Morning and Evening Prayer

                              

The order for Morning Prayer begins on page 3 of the Prayer Book.  At the top of the page are three paragraphs of instructions printed in italics.  The instructions are called “rubrics” and serve to guide the worshipers through the service.  When in doubt about what to do, or how, read the rubrics.

 The Opening Sentences on pages 3 and 4 are verses from the King James Version of the Bible that call us to worship God.  Some are designated for specific days or seasons, such as Advent or Lent.  Others are for general use.  The opening sentences are Biblical encouragements, exhortations, or statements of God’s mercy that remind us of our duty and joy in worshiping God.  Their chief import, however, is that they confront the worshipers with the reality and the Holy Glory of God, leading us to focus our thoughts and affection on Him. Many ministers and lay readers like to read several of these, ending with Philippians 1:2, “Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”  By these words we are moved to draw near unto God in worship.

The Exhortation to Confession.  The vision of the reality and goodness of God in the Opening Sentences leads us to consider our tragic lack of holiness and the dismal darkness of our sin. Hence, the minister or leader calls the worshipers to a time of serious self-examination and confession. To confess sin is to agree with God that our sins are truly sins, and that by them we are unfit for communion with the Great and Holy God.  It is also to turn away from sin and cast ourselves on the promises of God declared unto us in Christ Jesus.  There are two invitations to confession.  The first begins on page 5.  A second, and shorter one, is found on page 6.  The longer one, in addition to calling us to confess our sins, reminds us of the entire scope of our purpose in the service.  We assemble to "render thanks," to "set forth his most worthy praise," to "hear his most holy word," and to "ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul."

            A General Confession. This is followed by the wonderfully Biblical prayer of confession.  It is a general confession because it confesses general sins rather than the specific sins of the individual worshipers.  Yet the confession of individual specific sins would simply elaborate on the general confession made here.  They would simply name specific ways we have all gone astray like lost sheep, followed our own devices and desires instead of His holy will, offended against His holy laws, neglected to do the good we ought to have done, and done the evil we should not have done.  So our very first task in worship, after recognizing His worthiness and grace, is to confess our unworthiness to Him and to cast ourselves on His mercy.  So we confess our sins unto Him.  While we say this prayer in unison, we should also silently confess our own specific sins.

The Absolution is found on page 7.  It is the pronouncement of the absolution and remission of our sins.  The minister stands to make the pronouncement, but it is God who absolves and remits our sins.  Note the conditions upon which we are forgiven, “He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel.”  Merely saying the words has no effect on God.  He is not moved by outward ceremonies, no matter how beautiful and Biblical they are.  We must truly and really turn away from our sins, and believe in Christ as our Lord and Saviour.  Only then are we absolved and remitted of our sins.

 

The Lord’s Prayer.  Having confessed sin and been comforted by the promise of God to forgive us, we are moved to call upon God as children calling upon a loving Father. Thus we pray as Christ taught us in the words of what we call The Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13.

 

The Versicles, page 7, are short prayers from the Bible requesting the help of the Holy Spirit to aid us in our prayers and worship.  “[O]pen thou our lips” is from Psalm 51:15 and requests God to give us a worshipful heart that expresses itself in Godly worship.  “And our mouth shall show forth thy praise” signifies that the result of a worshipful heart is the praise of God.  Praise is the recognition and telling of the greatness of the glory and mercy of God.

 

The Gloria Patri follows. We have asked God to open our lips, and promised that we will show forth His praise.  The Gloria Patri is our expression of praise.  It is found on page 8.  “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” is a recurring theme throughout the service, and is a very ancient prayer.  Do not read it as a dead ritual, but as the joyful expression of your worship and praise of God who has forgiven your sins and accepted you as His beloved child.

 

Praise ye the Lord is another call to praise God, followed by the response, “The Lord’s Name be praised.”

         

  Venite exultemus Domino is Latin for “come let us exalt the Lord.”  Many of the Canticles and Psalms in the Prayer Book have Latin titles, which are simply the opening words of the song in Latin.  Found on page 9, this is an invitation to enter more fully into the worship of God.  Thus it is often called the Invitatory.  “Come, let us praise.”  It is important that we see the progression in the service to this point.  We began with a vision of the worthiness of God coupled with exhortations and promises of grace and peace in the Opening Sentences.  We confessed our sins, and were immediately comforted with promises of forgiveness and grace in the Absolution.  Thus comforted, we called upon God as our Heavenly Father in the Lord’s Prayer, and we spoke His praise in the Versicles and Gloria Patri.  Now, in the Venite, we are encouraged to move more deeply into the worship of God.  As the Venite invites us to worship, it also directs us how to worship.

