Praise ye the Lord in the beauty of holiness

The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are among the great glories of Anglicanism. A measure of the regard in which they have been held is that some of Christianity’s greatest choral music has been specifically composed for Mattins and Evensong.

Until the middle of the last century, Morning and Evening Prayer services were conducted at virtually all Anglican and Episcopal Churches of a Sunday, while at larger churches the offices were said publicly on a daily basis.

Today, however, these two great services are utterly unfamiliar to the vast majority of Anglicans and Episcopalians. Indeed, folks whose churchgoing does not date back to at least the 1960s are unlikely ever to have attended either service. Here in Baltimore, only at St. Stephen’s can worshippers regularly hear Morning Prayer.

This is a terrible loss both spiritually and culturally. The Daily Offices are for use by all people, lay and clerical. They are by no means solely formal forms of worship. They also provide a wonderful focus for one’s private daily prayer life.

As the area’s only truly traditional Anglican parish, St. Stephen’s has always taken very seriously its responsibility to maintain all the traditional forms of Anglican worship, including Morning and Evening Prayer.

It has not always been easy because of the dwindling numbers of Episcopalians and Anglicans familiar with the Daily Offices. By 1997, for example, attendance at the Sunday Morning Prayer services had fallen off substantially.

The situation was saved by the arrival of the Choir of Men & Boys. Attendance once again picked up, boosted by long-time Episcopalians drawn by music that was no longer being sung in other area churches.

Over the past couple of decades, however, there has been continuing downward spiral in Sunday attendance at Morning Prayer, by contrast with the steadily growing congregation at the 9:15 AM service of Holy Communion.

Thus we need to figure out how to attract worshippers to a service that we love, but that for most people today is utterly unfamiliar. The traditional tool for doing so is music.

The Choir of Men & Boys sing the Morning and Evening Offices as they were intended to be sung—from the preces, through the psalm, canticles, suffrages and anthem, to the closing hymn. And they make a splendid job of it.

It is quite a challenge, however, for one Choir to convert a whole new generation into devotees of the Anglican Daily Offices—especially a generation raised not only solely on the Eucharist, but on popular music that is utterly alien to the majestic cadences of Thomas Tallis and John Merbecke. Thus they need your help in spreading the word.

In other parts of the country, notably the Mid-West, young folk, particularly university students, are filling the pews of churches that offer the choral Offices. And while they are drawn by the music, they are being held by the liturgy and the faith it expresses.

Meanwhile, if you are a Morning Prayer aficionado, you can help save the service you love for future generations by inviting some youngsters to join you one Sunday. And if you are one of those folks who is unfamiliar with the Offices, give yourself a treat and come to a service where you can “be still, and know that he is God.” GPH✠

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