I hope to return to Canterbury one day. I miss the daily round of prayer, especially Matins and Choral Evensong, Evensong might be the most lovely and distinctive service of Anglican worship. It features exquisite music and sung prayers and psalms. But I miss Matins equally for its silence.
Matins is said each morning by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury in Our Lady Martyrdom Chapel (pictured)—the chapel closest to the site where Thomas Becket was martyred in 1170. Just before the entrance of the chapel is a stark inscription in letters that look as if they were stabbed into the stone floor. It simply reads: Thomas. Above the inscription are three iron crosses, or are they swords? The ambiguity of what they are is surely a deliberate artistic intention.
Matins is Morning Prayer, then said from the Alternative Service Book (ASB), which has been replaced by Common Worship. It is a very quiet service, no music. In the acoustical space of the chapel, even a full voice sounds more like a whisper. But why would one want to pray loudly in such a beautiful space?
The daily celebration of Holy Eucharist at Canterbury revolves around the many side chapels in the cathedral from day to day; however, Matins is always said in Our Lady Martyrdom. The chapel is lovely, but austere compared to the glory of the whole cathedral. Its only liturgical distinction is that it is the only chapel where the Sacrament is reserved—and it is reserved in a pyx, which is made of wood in the shape of the sun with the very appropriate image of an Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God) on the front. The pyx is suspended in the middle just before the Altar, and the tiny sanctuary lamp—actually just a candle—burns continually as a symbol of Christ's sacramental presence. The candle is tucked away on a high shelf in a supporting stone column. It would be easy to miss it.
Matins is not a very long service, but at 7:30am the bells toll, the Dean and Chapter, vested simply in black cassocks, who sit behind the congregation, rise and the officiant will say the words that begin Morning Prayer throughout the Anglican Communion, “Lord, open our lips,” and we respond, “And our mouth shall declare your praise. Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.” Thus begins the daily round of prayer and worship that takes place without fail everyday, and will continue, God willing, till the return of Christ.
The whole of Canterbury Cathedral is sacred space; however, the presence of the reserved Sacrament in Our Lady Martyrdom makes it, to my mind, the center of the cathedral. You can visit the Great Quire (Choir), the High Altar, the Throne of St. Augustine, which is the cathedra of the Archbishop. But the lamp is not lit in any of those places. The treasure is found in place where a martyrdom occurred—the place where the true bread which gives life to the world is found, and where its silent but constant presence offers its benediction to all who enter.
You might consider making a spiritual pilgrimage. It doesn’t have to be to Canterbury. It can indeed be to any place that offers a blessing to you. For some that might involve a pilgrimage to a place where the Sacrament is reserved; for others, perhaps, a place far from any church.
And yet still, perhaps, a special journey to your own parish church might be fruitful. Let us suppose you went to your own home parish, and knelt where you knelt as a child, and felt beside you the presence of those who taught you what it means to be a Christian. Those can be very moving experiences, and might even cause a slightly deeper movement in your devotional life. You never know. It could happen.
And if any of you manage to get to Canterbury before I can return, please, while you are there, offer just one little prayer for me.
 The Dean is the vicar of the Archbishop, and “head priest”, the Chapter is the group of priests (cathedral canons) who assist the Dean. The history of these terms goes back to the Benedictine monastic traditions of England.
 Common Worship is the new alternative to The Book of Common Prayer. Choral Evensong is still sung from The Book of Common Prayer 1662
 A pyx typically only reserves the consecrated bread.