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Evening Prayer is a liturgy in use in the Anglican Communion (and other churches in the Anglican tradition, such as the Continuing Anglican Movement and the Anglican Use of the Roman Catholic Church) and celebrated in the late afternoon or evening. It is also commonly known as Evensong, especially (but not exclusively) when the office is rendered chorally (that is, when most of the service is sung). It is roughly the equivalent of Vespers in the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran churches, although it was originally formed by combining the Roman Catholic offices of Vespers and Compline. Although many churches now take their services from Common Worship or other modern prayer books, if a church has a choir, Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer often remains in use because of the greater musical provision. Evening Prayer, like Morning Prayer (Mattins) and in contrast to the Eucharist, may be led by a layperson, and is recited by some devout Anglicans daily in private (clergy in many Anglican jurisdictions are required to do so).


Service in prayerbooks in the tradition of 1662

The service of Evening Prayer, according to traditional prayer books such as the 1662 English or 1959 Canadian Book of Common Prayer, is similar in structure to the equivalent Morning Prayer (or Mattins), but with different canticles and with evening-specific collects. It is made up of the following elements:

  • A spoken penitential introduction, including the General Confession and the Lord's Prayer. These are frequently omitted at daily choral Evensong.
  • Preces — a series of verses and responses including the Gloria Patri.
  • A portion of the psalter, i.e. one or more prose psalms, concluding with the Gloria Patri.
  • Two lessons (readings) from the Bible. The first is usually taken from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament. Each lesson is followed by (one of):
  • Two canticles, usually the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, each concluding with the Gloria Patri.
  • The Apostles' Creed, often chanted on a monotone.
  • Several prayers and responses, often chanted. These include the Kyrie eleison and the Lord's Prayer, followed by several verses and responses ("suffrages"), and the Collect of the Day and two additional collects (the "three collects").
  • An anthem following the third collect ("In quires and places where they sing, here followeth the anthem," in the famous phraseology of the 1662 edition of the Prayer Book).
  • Additional spoken prayers.

If the service is accompanied the church organ will normally be played before and after the service. Many institutions have regular unaccompanied evensongs: at Exeter Cathedral and Ripon Cathedral, as well as the Chapels of New College, Oxford and King's College, Cambridge, for example, Friday evensongs are usually sung to a cappella settings of the liturgy.

In practice, the penitential introduction is often omitted, especially at sung services. A sermon or homily may be preached at the end on Sundays or feast days, but does not form a set part of the liturgy. Also, one or more congregational hymns may be added to the service. In Anglo-Catholic churches, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament frequently follows Evensong.

Service in prayerbooks influenced by the liturgical renewal movement

In the Episcopal Church, like the Eucharist, the Burial of the Dead, and A Penitential Order, Morning and Evening Prayer are given in the 1979 US Book of Common Prayer in two forms: "Rite One" and "Rite Two".

Rite One is a modified version of the traditional order for Evening Prayer. It is somewhat similar to the traditional Prayer Book rite, but the Confession of Sin has been truncated, the Phos Hilaron may be said, and only one reading need be used. The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis may both be used, or one of them may be used, or an alternative canticle may be used. Rite One is based on the 1928 Prayer Book and is also found in the Anglican Service Book, a traditional language adaption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Rite Two is substantially similar, but is rendered in modern language.

The American Book of Common Prayer also offers an "Order of Worship for the Evening", which may be used as a service in itself or as an introduction to Evening Prayer.

The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada provides a simple version of Evening Prayer. The service may begin with the Service of Light or the Penitential Rite. Otherwise, it commences with the Preces and the Phos Hilaron. The Psalms are said followed by one or more readings and one or more canticles. The Apostle's Creed or the Summary of the Law is said, and then Intercessions and Thanksgivings may be offered. The Collect of the Day may follow. The service concludes with the Lord's Prayer and Dismissal.

A special form of Evensong, the "Vigil of the Resurrection" is provided for use on Saturdays.

Common Worship: Daily Prayer offers a contemporary form of the liturgy. After the opening versicle, a hymn, prayer, and/or canticle are said or sung. A prayer is followed by psalms, canticles, and readings. The service concludes with intercessions, the collect, and the Lord's Prayer. The structure is:


  • an opening versicle, O God make speed to save us, its response, and seasonally appropriate versicle and response.

One or more of the following:

  • a prayer of thanksgiving, varying according to season and ending with “Blessed be God for ever.”
  • a suitable hymn
  • an opening canticle
  • an opening prayer, if desired
  • a Form of Penitence may replace the Preparation:

The Word of God:

  • psalmody, each with antiphon and psalm prayer.
  • a New Testament canticle
  • reading(s) from Holy Scripture
  • a Responsory. This varies according to the season, and in ordinary time, the same is used as the Responsory in Morning Prayer.
  • the Magnificat as the preferred Gospel Canticle, preceded and concluded with antiphons specific for each day, with ferial, festal and seasonal variations.


  • intercessions and, especially in the evening, thanksgivings
  • the Collect of the day, or the prayer which is printed
  • the Lord’s Prayer


  • on Sundays and feasts a hymn or canticle may be used.
  • a blessing or the Grace
  • a concluding response, if desired
  • the Peace may replace or follow the Conclusion


In a fully choral service of evensong, all of the service except the penitential introduction, lessons, and some the final prayers are sung or chanted by the officiating cleric (or a lay cantor) and the choir. In cathedrals, or on particularly important days in the church calendar, the canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) are performed in more elaborate settings.

