Sunday, May 30, 2010

Some thoughts about Morning Prayer

The last forty years have seen the almost complete disappearence of Morning Prayer as the principal act of public worship in Anglican Churches. It was almost as though the Liturgical Movement, which in Anglican circles tends to be dominated by Liberal Catholics, had set up Morning Prayer and Holy Communion in opposition to one another rather than as complimentary acts of worship. The battle cry of the "Lord's service on the Lord's Day" was a very seductive one for the marginalized clergy of the 1970s who embraced a more sectarian understanding of the Church as it was pushed out of the mainstream of society.

At one time I used to think that the thought process behind the Liturgical Movement's replacement of early Communion and mid-morning Matins by Parish Communion or "Slow Mass" was unassailable, but I have come to revise my opinions somewhat. The Parish Communion or "Slow Mass" attempts to combine the elements of a substantial Liturgy of the Word with the Eucharist. As a result the traditional Fore Mass was expanded by the addition of an Old Testament Reading and a Psalm, and the intercessionary element was frequently expanded. As a result the usual hour's service on a Sunday morning consisting either of Matins with a fairly substantial sermon, or a Sung Eucharist with a more modest homily was replaced by a protean monster of a service that tries to do everything in one go, or alternatively by a Sung Eucharist which ends up being light on Scripture and preaching. With the Slow Mass/Parish Communion arrangement heaven help you if Aunt Aggie of "praying the newspaper" fame, and a baptism coincide; chances are you are in for a two hour session which ultimately is somewhat liturgically incoherent.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I have come to the conclusion that parishes need to provide both Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic worship in order to prosper. Please note, I am not suggesting that we neglect the Eucharist, but rather suggesting that we do not put all our eggs in one basket and reach out to those who are not yet ready for Communion.

The first concern that I have about the "Slow Mass/Parish Communion" as the only service is that it creates something of a closed congregation. Part of the reason for this is that, except for a few very Anglo-catholic parishes, Anglicans have an engrained aversion to non-communicating attendance at Holy Communion. Semi-churched Anglicans are at a distinct disadvantage in parishes where the Holy Communion is the main or only service simply because they feel they ought not to be there. In short, they are accidentally excluded and this creates a much sharper distinction between the churched and the unchurched, which is a mixed blessing in a missionary situation.

Secondly, Morning Prayer is a very Evangelical service. For a start, it has a very heavy Scriptural componant. Even with the rather limp-wristed lectionary of 1943, it includes one medium length or two short psalms, and two fairly substantial lessons, one from each Testament. In addition to this there is quite a bit of Scripture in the liturgy itself. It also gives room for a more substantial, expository sermon than can usually be preached at Holy Communion. I generally find that twelve minutes is about your whack at "Slow Mass" if you want toretain any hope of finishing within an hour and a quarter or an hour and an half, but it is perfectly possible to go 20-25 minutes without going much over the hour at Morning Prayer.

Thirdly, not everyone is the same in their approach to the sacrament of Holy Communion. For example, some of us have a strong preference for fasting Communion, which becomes difficult if the celebration of Communion occurs at an hour later than 9.00am. Inspite of all the Liturgical Movement propaganda I have digested over the years, I still prefer to go to an early celebration and receive fasting, then come back later in the day for Matins or Evensong and an expository Sermon rather than put myself around a condemned breakfast and go to a mid-morning Eucharist. Others prefer the "Slow Mass" format. Others still, the old-fashioned Sung Eucharist. What I am saying is that one size does not fit all, and that priests need to listen to their people, and the people need to be open with their clergy about what they think will build up the Body of Christ in their particular parish.

In the old days, Morning Prayer and Communion were often combined. In the Church of Ireland the usual format was Matins to the end of the second canticle, then the Communion service with the non-communicants being prayed for and allowed to depart after the Prayer for the Church Militant. This occured monthly, and on the other Sundays Holy Communion was celebrated early. By the way, the 1928 American Prayer Book allows this too. If you think I am romancing look it up, or read "A Prayer Book Manual" (Boston, MA, 1943) where it is mentioned as one of the options for integrating MP and the Eucharist. Other parishes tackled the need for both Eucharistic and non-Eucharist worship by having a mid-morning Sung Communion and a late Morning Prayer, as was the case in my home parish in the 1960s and 70s. Still others has ealy and late said celebrations either side of Morning Prayer. Wherever one was, experiments were made, or at least the local pattern for worship was allowed to evolve to meet the demands of both the existing congregation and those of evangelism.

