Alert: Vesperale Coming This Week

This one is very interesting, even if it won’t affect about 99.99% of all Catholic communities. The Vesperale of the Roman Rite in Latin chant, reformed in accord with the wishes of the Second Vatican Council, is to appear this week. This is for the office. In 1912 the Antiphonale Romanum appeared as part of the chant reform of Pope St. Pius X. It was for the sung form of all the offices except the night office. Roman rite, Roman edition, so no Solesmes rhythmic signs (such as ictus and episema). Melodies reconstructed according to the sources, but not too accurately.

Vatican II called for a revision of all the chant books including the Antiphonale, but it’s been a long wait. The Liber Hymnarius appeared in 1983, which is the hymnal for both forms of the office, monastic and Roman. The Benedictines at Solesmes have recently (since 2005) issued four volumes of the monastic office, with the expected final volume to include the night office. These new monastic office volumes are for the weekly psalter, the seasons, and the proper of saints. Apparently a different plan of division into volumes is planned for the Roman office. The forthcoming book is a Vesperale, meaning it is for the office of Vespers presumably for the entire year including seasons and saints’ days.

Some things to watch for and to think about:
–One can expect the revised notation of the 1983 Liber Hymnarius to be employed, just as it was in the revised monastic office books. No episemas, no ictus. (BTW, didja know that the plural of ictus is ictus? 4th declension, not 2nd. Impress your friends with that one.) New neume forms with a wide variety of intended rhythmic values. Building on all the research at Solesmes for the last 50 years, this pretty much buries the old Solesmes equalist interpretation, which will be a problem for equalists of the strict observance.
–One can expect revised melodies. The 1934 monastic Antiphonale restored many B-naturals (especially in mode I, or see the beautiful highest passage of the Advent O antiphons in Mode II). Alas, this new book will probably un-restore some of them, if the recent monastic Antiphonale is any indication. But there will be plenty of other restored melodic passages bound to shake up those accustomed to the old books.
–The post-Vatican II Graduale Simplex (for Mass, cleverly robbing easier antiphons from the office) used 1912 melodies. Will we now need a revised Graduale Simplex? I would think so. (Paul Ford will be interested in this for various reasons!)
–The revised “Liturgy of the Hours” (now the best term for the office) appeared soon after Vatican II. Its revision of the office is much more thorough-going than the revision of the Order of Mass was. It was done without consideration for the sung Latin form of the office, which is fair enough I suppose because almost no one sings the Roman office in Latin. Those who have wanted to do so have faced the dilemna that so many antiphons of the new cursus aren’t to be found anywhere in the chant repertoire. It will be most interesting to see how the new Vesperale handles this. Newly composed antiphons? There are many in the new monastic office books. Putting new texts under existing antiphon melodies? This has been done a lot by Solesmes since 1903, but many have mixed feelings about it. Using ancient antiphons with texts at least similar to the new Liturgy of the Hours cursus? Probably much of this. (Which raises the question, why couldn’t they have coordinated things so that the new cursus used antiphon texts which are found in the chant repertoire?? I suppose for the same reason they couldn’t put antiphon texts in the revised missal which always correspond to the antiphons found in the reformed Graduale for Mass. Sigh.)

As I say, this one won’t affect most Catholic communities. But it will be a field day for chant folks. I can’t wait!



  1. Paul Ford is VERY interested in this and has already made a list of the antiphons in the first three volumes of the new Antiphonale Monasticum that are in the Graduale Simplex.

  2. Well…this SHOULD be of interest to way more that .01% of the people here. Whether it is or not is another matter.

    Admittedly though, even for Chant geeks, the Vesperale is not as well known and not one that everybody has just been staying awake nights wondering when it will be completed.

    1. Actually, I’m just now starting to sing Sunday Vespers at my parish according to the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s mostly English, but I desired to sing the Gregorian antiphons in Latin. I’ve been doing a scavenger hunt through the “old books” that are available online and wondering, “Why hasn’t ANYONE in the WHOLE WORLD pulled these chants together in the last 30 YEARS?!” I would love to have this book, and hope I can afford it.

  3. BTW, Fr. Anthony, didja know that you are a Chant Geek? 🙂
    Having said that, this news does interest me too!

  4. When you say “monastic” do you mean all such orders–Benedictine, Cistercian, Trappist. I was under the impression that these orders had their own version of the office. Do all these orders currently use the 4-week psalter and do they all use the Antiphonale Monasticum published the last few years? I was under the impression that some monastic communities still used the weekly psalter.

