Friday, July 7, 2017

Brush up your rubrics: Vespers

Plaque with Censing Angels
Plaque with Censing Angels, ca. 1170–1180
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.634)

Today in this refresher series on the rubrics I want to look briefly at Vespers.

Vespers is intended to be said in the twilight hours, as the sun is setting, but St Benedict does indicate some flexibility around this in his discussion of the seasonal timetable and mealtimes for a monastery.

The theology of Vespers

I've mentioned in some of my previous posts in this series that each of the hours has key associations that I think St Benedict has built on in his selection of the psalms for those hours.

Most commentators will note the most obvious of those associations, for Lauds, said with the rising of the sun/Son, and the multiple references to light in the variable psalms of the hour.    But in my view, all of the hours in the Benedictine office reflect symbolism related to the time of the day.

The traditional associations of the hour

In the case of Vespers, the hour was traditionally associated with the evening sacrifice instituted by Moses (referred to in Psalm 140), as well as the lighting of the lamps in the temple, which was presumably the origin of the lucernarium ceremony that is often mentioned as a domestic ritual in St Benedict's time.

The symbolism of the hour is probably best captured, though by St Cyprian who commented:
Also at the sunsetting and at the decline of day, of necessity we must pray again. For since Christ is the true sun and the true day, as the worldly sun and worldly day depart, when we pray and ask that light may return to us again, we pray for the advent of Christ, which shall give us the grace of everlasting light. 
The structure of Vespers

The table below summarises the overall structure of Vespers.

Structurally, Vespers is essentially a shorter version of Lauds.  Vespers cuts out the invitatory psalm, Old Testament canticle, and reduces the number of psalms overall from seven to four, but the basic elements, and the order in which they are said is essentially the same.

The structure of Vespers 

Opening prayers - Deus in adjutorium etc

Antiphon (Ant) +Psalm+Gloria+Ant

Ant +Psalm+Gloria+Ant

Ant +Psalm+Gloria+Ant

Ant +Psalm+Gloria+Ant

Chapter+Deo gratias




Antiphon for the Magnificat

Magnificat+Gloria Patri

Antiphon repeated

Closing prayers - Kyrie eleison, etc

-          Collect

The key difference to Lauds though, is that in the current form  of the Benedictine Office on feasts, the text of virtually every element of Vespers can change.  The only fixed elements are the opening and closing prayers (excluding the collect which is variable) and the Magnificat.

Find the right texts for Vespers in your book

The table below summarises the key page numbers for Vespers on normal days.

‘Default’ texts
Opening prayers
MD 1

and psalms 
Sunday, MD 203
Monday - start MD 212
Tuesday - start MD 220
Wednesday – MD 226
Thursday – MD 235
Friday - MD 243
Saturday - MD 249

Of Vespers

Short Responsory
Sunday/rest of the week

Of the day of the week,
see page numbers above

Of Vespers

Antiphon for the Magnificat
Of the day of the week;
on Sundays, always of the week of the liturgical year

MD 209

Antiphon for the Magnificat
 M-F of the day of the week; Sat&Sun of the week in the calendar

Closing prayers, including collect
 MD 210

Of the week of the liturgical year

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