Westminster Abbey, Day 4

Morning and Evening Prayer at the Abbey. 

In some ways, Morning and Evening Prayer at the Westminster Abbey could not be more different. 

Each evening of the week, hundreds of visitors, three- to four-hundred in fact, fill the north and south transept to hear to beauty of our prayers sung at the end of the day.  Beginning at 4:30 pm, the west gate opens and the large crowd which had been queuing up since 4pm starts filing in.  Within minutes the quire is full, and by 4:50, every seat in the transept is taken, and the vergers are left to look for any remaining seats.  And still they come, the last visitors arriving well after the service has begun. No matter how quiet we tried to be, a crowd of four-hundred is noisy; we stand and we sit, we move and we shuffle.  Add to the natural movement that of four hundred worshipers, the prayers which we recited together, the Lord’s Prayer and Confession and Creed, and evensong almost becomes loud! 

There’s a fittingness to this, of course, because our lives are loud and in perpetual motion.  We are standing and moving, it seems, all about, all the time.  And it doesn’t all stop conveniently at 5:00 pm.  Even if our workday has concluded, there’s nearly always more to do.  And so, into all this movement and noise, Evensong is sung.  With people filing in, we are invited to quiet ourselves as best we are able, to offer our selves, broken and yearning in prayer. 

Morning Prayer, it would seem, couldn’t be more different.  For one, it is nearly silent.  The Dean and Chapter, and any visitors for the day or week, begin to gather in silence at 7:15 and not a word is spoken, nearly no sound heard, until the lights slowly rise at 7:30.  Even as our voices come together for the opening Responsory and Psalm, they are barely audible.  Whereas, at Evensong the presence of others never escapes you, at Morning Prayer you might wonder if anyone else was there! 

And, of course, the size and location of the service couldn’t be more distinct.  Evensong in the Quire and overflowing transept dwarfs the intimacy of the eighteen or so chairs found in Saint Faith’s chapel tucked away, as it is, in the south transept.

And yet, apart from the singing, the service is essentially the same.  We quietly hear again the Word of God in Scripture and contemplate its meaning and significance for our lives today.  We offer ourselves in prayerful service to God who has blessed us and all creation.  And, through our prayers, we re-committ ourselves to the real and tangible needs of the world.

And that is effectively what daily prayer is about -- stopping in our busyness to offer our thanksgiving to God and confessing our brokenness, reconnecting ourselves to God, and recommitting ourselves to God’s mission in response to the needs of a broken and hurting world. Be it Morning or Evening Prayer, we hear again God’s will for us and the world, in order that we may give ourselves evermore complete to our common prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”