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The Daily Office Tutorial, part VIII – Using “An Order of Worship for the Evening”

February 22, 2011

By now you’ve discovered that the joy and the curse of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer offices are their flexibility and their permissiveness.  There is so much that you can or may do, that it can be overwhelming.  Hopefully these tutorials have provided you with a way through them into a deep and abiding spirituality of daily prayer and scripture reading.

Now we come to the odd little prayer service called, “An Order of Worship for the Evening.”  Why, you might ask, is this here when we have already explored and been through Evening Prayer and Compline?  This service is yet another way to mark the evening as sacred and, according to the rubrics which precede it, “may be used as a complete rite in place of Evening Prayer, or as the introduction to Evening Prayer or some other service, or as the prelude to an evening meal or other activity. It is appropriate also for use in private houses.

This is a new rite for the 1979 BCP and one of the many neat things about it is its variety of uses, but they bear some explanation and exploration.  As you will see, this service may be more suited to corporate use in a church/camp/retreat setting than private use, but you’re certainly welcome to do it privately as well.  Got your BCP handy?  Turn with me to page 109 and let us pray.

The first thing you’ll note is a rubric that states that the church (or whatever space you’re worshiping in) is dark when the service begins.  Further rubrics on page 142 expand upon that and suggest that the space should be as dark as possible, as well as silent.  As the officiant begins s/he should do so holding a small, personal candle by which to see (if in Eastertide, the Paschal Candle should be burning from the beginning and the officiant should use its light by which to see.).  The opening sentences by season appear on p. 109.  Following that, three short lessons of scripture are provided, from which you select one to read.  Seasonal choices are listed in the “Concerning the Service” section on p. 108.

After the short lesson of Scripture, the Officiant says one of the offered “Prayers for Light” on pp. 110-111, selected by season.

Immediately following the prayer for light, candles on the Altar, personal candles, candles at the dinner table, Advent Wreath candles, and/or all other candles should be lighted.  During the lighting of the candles, a psalm or anthem may be sung, or silence may be kept.  This is quite a powerful thing, to see the light spread out and banish the darkness.  If in Eastertide, the candles should be lit from the Paschal Candle.  After all the candles are lit that are going to be lit, the Phos hilaron is sung, p. 112.  It is interesting to note that, given the extreme permissiveness of these services, you are not given the option to say the Phos hilaron here, only to sing it. (If you really want to, go ahead and say it…)  A popular metrical version of it is in the hymnal at Hymn 25 – this is quite easily sung a cappella.

During the singing of the Phos hilaron, the additional rubrics on page 143 state that if incense is to be used, it is used at the time.  This can take the form of censing the altar if in church, or having folks come forward to add incense to a live coal as an offering of prayer, or censing the Paschal Candle in Eastertide.  What is great about this is this is one of the only places, if not the only place, that the BCP ’79 uses the word incense.  Apply liberally, I say.

From there, the service may either be completed, as it might be if used as a special blessing before meals in a private home, or it may continue in myriad ways.

  • You may continue with Evening Prayer, beginning at the psalms;
  • You may continue with the Holy Eucharist (if with a priest), beginning at the salutation and the Collect of the Day;
  • You may continue with a meal or other activity, concluding the service following the Phos hilaron by all saying the Lord’s Prayer and the Officiant offering a grace or a blessing;
  • Or it may continue as a complete rite in and of itself by adding the following elements:
  1. A Psalm(s), followed by silence, a suitable Collect, or both.
  2. A Scripture reading, followed by silence, a sermon or homily, a passage from Christian literature, or any combination thereof.
  3. A canticle – The Magnificat is especially appropriate, but any canticle or hymn of praise will serve.  To maintain the contemplative nature of this kind of service, you might consider a Taizé style song.
  4. Prayers – A Litany is suggested, such as the Litany of the Saints, the Great Litany, or other Litany.  Other suitable prayer devotions may be used as desired, to include the Lord’s Prayer.  The Collect of the Day may be used, or one of the two provided collects on p. 113, or any other collect appropriate for the occasion.
  5. A blessing (suggested blessing on p. 114 – it says a bishop or priest may use this blessing but if you change the pronoun “you” to “us” a layperson may use it,) or dismissal (see p. 114), or both.  Following that, the Peace may be exchanged.

If it is desirous to sing another hymn, it should be sung following the prayers prior to the blessing and dismissal.  If the complete office form is used prior to a meal, it is appropriate to conclude the rite with a blessing over the food.

So, there you have that one, “An Order of Worship for the Evening.”  I have experienced this service in many beautiful and very creative ways.  It is highly flexible and malleable to almost any situation, circumstance, and location.  With this service particularly, staying within the rubrics of course, I encourage you to let your liturgical creativity run wild!  Light is a powerful thing.  The Light of Christ, all the more so.  Let your light shine.

Fr. Ryan+

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