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by Catherine Frakas 15 May 2002

The hour of Vespers QUESTION from Father Taurasi February 6, 2000 Since I have a cononical obligation to pray the Divine Office,I would like to know at what time can I pray Vespers. Would 4:pm be too early? Some of my older priest friends tell me that they were taught in the seminary to say Vespers at 2:pm.
Thank you, Fr.Taurasi
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on February 7, 2000 Dear Father:
I first what to thank you and commend you for participating in the Divine Office. Many priests today have abandoned this obligation. As the GILH states about this, the priest have an obligation to pray for their people – the Divine Office in one of the ways they are to do that.
The revision of the Divine Office after Vatican II sought to return to the more ancient and traditional practices of the Divine Office while at the same time taking into account the circumstances of modern life. Part of this was to return to the proper time to say the Office.
The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH), no 11. states:
Since the purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours includes the sanctification of the day and of the whole range of human actvity, its structure has been revised in such a way that, as far as possible, each Hour might be celebrated once more at the proper time and account taken of the circumstances of life today. Hence, in order that the day maybe truly sanctified and the Hours themselves recited with spiritual profit, it is preferable that they should be recited at the hour nearest to the one indicated by each canonical Hour.
As further clue as to when this time is we look to paragraph 39: When evening approaches and the day is already far spent, Evening Prayer is celebrated …. And similarly for the Morning Prayer, paragraph 38:
This Hour, celebrated as it is as the light of a new day is dawning… It is clear from these section of the General Instruction that Vespers (Evening Prayer) must be recited as the day is far spent and evening approaches. And Lauds (Morning Prayer) is to be recited as the light of a new day is dawning.
Additional clues come from the name itself, Vespers. The word vespers comes directly from the Latin Vesper; Vespera of Espera was a name given to the star Venus, which rises in the evening while still light to call the monks to prayer.
This Evening prayer also had other names: Duodecima Hora perhaps because it was said at the 12th hour of the day, six o'clock; Lucernarium, hora lucernalis, the hour of the candles because this was the time when evening approached and the candles were lighted; hora incensi, from the custom of burning incense at this evening prayer.
At St. Michael House incense is burned at the Vespers Hour.
As a general rule of thumb one can consider the following hours as anchor hours. These are based upon the tradition of Benedict. However, Benedict was scrupulous about when the first light of the sunrise took place and thus the first hour would vary daily. He constructed charts to provide the exact time of sunrise. We don’t need to be that particular. But based upon the tradition we can generally call the following anchor times as a guide:
3am = Vigils (though Vigils is allowed at any time and is often combined with Lauds)
6am = Lauds (or Vigils/Lauds)
9am = Tierce 12pm = Sext 3pm = None
6pm = Vespers
9pm = Compline (said just before retiring no matter when that is, even after midnight).
But in todays busy world we need some flexibility and the GILH does allow for adaptation according to circumstances.
In the Rule of St. Michael, which governs our Order, we offer the following range of times for which the Liturgy is to be said for those not living in community, . This, of course, is not binding on anyone but us, but you may feel free to use it as a guideline:
Vigils = 2:00-4:00am (but may be said at anytime and may be combined with Lauds) Lauds = 5:00-8:00am Tierce = 8:30-10:00am Sext = 11:30am – 1:00pm None = 2:30 – 4:00pm Vespers = 4:30 – 7pm Compline = 7:30 – 10:30pm (or before retiring whenever that is)
Since the Hours sanctify the portion of the day to which they are intended, if one misses the appropriate time for an Office, then it is missed. It cannot be made up later. So if one oversleeps and doesn’t get to Lauds in the early morning. It is missed. Don’t try to say it at 10 o’clock or something. The morning in gone and the day has arrived – which is what the Day Prayers are for.
Now with all that said on to your question.
Based upon the tradition of the Hours and the current legislation I would say that reciting Vespers at 4pm is barely in tune with the canonical hour, but acceptable. Reciting Vespers at 2pm is totally out of the realm of being nearest to the canonical Hour as the legislation requires, in my opinion. 2pm is not the day far spent and evening approaching.
Some monasteries will say Vespers at 2pm. This is an old custom and practice when Vespers could be said anytime after midday. But this is not in line with the ancient custom going back to the 6th century and Benedict. Vespers was meant to be a SUNSET hour actually. It was recited after None and before daylight had gone and before artificial light was needed.
The Council Fathers properly returned us to the more ancient and original practice, although the term Evening Prayer is a little misleading. As the GILH states, Vespers is to be recited when the day is far spent and as evening APPROACHES.
4pm can qualify under current legislation (barely in my view), but I don’t see how 2pm can qualify at all.
God Bless.
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