 

 

     The Scriptures.  We now move to one of the most important parts of the worship of God; the reverent reading and hearing of His word written in the Bible.  The Bible is our authority in all things.  It reveals the mind and will of God, therefore, the habitual reading and hearing of it conforms our thoughts and values to His.  God calls us together to hear His word.  This is the heart of worship.

 

     The Psalter.  The Scripture readings begin with a reading from the Psalms.  Originally, the Psalms were sung at every service because they were the hymn book for the Church.  Many of our hymns are still based on the Psalms, as are different parts of the service of Morning and Evening Prayer.  The Venite, for example is from Psalm 95, and the Jubilate Deo is Psalm 100.

  

     The First Lesson.  This is a reading from the Old Testament, which is read according to a schedule or Lectionary that takes us through the major passages of the Old Testament every year.  Usually it is best to hear the Old Testament as Promise, especially the promise of the Redeemer.  We should see God working through the people of Israel and world events to prepare the world for the advent of Christ.

   

     The Second Lesson is from the New Testament, following the schedule given in the Lectionary.  We should see the New Testament as the fulfillment of the Old, and we should see the Church era as the age of fulfillment.  The promises of God in the Old Testament are being fulfilled in the New.  Gradually the world is being brought to its final consummation, the full realization of the Kingdom of God in Christ.

 

      The Canticles are ‘little songs” sung or said after each Lesson.  They express gratitude for the Scriptures and a commitment to believing and doing what God has said in the Bible.  After hearing the First Lesson of promise in the Old Testament, we may sing in gratitude, “Blessed art thou O Lord God of our fathers: praise and exalted above all forever” (Benedictus es, Domine, p. 11).  Hearing the Second Lesson of fulfillment, we may sing, "O Be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness, and come before His presence with a song" (Jubilate Deo, p. 15).

 

      The Creed.  Having heard the word of God, we now confess our faith in either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  Generally the Apostles Creed is said in Morning and Evening Prayer, while the Nicene Creed is used in Holy Communion.  The creeds are summaries of Bible teachings.  They set forth the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, and of the things the Church has always believed.  The Apostles’ Creed is very ancient. A similar creed is known to have been in general use and is found in the writings of Irenaeus, about 180 A.D. Traces, probably quotes, of it are found much earlier.  It was probably not written by the Apostles, but is a faithful summary of their teaching.  As it took some years to write the New Testament, it is probable that the Apostle’s Creed, or some version of it, was circulated to guide the early Church in the essentials of the faith.  The Nicene Creed is a fuller explanation of the doctrines found in the Apostle’s Creed.  It was written in 325.

 

      The Prayers take us to the second major emphasis in Morning Prayer.  We have gathered to worship God.  We have been reminded of His glory and encouraged to come into His presence by the promise of grace.  We have heard His word in the Psalms and Lessons and we have confessed our faith in Him and our belief in the foundational teachings of the Bible.  Now we come boldly before the throne of grace in one of worship’s greatest acts of faith, prayer.  Believing in His everlasting love, and that He is more willing to hear than we are to pray and to give than we are to ask, we come together in the service of common, or, mutual, prayer.

 

      The Lord be with you, is a prayer for the congregation by the leader.  It is a prayer that God will make you aware of your needs before Him, and that He will give you a sincere heart to pray.  The intent of the prayers is not simply to mouth pretty words.  It is to seek the heart of God with the very essence of our being.  “The Lord be with you” beseeches God to impress this upon your hearts, and to enable you to seek Him completely.

 

       And with thy spirit is the congregation’s prayer for the minister. This short prayer asks God to grant the minister the same spirit of prayer he has just requested for the people.  The minister does not simply “read Prayers.”  He, too, is a worshiper.  He, too, pours out his heart to God.  He, too, seeks God with his whole being. He, too, must pray.

 

O Lord, show thy mercy upon us.

And grant us thy salvation.

O God, make clean our hearts within us.

And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.

 

These words continue to request to God to equip us mentally and spiritually for the service of prayer.  They ask Him to equip us for the work we now take up, that of worshiping God together in mutual, shared, common prayer.

