THE PRAYER BOOK orders Morning Prayer to be said daily. The suggestions about to be made are with reference to those occasions when it is offered on Sundays at the popular hour of public worship, presumably with music.
Properly rendered, Morning Prayer is an instructive and inspiring service, and it has ministered edification to many generations of Anglican Christians. Desirable though it be to restore the Eucharist to the place Morning Prayer has usurped, the proper way to work for that is not by expressing contempt for the choir office or belittling it by a slipshod rendering. After all, Morning Prayer is a part of our Divine Office, offered in honor of Almighty God and for the edification of His people, and it should be rendered as worthily as possible.
The minister should always plan, and occasionally rehearse with the choir, the service in advance. It can be made a unified service and effect its message and appeal; or it can be disconnected, monotonous, and tire some. The sentences, psalms, lessons, canticles, prayers, hymns, the theme of the sermon, should all be carefully chosen. In all these matters, particularly under the rubrics of the revised Prayer Book, the minister has a sufficiently wide choice.
His demeanour during the service is important. It should be reverent, without being solemn; dignified, but not pompous; cheerful, but without levity; alert, but un hurried. If his personal mood does not accord with what he is doing, it can and should be concealed. Similar considerations apply to the choir. A service is like a play; it is a drama, and it needs to be rehearsed. The more faithful and carefully laboured the practice, the more natural, smooth, and satisfactory will be the performance.
There are certain details with regard to the demeanour of the clergy in the chancel that appear trifling, but are so frequently ignored that they deserve comment. A painful fact often to be observed is that so many ministers do not know what to do with their hands. When not definitely using the hands for some practical and necessary purpose, the traditional and the most graceful position is to keep them clasped naturally before the breast. The palm to palm attitude, fingers extended, which is the Roman manner, usually appears stilted and affected. Kneeling down and rising from the knees is an art that can be acquired with a little practice. The minister should kneel and rise with the force of his own body. Unless he is infirm or physically incapacitated, he need not grab hold of the reading-desk or altar. It is also easy to learn when kneeling down to have the cassock fall over the feet, happily concealing them rather than making them the most conspicuous feature of the parson at prayer. When standing, he should stand still, avoid swaying or teetering. The minister should face the altar when he addresses Almighty God, the congregation when he ad dresses or reads to them, and the opposite stall during other parts of the service.
Despite the lack of historic precedent, processional and recessional hymns are practically universal where there is a vested choir, and they certainly afford the most dignified method for choir and clergy to get in and out of church. Most choirs march badly, and should march better, but keeping step to the music is not a good way to effect better marching. The crucifer, if there is one, should march at least six feet in front of the choir, and the minister and his assistant quite six feet behind the choir.
There is probably no more undignified gesture more frequently indulged than for the minister as soon as he reaches his place in the chancel to survey the congregation. He should never stare at the congregation nor look at them except when he addresses them.
The Sentences at the beginning of the choir offices are the relics of the old Antiphons of the Hours. They are like the motif in Wagner's operas. Preferably only one should be said or sung. Most congregations prefer the parts of the service rendered by the clergy to be said. There is a good deal to be said for intoning, but it usually is more acceptable at Evensong than at Matins.
If the Dearly beloved brethren is habitually disused, few will notice or mourn its loss.
Despite the rubrical permission, the Absolution provided for Morning Prayer should always be used, and never that from the Holy Communion. It is not proper to make the sign of the cross over the people during this Absolution.
Facing the altar by clergy and choir during the saying or singing of the Gloria Patri may well be left to individual taste and cur rent custom. Though there is good authority for doing so or not doing so, it is rather a fussy, pointless little bit of ceremony, and where it is not customary there seems little reason to introduce it.
The Psalms read antiphonally by minister and congregation should be those appointed for the Sunday in the revised Prayer Book, or a permissible selection, and only when especially suitable the Psalter for the day, and then not necessarily all of it. Two psalms are as edifying as three. There are a number of psalms wholly unsuitable for Sunday worship. Few choirs can sing the Psalter acceptably, and few congregations want them to try. A definite pause at the colon in the midst of each verse of the psalm brings out the poetry and music. Any congregation can be instructed to do this, and once accomplished it will become an agreeable habit.
It is desirable in the matter of the Canticles to reserve the Te Deum for the more important Sundays, and habitually to use the Benedictus es, except in Advent and Lent when the Benedicite is traditional.
The Benedictus should always be used after the Second Lesson in preference to the Jubilate. Florid and elaborate musical set tings of the Canticles should be eschewed as a vice. Plainsong should be encouraged; choirs and congregations can be converted to it in time.
It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of rendering the service and reading the Lessons in a clear, distinct voice, loud enough to be heard all over the church, rapidly enough to hold the attention, but not so rapidly as to seem in a hurry. They invariably should be read over carefully before the service. If he has not done so, the minister should acquire clear enunciation, correct pronunciation, a cultivated accent, proper breathing, and rid himself of the common faults of dropping the voice at the end of sentences and of emphasizing the wrong word in a sentence. The best way to acquire a good enunciation is by whispering aloud. If a priest would get into the habit of saying his daily offices in a whisper, he would be practising the most effective means to clear enunciation ever devised. He must learn and use the most authoritative pronunciations, and if he be not gifted with a cultivated ac cent by nature or grace, he should acquire it by imitation. Blurred r's and flat a's are really nowadays inexcusable. The laity constantly, and with every reason, complain of indistinct enunciation, slovenly pronunciation, dropping the voice that makes it impossible to catch the last half of sentences, and unintelligent reading. The most frightful vice of some clergy is their imitating the mumble by which Roman priests assassinate the Latin language. Every minister can be come an acceptable and edifying reader; if he cannot, he has mistaken his calling. What ever causes may have contributed to a bad de livery, in the last analysis the fault is his own.
