Choral Evensong (Evening Prayer/Vêpres Chantées) is one of the real jewels of the Anglican tradition, and has been so for over 400 years. A service of timeless beauty and heritage, it dates from the English Reformation, when the medieval Latin monastic offices of Vespers and Compline were translated into English to be used in all parish and cathedral churches.
Along with sung Mattins (Morning Prayer), Evensong was one of the principal Sunday services of the Anglican Church until the late nineteenth-century, when the Eucharist became increasingly prevalent. The service as we have it today is essentially unchanged from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 Book of Common Prayer -- from which the current Episcopal Prayer Book draws its origins.
The style of English language (Rite I) used is similar to the language of Shakespeare, dating from the sixteenth-century.
Much of Evensong is sung by the choir -- giving the congregation the opportunity to listen to the fine Anglican choral tradition of music, and to be inspired and uplifted in worship. It is a musical offering of praise to God.
The text of Evensong is taken almost entirely from the Scripture. A portion of the psalter is beautifully chanted by the choir. There are readings from the Old Testament and the New. Then there are the two great songs: the Magnificat, the song of Mary when she heard that she was to become the mother of our Lord; and the Nunc Dimittis, the words of the old prophet Simeon as he held the infant Jesus in his arms and recognized Him as the Messiah.
Incense is used by the Church as a symbol of our prayers rising to heaven: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” (Psalm 141). We find in the book of Revelation that incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints in heaven -- “the golden bowl full of incense are the prayers of the saints” (5:8; 8:3) -- which rise towards the altar of God.
The clergy lead the congregation in prayer and intercession. Several collects (prayers) are chanted. You are invited to join in singing the hymns, the creeds, and in prayer.