion; the other name for which and that which best describes its character, is "The Eucharist," which means "giving of thanks." The two are only different expressions of our praise.

Then come the prayers, which are mostly intercessions. These are collected from the three early offices, Matins, contributing the Lord's Prayer, which has been used earlier, Lauds, the Collect for the Day, and the Collect for Peace and Prime giving us the Collect for Grace. Here the old service ended. But our compilers once more added, perfectly in the spirit of the old forms, the prayer for All in Authority, typifying the Nation, and those for the clergy, typifying the Church, and for All Conditions of Men, adding, still in the spirit of praise, the General Thanksgiving and closing with the beautiful prayer of St. Chrysostom, and the Grace in St. Paul's words to the Corinthians.

The service of Evening Prayer is naturally assimilated to the Morning Prayer. It is taken from the Hours for Vespers and Compline which each began at the Lord's Prayer, and were each rich in the recitation of the Psalter. Vespers had a lesson from the Old Testament, followed by the Magnificat, while Compline had a lesson from the New Testament, followed by Nunc Dimittis.

Again the compilers having kept the spirit of praise, prefix opening invitatory sentences, an exhortation, or description of the order of the service to follow; the general confession and absolution and the closing prayers after the Creed are, in the main, like those in the morning, only the Prayer for Peace is not now for outward peace from enemies and adversaries, but that inward peace of the heart, which the world cannot give, and the next prayer is not for grace and guidance through the day, but for protection during the helpless hours of the night.


The two officers are, it will be noticed, exactly similar in outline. What we may call the "worshipful content," or that which makes the service an efficient vehicle of worship, is in each case the same. The service presents an inevitable process, and a satisfying progress, in accordance with what is, as it were, a natural history of worship. The great steps of the progress are five. Coming into the Presence, entering expectant into God the Father's house, the worshiper's first instinct of un-worthiness finds expression in the confession of sin, led up to by exhortation, and culminating in the declaration of absolution, and the Lord's Prayer, to which the Absolution serves as a bidding. The second inevitable and natural instinct is to give thanks to the Father for his manifold gifts, and this finds expression in repeated songs of praise, in Venite or Psalms, in first and second canticles. A third instinct, or desire, upon entering the Presence is to hear the word of the Lord, and the listening soul is satisfied by the lections from Old and New Testaments which alternate with the expressions of praise. The worshipers then come, united as they are in and through their corporate experiences of confession, praise and listening, to the climax of the service, the great gateway of the Creed, the symbol of their common faith, the pledge of their unswerving loyalty, through which they enter the final part of the service, the enjoyment of communion, the untrammeled outpouring of their souls in petition, intercession and thanksgiving to the Father of all.

It is this unfaltering rightness of the order, this genius of the service, which furnishes the answer to the question which every user of the Prayer Book must ask himself--What is it which makes this service, which commands my admiration and my love, a great service? For that it is great we instinctively feel, and of this excellence which makes the service a great expression of worship we are even ready to boast. We know that it is not merely because the form is ancient, or contains much Scripture, or chances to meet our habitual moods. We see the ground of its beauty and power in the unity and progress of its structure, and in its worshipful reasonableness.

NOTE. Supplementing what was said in Chapter II about the five books which are now bound into one in our Prayer Book, it is important to note that there is one still left outside. While our Hymnal is sometimes closely attached to the Prayer Book by its binding, it is a separate book. And yet it is one of our books of worship. It is the expression of our praise through music, the setting of lyrical songs so that the congregation may praise God musically in unison. Thus the principle of praise is still further carried out and we generally begin and end our Morning and Evening Services with the singing of a hymn. We now have incorporated in the Prayer Book, as one of its five books, the Psalter, or Jewish Hymn Book. It is conceivable that some day there might be incorporated there the Christian Hymn Book, which ought to be that body of hymns which forms the invariable element in all hymnals, and is the universal hymnody of Christendom.


Barry: Teacher's Prayer Book. (Am. Ed.)

Proctor and Frere: A New History of the Book of Common Prayer.

Daniel: The Prayer Book; Its History, Language and Contents.

Pullan: The History of the Book of Common Prayer.

Dearmer: Everyman's History of the Prayer Book.

Hart: The Book of Common Prayer.

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