Sunday, July 22, 2018

Liturgy of the Divine Office, Part 6: Vespers

Previous parts in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the traditional Divine Office
Part 2: Matins
Part 3: Lauds
Part 4: Prime
Part 5: Terce, Sext, and None

In the evening, at the conclusion of our day's work, we offer the solemn hour of Vespers. Vespers has its origins in the Old Covenant, when the Jews would gather in the evening to offer prayers and sacrifice. The apostles continued this tradition. At Vespers, we give thanks to God for the gifts of the day. Vespers also has a special connection to the Mass, since it was in the evening, the hour of Vespers, that our Lord celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples. In addition, our Lord's body was taken down from the Cross in the evening, and after his Resurrection, our Lord appeared to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus in the evening. Thus, although the Mass has always traditionally been offered in the morning, after Terce, the evening is also a sacred time, observed by the hour of Vespers.

Culturally, evening is when we come home from our day's work to participate in social or family events. Thus, although Matins is theologically the most important hour of the Divine Office, Vespers has the greatest cultural significance. Because it is in the evening, Vespers is the hour of the Divine Office that common people are most likely to be able to participate in. In some places, it used to be the custom to gather on Sunday evening for a period of worship that might have included Vespers, the Rosary, or other devotions.

In Judaism, the day began at sundown. Thus, the observance of all major feasts began the previous evening. The Catholic Church continues to observe this tradition for certain feasts. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Lawrence, and Assumption are all preceded by a vigil the day before, on which Mass is traditionally offered after None. In addition, the liturgical celebrations of all Sundays, all first class feasts, and some second class feasts begin with first Vespers the previous evening. The evening of the feast itself, second Vespers of that feast is offered. The Liturgical Ordo indicates when first or second Vespers is offered.

On Sundays and major feasts, Vespers may take the form of Solemn Vespers. Solemn Vespers is offered in choir by a priest, wearing a surplice and a cope of the color of the day. The ceremonies parallel those of a Solemn Mass. The priest is assisted by two, four, or six assistants also wearing surplices and copes, though their copes are usually less elaborate than the priest's cope. These assistants represent the deacon and subdeacon at Mass. There are also two acolytes, a thurifer, two cantors, and a choir. Everything is sung, incense is used, and six candles are lit on the altar, just like at Solemn Mass. Although Solemn Vespers parallels Solemn Mass, it is not necessarily the ideal form of Vespers like Solemn Mass is the ideal form of the Mass.

The hour of Vespers has the same structure as Lauds. It traditionally begins with the prayers Aperi Domine, Our Father, and Hail Mary, though since 1956, these three prayers are no longer required at any of the hours. These are followed by the usual opening verse.

Deus ☩ in adjutórium meum inténde.
Dómine, ad adjuvándum me festína.
Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen. Allelúia.
O God, ☩ come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Alleluia.

Next are the psalms, the most important part of Vespers. Five psalms are sung, each with its own antiphon sung before and after the psalm. At Solemn Vespers, the priest sings the first few words of the first antiphon, and the choir sings the rest. Like at the other hours of the Divine Office, the psalms are dependent on the day of the week, so that over the course of the week, all 150 psalms are sung. On first and second class feasts, the Sunday psalms are sung. The antiphons are proper to the day. During Eastertide, the only antiphon at any of the hours of the Divine Office is “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

After the psalms, the capitulum is sung, which is proper to the day. At Solemn Vespers, the ceremony for the capitulum is similar to that of the Gospel at Mass. The priest sings the capitulum while the acolytes hold lighted candles on either side. Incense is not used. Even though the capitulum is usually from an epistle or occasionally from the Old Testament, this ceremony exists to connect Solemn Vespers to Solemn Mass and more broadly to connect the Divine Office to the Mass.

After the priest has sung the capitulum and the choir has responded, “Deo gratias,” the priest sings the first line of the hymn proper to the day, which the choir continues. On ferias outside the major liturgical seasons, the hymns appointed for each day of the week tell the story of the creation. On Sunday at second Vespers, the hymn Lucis Creator optime mentions the creation of light. On Monday, the hymn Immense caeli Conditor mentions the division of the waters and the creation of the sky. On Tuesday, the hymn Telluris alme Conditor mentions the creation of dry land and plants. On Wednesday, the hymn Caeli Deus sanctissime mentions the creation of the sun and moon. On Thursday, the hymn Magnae Deus potentiae mentions the creation of sea creatures and birds. On Friday, the hymn Hominis supernae Conditor mentions the creation of the beasts of the earth and men. Finally, Saturday is the day that God blessed and sanctified as a day of rest, and Vespers on Saturday is first Vespers of the Sunday to follow. Thus, on Saturday, the hymn Jam sol recedit igneus is a hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity. On feast days and during the seasons of Advent, Christmastide, Lent, and Paschaltide, proper hymns are appointed. After the hymn, a versicle and response are sung.