  5. Ioannes, until you get a better answer from Father Anthony, Benedictines follow the Thesaurus Liturgia Horarum Monasticae, which provides monastic houses with a few schemes for singing the integral psalter. You can see these schemes at There are some monasteries that substitute the Roman four week office for the monastic, but this is not ideal.

  6. Ioannes, Paul is correct. In fact there is a quite a bit of freedom, and the Thesaurus (which already has 4 possible psalm cursus) is intended as a model or a resource. Here at St. John’s for example, we have our own house-made 4-week cursus. We wanted more psalms and longer offices than the post-Vatican II Roman office. German speakers have a common German-language monastic LoH which is used very widely, but we don’t have anything that common to all the English-speaking monastic houses.

  7. Ioannes, I wish you could experience the Collegeville office: It is the most prayerful and intelligent recited office I have ever experienced. Brilliant division of psalms and canticles into solo and choral voices, inspired responsories.

  8. This is wonderful news. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II expressly called for a greater use of the Divine Office in parishes, at the very least Lauds and/or Vespers on Sundays and major feasts.

    In this perspective the almost complete disappearance of the Office from the public life of the Church is a most paradoxical outcome of the Council and something which ought to be corrected as soon as possible. This Vesperale could be an extremely valuable tool in this regard.

    “It was done without consideration for the sung Latin form of the office, which is fair enough I suppose because almost no one sings the Roman office in Latin.

    But that is precisely the point: they ought to sing it at least occasionally, just as the Mass must at least occasionally be sung in Latin (and rather more frequently if you ask Sacrosanctum Concilium). But even if they wanted to, they couldn’t necessarily do so because much of the music doesn’t exist.

  9. My dear Gideon,
    I think you’re being too hard on Vatican II. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but can’t this unfortunate development be traced back to that moment in the 16th century when the Jesuits, at their request, were dispensed from the public recitation of the Divine Office so that they could “more effectively proclaim the Gospel”? And many of the new communities followed suite? Wasn’t it at this moment that the choir stalls in most large parish churches and many cathedrals began to be ripped away from the foot of the sanctuary and the laity exposed to the glories of the choir loft where fat sopranos could belt out Ave Maria for all eternity – with the wonderful result that the average Catholic layman is today totally unaware of the office and the spirituality of the psalms (with the full knowledge and connivance of the very highest authorities)? I can only wonder how it is that the practice of the public recitation (of some of the hours anyway) of the office has endured in the Anglican Communion down to this very moment, even in the parishes. Indeed, if you visit any large urban center in this country, or Canada, boasting of both a Roman Catholic Cathedral and an Episcopal one and compare their schedules you will invariably find the former announcing the times for Mass and the novena of the day (five minutes- that’s all folks) and the latter in addition to the hour of the communion service the time for Morning Prayer and Evensong? Why? Has anyone in our communion ever compared the sentiments and spirituality of most novenas to those of the psalms? If the good monks of St. John’s Abbey celebrate such a wonderful office, couldn’t they possibly arrive at some accommodation with the powers that be over at EWTN to have that office televised on a daily basis? Wouldn’t this be a wonderful solution for EWTN too, who has all those dead hours to fill and who appear to think that this can only be done by televising endless recitations of the rosary?

  10. Mr Ciavolino makes some very good points, but let’s not fall into the trap of believing that the public offering of the Divine Office collapsed entirely during the 16th century. In fact, it was celebrated in full in every cathedral in Catholic Europe until the Second World War, and in many places until the reforms of the 1960’s. In those same countries, almost every parish offered Vespers on Sundays and feasts, and some of the other hours that were traditionally popular.

    Even in the benighted United States, Sunday Vespers obtained in many urban parishes, as can been seen in old newspapers. It was with the invention of radio that this began to decline precipitously, not only among Roman Catholics, but in terms of the Sunday evening services that were offered by almost every denomination. Now only the more fundamental Protestants, and a few Anglicans, maintain such a tradition in this country.

  11. Mr Goings’s statement is, alas, without foundation. Plenty of Catholic cathedrals in Europe already did not celebrate the Divine Office before World War II ─ and some even before World War I ─ and in the majority of parishes Sunday Vespers was unknown. Outside the major cities, they just did not have the resources or the will to do it. Some parishes, it is true, did have Vespers, alternating with other devotions such as Bona Mors and the Litany of Loreto, but for many the staple fare was children’s catechism followed by Benediction. I stress that I am talking about Europe, not about the United States.

