Learning the Office Part IX: Vespers

Once you've learnt the minor hours, Vespers is the next logical hour to add, particularly because it is often sung on a Sunday Afternoon in the Roman Rite (which is very similar to the Benedictine) in many traditionally oriented parishes. And once you are familiar with Vespers, you will find Lauds easier to learn too.

You will find Sunday Vespers on page 203 of the psalter section of the Farnborough edition of the Monastic Diurnal.

The structure of Vespers


The standard structure of Vespers (to which there are some variants) is as follows:

Standard opening: Deus in adjutorium...(see the fully written out version on page 1 of the psalter)

Antiphon 1
Psalm (always with Gloria Patri... at the end as set out on page 4 of the psalter, unless otherwise specified)
Antiphon 1

Antiphon 2
Psalm
Antiphon 2

Antiphon 3
Psalm
Antiphon 3

Antiphon 4
Psalm
Antiphon 4

Chapter

Responsory

Hymn

Versicle

Antiphon
Canticle: Magnificat...(full text on page 209, and on the convenient card that comes with Diurnal)
Antiphon

Conclusion to the Hour (as per standard): Kyrie eleison...etc

The psalms of Vespers

Like Prime, Vespers has its own running cursus of psalms allocated across each day of the week, which starts with Ps 109 on Sunday, and runs up to Ps 147 on Saturday, less a few used at other hours. Most days Vespers consists of four psalms (rather than the five of the traditional Roman Rite) - but a little cheating occurs on Monday, with the psalter's shortest psalm (116) squeezed in after Ps 115 and under the same Gloria Patri (Diurnal page 215-6).

On feasts however, the psalms used can vary. If you look at the chart that comes with the Diurnal, you can see that on a feast day which has its own antiphons, and/or is a first or second class feast, you use the 'festal' psalms. Often - but not always - that means the Sunday psalms. There actually several sets of special 'festal' psalms given for different categories of saints and so forth in the Commons section of the Diurnal, and it is a matter of reading the rubrics carefully to know which ones to use.

The antiphons for the psalms

The psalter sets out antiphons for each psalm which are used for most of the year, unless displaced by a feast or special antiphons set during particular seasons. In Eastertide (unless there is a feast), things are a little simpler than usual, as only one antiphon is used (Alleluia....), said before the first psalm and after the last psalm.

On feasts, the rubrics will either specify the antiphons to be used (either 'proper' to the day, or from the relevant Common). Occasionally though, they will just instruct you to use the antiphons from Lauds - in that case, unless directed otherwise, skip the fourth one in order not to have to many.

Chapter, responsory, hymns and versicle

Generally, the chapter, responsory, hymn and versicle are for the day of the week in the season or the feast. The psalter does includes some default texts, but you need to ignore these when it isn't 'throughout the year'. So for example, nothing on pages 208-9 up to the Magnificat is said for Sunday during Eastertide - instead you need to look at either the Ordinary for Eastertide (p350*ff) during the week, or the texts set for the relevant Sunday (so page 364* for the Third Sunday after the Octave of Easter).

As for the little hours, in the absence of a 'proper' text for a third class feast or higher, you use the relevant 'common'.

Look out for the responsories - the Diurnal gives them in highly abbreviated form and you need to know how to expand them out correctly. If you can't remember how to do this, go here to refresh your memory.

The Magnificat and its antiphon

The highlight of Vespers is always, in my view, the singing (if you can) of the Magnificat, the Gospel Canticle of Our Lady from Luke 1. It is normal to stand for it, and to make the sign of the cross during the first verse.

The antiphon for the Magnificat can be for the day of the week (noted in the psalter), the season, the feast, or at particular times of the year such as Eastertide, unique to each day. Watch the rubrics or consult an Ordo (such as the one provided on this blog) to know which one to use!

The conclusion of the hour

The conclusion to the hour is as for the other hours (go here if you need a refresher). The collect is usually that of the previous Sunday unless it is replaced by that of a feast.

A memorial doesn't impact on Vespers. Just occasionally, however, you will need to 'make a commemoration of the feria' when a feast displaces special texts set for the season (for example during Lent), or displaces a Sunday. You can find instructions on how to do a commemoration in the part of this series dealing with the conclusion of the hours, linked above.

Listen to vespers

And finally, to get a feel for how it should sound like, and work on your pronunciation of the psalms, you can find recordings of Vespers on the website of the monastery of Norcia. I particularly like the way slightly ideosyncratic pauses and note lengthening they use to draw out and savour the doxology (Gloria Patri etc), St Bede the Venerable's favourite prayer.

Cheat sheet summary: Vespers
  • Evening prayer
  • On feasts consult the Ordo/rubrics - antiphons, psalms, hymn, chapter etc may be particular to the day
  • Saturday Vespers (I Vespers of Sunday) starts on page 249 in the Diurnal.  The antiphon for the Magnificat (text on pg 209-10) is particular to the day of the year, for the correct page number see the Ordo.
  • Sunday vespers can be found starting at page 203 (opening prayer as on page 1).  The antiphons are for Sunday of the season or feast (see ordo).  The antiphon for the Magnificat (pg 209) is always particular to that Sunday of the year/feast, for the correct page number see the Ordo.
  • Monday vespers starts page 211 (opening prayer as on page 1), antiphons for Monday of the season or day (see ordo).  For the text of the Magnificat see pg 209; concluding prayers, 210; collect from previous Sunday or of the day (see ordo).
  • Tuesday Vespers starts page 220;(opening prayer as on page 1), antiphons for Tuesday of the season or day (see ordo). For the text of the Magnificat see pg 209; concluding prayers, 210; collect from previous Sunday or of the day (see ordo).
  • Wednesday vespers starts page 226 (opening prayer as on page 1), antiphons for Wednesday of the season or day (see ordo). For the text of the Magnificat see pg 209; concluding prayers, 210; collect from previous Sunday or of the day (see ordo).
  • Thursday Vespers starts page 235 (opening prayer as on page 1), antiphons for Thursday of the season or day (see ordo). For the text of the Magnificat see pg 209; concluding prayers, 210; collect from previous Sunday or of the day (see ordo).
  • Friday Vespers starts page 243 (opening prayer as on page 1), antiphons for Friday of the season or day (see ordo). For the text of the Magnificat see pg 209; concluding prayers, 210; collect from previous Sunday or of the day (see ordo).
For the next part of this series, go here.

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