Evening Prayer: A Rookie Anglican Guide

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Evening Prayer can be a great way to transition from the busy rhythms of work or school into a more restful, reflective last chapter of the day. Multiple authors have explained the value of such prayer for finding God, emotional stability, and even verse memorization. Like all our offices of daily prayer, it can be said alone or with others, by clergy or laypeople. Especially when sung with others, it is often called Evensong.

However, like many of the Prayer Book’s liturgies, Evening Prayer can be intimidating. I encourage you to check out our other articles and Rookie Anglican guides about the Daily Office. And if you’d like a simplified version of Evening Prayer, check out our Daily Office Booklet.

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A Refresher on the Daily Office

Evening Prayer is one part of the Daily Office or the daily rhythm of prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the two principal services, with shorter services of Midday Prayer and Compline said at noon and before bed. The four-part rhythm is:

As David Smith explained in his Rookie Anglican Guide to Morning Prayer, these prayer services are the “most basic building blocks of Anglican life;” they are “scripts” that walk you through “confessing sin, worshipping God, reading scripture, and praying for yourself and others.”

The Three Parts of Evening Prayer

Evening prayer can be divided into three parts: Preparation, Proclamation, and Prayers.

The Preparation features a confession of sin and a series of responses that prepare the heart to hear God’s word.

The Proclamation features God’s word in the Psalms and the Scripture readings, together with Canticles or songs taken from scripture.

The Prayers feature the Lord’s Prayer, written prayers from across church history, and a time for personal prayer, together with prayers to conclude the service.

1. Preparation

Confession of Sin

The first thing we do in both Morning and Evening prayer is to confess that we have sinned,

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done…

And we ask for God’s forgiveness. At this point, there are two options. If a priest leads the liturgy, he can offer one of two absolutions. If a deacon or layperson is saying the office, they say instead,

Grant to your faithful people, merciful Lord, pardon and peace; that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(This can also often work quite well for a priest if he is saying the office alone, as one can’t really pronounce absolution on oneself!)

Invitatory

After we confess our sins and receive the Lord’s grace, we recite an antiphon that ushers us into a time of praise.

Phos Hilaron

A part of the liturgy introduced for the 1979 Prayer Book and kept for the 2019 version is the Phos Hilaron. This ancient hymn, originally in Greek, dates to the late 3rd or early 4th century and has long been a staple in the Eastern Church. Called “O Gladsome Light” in English, it provides an introductory hymn between the Invitatory and the Psalm(s) in the same way the Vinite, Jubilate, or Pascha Nostrum function in Morning Prayer. It praised Christ as the light of the world, using the image of the sunset,

Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If you want to learn how to chant the Phos Hilaron, check out our guide here.

2. Proclamation

The Psalm(s) Appointed

At this point, we transition to praising God through the Psalms, which are, after all, the reflections of David and others in their own relationship with God. These can provide a powerful lens through which to process our own relationship. There are two possible ways to go through the Psalms. The Prayer Book divides the Psalms into a 30-day cycle in the Psalter itself. However, there is an alternate 60-day cycle at the back of the book with the Daily Office Lectionary (pp. 734-763) for those who want shorter daily readings.

Readings

From the time of praise, we transition into the reading of scripture. There are two readings each for morning and evening appointed each day, which can be found in the Daily Office Lectionary (see above). If used as prescribed (in the words of the Prayer Book),

The Old Testament is read in its entirety once a year (with the exception of a few passages)… The Gospel and Acts are read in their entirety twice each year… The Epistles are read twice each year… except for the Revelation to John, which is read only once, during the Advent season.

A few passages of the Apocrypha are included. This is in keeping with the Anglican principle that these books are useful “for example of life and instruction,” though we derive no doctrine from them.

Canticles

Each reading is followed by a canticle of praise to God in response. Usually, these are the Magnificat after the first and the Nunc Dimittis after the second. There are, however, other canticles that can be used in their place, especially during special seasons (see pp. 79-87).

