Vespers (liturgy)

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Benedictines at Vespers

The Vespers ( lat. Vespera "Evening") is the liturgical evening prayer in Christianity. In the Byzantine rite it is called Ἑσπερινός Hesperinós 'evening' (from Greek ἕσπερος hésperos 'evening').

Liturgical celebrations and Sundays begin the evening before; the evening before Vespers is then called the first Vespers , the second Vespers of the day itself .


When early Christianity developed from the Jewish tradition of praying three times a day the preliminary stage of today's hourly prayer , evening prayer, like the Maariw, played an important role in Jewish tradition. Even when the hermits formed ( coinobitic ) communities from the 3rd century onwards , one of the two communal liturgical assemblies was in the evening and the other in the early morning. The Jewish custom of praying psalms was retained and expanded by the Christians. In the monastic office of the monastic communities the psalms were read continuously during prayer times. In the type of cathedral office , which is oriented towards church services , the psalms were selected on the occasion. Psalms with evening motifs were especially chosen for Vespers. Psalm 141 EU , whose prayer was connected with the rite of burning incense , was always of particular importance . Another element of the evening prayer was the ritual lighting of the light, the Lucerne . Vespers was called "Luzernar" until the Middle Ages, even when the daily rite of light disappeared with the advent of the Benedictine monasteries. Other names were λυχνικόν lychnikón 'celebration of light' or hora incensi 'hour of burning (of incense)'. Early intercessions and hymns were added to the psalms . The Christ hymn Phōs hilarón ( Greek Φῶς Ἱλαρόν) dates from the second century and is still part of the evening prayer today.

Catholic Church

Beginning of Sunday Vespers in Liber Usualis with the antiphon Dixit Dominus

The Vespers ( preces vespertinae, 'evening prayer') forms in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church together with the laudes , the morning prayer, as the most important hearing (Horae praecipuae) the “double pivot point of the daily hourly prayer” (duplex cardo Officii cotidiani) ( second Vatican Council , SC 89).

Structure of Vespers in the Roman Book of Hours

The psalms and canticas, antiphons, chapters, intercessions and orations are repeated on the individual days of the week in a four-week rhythm ( four-week psaltery ), except on public holidays and during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Solemn festivals and Sundays have their own form for the first Vespers on the evening before and the second Vespers on the evening of the day itself, as Sundays and solemn festivals liturgically begin with the first Vespers.

The intercessions within Vespers are different from the requests of lauds . The Preces of Laudes are petitions for the day, the intercessions of Vespers include intercessions for the Church and the whole world. The preces of Vespers close with a request for the deceased, which corresponds to ancient liturgical tradition.

Is vespers the last Hore is prayed in communion of the day, that time is often in the church year corresponding Marian antiphon added that otherwise the Compline decides. There used to be five psalms; this has been preserved in the prayers of the hours of some contemplative orders (such as the Benedictines , Cistercians , Carthusians ).

Daily prayer of Vespers is compulsory for priests , deacons and consecrated persons , and it is recommended for lay people . The celebration of a Vespers presided over by a bishop or an infuled abbot is called a pontifical Vespers .

The Vespers for the dead , the liturgical evening prayer with texts related to the occasion , can be prayed or sung in the time of mourning between death and burial, on the evening of the day of the burial, 30 days after the burial or at the memorial of the year . In the case of priests, bishops and religious, it is usually part of the funeral services. The Praise of God offers a template for this (GL 655 to 658).

Anglican Church

With the model of the Daily Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Church resumed the tradition of evening congregational prayer in the 16th century. It is currently the only church that has managed to keep the daily evening prayer alive in the congregations. The daily hymn "O Gracious Light" (Phos hilaron) belongs to the early church heritage . In today's lectionary (1979) the psalms are arranged in a seven-week cycle. This evening prayer is called Evening Service , Evening Prayer or Evensong .

Lutheran Church

The Lutheran Church has kept Vespers as an evening prayer and developed it further. This is how it is maintained until the age of rationalism and enlightenment. A total of five different forms of Vespers are celebrated:

  1. Vespers with sermon, rich liturgical arrangement using the Latin language
  2. Vespers with sermon in a simple form, but in Latin
  3. Vespers consisting of the preaching of the word and song
  4. Vespers from the pulpit with catechesis
  5. Extended Vespers with a prayer hour on Sunday evening

Since the 1920s, circles such as the Berneuchen movement, the Michaels or Ansverus Brotherhood have formed, which committed themselves to daily prayer times and tried out forms of Protestant daily prayer, mostly through the development of a German Gregorian chant. In 1998 the “Evangelical Book of Times” was published in a completely new edition.

