We have tried something different for this season of Advent: we have had sung Vespers on the last two Tuesdays, and we will have sung Vespers again this upcoming Tuesday, December 18 at 6pm. Vespers is a form of prayer with which many people are probably not familiar. I can say that we have not made it up, but instead, the origins of Vespers is rather ancient. The tradition begins with the people of Israel, who often and regularly prayed and sang the Psalms: the 150 poems and hymns, many written by King David, which are expressions of thanks, lament, sorrow, praise, and trust in God. The Psalms were committed to memory and were the primary prayers of the people of Israel.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph prayed the Psalms. We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that after Pentecost some of the disciples went to the temple to pray at specific hours of the day. What were they praying? More likely than not: the Psalms. This tradition of praying the Psalms at specific times of the day continued and was picked up by St. Benedict and his monks. Over time, all monastic orders and mendicant (begging, i.e. Franciscans, Dominicans) orders were doing this. The Psalms were set to chant tones, and monks and friars chanted the Psalms, going through all 150 Psalms in a week. This form of prayer became known as the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.
The Liturgy of the Hours is open to all people to pray, but all priests and deacons make a promise at their ordination to pray daily the Liturgy of the Hours, offering their prayers for the good of their people. Deacons are required to pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, also known respectively as Lauds and Vespers. In addition to those, priests are required to pray the Office of Readings, Daytime Prayer, and Night Prayer (Compline). Sung Vespers is the evening section of the Liturgy of the Hours, the praying of the Psalms.
The Liturgy of the Hours is not meant to be reserved to clergy only. It is a beautiful practice for all members of the Church. Here are some reasons to consider praying the Liturgy of the Hours:
- Jesus prayed the Psalms regularly; to pray the Liturgy of the Hours is to enter into our Lord’s form of prayer
- It is a way to “pray without ceasing,” sanctifying our day by
stopping to pray (usually only about 10 minutes maximum) at
certain times throughout the day
- The Psalms are expressive of the human condition: there are
Psalms for every sort of experience
Apps on smartphones or tablets such as iBreviary can provide the Liturgy of the Hours electronically and fairly easily. Please join us this Tuesday, December 18 at 6pm at St. Mary’s to enter into this ancient form of prayer. Have a blessed rest of Advent.