One of the chief arguments of the Virtual Cathedral Project is that public worship in the early modern Church of England formed the context for the religious life of everyone. The performance of these rites as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer occupied a significant part of the day, every day, and especially on Sundays and Holy Days. As modeled by the Cathedral Project, worship on Sundays began at 10:00 and lasted, with an hour-long sermon, as late as 1:00 in the afternoon. Worship resumed in mid-afternoon and lasted at least 45 minutes to an hour, whether or not there was an afternoon sermon.
Recognition of the amount of time that worship lasted in English churches calls for renewed scrutiny to the question of where sermons fitted in to this routine. We know that sermons took place as part of regular morning worship on Sundays or Holy Days in the context of the Service of Holy Communion, between the recitation of the Creed and the “Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church,” regardless of whether or not the service ended at that point or continued to include the celebration of Holy Communion.
Sermons could also take place as an extension of Evensong in the afternoons, as we have argued was the practice at St Paul’s Cathedral. Sermons could also take place at other times during the week, either formally as part of regular worship or as stand-alone events, perhaps in the context of a formal structure modeled on the services of the Book of Common Prayer or as, in effect, free-standing lectures. Nevertheless, to folks for whom the preaching of sermons was the most important religious activity one could engage in — rather than an important but not dominant part of a larger worship service — opposition to the formal liturgies of the Church of England was understandable.
Recognition of Prayer Book services as the normative context for preaching, however, calls for more research into how the extra-liturgical preaching of sermons — when and where it occurred — was organized and staged and how the scheduling of it fitted into the larger liturgical day.
Regaardless of whether a particular worship venue fitted preaching into its daily observation of the Prayer Book rites or whether it also offered extra-liturgical sermons, the clergy who preached those sermons — if they fulfilled their ordination vows — they also read the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as other services when appointed, either publicly in cathedrals or churches or in the privacy of their studies.
As a result, by using the Lectionaries from the early modern Books of Common Prayer, we can know what texts from the Bible they were reading as part of their daily devotional lives. So, whether or not they make reference to those readings in their sermons or devotional writings — as Donne did in his repeated references to the relatively minor Book of Ecclesiasticus in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions — or draw exclusively on texts that support or illustrate the arguments they make in those sermons, we still know what was also on their minds.