With Agende II in 1960, the Evangelical Lutheran churches offered an arrangement for Vespers as a community service; this work has not yet been reissued during the agenda reform and has probably had little effect overall. The Thuringian regional church issued the so-called Evangelical Breviary in 1959 (5th edition 2001 under the title "Biblical Breviary"). In addition to morning prayers (Mette) and daily prayers (Laudes), it contains an order for Vespers, which is essentially similar to the Catholic order listed above, but goes its own way in two points: a) Instead of the responsory, the explanation of the Credo from Luther's Small Catechism appears ; b) Instead of the entire Our Father, every weekday is assigned an Our Father's request, combined with the corresponding stanza from Luther's Our Father song. In this way, this model takes up old traditions of Protestant weekday services, which were used for teaching in the catechism, and connects them with the structure of the divine office. The ELKG ( Evangelical Lutheran Church hymnal ) for the Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church (SELK) prints based on Agende II the morning prayer (Mette), Vespers and Compline from.

Byzantine rite

Vespers in the churches of the Byzantine rite (especially the Orthodox churches ) is celebrated with the whole community, especially before the big festivals, in the monasteries it is celebrated daily. A distinction is made between large and small Vespers. The great Vespers combines the monastic and the cathedral Vespers in two successive parts.

Basic structure of the great Vespers
  • Monastic Vespers
  • Cathedral vespers
  • little litany
    • Evening psalms 141 EU , 142 , 130 , 117 with incense offering
    • Entry of the liturgists with the hymn Phos hilaron ("Friendly Light")
    • if necessary, written reading on the feast day
    • Litanies of Intercession
    • possibly intercession for the day (litia)
    • Hymn of Simeon

Other smaller chants and prayers, some of them depending on the occasion, can be added, and the blessing of bread Artoklasia is sometimes held in connection with Vespers.

Coptic rite

The Coptic rite , which in turn radiated into the Ethiopian Church, is strongly influenced by the monastic type of the Liturgy of the Hours, which is reflected in an extensive psalms as a continuous reading regardless of the occasion. The form of the Coptic Book of Hours ("Agpeya") provides for the same psalms and the same readings every day at the respective hour of prayer , for prayer at the eleventh hour (Vespers) the Psalms 117, 118, 120–129, the Gospel Lk 4,38–41  EU ( Jesus heals many people at sunset), numerous other prayers and the Our Father. Psalm 51 is prayed at the beginning of each hour.

Vespers in music history

The psalms and hymns of the Vespers prayer have inspired many composers, including Claudio Monteverdi ( Vesper of Mary or Vespro della Beata Vergine ), Antonio Vivaldi , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ( Vesperae solennes de Confessore ), Anton Bruckner and Sergei Rachmaninoff . Musical settings usually follow the old order, so that a complete Vespers setting usually has five psalms. In the Sunday Vespers (according to the Latin count) it is Psalms 109–112 and 113 or 116.


  • Paul Graff: The dissolution of the old forms of worship in the Evangelical Church in Germany , Volume 1: Until the Enlightenment and Rationalism; Waltrop, 1994 (= 1937 2 ); Pp. 208-212.
  • Klaus Gamber : Sacrificium vespertinum. Lucernarium and Eucharistic sacrifice in the evening and their dependence on the rites of the Jews. Pustet, Regensburg 1983. ISBN 3-7917-0855-4 .
  • Anton Bauer, Werner Gross: We'll call you in the evening: reflections and pictures of hymns from the evening praise of the book of hours. Rba, Stuttgart 1985. ISBN 3-921005-91-4 .
  • Ralph Regensburger: The celebration of Vespers in community , Hohenpeißenberg 2011. Handout for the celebration of Vespers (liturgy) (PDF file; 197 kB).
  • Franz Karl Praßl : Vespers. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 5, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-7001-3067-8 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ General Introduction to the Liturgy of the Hours No. 204.225.
  2. Liborius Olaf Lumma : Liturgy in the rhythm of the day. A brief introduction to the history and practice of the Liturgy of the Hours. Regensburg 2011, pp. 29–32.
  3. Guido Fuchs: Lucernar . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 6 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1997, Sp. 1080 .
  4. Liber Usualis 1954, p. 1772.
  5. Heribert Blum: Gottes Dienst an uns: An introduction to the liturgy , Kohlhammer Verlag 2017, p. 191, chap. 7 "The Vespers for the Dead and the Prayer for the Dead"
  6. Liborius Olaf Lumma: Liturgy in the rhythm of the day. A brief introduction to the history and practice of the Liturgy of the Hours. Regensburg 2011, p. 106
  7. Liborius Olaf Lumma: Liturgy in the rhythm of the day. A brief introduction to the history and practice of the Liturgy of the Hours. Regensburg 2011, p. 110 f.