 

Collect for the Day gathers and directs the prayers of the people toward God.  It deals with the particular emphasis or doctrine of the day or season, and is often drawn from the Epistle Lesson for that Sunday.  In other times people were expected to begin the day with Morning Prayer in the village church.  Sundays were then reserved for Holy Communion, and the Collects and Lessons were organized accordingly.  As most people today cannot begin the day in church for Morning Prayer, we often observe it on Sundays, and reserve Holy Communion for special or designated Sundays.  Though few are able to meet for prayer at the opening and closing of every day, the blessings of Morning and Evening Prayer in private or in groups is self-evident.

 

Collect for Peace.  This is the first of the daily prayers found on page 17.  An ancient prayer, it has been in use in England for more than 1,400 years, but is much older than that.  Reminding us that God is the author of peace, knowledge of him is eternal life, and His service is perfect freedom, we have cause to remember that our peace does not depend on outward circumstances as much as it depends upon the grace and blessings of God.  We ask Him to defend us from all enemies that we may not fear to serve Him.

 

Collect for Grace asks God to keep us from sin and danger, that all our doings may be righteous in His sight.  It is a simple and earnest prayer that God will keep us from spiritual harm on the one hand, and in good works and holy living on the other hand.

 

A Prayer for the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority.  There are actually two prayers here, giving some flexibility in choosing which one to use on a given day.  The Bible commands us to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2) and the presence of these prayers prevents our forgetting to do so.  The prayers recognise first that God is our ruler and governor, and that it is the task of al civil servants to serve the people in the fear of God.  The prayers next recognise that it is by the providence of God that we dwell in this free land, and commit it to His merciful care to the end that we may dwell secure in His peace.  The first prayer begs, “replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way” (p. 17, italics added).  The second prayer asks that they be given wisdom and strength to know and to do the will of God, and that they be filled with the love of truth and righteousness (p.18). Surely these petitions should rise to the throne of grace day and night.

 

A Prayer for the Clergy and People.  This prayer asks the One who gives all good and perfect gifts to give them abundantly to all of His people. Chief among the gifts is “the Spirit of thy grace” and the “dew of thy blessing.”  These are asked for all the people, not just the clergy.  The purpose of the gifts is that we may truly please Him.

 

A Prayer for all Conditions of Men and A General Thanksgiving are so great in depth and meaning that it would take several pages to even begin to examine them.  When praying alone, it is possible to “read between the lines” of these prayers, naming specifically those needs of our own congregation and those who are “in any ways afflicted or distressed." The same is true of the Thanksgiving, and can even be done throughout the prayers.  Thus, the Order of Prayer serves as a wonderful guide for private prayers as well as for common prayer.

 

    Though this study has not looked deeply into the meaning of the “Prayers” it is hoped that it has shown enough to allow us say with Dr. W. H. Griffith-Thomas that they have been “the treasure house of devotion for centuries” (The Catholic Faith, p. 158).  His book, written as a guide for Confirmation classes in the Church of England first appeared in 1904, and has instructed thousands of people in the basics of Biblical Christianity.  Concerning the prayers of Morning and Evening Prayer he wrote;

 

     “It is impossible to enter fully into the consideration of their structure and characteristics, but we may at least note some of their features and see how appropriate they are to daily needs.  There is scarcely a desire and want of the spiritual life that is not included.”

     “It is not too much to say that the spiritual life which is fed by these Collects will never lack nutriment or guidance, but will have ample help and inspiration wherewith to ascend to God in heart and mind. They deal with those fundamental needs of the soul which are the same in all ages, and as public united prayer can only concern itself with common needs, the permanence and perpetual value of the Collects is obvious to all.  They link us to the past in a way which constantly reminds us of the essential oneness of the people of God, and of the deep-seated unity of need and desire in all ages.  Among these Collects can be found prayers from the earliest ages of the Church, together with those which were the work of the Reformers of the sixteenth century and the Divines of the seventeenth century.  All combine and blend in a beautiful unity expressing the heart’s devotion to God.”

 

One of the most striking things about the Daily Prayers is their simplicity.  They are direct, earnest, and simple.  They are not flowery embellishments to a ceremony designed to please people.  They are the earnest prayers of people who truly love God and truly mean what they say in the prayers.  Whether offered in great cathedrals with professional choirs and musicians, or in country chapels with out of tune pianos, in small rooms never intended to serve as churches, or in homes with no music or added hymns, the prayers offer up our needs and desires to God with dignity and sincerity.  And since they are taken directly or indirectly right from the Bible, we know we are praying according to His will, and will have our desires and petitions, as may be “most expedient for us.”

 

 

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