At Lauds, we sing the Benedictus or Canticle of Zechariah, which is Zechariah's hymn of praise when his son, St. John the Baptist, was circumcised. At Vespers, we sing the Magnificat or Canticle of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary's hymn of praise when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. It is taken from Luke 1:46-55. The Magnificat has been part of Vespers since at least the sixth century, and it is just as essential to Vespers as are the psalms. Before and after the Magnificat, an antiphon proper to the day is sung. At the first verse of the Magnificat, we make the Sign of the Cross. (The asterisk marks where to alter the pitch when singing.)

1:46 Magníficat ☩ * ánima mea Dóminum.
1:47 Et exsultávit spíritus meus: * in Deo, salutári meo.
1:48 Quia respéxit humilitátem ancíllæ suæ: * ecce enim ex hoc beátam me dicent omnes generatiónes.
1:49 Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est: * et sanctum nomen eius.
1:50 Et misericórdia eius, a progénie in progénies: * timéntibus eum.
1:51 Fecit poténtiam in brácchio suo: * dispérsit supérbos mente cordis sui.
1:52 Depósuit poténtes de sede: * et exaltávit húmiles.
1:53 Esuriéntes implévit bonis: * et dívites dimísit inánes.
1:54 Suscépit Israël púerum suum: * recordátus misericórdiæ suæ.
1:55 Sicut locútus est ad patres nostros: * Ábraham, et sémini eius in sǽcula.
Glória Patri, et Fílio, * et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, * et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.
1:46 My soul ☩ * doth magnify the Lord.
1:47 And my spirit hath rejoiced * in God my Saviour.
1:48 Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; * for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
1:49 Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; * and holy is his name.
1:50 And his mercy is from generation unto generations, * to them that fear him.
1:51 He hath shewed might in his arm: * he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
1:52 He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * and hath exalted the humble.
1:53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; * and the rich he hath sent empty away.
1:54 He hath received Israel his servant, * being mindful of his mercy:
1:55 As he spoke to our fathers, * to Abraham and to his seed forever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, * and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

At Solemn Vespers, the priest sings the first few words of the antiphon, with the choir continuing. He then comes to the altar with the assistants, puts incense in the thurible, and blesses it with the prayer Ab illo benedicaris, as at Mass. The priest incenses the altar while the choir sings the Magnificat. This again displays the connection between the Divine Office and the Mass. The entire Divine Office honors the Holy Mass, so at the Benedictus at Lauds and the Magnificat at Vespers, we honor the altar on which the Mass is offered with incense. On particularly solemn occasions, other altars in the church may also be incensed. Any altar that is incensed should have six candles lit. After incensing the altar or altars, the priest, the assistants, the choir, the acolytes, and the people are all incensed, like at the Offertory at Mass. If necessary, the organ may be played between verses of the Magnificat to make sure it is long enough to accommodate the incensations. After the incensations are done, the choir sings the Gloria Patri.

The preces feriales are sung at Vespers on certain penitential occasions. They are identical to the preces at Lauds, praying for ourselves, the pope, the local bishop, souls in purgatory, and anyone in need.

