What is it…worship or concert?
What are its origins?
The Anglican Office of Evensong, as established in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, resulted from the fusing together of elements from the Roman Offices of Vespers and Compline. Evensong, a liturgical pattern of psalms followed by lessons and canticles, always includes choral settings of the Magnificat, a hymn of praise expressing the joy and thanksgiving of The Virgin Mary following her Annunciation; and the Song of Simeon, a salutation of God’s promise of salvation as found in The New Testament. In addition to the singing of the established psalms and canticles, hymns and anthems are normally included in Evensong services today.
“Evensong comes from a time when the arts were understood as a gift from God, meant to lead people into a deeper understanding and love of God. We moderns perceive a distinction between worship and performance that would not be audible to Evensong’s first hearers; for them, to listen to sacred music was itself an act of meditative devotion. Can you adjust your ears accordingly?
Evensong was peace and solace. These people worked hard. From Water-Pic to John Deere, the machines that make our life easier were missing. Evensong at the end of the workday must have been a blessed rest to them. They didn’t have our expectation that the whole congregation should participate in the liturgy, sitting quietly for half an hour or so felt good. Can you put aside your labors and be at rest with Evensong?
Evensong was delight. Sixteenth century Anglicans did not own CD players— understandably, since electricity had not yet been domesticated. They did not have the option of staying home and listening to sacred music in their own cottage, or even watching 60 Minutes. Evensong was an experience of special, extraordinary richness, a musical message about a beautiful, orderly transcendent reality that underlies the human experience of risk, pain, and need. Can you, through sacred rest, encounter this beauty and order?
Finally, Evensong was an experience of unity. Modern Christians live out their faith in differing traditions of interpretation and practice, but in earlier times all the Christian people of a nation generally belonged to one church. The concept of “denomination” was unknown. Anybody and everybody in a community might show up at Evensong. They still do!” -- (copyright Pamela Grenfell Smith, 1998)