I guess what I am asking is for the parish clergy take seriously the need for non-Eucharistic worship, and also appreciate the need for flexibility in scheduling the parish's worship. I am also asking both clergy and laity to appreciate the breadth and the richness that exists in both our Eucharist and Morning Prayer Liturgies and allow both the opportunity to draw folks to Christ. One size does not fit all, and our attempts to make it so has lost Anglicanism a lot of support and membership down the years. The Anglican Way is both Reformed and Catholic and as a result we have to make room for both expository peaching and sacramental worship in our spiritual lives. The Reformers hoped to combine both within the Communion Service, but in all reformed traditions - Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, and Anglican - the tendancy from about 1600 onwards has been for the two to inhabit different time slots and different services. Our belated attempts to re-realise the Reformers aspirations have not been altogether successful, so I would hope that we will have the courage to re-evaluate the teaching of the Liturgical Movement.


  1. Well said. While MP should usually be a brief, early service, when it comes to Sundays, I believe that the parish pastor must exercise sound judgment regarding both order and length of services. Indeed, the mechanical following of any particular rule or law in this matter strikes me as a sure fire recipe for spiritual malaise.

  2. Peter:

    1. On a 1662 BCP model, my understanding is that on a given Sunday, it is the Morning Prayer, Litany and Holy Communion. Is that so as a matter of history

    2. While complaints have been made in the past re: the length of lections in the 1662 BCP, I find that a commendation rather than a fault. As such, I use the 1662 BCP over the 1928.

    3. Without the Morning and Evening Prayer, is it your view that this has contributed to biblical illiteracy.



  3. Missed a couple of "?" in the above remarks.

    Also, have found a 1662 BCP service in London. St. Michael's, Cornhill. They have a solid appreciation of the parish and cathedral traditions in music.

    God willing, in a few years, may move to Cambridge for a few years. For the sake of health, I cannot worship in non-liturgical houses of worship.


  4. Generally speaking the omission of MP and EP in many parishes has contributed to Biblical Illiteracy. However, I do not think it is as important a factor as the fact that the laity are not exhorted often enough to read the Bible regularly at home with the help of a good commentary.

    The BCP pattern of worship is indeed MP, Litany, Communion and EP. The American Church allows the omission of the Litany, but not MP and EP. Even in those parishes where HC is the habitual main service, MP should be said immediate before the Communion Service and the people encouraged to attend. I would also encourge parishes to use the 1928 Lectionary (or that of 1871) not that of 1943. I think EP is a lost cause for the time being in many parishes, but I think bishops should remind the clergy about the importance of the Daily Office in Anglican tradition. Paradoxically, one of the unpleasant side effects of loosing MP and EP as major service in the Church has been a significant erosion of the Anglican tradition in our parishes.


  5. Hello Bishop Robinson,

    I found the 1928 lectionary in pdf at under the form "concerning church services".

    Is there any particular reason you believe the 1928 or 1871 lectionaries to be superior? I tried writing about the history of the lectionary, being curious on how much it changed since 1549, its origins, etc.. I would be interested in learning more. I don't really like the RCL that has sprung from liberal ecumenicalism.

  6. To Reformation -- the folks at St. Michael's Cornhill are solid! Bless 'em! My favorite London parish!

    To Anglican Rose, in re the lectionaries: the rector of St. Luke's Fredericksburg has convinced me of the superiority of the original 1928 lectionary vis a vis the revised 1943 lectionary. The latter stripped out a great deal of substantive OT content -- he finds in this a (perhaps unconscious) reflection of the Marcionite/Anti-Semetic inter-war era....

  7. My biggest gripe about the 1943 Lectionary is that the Old Testament is read in a supposed chronological order pieced together according to the theories of the 1930s, and is often quite "bitty" in its selections - the infamous "Ch 7, vv. 1-5, 7, 13, 17-19" method of reading. As I tend to prefer the weekday lectionary to read through books chapter by chapter, I find this approach highly unsatisfactory. OTOH, the Sunday lectionary should deal with the essential passages. Both the 1871 and 1928 Lectionaries do this quite well, but the 1943 version tends to (over) sanitize the OT, and omit controversial passages from the NT. I assume this was in line with the prevailing liberal theology of the day, the 1920s being the Bethune Baker/Charles Raven era of Liberal Protestantism.

  8. As far as Daily Office lectionaries go, my personal favorite is that in the 1929 Proposed Book. Far more systematic than that in our 1943, and also stays closer to the historic liturgical kalendar. One of its advantages is that the Evening OT lessons frequently continue the Morning lessons, without as nearly much of the "cut and paste" approach already noted by Bp Robinson.

