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Choral Evensong conventions

30 September 2016


Write, if you have answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


Your answers


Why, in the broadcast Choral Even­song, is the penitential introduction usually replaced by a so-­called introit, lustily sung before the offic­iant has sung “O Lord, open thou our lips”? Why is the hymn for the Office not always proper to the day?


The penitential introduction was introduced by Cranmer in the Prayer Book of 1552. Both offices of the first Prayer Book (of 1549) had begun with the Lord’s Prayer, followed by the opening responses.

The influence behind the new penitential introduction seems to have been the liturgy of Valérand Poullain, pastor of the refugee French Reformed congregation in Canterbury (and later Glastonbury). Cranmer’s pastoral exhortation, though powerful and loving, can read quite dour; and, in time, its twice-daily recitation was felt to be repetitive and burdensome. The High Church party sought to follow more closely the forms of 1549, and to omit all or some of the introduc­tion. The Shortened Services Act 1872 allowed the omission of the ex­­horta­tion on weekdays. Under Canon B1, the alternatives of the 1872 Act are still in effect, and they can now be made on a Sunday.

The Proposed Prayer Book of 1928 allowed for the total omission of the introduction, beginning the office with the opening responses, on weekdays, festivals on a Sunday, and if another service followed im­­med­iately. Although not authorised, this use was widely tolerated. The Shorter Prayer Book of 1946 and the Series 1 of 1965 brought the 1928 alternatives under a more secure commendation and authorisation.

The Main Volume of Common Worship sets out BCP Morning and Evening Prayer with permitted vari­ations, which simplify those previ­ously commended or authorised. The first is “All or part of the mater­ial before ‘O Lord, open thou our lips’ may be omitted, at least on weekdays.”

Many a choral evensong now begins with a “so-called introit”. Correctly, an introit is the proper anthem at the beginning of the mass, but the word is also used for any anthem at the beginning of any service. Choir directors and organ­ists use this as an option to perform another, often shorter, anthem than that sung after the last collect.

A few have noted the oddity of having any sung praise before “O Lord, open thou our lips”, believing that to be an invocation of divine help for our praise. Yet singing be­­fore the service has a long history. In the early days of the BCP, the singing of metrical psalms and early “ghostly” hymns was popular before and after the Offices. Merbecke set the first Lord’s Prayer to be sung monotone. From the 18th century, many churches had the penitential introduction chanted monotone with harmonised Amens. The “rule” of not singing before this opening versicle appears to be wrought of 19th-century Romantic literalism.

Cranmer omitted Office hymns. [They came back in unofficially, par­­tic­ularly after The English Hym­nal (1906) incorporated English translations of Office hymns and assigned them by reference to pre-Reformation usage;] and their read­mission was contemplated in the Joint Liturgical Group’s Daily Office of 1968. The texts of hymns are now written into seasonal Even­ing Prayer in Common Worship: Daily Prayer. Thus, the “properness” of Office hymns proper to the day is an elastic concept.

No hymn is required, but a hymn preceding the psalmody or the Magnificat may be chosen on the basis of the tradition of proper Office hymns, or the hymn’s general appropriateness.
(The Revd) Gareth Hughes, Oxford


Your questions


George Oldroyd composed a Mass of the Quiet Hour. Is the ideal of the sung eucharist as the “quiet hour” a lost cause? A. M.


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