Reading Scripture in Anglican Worship

By |2018-08-13T17:13:23+00:00June 30th, 2016|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , |5 Comments

Anglicans read four passages of Scripture during Sunday worship. Out loud.

So do some other traditions, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutherans and others. We’re not competing with our fellow believers in other traditions, but we do read a lot more Scripture in our worship than most Bible churches do (intentional friendly barb).

Why do we do this? How do we select the readings? How can other churches start doing this?

Why Read Scripture Out Loud

Here is a great reason: Paul literally told us to read Scripture publicly, out loud. He wrote to Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”  And to the Thessalonians, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”

Jesus stood up in the Synagogue and read Scripture. The Jews read Scripture out loud together because Deuteronomy says to do so, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’”

Reading Scripture publicly should really not be seen as optional. Its not the same as reading alone by yourself. And its not the same as just hearing one passage read before a sermon. Reading Scripture aloud is its own thing – and it is an ancient, biblical, and helpful practice.

Which Books?

We read from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles.

Reading from the Old Testament is important. It is the book that prepares the way for Jesus Christ. It connects us with the People of God all the way back to the creation of humankind.

Reciting a Psalm together is the biblical way to praise and pray as a response to the rest of the readings.

Reading from the Epistles fulfill’s Paul’s directive to read the Letters aloud, and pass them along. These letters also teach us the meaning and effect of the Gospel.

Reading from the Gospels is the capstone moment. This is where we hear the words and deeds of our Lord. As the Head of the Church, he speaks to us.

Which Passages

We don’t select the passages to be ready locally (with exceptions from time to time). We share a common lectionary (lists of passages assigned to each week).

This is an ancient tradition that goes back even to the Jewish practices before the time of Jesus. By sharing the same readings, we are worshipping together with Christians all over the world.

And the Lectionary also has the effect of keeping the personality of the priest from overly dominating the themes and focus of worship. The priest may not mean to do so, but if one person selects all the readings personally, all year long, they will inevitably follow a narrow pattern of personal interest.

How to Read Scripture in Worship

First, preach a shorter sermon. You don’t need to preach for 35 minutes when more Scripture is being read. Let the Bible speak, and then preach on one aspect, particularly with the Gospel lesson as the main focus.

Second, train people to read. We print out the lessons and often email them to people before worship. Most Anglican churches have a schedule of trained readers. Encourage people to use a normal reading voice (rather than a religious sounding voice).  Its also a great way to get young people involved in worship. And encourage everyone to bring a Bible and read along.

Third, use a Lectionary. My church has recently published a lectionary adapted from the Common Lectionary. It is free for any church to adopt.

Fourth, provide introductions and responses. Anglicans traditionally say “A reading from… [book], [chapter] and beginning at verse [number]” before the OT and Epistle lessons. After, the reader says, “The Word of the Lord” and the People respond, “Thanks be to God.”

For the Psalm, it is traditional to read responsively (reader says one part and the people the next). After the Psalm it is customary to say the Gloria Patri.

The Gospels are announced: “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to [Gospel Writer]” and the People respond, “Glory to You, Lord Christ.”  After reading, the deacon or reader says, “The Gospel of the Lord.” and the People respond, “Praise to You, Lord Christ.” It is customary to make the little sign of the cross before the reading.

Finally, no matter what, don’t stop reading Scripture. This is a non-negotiable for any Christian church. And it will bear Gospel fruit.


Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.


  1. Laura Lloyd George June 30, 2016 at 11:02 am - Reply

    I so appreciate the way you articulate in a clear, precise and simple way, the practices of “ancient Christianity”. Makes me thankful for the foundations which were laid for us in Church history, in our former churches through the years and for our current home in the Anglican family. You are doing a great work, little brother!

    • Greg Goebel June 30, 2016 at 12:05 pm - Reply

      We’ve heard a lot of Bible read in church over the years! Thanks for the comment and the encouragement.

  2. Robin Jordan January 12, 2018 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    Only in the Western Church is the Gloria Patri said or sung at the end of each Psalm in the Daily Offices. In the Eastern Church it is said or sung at the end of the whole portion of Psalms or section from the Psalter. The American Prayer Book has historically permitted both practices. A period of silence for reflection and silent prayer. This period of silence may be concluded with a Psalter Collect, or psalm prayer. It was a practice in the American Church in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century to say the Psalms at and to sing the Gloria Patri, as Percy Dearmer notes in The Art of Public Worship (1919), a practice that he commends to his readers and which I introduced at my own church.. It is customary not to say or sing the Gloria Patri at the end of the Gradual Psalm in the Holy Eucharist Eucharist.

