At Eucharist, we put our …

At Eucharist, we put our lives ‘in play’ for God. At Evensong we reflect on how the ‘play’ has gone.

Now that I reflect, the difference is like two speeches in Henry V. The one (for Eucharist) says ‘For he that hath not stomach for this fight, let him depart!!’ the other, after the battle (like evensong) has the King say ‘Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’The dead with charity enclosed in clay: And then to Calais; and to England then:Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.’

The starting point for this reflection is the noticing of a difference: That’s what they say: ‘Difference leads to reflection’. So here is the difference. Since Vatican11 the Eucharist has come to occupy a central place in the worship of the Catholic and Catholic-influenced Churches. When I was a Methodist, we used to have a form of morning prayer each Sunday. It was mostly hymns and a sermon. OK. So the purpose of this was the hearing of God’s Word through the words of the sermon. I think I have told you before about my German friend who said about reformed worship in Germany ‘You know, I could leave out all of it, but not the sermon.’

So in the Anglican Church too. It was common for morning prayer (Matins) to be the main form of worship each Sunday. The introduction to Matins sets out the purpose of it: to hear God’s Word and to pray for the things we need, and to give thanks to God. This is much the same purpose as reformed worship still has today.

Anglican Churches with a strong Choir tradition also connected the singing of the psalms the canticles and the anthem (like the cantata in reformed tradition) with Matins. There was a lot for them to do, and naturally they liked it. So Matins and choirs became connected.

Along comes Vatican11. This Church council said ‘We want to give the Eucharist back to he people.’ The Roman Catholic Church had a lot more work to do in this regard (like changing from Latin to the vernacular for instance) than others, but, none the less, the Anglican Church was heavily influenced by this liturgical renewal. We began a period of sanctioned experiment with liturgy in the 1960’s which resulted in the prayer book we use now. The outcome was a much more participative style of Eucharist, with the roles shared out among the whole congregation. This was in part necessitated by the decline in Choirs, but also by the desire to involve everyone who comes through the church door.

The other thing that changed is the purpose of coming to church. Instead of a mental division being made between ‘those who are up front’ delivering the ‘Word of God’ and those who are in the body of the Church more or less passively receiving the Word of God the idea that drives today’s Eucharist is ‘the celebration of the presence of God with Gods people, by the whole people of God’. As I keep saying ‘What we do on Sunday morning is something that everyone does for God.’

There is also a process that this participation sets off in us as we take part. I think of this process as a ‘conversion engine’. This was also John Wesley’s idea. Participation in the Eucharist as communion with God involves the processes of reconciliation with God and with each other envisaged by the words we say. This is the concentrated form of ordinary life: awareness, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, communion, joy!

This is then an introduction as to why I think that to have Matins as the main thing we as English Speaking Christians do on a Sunday morning (even with communion form the Book of Common Prayer) is no longer a viable option. So, as part of our period of sanctioned experiment we have made the Eucharist with maximum congregational participation the main thing.

But also as part of our period of sanctioned experiment, we have re-instituted Evensong on the fourth Sunday of the month. We did this for the first time last Sunday. It was great.
Now the structure of Evensong is much like Morning Prayer. There are readings for the hearing of God’s word, there are psalms, canticles, hymns, an anthem and a sermon. The role of the congregation is more passive than in the Eucharist which we now celebrate together. So what is it for me that makes the difference between the value of evensong, yet the difficulties I have with Matins?

I think the main difference lies in the time of day when each service is held and the place that each service holds within the life of the congregation.

Evensong, when we held it last Sunday was conducted in the warm glow of evening and candle-light. We are opened up to God by the onset of evening. This is, for my money, a better time to be more passive and open to God. In the morning, my aim is to present the Gospel in an active fashion: to ‘strike a few blows’ for what things mean. Remember the hymn we sang last week? ‘Not forever by still waters would we idly rest and stray; but would smite the living fountains from the rocks along the way.’ This is not the kind of hymn that can be sung easily at Evensong. We should sing it where something is at stake, which is the case on a Sunday morning. The question asked of us then is ‘Where are you?’ ‘Can you strike some living water from thee rocks?’ This question captures the ‘up for grabs’ nature of our status and participation in the Eucharist.

But Evensong is more like the ‘warm bath’ that I might enjoy after a hard day’s work. Then all the comfort of God comes to bless us as we give ourselves up to sleep. We pray ‘Lighten our darkness lord we pray and defend us from all perils and dangers of this night for the love of your only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ We sometimes sing ‘Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest, the lights of evening round us shine…’ or pray ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who at this evening hour rested in the sepulchre and so made the grave to be a be a bed of hope for your people…’ These are prayers of confidence in God. These are prayers that invite God’s protection. They are proper at night or in the evening. That is why it is also proper to have special prayers for healing at evensong. That is why it is proper to be more passive. Eucharist in the morning energises and forms us for Christian living. Evensong rounds off the process.

This is the difference for me that makes both ‘work’ as forms of Church. At Eucharist, we put our lives ‘in play’ for God. At Evensong we reflect on how the ‘play’ has gone.

Now that I reflect, the difference is like two speeches in Henry V. The one (for Eucharist) says ‘For he that hath not stomach for this fight, let him depart!!’ the other, after the battle (like evensong) has the King say ‘Do we all holy rites; Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’The dead with charity enclosed in clay: And then to Calais; and to England then:Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.’

Both kinds of ‘speech’ have their place. Here is my rationale for each kind and their timing.

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell isnow a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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