    As far as the original topic is concerned, I cannot think of a perfect solution. Our options are limited.
    (1) Holy Communion exclusively, with no OT reading.
    That's Marcionite.
    (2) Holy Communion exclusively, with OT reading and possibly a Psalm inserted. That's irrubrical and violates the integrity of our rite.
    (3) "MP & Sermon" two or three Sundays each month. That's a 19th century invention which tends toward a low sacramental spirituality and "broad church" theology.
    (4) MP with all psalms and both lessons said before Mass, either early Low Mass or later Choral Eucharist. That's just going through the motions and helpful only to a handful.
    (5) Abbreviated MP following the opening hymn. That lengthens the liturgy beyond what people tolerate and defeats the whole purpose by cutting in to preaching time.

    So what to do? Perhaps the best solution is to make heavy use of the OT as preaching texts and sermon illustrations. Merely reading from the OT is no guarantee that people will really appropriate it. And I continue to feel that we need to take a second look at the lectionary issued by the Holy See. It has its imperfections, which can be tweaked. But the common criticism that it is too sharp a break with tradition does not square with the facts. As Chesterton said concerning Christianity, "It has not been tried and found wrong, but has been found hard and not tried," I would apply that epigram to the lectionary question.

  9. Fr. Wells,

    Having a strong appreciation for the Lutheran Liturgy, I have looked towards a two year lectionary based on the one year where, in year one, an OT lection and the historic Gospel are proclaimed, and where, in year two, a NT lection and the historic Gospel are proclaimed. Thus, the gospel is the same from year to year, but the reading alternates. With that, I would want to provide proper Introits and Graduals, simiar to the work in the IAC-Canada Synod's 1991 BCP.

    The LCMS recently published a new liturgy book with an updated 1 year lectionary that is really good, and provides tighter thematic unity among the readings. I am working to blend this and the historic BCP lectionary together for use in my parish.


  10. When we celebrate Holy Communion preceded by a shortened, sung, MP, it takes 70 to 75 minutes, and I usually preach about 12 minutes. That said, I am death to all forms of liturgical time-wasting - sermon hymns, lengthy notices, doing the ablutions in the Roman place, etc., so I probably reclaim about seven minutes that way. I find most folks are OK with an hour and a quarter provided one does not start at 11am. The real pressure seems to be to get done by Noon around here, which probably explains why the main Protestant churches all start their services at 10.30am.

  11. I agree that sermon hymns are a waste of time and notices are to be eschewed in a time when service leaflets are easy to produce. But why does tarping lengthen the service? I happen to like it, not because it is "Roman," but because it provides a moment of silence for reflection. And a 12 minute sermon?? And we fuss about Biublical illiteracy. I was trained to believe that Sermonettes produce Christianettes. John Stott (in "Between Two Worlds") said there is no absolutely sacrosanct length, but if a sermon is properly prepared it will feel like 17 minutes. I fail to see the value of reading Scripture if you don't expound it.

  12. Tarping can lengthen the service when you have multiple chalices, and other complicating factors. This is why I am generally more comfortable doing the ablutions after the blessing. However, I find that in most congregations around here any lengthy pause will inevitably result in someone starting a conversation. This in turn has lead to the custom of singing a hymn during the ablutions which really does lengthen the service. What is it with Low Church congregations and talking?

    Out of curiosity I asked my wife how long I preach and she says 15-18 minutes. Given that a goodly chunk of the population cannot absorb information unless it is delivered into 8 minute segments divided by commercials, a sixteen minute sermon has already asked them to concentrate twice as long as they are used to doing. I am always a bit conscious of walking a tightrope between what needs to be said, and how long I have before folks switch off. Perhaps you do not have the same concerns.

    I have to admit that I do my detailed teaching about Scripture in the midweek Bible Study. There I find an imbalance in attendance between when I tackle an OT book and when I tackle an NT book. I usually get twice the attendance at an NT series than an OT series. Any thoughts about that one? I am inclined to see that as a consequence of both Revivalist Dispensationalism, and the lack of coverage gven to the OT since most parishes swapped over to HC as the main service.

    BTW, the other form of lip service to the OT that one encounters are those parishes where there are three lessons and a psalm, and the parson always preaches on the NT or the Gospel! I grew up in one of those...


  13. 人不能像動物一樣活著,而應該追求知識和美德..................................................

  14. +Peter: We have Communion music during the actual Communion of the Faithful and the Communion Hymn is sung by all during the ablutions.