    The responsive reading of a Psalm is the least desirable and the most boring method of saying or singing a Psalm. When reading the Daily Offices the best method to say or sing a Psalm is antiphonally – from side to side. In some instances it may be desirable for a single voice to say or sing the Psalm, depending upon the nature of the Psalm. The Invitatory at Morning Prayer – the Venite (Psalm 95), the Jubilate (Psalm 100), or in the Fifty Great Days of Easter, the Easter Anthems ,is normally said or sung in unison. It may also be sung responsorially, with a cantor, small ensemble,or choir sing the verses and the congregation singing an antiphon or refrain. Congregations that desire to sing the Invitatory but which cannot chant, have a large number of children in the congregation, and/or and/or lack the strong musical leadership or acoustical setting requisite for good chant, may sing a metrical version of the Invitatory. such as Michael’ Joncas’ adaptation of Psalm 95 from the Scottish Psalter, which he set to CLEARWATER, a tune of his own composition – a very accessible setting.

    It is customary to stand for the Invitatory at Morning Prayer. The Office Hymn may be sung after the Invitatory. This was the practice at Mattins in the Medieval English Church and is recommended by a number of authorities on the music of the Daily Offices, including Percy Dearmer and Marion Hatchett. .

    The congregation may sit or stand for the remainder of the Psalmody. The early Egyptian monks in the fourth century sat during the singing of the Psalms and then stood and prostrated themselves during the prayer that followed the Psalm. The practice in Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and in some places well into the eighteenth century. Archbishop Laud created a furor when he introduced the practice of standing to say or sing the Gloria Patri. He was criticized for departing from established practice and introducing an innovation. Percy Dearmer notes in The Art of Public Worship (1919) that sitting for the Psalms makes less wearisome to the congregation. The rationale for standing for the Psalms is that the congregation stands for praise. However, only some of the Psalms are Psalms of praise. When the choir is singing a Psalm of praise and the congregation is listening to the choir, the congregation is not praising God but reflecting upon God’s Word and therefore the congregation does not need to be standing during the singing of the Psalm. Today’s aging congregations would welcome the change to the practice of sitting for the Psalms if it properly explained to them.

    The congregation normally sits for the Gradual Psalm in the Holy Eucharist.

    The congregation normally stands to say or sing the Canticles. The Canticles are usually said or sung in unison, the exception being the Benedicite and the Benedictus es, Domine, which may be recited or chanted responsiorally. The Benedictus Dominus Deus and Magnificat may also be ,sung responsorially. As in the case of the Invitator in churches in which the congregation cannot chant,, that have a large number of children in the congregation, and/or which lack the strong musical leadership or acoustical setting requisite for good chant; but which desire to sing the Canticles,metrical settings may be used in place of the prose one. Hope Publishing, Jubilate Hymns, and Kevin Mayhew Publishing publish a number of metrical settings of the Canticles written by Anglican hymn ,writers such as Carl P. Daw, Jr., Christopher Idle,Michael Perry, and others. These metrical settings of the Canticles may be sung to familiar hymn tunes. Tate and Brady’s New Psalter also contains metrical settings of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Canticles. These settings were used by English and American congregations in the eighteenth century and .early nineteenth century.

    When reading a Psalm or Canticle in the Daily Offices or at the Holy Eucharist, the congregation should read it slowly and meditatively with feeling from the heart, “with deep emotion.” They should not gallop through it like they are in hurry to beat to the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians to the Picadilly, Golden Coral, or other popular local eatery. The Psalms and Canticles are prayer! They should be prayed. Not only should they not be rushed but they should not be recited in a dead, flat, monotone voice! They also should not be gabbled. When we read the Daily Offices, we are praying: we are. not performing a good work for. which God gives us a check whenever we read it. Consequently, we should do everything prayerfully, and not in a perfunctory manner. For this reason I recommend that if a sermon or homily is preached at Morning or Evening Prayer, it should be preached immediately after the Second Lesson or the Third Lesson if three lessons are read. As Percy Dearmer notes in The Parson’s Manual, Jesus himself set the precedence for the exposition of the Scripture immediately following its reading. Preaching a sermon or homily early in Morning or Evening Prayer also eliminates the perceived need on the part of the congregation to rush everything to get to what it may perceive as the most important part of the service the sermon or homily. Anyone who has studied the history of the Anglican Church has read accounts of how parishioners in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and later were in the habit of going to church late in order to avoid the “prayers” and just to hear the sermon. . .

  3. michael saxbury August 20, 2018 at 12:03 am - Reply

    Has anyone cross referenced scripture with the liturgy to show which passages it wss created from?

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