There are countless settings of the canticles, but a number of composers have contributed works which are performed regularly across the Anglican Communion. These range late Renaissance composers such as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, to high Victorian geniuses such as Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Attwood Walmisley and to later masters of the form such as Herbert Murrill, Herbert Howells and Basil Harwood. Settings from outside the core tradition of Anglican church music have also become popular, with examples by Michael Tippett, Giles Swayne and Arvo Pärt. It is also widely regarded as acceptable to perform the canticles in Latin. The earliest settings of the Magnificat alternate between polyphony and plainchant, but later devices included alternating singing between the two "sides" of the choir (the singers standing on either side of the conductor, known as Decani and Cantoris), between soloists and the full ensemble, and between singers in various parts of the building. Typically the choir is either unaccompanied or accompanied by the organ, although it is not unusual for instrumental ensembles to be engaged for very important events.

As an ordinary service, Evensong will start with the preces and responses and proceed with the canticles and psalm set to Anglican chant, with an anthem after the Third Collect.

In extremely high church parishes Evensong may have plainchant substituted for Anglican chant and may conclude with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (or a modified form of "Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament") and the carrying of the reserved sacrament under a humeral veil from the high altar to an altar of repose, to the accompaniment of music.

The service may also include hymns. The first of these may be called the Office Hymn, and will usually be particularly closely tied to the liturgical theme of the day, and may be an ancient plainchant setting. This will usually be sung just before the psalm(s) or immediately before the first canticle and may be sung by the choir alone. Otherwise any hymns normally come toward the end of the service, maybe one either side of the sermon (if there is one), or following the anthem. These hymns will generally be congregational.

Most cathedrals of the Church of England, from where the service originates, and a large number of college chapels in the University of Durham, Royal Holloway, University of London, University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge offer this service regularly, often daily. In other provinces of the Anglican Communion, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Anglican Church of Australia, and the Anglican Church of Canada, it is offered less often, although many parishes do hold special Evensong services occasionally. There are some notable exceptions, including Washington National Cathedral, which holds the service five times a week, and Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York, which holds it four times each week, as well as Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Grace Church in Madison, New Jersey, Trinity Church, Princeton, NJ, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo, The Cathedral of St. Peter, St. Petersburg, Fl, St. John's Cathedral in Brisbane, St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide, St. James' Cathedral, Toronto, St John's Cathedral, St. John's, Newfoundland and Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, and most of the larger churches and cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, all of which hold the service at least twice a week. The popularity of evensong has spread to other Protestant denominations, particularly churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist churches which use a formal liturgical worship style. Examples in the Presbyterian Church include Fourth Presbyterian, Chicago, Illinois, and Independent Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama, both of which offer evensong services on a seasonal basis.

The BBC has, since 1926, broadcast a weekly service of Choral Evensong[1]. It is broadcast (usually live) on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesdays at 16:00 and repeated the following Sunday at the same time. Between February 2007 and September 2008, the service was broadcast on Sunday only. The service comes live from an English cathedral or collegiate institution. However, it is occasionally a recording, or is replaced by a different form of service or a service from a church elsewhere in the world and/or of another denomination. The most recent broadcast is available on the BBC's "Listen Again" service for up to a week after the original broadcast. There is also an archive available.[2]

See also


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External links

Simple English

Evening Prayer (often called Evensong), in the Anglican Church, is the traditional service when people come to church to worship in the late afternoon or early evening. In cathedrals in Britain and in some of the old university chapels it is a service that is sung by a choir nearly every day of the week (there is usually one day of the week when there is no choir and everything is spoken). In cathedrals it is usually just the choir and the priests who sing, while the congregation listen. There is sometimes one hymn at the end in which the congregation can join in. Evensong in churches will have more singing for the congregation to join in.


Development and meaning of Evensong

The form of Evensong used today was developed by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th century. There were two kinds of services, called "vespers" and "compline" that used to be sung every day by monks in monasteries. Cranmer took some of the words that were used in both these services and made today's form of Evening Prayer (Evensong).

The main idea in Evensong is the celebration of the incarnation of Christ: this is the story about Christ coming to the world in the form of a person and living among people. The words of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis are always used in the service. The Magnificat is the song that Mary sang when she was told that she was going to have a baby who would be God’s son. The Nunc Dimittis is the song that was sung by the priest Simeon who had been promised by God that he would live long enough to see Jesus. Both these sets of words are from the New Testament.

Many churches now use the words from Common Worship or some other modern prayer book for their services. However, when Evensong is sung by a choir the words used are usually from the old traditional Book of Common Prayer (1662). This is because, for more than four centuries, so much great music has been composed that uses these words.

Because there is no communion at evensong, the service can be led by a layperson (someone who is not a “qualified” priest).

Parts of the Evensong service

An evensong service will consist of the following:

The organist usually plays some organ music before and after the service. On Sundays there may be a sermon.



In churches the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis (canticles), like the psalm, are often sung to a chant. This is a tune which repeats itself for every verse or every two verses and is sung to the natural rhythm in which it would be spoken. In cathedrals, or in churches with a good choir, the two canticles are sung to special music (like an anthem) composed by some well-known composer. There is usually an organ accompaniment.

Many composers, especially Anglican church composers, wrote settings (music) for these two canticles (which choir members often called “Mag and Nunc”). Such composers include Edward Bairstow, Herbert Brewer, Orlando Gibbons, Herbert Howells, Henry Purcell, Charles Stanford, Herbert Sumsion, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Weelkes, Samuel Wesley and many others. Some of the composers wrote several settings. This is why different settings are often identified by the key they are in, e.g. Stanford in G, Stanford in C etc. Sometimes they can be identified by the cathedral for which they were written. Herbert Howells, for example, wrote Mag and Nunc settings for several cathedrals and chapels. These can be identified by calling them: Howells’ Gloucester Service, Collegium Regale (=King’s College, Cambridge) etc.

In a sung evensong the choir will also sing an "introit" which is a very short piece at the beginning of the service. They will sing a psalm to a chant, and there will also be an anthem.

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