Magnificat

The Magnificat, also known as the Song of Mary, is based on the words of praise and thanksgiving spoken by the Virgin Mary in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:46-55). It celebrates God’s greatness and mercy, acknowledging His work of salvation in Christ. The Magnificat is often sung or recited during Evening Prayer as a focal point of worship, inviting the congregation to join Mary in her exaltation and reflecting on God’s faithfulness throughout history.

For those who want to chant the Magnificat, we have an easy guide here.

Nunc dimittis

The Nunc dimittis, also known as the Song of Simeon, is taken from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:29-32). It is the prayer of Simeon upon seeing the infant Jesus, expressing his joy and contentment. The Nunc dimittis is a powerful proclamation of fulfillment and hope, as Simeon recognizes Jesus as the light of revelation for the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people, Israel. Like the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis is sung or recited during Evening Prayer, serving as a moment of reflection and anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

For those who want to chant the Nunc dimittis, we have an easy guide here.

3. The Prayers

We then move from the time of scripture and response to an extended period of laying our concerns and thanksgivings before the Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer

We begin with the prayer Jesus taught us. We say it in unison, expressing our shared faith and dependence on God. The Lord’s Prayer encompasses adoration, petition, and surrender.

Suffrages

The suffrages are where we petition for the world, the church, and those in need. There are two forms in the 2019 Prayer Book. The older of these forms begins, “O Lord, show your mercy upon us,” and we pray antiphonally for these things. In the newer version, which begins, “That this evening may be holy, good, and peaceful,” we repeatedly respond, “We entreat you, O Lord.” While the form differs, the themes are essentially the same in both.

Occasionally, often on fast days, the Great Litany (an extended liturgy of petitions and supplications found on pp. 91-97) can be said in place of the usual suffrages.

Collects

Collects are brief prayers that gather the intentions and desires of the congregation into a focused petition. They are often composed to correspond to specific days or seasons in the liturgical calendar. Collects typically follow a distinct structure, beginning with an invocation or address to God, followed by a specific request or petition, and concluding with a doxology or affirmation of faith.

In Evening Prayer, we usually begin with the Collect of the Day, which is the collect of that week of the church year, and usually (with few exceptions) the one used in the previous Sunday’s church service. It can be found on pp. 598-640 of the Prayer Book. We follow this with the collect for the weekday, then one of the prayers for mission. Any additional collects we wish to include can be found on pp. 641-683.

To learn more about the Collects of the Christian Year, read “What is a Collect?” and “Announcing Collect Reflections: Reflecting on the Collects of the Christian Year.”

Thanksgivings and Intercessions

Here we lift up all of our individual concerns and those we know about to God’s care. As David Smith reminds us, “Pray for others, pray for the lost, pray for yourself, pray for your family, your church, whoever, whatever! This can go for as long as you desire.”

The General Thanksgiving

The General Thanksgiving is the natural follow-up to our extemporaneous prayers. It also closes the prayer time if the service has been said alone. In it, we thank God for “all the blessings of this life” and that he would continue to make us aware of his mercies.

The Prayer of St John Chrysostom

Evening prayer traditionally finishes with the prayer of St John Chrysostom, especially if said with a group. This late 4th or early 5th-century prayer is credited to the notable Archbishop of Constantinople from that time. It humbly thanks God for giving us the time to join in prayer together through Christ (“that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will grant their requests”) and petitions him to fulfill those requests in the way that is best for us.

Dismissal and Grace

Finally, we end with a responsive dismissal and a verse of scripture that thematically sets us on our way.

We’re Here to Help

This seems like a lot, I know, even explained. However, we’re here to help. You can sign up for our Daily Office Booklet to have a simplified, printable booklet to guide you through Morning and Evening Prayer every day, including a table of readings. You can also check out DailyOffice2019.com, sponsored by Anglican House Publishing, for an online version of the Daily Office that you adjust to your own preferences.

Cover image: “Evening Prayers: Open Leather Bible, Soft Lighting” by GrabillCreative for Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Author

Jacob Davis

The Rev. Jacob Davis is the editor of Anglican Compass. He is a priest in the Diocese of Christ Our Hope and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as assisting clergy at Grace Anglican Church.

View more from Jacob Davis

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