E and B

Its a funny thing, Choral Evensong. A few years ago, I would have said it was purely of antiquarian interest. However, I was wrong.

Last night was a good example. Glorious music. Quite a diverse aged congregation. A diverse aged choir too. Gorecki’s Totus tuus utterly beguiling us all in its simplicity and sparse beauty. It was such a pleasure to be in the midst of it all and seeing and feeling the ancient patterns of prayer come to life in the known holiness of the building once again.

Last week I made it to Choral Evensong in London in one of the churches that I used to go to when I worked down there. It too was stunning. It helps having one of the most striking Norman interiors in the world and it always helps having a choir who know just exactly what to do with the psalms. The psalm singing is one of the regular joys of St Mary’s, but the one I went to down south was special too. Just five singers in the choir, singing Anglican chant impeccably.

However the strongest thing that I’ll take away from that particular service was Benediction. It was simply stunning. The organist knew exactly how to bring the whole thing to a climax (and I do mean climax) when the Blessed Sacrament was revealed in the monstrance and the congregation was blessed. Organ at one end of the building, bell ringing servers at the other. It felt as thought he whole building was vibrating with faith and joy. (At first I thought that they had installed a zimbelstern, but it was just the servers doing their thing).

“O Saving Victim, opening wide. The gate of heaven to us below…” is one of the things that gets Sung at Evensong. Though I’ve enjoyed many a Benediction in the past, that service in London on that one particular night made those words seem more true, more astonishingly, palpably true than any service I’ve experienced before, either in that church of any other. It will stay with me for a long time.

I’ve no plans on introducing Benediction to Sunday evening worship in St Mary’s. I like what we do and I think it works well. However, it did make me think about other possible opportunities.


  1. Martin Ritchie says

    One of the interesting things about choral evensong is that in some places it can seem like a living tradition that can speak to anyone, whereas in others it can appear to be dry as dust, pompous and irrelevant. What do you think the “method” is that produces a living choral evensong as opposed to an antiquarian one?

  2. That’s a good question, Martin and I agree, it can be miserable.

    I think that worship tends to take off when those planning it and organising and leading it care more about what we are doing when we worship than in the form in which we worship.

    I suspect that Choral Evensong is not best led by liturgical, musical or prayer book fundamentalists or by those who happen to find this a way of encountering the holy.

    A culture of offering the best we can be to God helps. Good relationships between musicians and clergy help. As usual, clear liturgical books in the hands of the faithful help. And whoever is leading needs not to be frightened of a bit of silence now and then amidst the music.

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