Evening Prayer (Anglican)

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"Evensong" redirects here. For other uses, see Evensong (disambiguation).

Evening Prayer is a liturgy in use in the Anglican Communion (and other churches in the Anglican tradition, such as the Continuing Anglican Movement and the Anglican Use of the Roman Catholic Church) and celebrated in the late afternoon or evening. It is also commonly known as Evensong, especially (but not exclusively) when the office is rendered chorally (that is, when most of the service is sung). It is roughly the equivalent of Vespers in the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran churches, although it was originally formed by combining the monastic offices of Vespers and Compline. Although many churches now take their services from Common Worship or other modern prayer books, if a church has a choir, Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer often remains in use because of the greater musical provision. Evening Prayer, like Morning Prayer (Matins) and in contrast to the Eucharist, may be led by a layperson, and is recited by some devout Anglicans daily in private (clergy in many Anglican jurisdictions are required to do so).

In traditional prayer books

The service of Evening Prayer, according to traditional prayer books such as the 1662 English or 1959 Canadian Book of Common Prayer, is similar in structure to the equivalent Morning Prayer (or matins), but with different canticles and with evening-specific collects. It is made up of the following elements:

  • A spoken penitential introduction, including the General Confession and the Lord's Prayer. These are frequently omitted at daily choral Evensong.
  • Preces — a series of verses and responses including the Gloria Patri.
  • A portion of the psalter, i.e. one or more prose psalms, concluding with the Gloria Patri.
  • Two lessons (readings) from the Bible. The first is usually taken from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament.
  • Two canticles, one after each of the lessons, usually the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis, each concluding with the Gloria Patri.
  • The Apostles' Creed, often chanted on a monotone.
  • Several prayers and responses, often chanted. These include the Kyrie eleison and the Lord's Prayer, followed by several verses and responses ("suffrages"), and the collect of the day and two additional collects (the "three collects").
  • An anthem following the third collect ("In quires and places where they sing, here followeth the anthem", in the famous phraseology of the 1662 edition of the Prayer Book).
  • Additional spoken prayers.

If the service is accompanied, the organ will normally be played before and after the service. Many institutions have regular unaccompanied evensongs: at Durham Cathedral, Southwell Minster, Exeter Cathedral and Ripon Cathedral, as well as the Chapels of New College, Oxford and King's College, Cambridge, for example, Evensong on Fridays is usually sung to a cappella settings of the liturgy.

A further variation to the standard rendering of choral evensong is men's voices services. In institutions where the choir is made up of adult men (who sing the alto, tenor and bass parts) and trebles (boy or girl choristers) who sing the upper-most (soprano)part(s), one day a week the service may be sung by men only. When this occurs, the musical settings are for alto, tenor and bass voices only. At Durham Cathedral, it is the norm for Thursday evenings to be sung by the men of the choir.

In practice, the penitential introduction is often omitted, especially at sung services. A sermon or homily may be preached at the end on Sundays or feast days, but does not form a set part of the liturgy. Also, one or more congregational hymns may be added to the service. In Anglo-Catholic churches, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament frequently follows Evensong.

In contemporary prayer books

Solemn Evensong in the Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford.

Episcopal Church

In the Episcopal Church, like the Eucharist, the Burial of the Dead, and A Penitential Order, Morning and Evening Prayer are given in the 1979 US Book of Common Prayer in two forms: "Rite One" and "Rite Two".

Rite One is a modified version of the traditional order for Evening Prayer. It is somewhat similar to the traditional Prayer Book rite, but the Confession of Sin has been truncated, the Phos Hilaron may be said, and only one reading need be used. The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis may both be used, or one of them may be used, or an alternative canticle may be used. Rite One is based on the 1928 Prayer Book and is also found in the Anglican Service Book, a traditional language adaption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Rite Two is substantially similar, but is rendered in modern language.

The American Book of Common Prayer also offers an "Order of Worship for the Evening", which may be used as a service in itself or as an introduction to Evening Prayer.

Anglican Church of Canada

The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada provides a simple version of Evening Prayer. The service may begin with the Service of Light or the Penitential Rite. Otherwise, it commences with the Preces and the Phos Hilaron. The Psalms are said followed by one or more readings and one or more canticles. The Apostle's Creed or the Summary of the Law is said, and then Intercessions and Thanksgivings may be offered. The Collect of the Day may follow. The service concludes with the Lord's Prayer and Dismissal.

