I’m quite often asked ‘What is Vespers?’ Vespers is a one of the liturgical Hours or "offices" that are celebrated at defined moments of the day. The word comes from Latin ‘vespera’ which means ‘evening’ and the office of Vespers was held1 between 5 and 6pm (17:00 – 18:00). Vespers followed a strict pattern:
- 1: Opening Verse
- Deus in adiutorium (O Lord, make speed) – the text of Psalm 69:2 in the Vulgate .
- 2: Psalms
- The opening verse was followed by five psalms
- 3: Reading
- A reading of a lesson or of a capitulum (a short reading in the Liturgy of the Hours)
- 4: A hymn
- The choice of hymn was defined by the time of year and local practice.
- 5: Magnificat with antiphon
- The Magnificat followed by seasonally appropriate antiphon.
- 6: Prayers
- Prayers appropriate to the time of day combined with prayers appropriate to the time of year and local practice.
- 7: Benedicamus Domino
- Benedicamus Domino (Let us bless the Lord")
This rigid pattern coupled with the fact that the chants were so well known presented considerable challenges to composers who needed to integrate their polyphonic music into this fixed framework in a way that created musical interest for the congregation. Many composers composed settings for Vespers either in whole or in part some using the chant which you can hear below as cantus firmus.
Deus in adiutorium meum intende
|Deus in adiutorium meum intende. |
Domine ad adjuvandum me festina.
(Septuagesimae ad Pasqua loco alleluia: Laus tibi Domine Rex aeternae gloriae.)
|O Lord, make speed to save me: |
O Lord, make haste to help me.
(in penitential season alleluia replaced by: Praise to you, O Lord: King of eternal glory.)
|Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.||Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost:|
|Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper||As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,|
|Et in saecula, saeculorum, Amen. |
|World without end, Amen. Alleluia.|
Performers: Capilla Flamenca directed by Dirk Snellings
- (Vespers is still said today in somewhat abbreviated form – mfi. ↩