Kýrie, eléison. Christe, eléison. Kýrie, eléison.
Pater noster, qui es in cælis, sanctificétur nomen tuum: advéniat regnum tuum: fiat volúntas tua, sicut in cælo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidiánum da nobis hódie: et dimítte nobis débita nostra, sicut et nos dimíttimus debitóribus nostris:
Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem:
Sed líbera nos a malo.
Ego dixi: Dómine, miserére mei.
Sana ánimam meam quia peccávi tibi.
Convértere, Dómine, úsquequo?
Et deprecábilis esto super servos tuos.
Fiat misericórdia tua, Dómine, super nos.
Quemádmodum sperávimus in te.
Sacerdótes tui induántur iustítiam.
Et sancti tui exsúltent.
Orémus pro beatíssimo Papa nostro Francisco.
Dóminus consérvet eum, et vivíficet eum, et beátum fáciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in ánimam inimicórum eius.
Orémus et pro Antístite nostro __.
Stet et pascat in fortitúdine tua, Dómine, in sublimitáte nóminis tui.
Dómine, salvum fac regem.
Et exáudi nos in die, qua invocavérimus te.
Salvum fac pópulum tuum, Dómine, et bénedic hereditáti tuæ.
Et rege eos, et extólle illos usque in ætérnum.
Meménto Congregatiónis tuæ.
Quam possedísti ab inítio.
Fiat pax in virtúte tua.
Et abundántia in túrribus tuis.
Orémus pro benefactóribus nostris.
Retribúere dignáre, Dómine, ómnibus, nobis bona faciéntibus propter nomen tuum, vitam ætérnam. Amen.
Orémus pro fidélibus defúnctis.
Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat eis.
Requiéscant in pace.
Pro frátribus nostris abséntibus.
Salvos fac servos tuos, Deus meus, sperántes in te.
Pro afflíctis et captívis.
Líbera eos, Deus Israël, ex ómnibus tribulatiónibus suis.
Mitte eis, Dómine, auxílium de sancto.
Et de Sion tuére eos.
Dómine, Deus virtútum, convérte nos.
Et osténde fáciem tuam, et salvi érimus.
Exsúrge, Christe, ádiuva nos.
Et líbera nos propter nomen tuum.
Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam.
Et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation:
But deliver us from evil.
I said: Lord, be merciful unto me:
Heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee.
Turn thee again, O Lord; how long will it be?
And be gracious unto thy servants.
Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us.
As we have hoped in thee.
Let thy priests be clothed with justice:
And may thy saints rejoice.
Let us pray for our most blessed Pope Francis.
The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth: and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
Let us pray for our bishop __.
May he stand firm and care for us in the strength of the Lord, in the might of thy name.
O Lord, save our leaders.
And mercifully hear us when we call upon thee.
O Lord, save thy people, and bless thine inheritance:
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Remember thy congregation,
Which thou hast possessed from the beginning.
Let peace be in thy strength.
And abundance in thy towers.
Let us pray for our benefactors.
O Lord, for thy name's sake, deign to reward with eternal life all who do us good. Amen.
Let us pray for the faithful departed.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
Let us pray for our absent brothers.
Save thy servants, O God, who put their trust in thee.
Let us pray for the afflicted and imprisoned.
Deliver them, God of Israel, from all their tribulations.
O Lord, send them help from thy sanctuary.
And defend them out of Sion.
Turn us again, O Lord, God of Hosts.
Show us thy face, and we shall be whole.
Arise, O Christ, and help us.
And redeem us for thy name's sake.
O Lord, hear my prayer.
And let my cry come unto thee.

After the Magnificat, or the preces if they are sung, the collect of the Mass of the day is sung. Thus, for each liturgical day, its proper collect is sung between six and eight times in the liturgy. In addition, commemorations may be made at Vespers. There is a curious distinction in the 1960 rubrics, not present in any previous editions, between “privileged commemorations,” which are made at Lauds, Vespers, and all Masses, and “ordinary commemorations,” which are made only at Lauds and Low Masses. Commemorations at Vespers have the same form as commemorations at Lauds. The commemorated feast's Magnificat antiphon is sung, followed by the versicle and response after the hymn, and then the collect. Before 1956, suffragesadditional commemorations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Cross, the saints, etc.—would be made at Vespers just like at Lauds.

Vespers then has the same conclusion as the other hours of the Divine Office. (As always, someone who is not a priest uses “Domine, exaudi orationem meam” instead of “Dominus vobiscum.”)

Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Benedicámus Dómino.
Deo grátias.
Fidélium ánimæ per misericórdiam Dei
requiéscant in pace.
The Lord be with you.
And with thy spirit.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
May the souls of the faithful, through the mercy
of God, rest in peace.

New terms
  • first Vespers – Vespers offered the evening before a Sunday or major feast, the beginning of the day's liturgical celebration.
  • second Vespers – Vespers offered on the day of a feast.
  • Solemn Vespers – Vespers offered in choir by a priest with two, four, or six assistants in copes, with music and incense.
  • Magnificat or Canticle of Mary – The hymn of praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary when she visited her cousin Elizbeth, taken from Luke 1:46-55, sung at Vespers every day.

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