    The problem we face today is that the previous inaccessibility of the Office by ordinary folk means that it is not perceived as being of significant value in their lives. Many including myself have tried to reverse this in the past 30 years, with such welcome developments as imaginative celebrations of the “Cathedral Office” incorporating symbols of light and incense, Vespers in the vernacular, more vibrant psalmody, and and the use of a wider spread of musical idioms (including chant). But it has mostly been to no avail. The same devoted few turn up, but there is no sense of a trend towards increasing attendance. People are finding their spiritual sustenance, if at all, elsewhere, at Taizé-type services, Iona-type services, etc. If a new Vesperale is indeed on the horizon (I have a pre-World War I Vesperale Romanum on my bookshelves), it will be interesting to see if this is received as an academic exercise in the restoration of chant and medieval hymnody, or a new contribution to the prayer-life of the wider Church.

  12. Many thanks, Mr. Iwood; I was beginning to think I had gone mad or dreamt it all. But tell me, since you appear to have a great deal of knowledge and experience in this area, how is it that the same distractions that seem to have succeeded so well in luring Roman Catholics, clergy and laity alike, from public recitation of even a small portion of the celebration of the hours have failed so conspicuously to achieve the same goal among observant Anglicans. How is it, for instance, that St. Patrick’s Cathedral never celebrates vespers on Sundays and feast days (certainly not within the last forty years), and only two blocks down Fifth Avenue St. Thomas Fifth Avenue is packed to the rafters for Sunday Evensong? And it’s obvious from their comportment that the majority of the congregation is composed of believing members of the Anglican Communion who are obviously there not just for the music – which is astonishing. You can tell; apparently the Common Prayer Book expects much more in the way of active participation than the Roman Missal does. For instance one is expected to venerate the processional cross as it passes, bow during the collect, cross oneself during the final words of the Gloria, Creed and at the Benedictus, and also bow at the Sanctus. By the way, Evensong is also offered several times during the week. I might add, the resident clergy are prepared to deliver 20-minute homilies that appear consistently to hold the attention of the congregation. Can you account for any of this, Mr. Inwood?

  13. St Thomas’s, 5th Avenue, is on a par with Anglican cathedrals in England as far as performance and attendance is concerned; but this is not typical of Anglican churches as a whole (I hope I am right in perceiving that this is the thrust of your post, Ronald) where attendance at Evensong is patchy, to put it charitably. Half a dozen elderly ladies plus a cocker spaniel in the congregation would not be too much of a caricature in many country parishes.

    (By the way, I think in your euphoria over Anglican standards of participation you have confused Eucharist and Evensong. The Gloria, Creed, Sanctus and Benedictus all belong to the former, rather than the latter. At Roman Vespers you will also find bows at the Gloria Patri, turning towards the cross, crossing onself at the beginning of the Gospel Canticle, etc.)

    What seems to have happened in Anglican circles ─ and cf. Richard Giles’s post in another thread ─ is that attendance at Anglican celebrations of the office has diminished in proportion to their rediscovery of the Eucharist. I think the same kind of thing has happened in Roman Catholic circles. Now that the Mass has become intelligible and participatory for the vast majority, the necessity for devotions of different kinds has diminished; and I think Vespers falls into the category of devotions for many people ─ something that compensates for the fulfilment previously perceived as lacking in the Mass. We, too, have in a sense rediscovered the Eucharist.

    At the same time, it is clear that for many even this rediscovery is not sufficient, which is a sad reflection on our standards of celebrating. As I indicated above, alternative forms of spiritual sustenance outside the Church’s official rites are actively being looked for by many. The challenge for us is to translate the qualities found in those other celebrations into our current ritual context in such a way that spiritual hunger is fed.

    At the risk of derailing the thread, but in order to forestall comments from those who believe that the reformed post-Vatican II liturgy, especially the new Order of Mass and Lectionary, is the spawn of Satan, responsible for the decrease in churchgoing in 1st and 2nd World Catholicism, I would say that this has had little to do with the rites themselves. If you want to know the real reason for a rapid acceleration in people leaving the Church after the Council, look no further than 1968 and Humanæ Vitæ ─ a disaster in the history of the modern Church which opened the floodgates and became a poster child for Catholics’ awareness of their ability to think intelligently for themselves.

