by Sister Fidelis
The service of Vespers, along with Lauds is one of the oldest of the Daily Offices, and can be traced back to Jewish tradition. The word comes from the Greek hespera or Latin vesper, meaning “evening.”
Two unique elements of this service are the chanting of the Magnificat, from Luke, and also a Reading of scripture (this was introduced with Vatican II). In addition we sing a hymn, a responsory, and three or four Psalms with their corresponding antiphons. It seems in many ways that we recount the goodness and graciousness of God in this service. Traditionally we chant the higher numbered Psalms, various ones from 110–144. This includes some that are probably very familiar to most of us: 121, 127, 130, 144, and others. Not all, but many of them recount God’s goodness to us over history.
Maybe it’s the time of day, the setting of the sun, or the fact that much of the workday is through, I don’t know, but to me there is a peaceful quality about Vespers. One element particularly highlights this theme – the responsory– a short piece sung first by the Cantor and repeated by the rest of the choir. There is a different text for each day – here are a few, each with an uplifting message:
The Lord shepherds me and I will lack nothing,
He has set me in green pastures,
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Keep us O Lord, as the apple of your eye,
Under the shadow of your wings protect us
Let my prayer be directed to you, O Lord,
As incense in your sight,