A User's Guide to Morning and Evening Prayer

A User's Guide to Morning and Evening Prayer

by Christopher L. Webber


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The only way you can really get to know God is through prayer,says author Christopher L. Webber, "and the Prayer Book sets out a pattern that has been used by saints and sinners for centuries.This guide will help readers, newcomers and longtime Episcopalians alike get started on the ancient way of praying found in the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer. A User's Guide illuminates the theology, history, and practical concerns of worshipping God in Morning and Evening Prayer. With the complete text of these prayer services, in both Rite I and Rite II, along with running commentary, this book takes Episcopalians by the hand as they explore and pray the Daily Office.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819221971
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/01/2006
Series: User's Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: Morning and Eveni Series
Pages: 52
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER L. WEBBER is an Episcopal priest, who has led urban, rural, and overseas parishes. He is a graduate of Princeton University and General Theological Seminary. In addition to Welcome to the Christian Faith, he is the author of many other books and several hymns. He lives in San Francisco and gives workshops and lectures on his writings.

CHRISTOPHER L. WEBBER is an Episcopal priest, who has led urban, rural, and overseas parishes. He is a graduate of Princeton University and General Theological Seminary. In addition to Welcome to the Christian Faith, he is the author of many other books and several hymns. He lives in San Francisco and gives workshops and lectures on his writings.

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A User's Guide to the Book of Common Prayer

Morning and Evening Prayer

By Christopher L. Webber

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2005 Christopher L. Webber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-2197-1



Daily Morning Prayer


Apart from the Holy Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer are the most familiar services of the Book of Common Prayer. But they are very different in character from the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is primarily an action in which we are involved, and, to a degree, an end in itself. Morning and Evening Prayer—also known as the Daily Offices, from the Latin word for "duty"—are more contemplative than active and are primarily a means for doing something else. They are intended to provide, first, a pattern for reading the Bible, and, second, a framework for our day.

In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the basic structure of Morning and Evening Prayer remains essentially unchanged from the pattern of the very first Prayer Book, compiled by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549. The 1979 Prayer Book provides two versions: one in traditional Elizabethan English (Rite I) and one in contemporary English (Rite II). No matter which version we use, no matter where we take part in the services—in a cathedral or parish church, at home, in an office, or on a commuter train—we are sanctifying time by framing each day with prayer. No matter the setting, the goal of the Daily Office remains the same: to provide opportunity for every Christian to offer each day to God.

A Pattern for Reading the Bible

In monastic communities, one of the reasons the monks prayed the Daily Offices was to read the Bible through in some systematic way. In the Middle Ages the growing number of saints' days interrupted the regular pattern of readings, and one of Archbishop Cranmer's objectives was to enable lay people to hear the whole Bible read.

Central to both Morning and Evening Prayer are the readings from the Bible. In Cranmer's plan there was to be one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New at each service. Most of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha would be read through each year, and the New Testament (except for the Book of Revelation) was to be read through three times each year. The psalms were divided into sixty segments so that by reading one at each service, morning and evening, the whole psalter could be read each month.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer allows for the use of the thirty-day cycle of psalm readings but also provides a schedule that distributes the psalms over seven weeks through most of the year. Three Lessons, one each from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels, are provided for each day with the suggestion that two be read in the morning and one in the evening. Following this pattern, most of the Old Testament would be read through in two years and most of the New Testament every year. Alternative plans include reading three Lessons at one service daily or two Lessons at both daily services. (See page 934 of the Book of Common Prayer for more information.)

The readings from the Bible are preceded by the psalms and separated and followed by Canticles. The Canticles provide opportunity to reflect on the readings while they are said or sung and to respond to the readings with praise. The readings and Canticles are followed by the Apostles' Creed, so that the readings lead to a statement of faith. The service then concludes with prayer. Morning and Evening Prayer are, then, biblical services: a way to read the Bible in a careful and systematic way as part of an offering of praise and prayer by the Christian community.

Just as the monastic offices were usually sung, so Morning and Evening Prayer have developed a rich heritage of music. Music adds to the beauty of the service, but there is also a very practical advantage to singing. Chanting the psalms and Canticles makes it easier to recite them in unison, and chanting the prayers makes it easier to hear the words, especially in a large church or cathedral. Evening Prayer, especially, is so often sung that it is commonly referred to as "Evensong." But while the Daily Offices may be elaborately sung, they may also be recited very simply by a few people in a small chapel or said privately by an individual with a Bible and a prayer book and ten or fifteen quiet minutes. Doing so frames our time in a Bible-centered pattern of prayer, shared in by countless Christians throughout the world.