  15. The biggest problem is that people refuse to observe the sabbath. It is seen as somehow too legalistic to be asked to sit through Morning Prayer with a full reading of the 1662 Lectionary, the 1662 Morning Prayer AND the 1662 Lord's Supper. And, by the way, the 1662 calls for the reading of the 10 Commandments EVERY time the Lord's Supper is observed.

    This exhibits a proper presentation of the Law of God with the Gospel. If this were done regularly people would know the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and a proper view of the sacraments--all of which are required in the 1662 Catechism which no one uses anymore.

    Wonder why there is such gross ignorance of the Bible, the Decalogue, the Apostles' Creed, etc.? It's because ministers are too easily swayed into shortening the service rather than being faithful to preach the Gospel.

    I have been to African American churches where the Sunday services are regularly 2 hours long.

    How long is your Sunday morning worship? One hour? One hour and 15 minutes? For shame.


    1. I am way late to the party, but I still feel compelled to remind (or maybe inform) everyone that the Sabbath is by definition the seventh day--Saturday. Sunday is the Lord's Day. (The Gospels are clear that Jesus rose on first day of the week). If the Sabbath is properly observed in the Christian tradition, it is observed on Saturday as a preparation for the Lord's Day; which is by definition not a sombre day, but a feast day.

  16. How many churches say the Gloria Patri after every Psalm? Required in the 1662 BCP.

  17. @ Peter,

    15 minute sermons? Please. A minimum of 30 minutes is required to draw out the meaning of the text and provide an adequate application. If you're not called to preach, retire.

  18. Several points. For those of us that go back that far, the 1871 Lectionary to 1662 shortens the lessons when compared to the original 1662, which is but slightly other than the original ones.
    In the current editions of 1662, both 1871 and 1922 Lectionaries are printed. One is calendar year, the other church year.

    For most of us, a proper AV with Apocrypha is pricy when we can find it. However, the CBD catalogue lists the old-spelling AV with Apocrypha, which is very affordable. It has the 1604 Lectionary included. Generally speaking, the only AV with Apocrypha easily available is the one bound up with the '28 BCP, available in cloth or leather at a price. Many of our clergy use this, unless they have the Oxford original.

    We are going to have to wean ourselves off the limited time we are willing to spend in church. After all, we take longer with our Sunday brunch after church. Someone mentioned African-American churches. In the old days out in Indian Country, they'd do the whole accumulated service (Mattins, Litany, Communion) with a decent sermon---and then stay and sing hymns for another couple of hours. Worship is serious business, folks. Maybe we need to get back to our serious worhip and learn the Faith while we're at it.
    We are all mal-nourished in spiritual things. We do need to get a wholly balanced diet, not just a Minimum Weekly Allowance.

    In +,

  19. Simply put, we do Morning Prayer with the psalms appointed for the day at 10 AM. Holy Communion begins at 10:30 and finishes at just before noon.

    I very much miss evening prayer as a corporate service. I especially miss the censing at the Magnificat, but we have a good way to go before we can have that again.

  20. If we are to recover the fullness of Christian life look to the East. We ought to start with a Saturday Evensong, to herald in the Sunday celebration of the Resurrection. On Sunday Matins should be in full with the Litany followed by the Eucharist. We could do as the Russian Church correctly does and have Evensong immediately followed by Matins - the Vigil.

    Fasting communion should be taught, practised and regularly preached. The Sunday Eucharist should incorporate a decent sermon, and shaving time by shortening anything should be avoided.

    Finally we ought to end Sunday with a Solemn Evensong, because Sunday is not about an hour to God before we head for Macdonalds. It should be a day for God, and if that means 3 hours of worship and reflection, how much better would the Church be?

  21. All very well to say so, Fr David, but in reality no Russian is in church for that entire 3 hours. In and out, coming late, leaving early, smoke break during the Alleluia--a much more relaxed attitude to churchgoing than the Western ideal of bums in seats for the duration.

  22. Bishop Robinson:

    It is so refreshing to read a post from someone who understands the importance of singing (or saying, if you can't sing it) Morning Prayer and Evensong to: 1. the spiritual developement of Christians, and, 2. the importance of the prayer offices to the Anglican tradition.

    Without Morning Prayer and Evensong, a parish cannot truly claim to be Anglican or claim to follow the Anglican faith as found in the classic BCPs.

    We sing Morning Prayer from the 1928 BCP each Sunday in our parish prior to Mass. Not all who come to Mass come the 30 minutes early to sing Morning Prayer, but many do, and they seem to receive a spititual benefit from doing so. The parish truly receives a blessing from the faithfulness of its laity joining together to sing and pray.