Lauds and Vespers -- Morning and Evening Prayer

Sunday, December 09, 2007

'Lauds, traditionally recited in the early hours of the morning, is actually a twin. Its identical sibling is Vespers, the early evening office. As the extended watch of prayer which preceded the early Christian Eucharist became detached from that celebration, it developed into three distinct services: Matins, which as the longest office is a sort of "parent," and two identical twins, Lauds and Vespers' (Anglican Breviary(1) tutorial).

Here I will begin, as suggested, to talk about the individual Hours. However, please note, as a practitioner I may naturally forget to mention much material; I also do not intend to mollycoddle readers. I would therefore earnestly exhort "learners" to consult the Ordinary of his/her Office book, the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours. Equally, please do leave feedback to address individual questions or concerns.

Structure of the Hours

I would like to teach people how to recite the individual Hours, however, I am all too conscious that Seth Murray's excellent and thorough tutorial Discovering Prayer covers the same ground. Therefore I have decided not to go into much depth -- because I think you should all use it instead! Also, don't be afraid to make mistakes!

I will however sketch the structure, briefly; as Lauds and Vespers are indeed "identical twins", their structure can be jointly summarised as follows [all page references are to the Catholic Book Publishing Company's Christian Prayer]:

Opening Versicles

The very first Hour said in a day starts(2):
V. "Lord, open my lips",
R. "And my mouth will proclaim your praise".
-- a sign of the cross is traditionally made by the thumb over the mouth at these words.

The very first Hour of the day (i.e. Morning Prayer, but maybe the Office of Readings) can then have what is called the the Invitatory. It is Psalm 95 (usually) with each strophe separated by an Antiphon (see p. 686-689).

If you do not say the Invitatory, then pray the following. Evening Prayer always commences with these versicles (p. 689, 694), with the sign of the cross being traditionally made:
V. "God, come to my assistance"
R. "Lord, make haste to help me."
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now and will be for ever. Amen. [Alleluia](3)"


The hymn then follows, which is optional. It will be indicated in the Proper of Seasons, the Proper of Saints, the Commons, or the Psalter... but a word of caution: despite having covered this in the last post on ranking, I know this is very confusing. I would advise at first only looking in the Proper of Seasons and the Psalter -- i.e. I would ignore the Proper of Saints, the calendar of days of the year, to being with.


Then follow a Psalm, a Canticle, and another Psalm. Each is preceded by an Antiphon (a short section from scripture, often repeated in choir), and followed by the doxology (the Glory Be) -- unless indicated otherwise, e.g. Dan. 3, which contains one -- and by the Antiphon again.

That is to say, the position is as follows (I have included the correct positions for the "psalm-prayers" unique to Christian Prayer):

  • Antiphon;
  • Psalm;
  • Glory Be;
  • Anitphon;
  • psalm-prayer;
  • pause for reflection; then
  • repeat to make three Psalms/Canticles.

Scripture Reading, Responsory

Next follows a short scripture reading; this is not prefaced by "A reading from ...", as we are accustomed to hearing at Mass. Then follows something called the Responsory.

For example, the Responsory of Sunday, second Evening Prayer (i.e. of the Sunday not the Saturday), of week 1 in the Psalter is rendered in Christian Prayer as (p. 717):
"The whole creation proclaims the greatness of your glory.
-- The whole creation proclaims the greatness of your glory.
Eternal ages praise
-- the greatness of your glory.
Glory to the Father...
-- The whole creation ..." (i.e. repeat 'the whole creation proclaims the greatness of your glory', then stop).

However, this could equally be written as the rather cryptic:
"R. The whole creation proclaims the greatness of your glory. Repeat R. V. Eternal ages praise the greatness of your glory. R. Glory be. R."
-- so watch out!

Gospel Canticle

Now the Gospel Canticle is said. This is either the Benedictus at Morning Prayer, or the Magnificat at Evening Prayer, and, as with Psalms/Canticles, is preceded by an Antiphon, and followed by a doxology and then the Antiphon again. The Gospel Canticles are traditionally said standing, and a sign of the cross made at the first words (i.e. "Blessed be the Lord"/"My soul glorifies"). They can be found in the Ordinary (see pp. 691/696).


Intercessions are then made, which can be in the form of call and response. Alternatively, some Office books give an alternative set which are maybe more appropriate for private recitation, but I think this is up to private taste (and I must admit, despite preferring those forms aesthetically, I still try to stick to the normal ones given, because I want to pray with the Church the prayer of the Church).

Our Father, Closing Versicles

Then the Our Father is said. It may be preceded by a traditional invitation to pray it (e.g. "Now let us offer together the prayer Our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us"), and is followed by the concluding prayer. Note, the two segue into each other, i.e. if it is Monday of Week 1, at Evening Prayer, then we hear "...And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; Father, may everything we do...".

If a Priest/Deacon is present then there is a more complex formula of blessing and dismissal, but if not, the closing versicles are (traditionally said whilst making the sign of the cross):
"May the Lord bless us,
protect us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life.
-- Amen"

That's it; you're done! Now for some general points.

General points:

I cannot decide whether to recommend learning Morning and Evening Prayer first, or whether I should recommend Compline, Night Prayer. In terms of the Breviary's intent to sanctify one's day, I think it should be lauds and vespers, and they were rightly declared by Vatican II (if I am not mistaken) to be the very central "hinge" on which the entire Office is held together. The tutorial I quoted above quite rightly points out that whilst the recitation of these Hours alone would be insufficient for the devotion of clergy (indeed this being why the Catholic Church maintains that those in Holy Orders must recite the entire Office), their recitation is highly commendable by the laity.

A final word on ranking, to explain it practically:

  • if the day of the year, is not a feast or anything special at all, then the material will all come from the Psalter (and the Ordinary, of course!);
  • if it is something amazingly special, such as Christmas, Easter or Corpus Christi, then it comes from the Proper of Seasons (and anyplace else it directs to look -- beware!);
  • but all the Sundays throughout the entire year come from the Proper of Seasons too;
  • if it is something like, say, the Annunciation, or the Immaculate Conception, whose date is a fixed calendar day, then it is from the Proper of Saints -- the Commons will generally be referenced for material Common to that day, e.g. the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As an example/tutorial, if someone wants to learn a particular day, then please let me know in advance, and I will gladly cover it (e.g. suggest "please tell us where to find all the material for Morning Prayer on Wednesday 19 December").

Next time:

Next time I shall have a quick look at Compline, the Church's offering to our Maker at the end of the day. And a final word of warning: do not be in a rush to "master" any more than one Office at a time. I won't be posting the next post until Sunday 16 December (Advent III), but to be honest if you can master Morning and Evening Prayer, then the other Hours are, by comparison, not hard.

Good luck, and God bless you!

(1) Note: The Anglican Breviary is for all intents and purposes as translations of the 1955 Breviarum Romanum into Elizabethan English. Whilst some Book of Common Prayer collects have been added and the calendar slightly amended, it should not be seen by Catholics to be heterodox as one would normally view other Anglican materials.
(2) Of course I traditionally know these as "O Lord, open Thou our lips", "and our mouths shall shew forth Thy praise"; don't get me started on the English translation from the Latin editio typica... The Liturgy of the Hours sadly suffers from some of the same defects as the English translation of the Missale Romanum.
(3) Alleluia is omitted from Antiphons, Glory Bes, etc., during Lent.


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