A Framework for the Day

Time is God's most elusive gift: there is no way to hold it or change it. But we can measure it and, indeed, one of the psalms (104:20) suggests that God made the moon specifically to mark the seasons for us. If we can measure time, then we can also set aside a part of it to give back to God, just as we set aside parts of all our other gifts to offer them to the God who gives them to us. With time, as with money, we can find ways to set aside part as a way of showing that all of it belongs to God. The Sabbath was set aside as a way of making the whole week holy, and, in the same way, we set aside times of daily prayer to mark each day as God's. This marking and offering of time to God is an act of both stewardship and praise.

Christians inherited a pattern of daily prayer from the Jews, who set aside three times of prayer daily. But Christians found the psalm verse (119:164) that says, "Seven times a day do I praise you" and by the Middle Ages monks had developed a tradition of seven daily times of prayer:

Matins before dawn and Lauds at daybreak, combined into one service; Prime, at the beginning of the work day; Terce, Sext, and None at midmorning, noon, and midafternoon; Vespers at sundown; and Compline at bedtime.

Obviously, such a schedule could be kept only by monks and nuns, though lay people were encouraged to attend when they could.

In the first English Book of Common Prayer, Archbishop Cranmer set out to combine and revise the Daily Offices so that ordinary people could take part in them. The two new services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer would replace the sevenfold pattern and provide a way for everyone to praise God at the beginning and end of each day. These services, required for the clergy, became so popular that for centuries they pushed aside the Eucharist and even became the principal Sunday services, for both morning and evening. With the revisions of the 1979 Prayer Book restoring the Eucharist to its central place, however, Morning and Evening Prayer, in their turn, have often been pushed aside. As a remedy, the 1979 Prayer Book offers brief "Daily Devotions" for morning, noon, early evening, and close of day (BCP pages 136–140) and also restores the service of Compline to assist Christians who want a fuller structure of prayer for their daily lives.

How to Use Morning (and Evening) Prayer

For most Christians daily attendance at church morning and evening will be impractical, but the Daily Offices can be used at home (before breakfast or after dinner, for example) or in the office, or even while traveling. Longer and shorter versions can be used, as follows.

1 - Full Morning Prayer (Rite II)

Opening sentences (choose one or more), pages 75–78

Invitatory, page 80

Canticle (Venite or Jubilate, except Christ our Passover at Easter time), pages 82–83

Psalm (selections listed, pages 936 ff, or use the psalms for the day of the month, page 585 ff.)

First Lesson (selections, page 936 ff, or begin with Genesis and read a chapter a day)

Canticle (choose one), pages 85–95

Second Lesson (selections, page 936 ff. or begin with St. Matthew and read a chapter a day)

Third Lesson (optional)

The Apostles' Creed, page 96

The Prayers (Lord's Prayer and Suffrages, page 97, one collect, pages 98–100, one prayer from pages 100–101, other prayers optional)

Conclusion, page 102

2 - A Shorter Version of Morning Prayer (Rite II)

Opening sentences (chose one or more), pages 75–78

Invitatory, page 80

Canticle (Venite or Jubilate, except Christ our Passover at Easter time), pages 82–83

Psalm (selections listed, pages 936 ff, or use the psalms for the day of the month, page 585 ff.)

One Lesson (selections listed on page 936 ff, or begin with Genesis or St. Matthew and read a chapter a day)

The Apostles' Creed, page 96

The Prayers (page 97, one collect from pages 98–100, one prayer from pages 100–101, other prayers optional)

Conclusion, page 102

Morning Prayer, Rite I

The Rite I form of Morning Prayer differs from Rite II primarily in using traditional rather than contemporary language. The sequence of Opening Sentences, Confession, Invitatory, Psalm, Lessons and Canticles, Creed, and Prayers is exactly the same, although there are some differences in the Canticles and prayers provided. For a general discussion of Morning Prayer, then, the material on BCP pages 3–7 applies equally to both Rite I and Rite II. A few things, however, are different.