In announcing the lessons the rubric should be exactly obeyed. The titles of the books used should be those of the Authorized Version.
The Apostles' Creed should always be used in the choir offices, with the usual reverence at the Holy Name and, if desired, the sign of the cross at the end.
The Collects and Prayers should be said by the Minister standing, and naturally facing the altar after The Lord be with you, and that is obviously the direction in the revised Prayer Book. It is now permissible to vary the Prayers and Thanksgivings, and it is desirable to take advantage of the per mission. For example, there are two forms of Prayer for the President, and there are prayers for Congress and other civic groups that can occasionally be substituted; the Collect for St. Peter's Day makes an admirable variant for the Prayer for the Clergy, particularly in Easter-tide. If the minister wishes to make special prayers for particular persons it is well to omit the Prayer for all Sorts and Conditions of Men. Generally, it seems advisable not to use a larger number of prayers than the Office itself suggests as a norm, nor, when Morning Prayer is said alone, a fewer number. There are several Collects, now printed together, that make excellent substitutes for the Prayer of St. Chrysostom. If the people can be induced to say Amen at the end of Prayers, they should be encouraged to do so. If they will not (and usually this is the case), the choir may sing it for them. The revised Prayer Book authorizes the congregation to join in the General Thanksgiving, if they desire to do so. There is no liturgical precedent, and it hap pens to be a difficult prayer to follow. Nevertheless there seems to be no strong reason why they should not be permitted to join the minister, and most congregations like to do so. (As for myself, when I sit in the congregation I find I like to join in the General Thanksgiving; when I am conducting the service, I do not like to have the congregation assist.)
Whether the sign of the cross is made or not made at the Grace of our Lord is wholly a matter of personal preference.
After the office is ended, it is customary for the minister to give Notices. At Morning Prayer he should do this from his stall, or from a possibly more convenient place in the chancel. The notices should be explicit in their terms and as few as possible. Nothing bores a congregation more than for a garrulous minister to steal this chance to preach an extra sermon. Many notices can be given on a bulletin in the vestibule.
After a Hymn usually comes the Sermon. The minister goes to the pulpit during the singing of the last verses of the hymn, having preferably offered his private prayer in conspicuously at his stall. The Invocation is preferable to a Collect. If scarfs or tippets are worn for the offices, as they should be, it is fussy and unnecessary for the preacher to exchange them for a stole, particularly in the pulpit. Twenty minutes is a wise limit for most preachers to set themselves for the sermon. If they do not use a manuscript, they should use a watch, and heed its monition. Nothing more defeats a preacher's intention than to miss an admirable point at which to end his sermon. At the end of the sermon the Ascription should be solemnly uttered (not mouthed, muttered, or mumbled) facing the altar. To repeat the Invocation at this point is traditional, but it seems point less to most people. To utter it rapidly or slovenly, making the sign of the cross at the same time, strikes most laymen as irreverent and silly. When a visiting clergyman preaches, he should be escorted to the pulpit by the rector or a verger.
It is customary to use a sentence from the Eucharistic office to announce the offering. One is amply sufficient for that purpose. While the wardens, vestrymen, or ushers are gathering the alms an anthem is usually sung by the choir. In the vast majority of parishes another hymn would be far more effective. The anthem in any case should not be longer than to occupy the time actually required for gathering the alms. The offering of the alms-basins by those who have passed them amongst the congregation to the server or minister should be done with dignity, but without a fussy ceremonial. As soon as the minister has offered the alms above the al tar, they should be placed on the credence table, and the wardens or ushers should quietly retire to their pews; and it is desirable that they reach their pews by the time the choir has finished singing the customary sentence. The minister should say The Lord be with you before turning to the altar for the final collect. Too often the presentation of the alms is conducted with so much pomp and ceremony, and this particularly in churches where ceremonial is affected to be despised, that it appears as if it were the climax of the whole service, a circumstance that invariably gives the intruding Philistine occasion to blaspheme.
One collect should suffice at the end, then the minister should turn and give the Blessing, making the sign of the cross over the people as he does so. The Prayer Book provides several forms of Blessing, and all of them should be used at different times. It is desirable, however, never to use the full Blessing from the office of Holy Communion for the choir offices.
If the service is well planned, if the musical setting, anthems, sermons, notices are not too long, such a Matins as has been de scribed should not last over an hour, never over an hour and a quarter; and that is about the time the average congregation in the present day can concentrate upon divine worship.
A server should extinguish the office lights as soon as the procession of choir and clergy gets out of the chance!. A short prayer in the choir or robing room is usual with a sung Amen. At this moment most congregations kneel, presumably to offer a brief thanksgiving. After a well-rendered service, a helpful sermon, good simple music, they actually are apt to murmur a thanksgiving. Sometimes, one fears, they can be thankful only that an ordeal, imposed by a sense of duty, is over
The choir and clergy should reverence the altar as they pass before it, and make a deeper reverence if the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the church. While undoubtedly the genuflection before the Sacrament is ideally a more expressive and graceful gesture of reverence, the profound bow (customary in pre-Reformation England) is more to the taste of most of our people. There is hardly any doubt that the bow rather than the genuflection would spread more rapidly amongst us. And it is more in accordance with the Anglican tradition. But if all such gestures were made quietly and inconspicuously, instead of, as often happens, ostentatiously and elaborately, they would create less unfavourable comment; and their real value would be more generally perceived.