A special form of Evensong, the "Vigil of the Resurrection" is provided for use on Saturdays.

Church of England

Common Worship: Daily Prayer offers a contemporary form of the liturgy. After the opening versicle, a hymn, prayer, and/or canticle are said or sung. A prayer is followed by psalms, canticles, and readings. The service concludes with intercessions, the collect, and the Lord's Prayer. The structure is:


  • an opening versicle, O God make speed to save us, its response, and seasonally appropriate versicle and response.

One or more of the following:

  • a prayer of thanksgiving, varying according to season and ending with “Blessed be God for ever.”
  • a suitable hymn
  • an opening canticle
  • an opening prayer, if desired
  • a Form of Penitence may replace the Preparation:

The Word of God:

  • psalmody, each with antiphon and psalm prayer.
  • a New Testament canticle
  • reading(s) from Holy Scripture
  • a Responsory. This varies according to the season, and in ordinary time, the same is used as the Responsory in Morning Prayer.
  • the Magnificat as the preferred Gospel Canticle, preceded and concluded with antiphons specific for each day, with ferial, festal and seasonal variations.


  • intercessions and, especially in the evening, thanksgivings
  • the Collect of the day, or the prayer which is printed
  • the Lord’s Prayer


  • on Sundays and feasts a hymn or canticle may be used.
  • a blessing or the Grace
  • a concluding response, if desired
  • the Peace may replace or follow the Conclusion


In a fully choral service of evensong, all of the service except the penitential introduction, lessons, and some of the final prayers are sung or chanted by the officiating cleric (or a lay cantor) and the choir. In cathedrals, or on particularly important days in the church calendar, the canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) are performed in more elaborate settings. In churches where a choir is not present, simpler versions of the psalms and canticles are usually sung by the congregation, sometimes with responses and collects spoken rather than sung, or the musical setting is omitted altogether.

It is widely regarded as acceptable to perform the canticles in Latin. The earliest settings of the Magnificat alternate between polyphony and plainchant, but later devices included alternating singing between the two "sides" of the choir (the singers standing on either side of the conductor, known as Decani and Cantoris), between soloists and the full ensemble, and between singers in various parts of the building. Typically the choir is either unaccompanied or accompanied by the organ, although it is not unusual for instrumental ensembles to be engaged for very important events.

There are countless settings of the canticles, but a number of composers have contributed works which are performed regularly across the Anglican Communion. These range from late Renaissance composers such as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, through Victorian composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Attwood Walmisley to later masters of the form such as Herbert Murrill, Herbert Howells and Basil Harwood. Settings from outside the core tradition of Anglican church music have also become popular, with examples by Michael Tippett, Giles Swayne and Arvo Pärt who composed Magnificat and Nunc dimittis at different times.

As an ordinary service, Evensong will start with the preces and responses and proceed with the psalm set to Anglican chant, then the canticles, with an anthem after the Third Collect.

Evensong may have plainchant substituted for Anglican chant and in High Church parishes may conclude with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (or a modified form of "Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament") and the carrying of the reserved sacrament under a humeral veil from the high altar to an altar of repose, to the accompaniment of music.

The service may also include hymns. The first of these may be called the Office Hymn, and will usually be particularly closely tied to the liturgical theme of the day, and may be an ancient plainchant setting. This will usually be sung just before the psalm(s) or immediately before the first canticle and may be sung by the choir alone. Otherwise any hymns normally come toward the end of the service, maybe one either side of the sermon (if there is one), or following the anthem. These hymns will generally be congregational.

Churches offering Evensong


Most cathedrals of the Church of England, from where the service originates, and a number of university college chapels (e.g. in the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the University of Durham and King's College London[1]) offer this service regularly, often daily.

Canterbury Cathedral is one of the few churches in the country where Evensong is sung seven days a week by their Foundation choir. Most choirs take an evening off or use a volunteer choir for a day every now and then. Throughout the summer holidays local and international visiting choirs perform Evensong in the Foundation choir’s absence. The majority of Evensong services at Canterbury are performed by the boys and men of the Cathedral choir. There is also a Girls’ Choir that sings regularly.

At York Minster Evensong takes place six times a week with a choir formed by children (boys or girls, with mixed voices on big occasions) and adults singing together. These adults tend to be male, but female choral scholars have been introduced in 2016. Holy Trinity, Northwood part of the Hanley Team Ministry in Stoke on Trent have an Evensong service once a month, mainly on the 4th Sunday of each month. The service is sung by the congregation, including the Magnificat and Nunc Dimmitis.


Most of the larger churches and cathedrals of the Church of Ireland, including the Chapel of Trinity College, Dublin, offer evensong. Additionally, although rarely, some parish churches hold Evensong, however, this is most often replaced with Evening Prayer.

United States

  • New Jersey
    • Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge, New Jersey
    • Grace Church, Madison, New Jersey
    • Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey
  • North Carolina
    • Duke University Chapel (Durham, North Carolina)

Trinity Parish church Seattle


Southern Africa


Daily Choral Evensong

  • St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne (Sunday [boys' and men's voices], Tuesday [boys' and men's voices], Wednesday [girl's choir & men's voices], Thursday [women's and men's voices], and Friday [boys' and men's voices])

Weekly Choral Evensong

Other Choral Evensong

New Zealand

Hong Kong

Non-Anglican churches

The popularity of Evensong has spread to other churches, particularly churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist churches which use a formal liturgical worship style. Examples in the Presbyterian Church include Fourth Presbyterian Church (Chicago) and Independent Presbyterian Church (Birmingham, Alabama) both of which offer Evensong services on a seasonal basis, as does Peachtree Road United Methodist Church[16] in Atlanta, Georgia.

There are some Roman Catholic churches and abbeys in England offering choral evensong: These include Ampleforth Abbey, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, the Birmingham Oratory, Ealing Abbey, Leeds Cathedral, Downside Abbey, the London Oratory, and Westminster Cathedral.[17]

In Scotland, some larger churches (and former cathedrals belonging to the Church of Scotland) hold evensong, including Glasgow Cathedral, Paisley Abbey (2nd Sunday of each month), and Edinburgh Cathedral.

The Basilica of St. Nicholas in Amsterdam holds Choral Evensong on Saturdays.


The BBC has, since 1926, broadcast a weekly service of Choral Evensong. It is broadcast (usually live) on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesdays at 15:30 and often repeated on the following Sunday. Between February 2007 and September 2008, the service was broadcast on Sunday only. The service comes live from an English cathedral or collegiate institution. However, it is occasionally a recording, or is replaced by a different form of service or a service from a church elsewhere in the world and/or of another denomination. The most recent broadcast is available on the BBC iPlayer for up to a week after the original broadcast. There is also an archive available.[18]

See also


  1. ^ http://www.kcl.ac.uk/aboutkings/principal/dean/chaplaincy/prayeratkings/strand/college-chapel.aspx
  2. ^ http://www.stpaulcathedral.org/welcome-service-times
  3. ^ Trinity Cathedral Service Schedule
  4. ^ "Choral Evensong". Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church. Retrieved 2016-10-02. 
  5. ^ http://www.saintmarksphiladelphia.org
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral Sunday Services
  9. ^ St. Paul's Parish, K Street, Washington, DC Service Schedule
  10. ^ Music At Trinity College Chapel
  11. ^ Holy Trinity, Auckland service times
  12. ^ Saint Paul's, Wellington service times
  13. ^ Cardboard Cathedral service times
  14. ^ St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin
  15. ^ "St John's Cathedral 聖約翰座堂 - Evensong Choir". www.stjohnscathedral.org.hk. Retrieved 2016-10-31. 
  16. ^ http://www.prumc.org
  17. ^ http://www.choralevensong.org/home.php
  18. ^ "Choral Evensong". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 

Further reading

  • Clarke, W.K. Lowther (1922). Evensong Explained. With Notes on Matins and the Litany. London: SPCK. 

External links

  • Choral Evensong
  • How to Pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer
  • Church of England daily prayer
  • BBC Radio 3 weekly broadcast of choral evensong
  • Master's thesis: Rafaela Weinz, Evensong. Historische Konfigurationen einer liturgischen Form (2006) (German)

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