Morning and Evening Prayer: The Heart of it All

The center and heart of Morning and Evening Prayer is Scripture. Here are two fundamental Anglican practices. First, the Scripture readings are designed so that the books of the Bible are read in large portions that continue from day to day. If, for instance, the first lesson today is from the prophet Jeremiah, one will expect the first lesson tomorrow to pick up in Jeremiah more or less where today’s leaves off. Second, the two lessons are always from different Testaments, with the first from the Old and the second from the New.

(The 1979 BCP allows variation in the number of lessons, from one to three. Nonetheless and despite this innovation, it does specify that the first lesson, if there are more than one, is always to be from the OT, and it lays out how to select the OT for the evening; see p. 934.)

In the course of a year, most (but not all) of the Bible is read. A couple of early exceptions to continuity are of interest. The 1662 Book noted that while the rest of the NT was read thrice in the year, this was not true of the book of Revelation, which was read only on certain “divers Feasts.” The 1549 Book, for another example, skips Genesis ch. 10. Unfortunately, there are many more gaps in the 1979 lectionary (starting on p. 936), some of which seem incomprehensible (for instance, skipping Genesis 38 altogether; Tamar is a foremother of David, and of Christ!). Fortunately, a rubric allows for the lengthening of any lesson if desired, and I encourage doing so to include skipped-over passages.

What is the point of this required reading, day in and day out, of what we might well call the scriptural story, the biblical narrative? It is this: Anglicans trust that the daily hearing of the Bible will be formative for a Christian people. We want to have Christian people who know the Bible story, who are familiar with its characters, its events, its themes, its problems, and so forth. Indeed, in A.D. 2020 as in A.D. 1520, we could say that a general problem that the Church has is that we don’t know the story.

The Anglican prescription for biblical illiteracy is simple: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

The center of Morning and Evening Prayer is, literally, the Bible. Not a sermon — there is no sermon; not a Bible study or commentary — that could happen in a class or alone afterwards; but the written Word itself. Anglicans trust the unmediated, daily, continuous exposure to the Bible to be God’s means for shaping his people into a godly people. Anglicans trust that the Holy Spirit will work in MP and EP just as they are. Sermons can help and Bible studies can help, but the principal thing is the office itself — Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

But we need also to add: It is the entire Bible that Anglicans trust, both Old and New Testaments. Our tradition is for both to be read, not only one. Our tradition is never to have a single Scripture lesson, but to hear Scripture in stereo (as it were), Old and New Testaments side-by-side. A fundamental Anglican principle is that the Bible interprets the Bible: that no part of God’s written Word should be construed in a way that is repugnant to the sense of other parts of Scripture; that we are to aim as much as possible at grasping the entire Bible in a comprehending life of faithfulness.

A canticle follows each Scripture lesson. Traditionally these are the Te Deum and Benedictus at Morning Prayer and the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis at Evening, although the morning canticles have varied. The canticles are scriptural song-pieces of response to God’s action, with the Magnificat as perhaps the greatest of all: “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” Mary says with Jesus in her womb. We hear the Word of God in the Scripture lessons, and the Word takes up residence within us. This is the heart of Morning and Evening Prayer.
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    On the Web. This week’s post is taken from my essay in the October 4 issue of The Living Church. If you are not a subscriber, why not fix that? https://www.cambeywest.com/subscribe2/?p=LCM&f=paid
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    Out & About. This Sunday I continue a three-week online class at Incarnation in Dallas, at 10:20 a.m.: “Three Things God Didn’t Want but He Got Used To: cities, politics, and sacrifice.” This Sunday’s topic is politics. You can sign up for the Zoom class here. Note that there are a limited number of in-person seats available (if you’re in Dallas, it would be lovely to see you!). Last week, there was a bit of technical difficulty at the first—if you were on Zoom, you couldn’t hear me—but we fixed that about 10 minutes in, and I believe it is fixed for future classes as well.

The fall theology lecture will be Sunday, October 25: “What’s Special about Anglicanism?” This will be live-streamed on Facebook, the “IncarnationDFW” page. There will also be a limited number of in-person seats available (in the Ascension Chapel). The lecture is at 6 p.m. Bishop Sumner will engage with me in Q&A also: should be fun. I hope you join us, one way or the other.

If you are an Okie, I hope you can join me at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City. I will be the preacher on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, their patronal feast. Then Monday through Wednesday I will offer two classes. At the noon hour, “Up with Leviticus” (yes!), and at 6 p.m., on friendship. These classes will also be on their website www.allsoulsokc.com.

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."