Non Solum: Baptismal Vespers

Another reader writes in:

Looking ahead a little to Easter (yes, already!), one of the customs suggested in the Liturgy of the Hours is the revival of “Baptismal Vespers.” It is also mentioned in other places such as Paschalis Solemnitatis and the Ceremonial of Bishops.

What might this look like in practice in the following settings (a) parishes with many baptisms at the Vigil (b) parishes with extremely few or no baptisms during the Vigil (c) religious houses, formation centers and seminaries, and other atypical contexts? What resources exist for such a service?

Might such a service be extended through some or all of the days the Easter Octave, as a parallel to the frequent baptismal references at Mass for those days?

The idea of a Baptismal Vespers is intriguing to me. I had to do a bit of research when I received this question. Michael Kunzler’s The Church’s Liturgy was particularly helpful (see p.357-358). According to Kunzler, Baptismal Vespers is a Vespers service “in which baptism is commemorated by a procession with hymns and prayers to the place where baptisms take place” (p.357). It appears that they stem loosely from the processions in Jerusalem during the Octave of Easter (the source is of course Egeria).

Another source is Ordo Romanus 27 which describes the Roman Baptismal Vespers circa 7th-13th centuries. Kunzler notes the structure of the service: “the first part of the Vespers ended after the third psalm, Magnificat and Easter prayer, and the participants processed to the baptistry [sic] and to the Consignatorium (Confirmation chapel), at each of which the last two psalms were sung, followed each time by the (second and third) Magnificat with corresponding prayer” (p.357). After a quick glance at the text, OR 27 appears to be an actual baptismal service and not simply a commemoration (#59 reads: Tunc baptizat – then he baptizes). Nevertheless, the Roman Baptismal Vespers was disseminated across Europe and persisted in France through the 19th century.

The Ambrosian Liturgy perhaps best preserves the Baptismal Vespers. Martimort’s The Church at Prayer: The Liturgy and Time briefly references the Ambrosian Baptismal Vespers (p.365) as does Rubén Leikam in Chupungco’s Handbook for Liturgical Studies: Liturgical Time and Space (p.109). The Ambrosian Baptismal Vespers was such a significant part of the historic Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours that a commemoration of baptism was included in the new revised rite: Liturgia Ambrosiana Delle Ore.

I will be curious to know if anyone has any experience planning or participating in one of these services. If you have, what resources have you drawn from?

12 comments

  1. Howard Galley included a service of “Great Paschal Vespers” in his Prayer Book Office, which is an enriched version of the daily office according to the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I believe that this follows that particular pattern for “Baptismal Vespers,” though I wouldn’t know if any parishes, Episcopal or otherwise, observe it.

  2. For what it’s worth, I constructed an Easter Sunday Evensong with procession to the font some years ago. The text is in ‘Celebrating the Christian Year, Prayers and Resources for Sundays, Holy Days and festivals – Years A, B and C, Vol.2: Lent, Holy Week and Easter’ (Canterbury Press, Norwich [UK] 2005) p131++

    As with the previous comment, I don’t know whether anyone ever used it. I doubt it. Most people have had enough of liturgy by Easter Sunday afternoon!

    AG

  3. A few years ago, while in Rome, we went to Easter Vespers in St. Georgio in Velabro. It was a small crowd, but a nice way to round out our Easter celebration. I don’t know of any parishes that do it, however.

  4. I wrote a graduate paper on Paschal Vespers. I am a bit proponent of celebrating Paschal Vespers, especially if the parish has neophytes. John Leonard, who teaches at Edgewood College in Madison, wrote his dissertation on this topic as well (Easter Vespers in Early Medieval Rome: A Critical Edition and Study, 1988). Gregory Woolfenden in Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology also briefly discusses Paschal Vespers. If you live near a Norbertine Abbey, they still celebrate Paschal Vespers during the octave of Easter and on all Sundays of Easter (or at least some variation). I am grateful to Fr. Andrew Ciferni, O. Praem and Fr. Allan Bouley, OSB for encouraging me to delve into this topic.

  5. We began Paschal Vespers for Easter 2007 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine (FL). It started out with but a handful in attendance. Now we regularly gather 100 or so. Some are simply tourists to our city who missed Easter morning Mass and come in suspecting that what we are doing will be Eucharist. However, I think that, in general, the parish community more and more is understanding the liturgy and sees it as a wonderful way to conclude the Triduum. And our Bishop now is the presider at it; he loves it!

  6. When I was at Notre Dame many years ago, they celebrated a form of Baptismal Vespers which was compiled, I think, by John Leonard (now professor of religious studies at Edgewood College in Madison, WI). We celebrated them for a number of years at our cathedral and they were well received. The bishop presided and there was simple, but nice, music. Our cathedral certainly wasn’t packed, but a good number of people from the parish came (including the neophytes!) as well as priests, liturgists, and RCIA people from parishes throughout the diocese.

  7. We celebrate Easter Vespers and we are enthusiastic “celebrators” all day long! I’m not familiar with this expression, Paschal Vespers. It sounds wonderful! I’m wondering which translation is used for the books – Celebrating the Christian Year. I have found the ICEL translation of the Opening Prayers (I could only find vol I) very rich.

  8. At St. James Cathedral (Seattle) for several decades the Vespers of Easter have been celebrated with a choir-led procession to the Baptismal Font at the West Entrance. The procession of somewhat over 150 participants are met at the Font by the Neophytes in the Albs they put on following their baptism at the Great Vigil. The Cathedral Pastor, Father Ryan, greets the Neophytes and talks with them of their experience the night before, their upcoming journey during Eastertide, and the life-long pilgrimage ahead. The entire assembly then processes singing to the east where Vespers is prayed.

  9. I think that Canon Griffiths is absolutely right.

    I couldn’t imagine being able to return to church after enjoying my share of the Paschal lamb and generous amounts of imported ouzo along with viewing the Greek dancing.

    1. @Brian Duffy – comment #9:
      In some churches the procession to the font takes place during Lauds with the “three Marys” carrying incense. I’ve seen it include Asperges with the people coming forward to drop grains of incense into a brazier at the font or in front of a garden tomb. Then followed by kissing an icon of the Resurrection. It’s part of a sunrise service which precedes Mass.

      For many people, like you, this is going to be preferable to getting up after the Easter (or Christmas ) festivities to attend yet another church service.

  10. For several years now I have attended Easter vespers (even had the honor of presiding a few times) and have been very moved by the number of people who attend. It seems people are very willing to mark this day with special jubilant solemnity and observance.

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