Evening Prayer (Anglican)

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Evening prayer often takes the form of Choral Evensong, such as this service at Westminster Abbey.

Evening Prayer is a liturgy in use in the Anglican tradition celebrated in the late afternoon or evening. It is also commonly known as Evensong, especially 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, which is still the only official prayer book of the Church of England, 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[edit]

Evensong originated in the Book of Common Prayer.

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, Llandaff 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[edit]

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

Church of England[edit]

Common Worship: Daily Prayer offers a contemporary form of the liturgy. After the opening versicle, a hymn, prayer 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

Episcopal Church (USA)[edit]

In the Episcopal Church of the United States, 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[edit]

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.


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 and Basil Harwood. Herbert Howells composed 18 settings, including Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for St Paul's Cathedral. Charles Wood composed several settings, including Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in D which has been called an "epitome of Church of England worship".[1] 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[edit]


The choir rehearsing for Evensong in York Minster
A parish church choir at All Saints' Church, Northampton singing 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[2]) offer this service regularly during the major part of the year, or (in universities) during the university terms. There is typically a main or foundation choir which sings the service on most days of the week (or, in a few cases, seven days a week, as at Canterbury Cathedral), with a volunteer choir typically replacing the main choir for occasional or weekly services (or sometimes more often, as at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford). During the summer holidays, local and international visiting choirs typically perform Evensong (and other services) at cathedrals in the absence of the main choir. Traditional male-only choirs with boys on the treble line have in many cases been supplemented by girl trebles, either alongside or alternating with the boys.

Aside from the cathedrals and collegiate chapels, Evensong is also sung in many parish churches around England where there is a choral tradition. There may be a choral service each Sunday or less frequently, such as on a monthly basis or only on feast days in the liturgical calendar. Many churches in central London have a professional choir and have a weekly service of Choral Evensong, among them All Saints, Margaret Street, Holy Trinity Sloane Square and St Bride's, Fleet Street.[3]


Most of the six cathedrals of the Church in Wales also offer choral evensong, often on Sundays. Choral evensong is usually sung during term time; at other times, it is most often replaced with Evening Prayer.


A number of churches and Episcopal cathedrals in Scotland that maintain a choral tradition hold services of choral evensong, including St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, Old Saint Paul's, Edinburgh and St Margaret's, Gallowgate in Aberdeen. Due to Scotland's different church history, Evensong is a tradition in the Scottish Episcopal Church, not the Church of Scotland.


Most of the larger churches and cathedrals of the Church of Ireland offer evensong. It is sung six times a week at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, twice at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and once at Trinity College, Dublin. Additionally, although rarely, some parish churches hold Evensong, however, this is most often replaced with Evening Prayer.

United States[edit]


West Africa[edit]

Southern Africa[edit]


Daily Choral Evensong[edit]

  • 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[edit]

Other Choral Evensong[edit]

The choir in procession at Service at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne

New Zealand[edit]

Hong Kong[edit]




Non-Anglican churches[edit]

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[25] 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.[26]

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 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.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Beeson, Trevor (2009). In Tuneful Accord: The Church Musicians. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-33-404193-1.
  2. ^ http://www.kcl.ac.uk/aboutkings/principal/dean/chaplaincy/prayeratkings/strand/college-chapel.aspx
  3. ^ "Choral Evensong". www.choralevensong.org. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-12-17. Retrieved 2015-12-16.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Trinity Cathedral Evensong Service Schedule
  6. ^ Trinity Cathedral Service Schedule
  7. ^ "Choral Evensong". Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church. Retrieved 2016-10-02.
  8. ^ http://www.saintmarksphiladelphia.org
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral Sunday Services
  13. ^ St. Paul's Parish, K Street, Washington, DC Service Schedule
  14. ^ [4]
  15. ^ Music At Trinity College Chapel
  16. ^ "Cathedral Choir". Cathedral Church of Christ. Lagos. Archived from the original on 12 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  17. ^ Holy Trinity, Auckland service times
  18. ^ Saint Paul's, Wellington service times
  19. ^ Cardboard Cathedral service times
  20. ^ St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin
  21. ^ "St John's Cathedral 聖約翰座堂 - Evensong Choir". www.stjohnscathedral.org.hk. Retrieved 2016-10-31.
  22. ^ "Services | St Andrew's Cathedral". cathedral.org.sg. Retrieved 2017-09-05.
  23. ^ Cathedral, St Mary's. "Sunday Services - St Mary's Cathedral". www.stmaryscathedral.org.my. Retrieved 2017-09-05.
  24. ^ a b "Chapels and Services | Rikkyo University". Rikkyo University (in Japanese). Retrieved 2018-06-06.
  25. ^ http://www.prumc.org
  26. ^ http://www.choralevensong.org/home.php
  27. ^ "Choral Evensong". BBC Radio 3. Retrieved 25 August 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]