The same thirty-three verses of Scripture as Opening Sentences are provided for both rites. The first notable difference is in the Invitation to the General Confession (page 41 in the 1979 Prayer Book). This exhortation, essentially unchanged from 1552 to 1928, has been much shortened in the Rite I and II versions. In both, it lists the purposes for which we gather to render thanks to God, to praise God, to hear God's word, and to offer prayer. Oddly, the Rite II version omits the first of these purposes: "to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received." Since both versions include the General Thanksgiving, this difference cannot be explained.

The forms of Confession and Absolution in Rites I and II are different, but both are based on very ancient models. The Rite I Confession omits the words "and there is no health in us" and "miserable offenders" found in earlier prayer books. The first of these phrases especially is questionable theology, since it seems to imply that there is no goodness left in us as a result of our sins. Many Anglican theologians have maintained that the image of God remains present in every human being, though it is deformed or marred by sin. We are, one might say, "bent" but not "broken."

The Venite (see Glossary) has appeared in slightly different versions in different prayer books over the years. The first American prayer book dropped the last four and a half verses of Psalm 95 and added two verses from Psalm 96 in their place. The current Rite II version drops the verses from Psalm 96 and adds the half-verse of Psalm 95: "Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!" The effect is to make the Rite I version center on God's holiness and worship and end with praise, while the Rite II version ends with a challenge to the worshiper. The traditional (pre-1928) version of the Venite (Psalm 95 in the language of the Great Bible, published in 1539) is also available on page 146 and, of course, the contemporary version is on page 724 with the other psalms.

The Canticles provided for Morning Prayer, Rite I, are all those provided in the 1928 Prayer Book for Morning Prayer as well as those provided in that book for Evening Prayer: the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis, and Gloria in excelsis. The Gloria was provided in 1928 only as an alternative to the Gloria Patri at the end of the psalms but is given here as a Canticle, perhaps on the theory that everything in the 1928 Prayer Book should be included somewhere in the 1979 Prayer Book. The Canticles added to the 1979 Prayer Book (numbers 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19) have not been added to Rite I. Nevertheless any Rite II Canticle can be used with Rite I, and vice versa.

After the Creed and Lord's Prayer, the same two sets of versicles and responses are provided with, perhaps, one significant difference. The response to the last versicle in Set B in Rite II is, "And we shall never hope in vain." Rite I, less optimistically, says only, "Let me never be confounded." The first version is from the International Commission on English Texts, while the latter is a more accurate translation of the biblical text of Psalm 71:1.

Of the prayers, only two seem significantly dissimilar. The Collect for Grace is phrased very differently in the two services, though the same general line of thought seems to be followed. The General Thanksgiving in Rite II is modified for the sake of inclusive language by changing "to us and to all men" to "to all whom you have made."

The Daily Office

Daily Morning Prayer: Rite Two

The Officiant begins the service with one or more of these sentences of Scripture, or with the versicle "Lord, open our lips" on page 80.


Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. Mark 13:35, 36

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Isaiah 40:5


Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10, 11

Behold, the dwelling of God is with mankind. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God. Revelation 21:3


Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Isaiah 60:3

I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Isaiah 49:6b

From the rising of the sun to its setting my Name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered to my Name, and a pure offering; for my Name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 1:11


If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8, 9

Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Joel 2:13

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." Luke 15:18, 19

To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, because we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by following his laws which he set before us. Daniel 9:9, 10

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Mark 8:34

Holy Week

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by ? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me, whom the Lord has afflicted. Lamentations 1:12

Easter Season, including Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8

Trinity Sunday

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come! Revelation 4:8

All Saints and other Major Saints' Days

We give thanks to the Father, who has made us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:12

You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. Ephesians 2:19

Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4

Occasions of Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, and call upon his Name; make known his deeds among the peoples. Psalm 105:1

At any Time

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:2

I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord." Psalm 122:1

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Psalm 43:3

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Habakkuk 2:20

The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. John 4:23

Thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy, "I dwell in the high and holy place and also with the one who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite." Isaiah 57:15

The following Confession of Sin may then be said; or the Office may continue at once with "Lord, open our lips."

Confession of Sin

The Officiant says to the people

Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of Almighty God our heavenly Father, to set forth his praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. And so that we may prepare ourselves in heart and mind to worship him, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.

Excerpted from A User's Guide to the Book of Common Prayer by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2005 by Christopher L. Webber. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part I: Daily Morning Prayer          



Part II: Daily Evening Prayer          



Suggestions for Further Reading          


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