Yesterday afternoon we tried something "new": Sunday Evening Prayer with Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. The parish had observed the Pauline year through a number of successful events, and we thought that Evening Prayer I of the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul would be a good way to conclude the celebrations.
Many of our older parishioners remember Sunday Benediction, though I have never had a good idea of how widespread it once was. My Baronius Press 1962 hand Missal has proper texts for Vespers each Sunday, so I suppose that public Sunday Vespers was also more common at one time than it is now.
This morning I am wondering why this practice more or less disappeared. Given the strong recommendation of the liturgical reform to find ways to make the Liturgy of the Hours the prayer of the whole people of God, it seems odd that one way it was already being done should abandoned.
On the one hand, Sunday Vespers and/or Benediction has a lot to recommend it. It would seem to fulfill the mandate mentioned above, and to me it would also round out the whole celebration of Sunday very well. To me each Sunday has three liturgical hinges marked by two celebrations of Evening Prayer with Morning Prayer between them. In almost all parishes the first two moments--if not the Hours--are observed pretty regularly, with the vigil and morning Masses of Sunday respectively. In some places there are also Sunday evening Masses, but--at least in the part of the world I live in--these seem to be disappearing quickly. The third liturgical hinge moment of Sunday, marked by Evening Prayer II, seems to get lost. The public celebration of Vespers and/or Benediction would seem to restore this liturgical moment of Sunday.
Of course it has to be said that few priests look forward to obligations on a Sunday afternoon or evening. For parish clergy, the period from Saturday afternoon to Sunday noon is pretty busy. Saturday night is a common time for parish events and celebrations that keep you up late. After a short rest it's time for the early Mass on Sunday. By the time the Sunday schedule is persolved, you can feel pretty beat. On top of this, Monday is the traditional day off for pastors, making Sunday afternoon a getaway day for many.