The Prayer Book provided a table of daily readings so that at Morning and Evening Prayer the whole Bible could be read in the course of a year, and the Psalms in the course of a month. Another pattern of readings was provided for The Lord's Supper, following a more thematic approach and related to the calendar for the church year.

At first, the daily services of Morning and Evening Prayer were relatively short, beginning with the Lord's Prayer and a time of praise. Essentially, they provided opportunities for hearing Scripture read systematically and for responding with biblically-informed prayer and praise. An opportunity to confess sin together was added in 1552, and further prayers were added in later revisions

The opening exhortation, which first appeared in 1552, made it clear that Christians should assemble and meet together for the following reasons:

˜to render thanks for the great benefits we have received at (God's) hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy word, and to ask for those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.'

Reading Scripture in our services today

We live in a different world, where Christians normally gather on a weekly basis and cannot follow the pattern of daily readings set down in the Prayer Book. If preaching involves systematic exposition of biblical books, the pattern is usually to have the passage for the day read as one of the lessons. However, such passages can be quite short and the reading of other lessons is increasingly rare.

1 Timothy 4:13 teaches that the public reading of Scripture is an important ministry in its own right, in addition to exhortation and teaching. The Prayer Book model of reading one chapter from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament at each of the daily services provides for breadth and length of reading, as well as sequence.

Is anything lost in moving to a shorter, sermon-focused approach? If Bible reading is reduced for pragmatic reasons - because of time pressure or because of the addition of other things - we are in danger of returning to the sort of pre-Reformation pattern Cranmer sought to change! Despite our theological convictions about Scripture, we may unwittingly be allowing it to be heard less and less in our gatherings, as it becomes subsumed under the ministry of preaching.

If the sermon establishes one set of readings, why not include another set, from a related biblical book? This would express the belief that God's word can be read aloud without explanation and speak powerfully to those present.

Using the Psalms

Christians have traditionally found the Psalms a rich resource for prayer and praise in a whole range of life's circumstances. The Anglican Reformers thought the Psalms should be read together regularly and systematically, not as one of the lessons, but as a congregational response to God. In most of our churches today it is rare to find psalms used in this way. Contemporary songs provide a worthy substitute, but reading a passage together provides an opportunity to meditate on the words that God himself inspired.

Psalms can simply be read together as a form of corporate prayer, praise or confession. They can be read responsively, with the leader saying odd-numbered verses and the congregation responding with even-numbered verses. The leader can also read the first part of each verse (up to the colon in Prayer book versions) and the congregation respond with the second part of the verse. Some psalms can be read in sections by the leader, with the congregation joining in verses that are repeated throughout (as in Psalm 107) or in other ways. Let the structure and message of the psalm determine the best way to use each one.

Sometimes doubts are expressed about the ability of people to understand and relate to the language and sentiments of the Psalms. But these difficulties can be overcome by careful selection of passages to be read and by a brief explanation, where relevant. Psalms can be used as expressions of faith or repentance after Bible readings, or in response to a sermon. They can be a vehicle for reflecting together on God's character and his saving purpose, in the context of praise and thanksgiving. Prayers adapted from the New Testament letters can also be an edifying way of using Scripture together for petition and praise.

Next: Mixing the old with the new