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How to do Sung Vespers at your parish

Updated: Feb 25

As a Catholic Music director, you will some day be asked to program a sung Evening Prayer. As Vatican II taught, the Liturgy of the Hours “is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body, addresses to the Father” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 84). Planning this program, however, can be overwhelming as many of us don't know where to start. While there are many ways to accomplish this, I want to share the simplest approach I have found. First here's a general outline of Evening Prayer, followed by a step by step explanation: Opening Verse Hymn Psalm with antiphon Another Psalm with antiphon (or sometimes the same psalm, continued) A Canticle with antiphon Scripture Reading Responsory Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) with antiphon. Intercessions Lord's Prayer Concluding Prayer Dismissal/blessing Optional closing hymn or postlude
Now let's start planning it!
Start with the correct text. Go to the link below and change the final 4 digits of the URL to the date you want. So if you want to do vespers on Tuesday, November 8th, you would change the last 4 digits to 1108 Copy and paste the text into your worship aid. Ebreviary here also has upcoming texts, as well as some that don't fall on a specific date, such as the office of the dead and dedication of a church. Here are 3 templates you can use: 8.5x11 booklet template Legal size Booklet 11x17 Z-fold Here's a PDF of one for reference sake.

Christ the King Vespers Program 2022 Assembly
Download PDF • 1.43MB

Now follow the steps below:

Opening Verse: (O God, come to my assistance) may be spoken. If there is a presider, he should say it. It could be sung "Recto Tono" (on one pitch). But also, here are some notated sung versions:
Opening verse
Download PDF • 86KB

Opening verse Meinrad
Download PDF • 187KB

Opening verse modern notation
Download PDF • 56KB

Opening verse modern notation organ part
Download PDF • 57KB

Hymn: After the opening verse is a hymn. You can change this hymn to any appropriate hymn for the liturgical day/season that your parish knows. There are "official" hymns here (pun intended), by Fr. Weber, which are worth a look. Sing ALL the verses to the hymn, as this IS the liturgical action. (At Mass, hymns usually accompany the liturgical action). Most office hymns end with a "glory be" verse, which is another reason to sing the hymn in its entirety.
Psalms/canticle: There are 2 psalms and a canticle with corresponding antiphons. The antiphons are sung once (or twice) at the beginning and once at the end, like book-ends, not like a responsorial psalm. Ideally these antiphons will have their own melody to set them apart, but you can set them to the psalm tones as well. Personally, I first choose the psalm tone, then write my own antiphon to match intuitively, like so:
Choose a Psalm Tone, such as St. Meinrad Psalm tones. Here are 8 of them:
Eight English Psalm Tones
Download PDF • 73KB

Here are several in modern notation that you can copy and paste:

If you want accompaniments for the psalm tones, you could use these original Meinrad tones. (Maybe just first and last measure) Here are the organ parts. Although, I find a capella to be easier. Each line is a different length of syllables, so it becomes difficult to accompany. Also, with a capella, I can lower the key to a more comfortable range. When you've chosen your psalm tones, you then have to "point" the text, meaning Italicize the word which changes pitch in each measure, and divide stanzas between Left and Right or Women/Men, cantor/assembly. I divide up the chanting based on where the breaks already are in the psalms, but others will assign one line per side to keep things simple. To point, count back the syllables from the end of the line and mark the syllable that first changes pitch, as seen below. The final note should be a strong syllable. See how it ends on the SPI of spirit, not the IT of spirit. Ending on a weak syllable sounds like a misplaced accentuation. See below:

Reading: Have a lector read this. The reading does not end with "The Word of the Lord."
Responsory: Could be spoken or sung. You can set that to a psalm tone too, and mark them Cantor/all like so:
Here are some pre-set Responsories for Sundays. You'll notice "weeks 1 and 3, 2 and 4." This is because the office is on a four week cycle, but I use CTRL + F to find the one I want. It's tough to find otherwise, since I never know what week we are on, plus it could be a special Saint's day, which is why at the beginning of the article I recommend finding the text for the exact date on divineoffice dot org which follows the liturgical calendar in America:
Sunday Responsories
Download PDF • 276KB

Magnificat: Singing a familiar version of the Magnificat is technically allowed, and may be a useful pastoral step, but it gets confusing. Consider that you will have to add the sung antiphon before and after the song. Then your Magnificat setting undoubtedly uses a different antiphon response throughout the song that isn't the official antiphon. This gets unwieldy and I find it easier to chant the Magnificat, like so:
Magnificat Meinrad
Download PDF • 245KB

Chanted Magnificat
Download PDF • 181KB

Intercessions: Could be sung, but I have the lector read the whole intercession, with the people saying the repetitive response. Consider putting them entirely into the program for them to read because there is no "Lord, hear our prayer" to cue them to say the response. Or you could print just the response.

Our Father: Could be spoken or sung

Concluding Prayer and Dismissal: May be spoken. If you have a presider, these parts are his: If so, be sure to mark these "Presider" or the people may read them aloud with the priest. The dismissal that says "May the Lord bless us" is meant for lay recitation, so remove that line and put the word "dismissal" in the program. Here's a sung version.
Download PDF • 229KB

Postlude: Another hymn could be sung or an organ postlude added.

Lastly, if you are singing Vespers on Saturday Evening (Vespers I) or Sunday Evening (Vespers II), here are several other resources that contain (incomplete) settings of the antiphons and psalms:
This one: Sunday Lauds and Vespers: Congregation | Cantor | Organ

Don't forget to give credit to St. Meinrad or Fr. Weber for the settings used above! A future post may address how to add Exposition and Benediction to your Vespers!
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