June 29, 2009

Sunday Vespers and Benediction

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.


LTRBTB said...

Exactly the reason why permanent deacons can be of great help.

I know they can do public recitation of the Office. I think (though I'm not sure) they might even be able to do a Benediction.

It's a nice way (assuming you have one) to institute a "canons regular" sense to the parish, headed up by the deacon.

Brother Charles said...

Great insight, LTRBTB. A deacon would be entirely the correct minister in either or both cases.

I like what you call the "'canons regular' sense," as something to achieve in order to make these prayers a true public effort.


Paul A. Zalonski said...

The presence of the community praying the Divine Office in the parish Church is a requirement, not just a nice thing to do. It was the express desire of the V2 and Paul VI; it's the Church's tradition. When the Church defines what the sacred Liturgy consists in, it is defined as Lauds, Vespers and Mass. In the case of Sunday celebrations, the feast of Sunday is not complete until Vespers II.

While I have affection for the Marian devotions of the Miraculous Medal and rosary and the like, they can never take more energy in parish than the Divine Office. In some way I think they both have to co-exist.

So, one very reasonable solution as already mentioned is to have the deacons head up, as part of the their diakonia, Sunday Vespers with Benediction. Having said this, I do think it is possible to have instituted acolytes or lay people lead Vespers and expose and repose the Eucharist (but no Benediction). Some US dioceses are experimenting with the instituted acolyte possibility now.

But a tendency with a lot of contemporary liturgical praxis is that when the priest becomes optional he'll get permanently proscribed. I think a rota is helpful and necessary solution.

When the ordained do the Hours there should be a homily and when the ordained and the laity preside at the Office it should be sung.

On Sunday evenings an overlooked option is the lucenarium service with a sung proper preface to the feast.

One last point is that the proper use of liturgical vesture and incense needs to be accounted for: priests and deacons wear a cope and a simple alb for the laity.

Well done Sunday Vespers with Benediction can't be beat. People pray and the companionship is strengthened.

for narnia said...

hi Fr. C! i wanted so much to be there for Sunday vespers and Benediction, but my i had to go to the high school graduation of my niece, Jaclynn. the graduation ceremony was actually at Dutchess stadium where the Renegades play. it was kind of nice being outdoors at a stadium on a "rain-free" day! anyway, maybe there will be another opportunity for Sunday vespers & Benediction. i can kind of understand how "beat"
priests must feel on a Sunday afternoon after a Saturday vigil Mass and then Sunday Masses, especially since i come down there on Saturdays for just that - the Saturday vigil Mass and often more ( celebrations, events, etc...) and then a pretty full morning at the other church.) :) PEACE! ~tara t~

Brother Charles said...

I know the stadium well, Tara. I spent not a few nights there the summer I was living at St. Lawrence friary in Beacon.