It is very good to see a greater number of our people attending the offices of Matins and Vespers (Morning and Evening Prayer). The following reminders are offered to strengthen our offering of common prayer.
When we come into the chapel we need to begin to silence ourselves – our mouths, our minds and our bodies. Some talking is necessary for preparations before and after services, and it is certainly appropriate to quietly greet guests and assist them with service books, but other conversations can be saved for the parish hall. The same is true for conversations after services which could distract those remaining in the chapel to pray.
As we walk into the chapel it is customary to dip our finger in the holy water stoup at the door and bless ourselves with the sign of the cross, as a reminder of our baptisms. It is also customary to kiss the icon (typically of our Lord, St. Gregory, or of the feast of the day), venerating the holy person(s) it shows us. Then, remembering that the light of Christ banishes the darkness of the world and that we as Christians are to shine with that light, we may light a candle as we say our prayers, the candle continuing to burn as our prayers ascend to God.
The book needed for the service (The English Office Noted) is on the table in the back of the chapel. The variable parts of the service for Matins are listed in the bulletin; for Vespers they are listed on the bookmark placed at the beginning of the service.
We generally stand to sing, sit for the reading of the lessons, and kneel or stand to pray. As the Office is an act of corporate prayer, we should work to pray with one voice. The Officiant and cantor set the tone and speed at which the chanting should proceed, and we should listen to one another, making sure that we stay together and that no voice is striving against another (in tempo or volume). It is simple to find the psalms for each office as we sing the psalms “of the day,” that is to say that on November 7th at Matins we sing the “Psalms for the Seventh Day at Morning Prayer” and so forth. The scripture readings recall the wondrous history of our salvation and instruct us in how we are to live as Christians, so we need to carefully “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” these sacred words.
The Office Hymns, like the antiphons (sung before and after the canticles Benedictus and Magnificat), provide important teaching and meditation on the day or season. Some of these, especially those sung to their ancient tunes, are not easy to sing. Whether you sing or not, you should open the hymnal and read the text which proclaims the faith of the Church in song. The seasonal Office Hymns are repeated week after week, giving us ample opportunity to learn these great works. After the Office Hymn we sing a proper versicle and response; at Matins the response is in the bulletin, at Vespers it is printed on the bookmark (and the melody never changes!).
For members of the congregation, ceremonial acts are private acts, involving the body in our worship: some will do more, others less. These acts are not required, but are an important aid to our worship. When entering or exiting a pew, we reverence the altar by bowing (or genuflecting when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved). For the Office, in general terms, we make the sign of the Cross on our lips at “O Lord, open thou our lips…” and sign ourselves in the usual manner at “O God, make speed to save us…” We bow (and/or make the sign of the Cross) at mention of the three persons of the Holy Trinity “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” whether in the Gloria Patri or in a doxology at the end of a hymn. It is also customary to make the sign of the Cross at the conclusion of the Apostles’ Creed (“✠ and the life everlasting”) and Lord’s Prayer (deliver us from ✠ evil), and at the beginning of the Gospel Canticles Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and Benedictus). It is always appropriate to bow the head slightly at the holy Name of Jesus, as well as at the name of Mary or the saint whose feast is being celebrated. We also bow at “holy is his Name” in the Magnificat, bow (or genuflect) at “O come, let us worship and fall down” in the Venite, and bow at “Holy, holy, holy” in the Te Deum (and some may wish to kneel at “We therefore pray thee, help thy servants… precious blood”). At the conclusion of the Office we make the sign of the Cross at “The grace of our Lord...” and “May the souls...”
At St. Gregory’s we sing different settings of the canticles during penitential seasons. As we approach Advent, remember to follow the rubrics in the Office book to find the page for the appropriate canticle.
These reminders are offered to assist in our singing the Lord’s praise in the Daily Office. May our good and loving God hear our prayers and help us grow to be of one heart, mind and voice in His service.