By Brenda S. Cox
(Bonus Materials for Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England)
Soon, my upcoming book, Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England will be available! It will be offered at the JASNA AGM at the end of September, then on Oct. 20 from Amazon! The Kindle version can be pre-ordered now and the print version will be available soon. This is part of a series of “bonus materials” for that book, which all of you readers can enjoy.
What were worship services like for Jane Austen and her characters? They followed the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which details daily and Sunday services for morning and evening (evening services were often held in the early afternoon, depending on the time of year).
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer
The services follow this sequence: confession; praise and Psalms; lessons (Bible readings) and more praise; the creed (statement of faith); the Lord’s Prayer; and the collect prayers.
Morning and evening services begin with a Bible verse and a call to confession and repentance. It gives the purposes of the worship service:
“And although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we most chiefly so to do, when we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as for the soul.” So the goals of the service are to thank and praise God, hear God’s Word, and ask for what we need.
The congregation, kneeling, read a prayer aloud together confessing sins and asking forgiveness. They say (in part), “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. . . . We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done. . . . Have mercy upon us. . . . And grant . . . That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.” The priest declares that God forgives the sins of those who truly repent.
After the confession and absolution in the prayer service, the priest and the congregation kneel to say the Lord’s Prayer together, recite a response asking for God’s help, and say the Gloria Patri, which begins “Glory be to the Father.”
Praise and Psalms
Several Psalms are read or sung. The congregation or clerk recites the Gloria Patri after each one. Morning Prayer includes Psalm 95 which begins, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.” Daily services include the whole book of Psalms each month. The Psalms are read from Myles Coverdale’s translation (1535–7), which preceded the King James Bible (1611). The Coverdale Psalms are usually bound into Anglican prayer books.
Lessons (Bible Readings) and Praise
An Old Testament reading follows.
In the morning, a hymn of praise is then read or sung: either “Te Deum Laudamus” (“We praise Thee O God”), or “Benedicite, Omnia Opera” (“O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord”). In the evening, Mary’s “Magnificat” from Luke 1 (“My soul doth magnify the Lord . . .”), or Psalm 98, “Cantate Domino” (“O sing unto the Lord a new song . . .”) follows the Old Testament reading.
The entire service is in English, though the titles of some sections are in Latin, as they were in the Catholic services.
A New Testament reading comes next, then either Luke 1:68–79 (Zechariah’s song of praise after the birth of John the Baptist) or Psalm 100 (“O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands . . .”). In the evening, “Nunc dimittis” (Luke 2:29 ff, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace . . .”) or Psalm 67 (“God be merciful unto us and bless us: and show us the light of his countenance”) is read instead. All of these passages praise and thank God.
Calendars in the Book of Common Prayer prescribe daily Scripture readings and special readings for particular Sundays and holy days. By reading morning and evening prayers daily, Jane Austen and her family read most of the Old Testament and Apocrypha (which is accepted by Catholics and some Protestants, but not others) once each year, and read most of the New Testament three times a year. (Some Bible passages were left out, including Leviticus 1–17; Numbers 1–10; Joshua 11–22; I and II Chronicles; Ezra 2; Song of Solomon; Ezekiel 1,4,5, 8–12,15–17; and most of Revelation. Modern BCP schedules are different.)
Creed (Statement of Faith)
Next the congregation says the Apostles’ Creed together (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth . . .”), or the singers sing it. On special occasions such as Christmas day, the longer Creed of Saint Athanasius is read instead.
The Lord’s Prayer and the Collects
The people kneel, asking for Christ’s mercy, and recite the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father which art in heaven . . .”) together, followed by responsive prayers (For example: Priest: “O Lord, shew thy mercy upon us”; People: “And grant us thy salvation”).
Three prayers called “collects” (see chapter 9 of Fashionable Goodness) follow. The first collect prayer changes from week to week and on holy days. The second is for peace, the third for protection.
After the third collect, “In Quires and Places where they sing here followeth the Anthem.” Big city churches might have a choir (“quire”). Some country churches had a group of Singers who would sing at this point.
Litany or Final Prayers
Five final prayers complete the service: for the king, for the royal family, for the clergy and people, “A Prayer of Saint Chrysostom” asking God to hear all the prayers, and a blessing (II Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen).
On certain days a longer Litany is read instead, which adds prayers asking for God’s mercy and deliverance. A litany is a series of petitions with congregational responses. For example, the clergyman asks God for a series of things, and after each one the congregation responds “We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.”
In Austen’s time a sermon was normally part of the service, but the Book of Common Prayer does not say when it should be given.