  14. I beg to disagree. Mr Inwood’s assertions about the use of the Divine Office are, to be blunt, false.

    One might wonder about what the motivation for such dissembling would be, but fortunately Mr Inwood is kind enough to set it out for us. The admitted failure of his “imaginative celebrations” over the last thirty years is all the more damning, if seen against the backdrop of a relatively recent tradition of the public and popular use of the Divine Office, both in Europe, and even in the Anglo-American countries.

    As to his suggestion that the precipitous drop in church attendance which followed the Second Vatican Council was really caused by the hard-hearted failure of the Curia to permit the laity to practice artificial contraception with gleeful abandon, well, let me just say that it probably deserves to be met with the same appalled silence that followed on the suggestion by an Episcopalian clergyman that Mother Teresa of Calcutta needed to “get laid.”

  15. Let me just say that I was perfectly aware of the fact that I was conflating the rituals of the Communion Service with those of Evensong when I posted my comments. My intention at that moment was to address the disparaging comments of some of my clerical friends who claimed that I shouldn’t be so impressed by the attendance figures over at St. Thomas because most of the congregation were probably tourists; and, besides, I was wrong to admire outmoded medievalisms which placed unnecessary burdens on the “busy, clear-eyed, modern pastor on the go.” You’ll be happy to learn, Mr. Inwood, that some of these people have also accused me of being excessively euphoric over the goings-on at St Thomas. May I just state once again, for anyone who might be interested and for all the good it’s going to do me that: first of all, I’m not out there shopping for a new confession (that usually comes up about now), I’m merely concerned about certain practices and attitudes in the one I already belong to and rejoice in – thank you very much. Second, I have to confess to a certain alarm over this movement championing the restoration of the Latin rite, though I believe it was wrong not to make it available to those who wished to observe it in those heady days after Vatican II – we probably would have found ourselves in a much more felicitous place today if we had. (No don’t tell me it was always available to them. If you have any doubts just ask some of the clergy who tried to avail themselves of that usage.) Believe me, I have no problem with the Latin Mass itself, though being 73 I have painful memories of all the ways in which it was capable of being abused at the hands of an irresponsible or undereducated celebrant. No, my problem with this “revival” is that it constitutes an error in strategy and will eventually be revealed as a colossal blunder and admitted as such even by the very fine and dedicated people who are investing so much time, effort and hope in it (to say nothing about the fact that it uses a different lectionary, observes a different calendar and numbers the psalms differently). In other words, I really don’t think that muttering in Latin and genuflecting to the bishop at a solemn Mass is ever going to play well to the majority of the good people of Peoria or Brooklyn – even the Italians. On the other hand, I’m not happy with the way the liturgical insights of Vatican II were implemented by Cardinal Bugnini and his friends either; indeed, I feel they cut too close to the bone in a very irresponsible way and that this has led to a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of a considerable number of the laity. What I’m looking for is a third way, one that has been made available by our gracious Pontiff. I believe that the privileges on offer to returning Anglicans (both clergy and laity) should encourage us all to take a closer look at the Common Prayer Book and the Anglican Hymnal – something, I feel, Cardinal Bugnini might have attempted all those years ago.
    My I, Mr. Inwood, thank you for your restraint in your disagreement with me; why a priest in England, a convert from Anglicanism, accused me recently of being a naïf simpleton. And when I informed him that even Cardinal Taurant visited St. Thomas on occasion, was impressed with its rituals and described himself as the spiritual brother of the rector emeritus of that place, Canon Thomas Andrew and even carried the crest of that church on is crosier, he responded by abusing them also, along with, I might add, the entire American nation who, it turns out, are a pack of shallow noodnicks. These comments were posted on the NLM site, without a single voice to say him nay.

    1. Nay.

      Archbishop Annibale Bugnini was never a cardinal.

      I assume you mean Cd. Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. While he has a different task from Cd. Kasper (@ Christian Unity; the Octave of which ends today, btw) I’m sure it’s still in Cd. Tauran’s job description to focus on emphasizing only the positive connections with other Christians (rather than always considering the strengths together with the weaknesses – a balance which would, I imagine, be more palatable to your English priest acquaintance).

  16. In regard to Sunday Vespers or Evensong and the frequency of its celebration: What effect do you think the allowance of Mass in the evenings has had on some of these other types of liturgical offerings?

  17. A difference for Anglicans, if I am not mistaken, is that attendance at Evensong fulfulls the Sunday obligation. There is also the strength of the tradition, for in the past, some Episcopal churches did not celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday, and the congregation heard morning prayer instead.

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