How We Celebrate Vespers – Without Chanting

In one of my recent posts I described the sort-of Evensong that we celebrate in our church every Tuesday.

Shortly afterwards the second wave of the current pandemic hit Europe. While religious gatherings are still permitted in general, the Austrian Bishops’ conference decided that there should be no chanting at all for the forthcoming weeks, with soloist chanters as the only exceptions.

Our Evensong is mainly based on antiphonal singing, so we had to decide what to do now. We neither wanted to change the entire pattern of the Evensong nor cancel it completely for several weeks. But we were also convinced that it makes little sense to read all the texts that were meant and designed to be sung, and we also did not want to convert the evensong to a concert for soloists while all others do nothing but listen.

We prepared new leaflets, and when I was looking for an appropriate headline, I remembered the impressive words in tempore pestilentiae that an Austrian monastery uses on its website for a collection of inspirational texts in these challenging months. But I feared that this title might be too depressing, so I started to look for something motivational und constructive. Eventually we ended with the headline Evensong for strengthening and encouraging. The pattern remained as usual, but we made several modifications in order to make it more appropriate for a gathering without chanted words.

  • We gather in the first rows of the church. In front of the altar is a large candlestand, filled with sand, with a lighted Paschal candle in its middle. Close to the altar is a small bowl with a piece of hot coal for incense. Everyone has their leaflets.
  • Acclamation In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: light and peace. Thanks be to God.
  • The presider lights a small candle from the Paschal candle, lights all candles around the altar, and puts as many burning candles around the Paschal candle as people are gathered. Meanwhile we read two evening hymns; a lector reads the odd verses, all others read the even verses:

    Good king and Lord, who created the light for us,
    who gave order to the rhythm of time;
    now that the sun sets and darkness increases,
    your face, Christ, be our lamp and light.

    As you once guided Israel’s people through the night,
    showed them direction and path as a fiery glance,
    guide us, who walk in the darkness, too,
    lead us glowingly, you flame that never goes out.

    What can be more worthy, now that the day declines,
    than dedicating praise and chant to the lasting light:
    God, who glowingly lives in the glance of everlasting brightness.
    Honor and praise be to him now and forever. Amen.

    You everlasting light without evening,
    triune prince of the entire world,
    when the heaven’s sun sets down,
    make your clarity lighten us.

    The morning’s first praise was dedicated to you,
    we praise you at the evening time.
    As our day’s light and delight
    you give us life and your covenant.

    You make us walk in the light,
    we dare be your children.
    When our day will decline,
    you will invite us to the supper.

    Father, we praise your grace
    that you give us in your Son.
    Fulfil us with your Spirit
    and let uns stand at your throne. Amen.

  • Prayer of light:
    Our help is the name of the Lord. – Who made heaven and earth.
    Let us pray.
    We praise you, Lord, our God.
    Day and night is yours.
    We thank you for light,
    the first gift of your Creation,
    and we beseech you:
    Let Christ, the sun of justice,
    never set in our hearts,
    so that we may pass from this time,
    which is tainted with fear and doubt,
    to the light in which you dwell.
    We ask you this through him, Jesus Christ,
    your Son, our Lord and God,
    who lives and reigns in unity with the Holy Spirit
    forever and ever. – Amen.
  • A lector reads Psalm 141 (140):1–4. All others repeat the antiphon May my prayer be counted as incense before you, my Lord and my God, hallelujah. Meanwhile the presider offers incense in the bowl. Afterwards everyone sits down.
  • A lector reads a psalm, followed by a 90-second silence and a short collect, read by the presider.
  • Another psalm in the same manner.
  • A Biblical reading with another 90-second silence afterwards. Afterwards we stand up again.
  • Magnificat, the verses read alternately by a lector and all others.
  • Universal prayer read by lector. After each intercession we say Lord, have mercy.
  • Lord’s prayer.
  • Concluding prayer following St. Augustine:
    Lord, you created us, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.
    Yours is the light of the day.
    Yours is the darkness of the night.
    Life is yours and death.
    I myself am yours and adore you.
    Let me rest in peace,
    bless the forthcoming day,
    and let me awake to praise you.
  • Final blessing following Num 6:23–27.

While our regular Evensong takes almost 30 minutes, this particular version of the same pattern lasts for a little less than 20 minutes. This is not the way we want to celebrate for a long time, but for the time being it showed to be a good option, hopefully strengthening and encouraging in these times of facemasks, insecurity, and patience.

Update: Shorty before this post was published, we decided to cancel the Vespers for a few weeks. The Austrian administration and the 16 officially recognized religious societies found an agreement to refrain from most public services until December 6. Hopefully we can resume our weekly Vespers in the second or third week of Advent.

2 comments

  1. Now that I read my post, I realize that the title “Evensong” makes little sense for a service that is not at all sung. In German we use the term “Abendlob” which literally translates to “evening praise”.

    1. Evensong is simply an old word for Evening Prayer, whether it’s sung or not. Mattins is the comparable old word for Morning Prayer. “The Vicar shall read Mattins and Evensong daily in the church.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *