In today’s post on the Liturgy of the Hours I will discuss Evening Prayer, traditionally called Vespers ( from the Latin word for evening, vesper). The traditional canonical hour for the prayer is 6:00 p.m., although in practice it can be prayed any time between 4:30 and 7:30 (or thereabouts).
Evening Prayer is one of the two “Hinges” of the liturgy, along with its counterpart Morning Prayer (Lauds; see here). Like Morning Prayer, Vespers begins (after the usual opening verse) with two Psalms and a canticle. Here the canticle comes after the two Psalm readings (it comes in between the psalms in Lauds), and, whereas the canticle in Morning Prayer is from the Old Testament, in Vespers it’s from the New Testament (excluding the Gospels). Next we find a short scripture reading, again from the New Testament, as opposed to Morning Prayer’s Old Testament reading. After that there is a three-part responsory, yet again following the pattern found in Lauds. As an example, the responsory for the Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent is:
To you, O Lord, I make my prayer for mercy.
- To you, O Lord, I make my prayer for mercy.
Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.
- I make my prayer for mercy.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
- To you, O Lord, I make my prayer for mercy.
After this comes the Gospel canticle. Whereas in Morning Prayer we say the Canticle of Zechariah (the Benedictus, link), here we pray the Canticle of Mary (link), better known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55): “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . .” Then, after a series of intercessions, the hour concludes with a closing prayer.
|The Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio|
Beyond that, we see an even greater dimension to Evening Prayer when we look at it in tandem with Morning Prayer. As we have seen, Old Testament readings in the morning give way to New Testament readings in the evening. The occasion for the Benedictus, the Gospel Canticle we pray at Lauds, is the birth of the last prophet under the Old Covenant, John the Baptist, but the focus of the canticle is on the Savior for whom he is the Forerunner (“. . . For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way . . .”); at Vespers the Magnificat marks the first meeting of the Forerunner and the Messiah, when the unborn John “leaps with joy” at the approach of the Messiah (Luke 1:44), Himself in the Blessed Mother’s womb. Through these two prayers we live out every day a microcosm of Salvation History, starting our day with God’s covenant with the Hebrews, with a final focus on its culminating figure, who points us toward the New Jersalem; in the evening we see the New Covenant, and in Mary’s Canticle the reality that the New is the Fulfillment of the Old.
This last point, I think, is why the Church calls these two hours the “Hinges”; everything else revolves around them, and they draw the other hours together into s single fabric. The different canonical hours are not simply a series of prayers said at intervals throughout the day, they are really one prayer that extends through the whole day, and “sanctifies time” by conforming each day to the pattern of eternity.
In my next post on the Liturgy of the Hours I will look at Compline, or Night Prayer.
To read the whole series go here.
Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -
Universalis.com – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH. It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones. They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones.
Ebreviary.com – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription.
Divineoffice.org – My favorite LOH website. It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer). There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.
There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours. The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976. I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above). It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.
The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here]. It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.