Friday, October 2, 2009

Triple Vespers

It seemed right that this Friday evening, as penance and devotion both, to read Vespers of Our Lady (since I use her Little Office), then Vespers of the day - that is, of the Holy Guardian Angels - and then straightaway (after the Benedicamus Domino) Vespers of the Dead, in suffrage for the many who have perished in natural disasters this week.

Having read back-to-back these prayers, it was interesting to reflect on something of all three Vespers: for a start, their psalms: Pss 109, 112, 121, 126 and 147 (as for feasts of the Virgin); Pss 109, 110, 111, 112 and 137 (the Sunday psalms, but for the last, which is proper for feasts of Angels on account of its second verse); and Pss 114, 119, 120, 129 and 137 (as appointed when praying for the deceased) - three of which I'd read at the Little Hours of the Little Office.

Dixit Dominus (Ps 109), that grand mysterious messianic psalm, is read in honour of the Incarnate Lord, both on feasts of His Mother, and on well-nigh all important feasts, for He is Lord of all. Laudate pueri Dominum (Ps 112) reminds us that the Lord looks down to lift up the lowly, and to gladden the childless with children - hence the Marian dimension; while in allusion to the angels, He it is Who cares for us, who are so lowly, via His messengers, sent from above. Interestingly, Confitebor tibi Domine (Ps 137) is used for Vespers of the Dead as well as on to-day's feast of the Guardian Angels, given its reference to the Lord regarding the lowly, not despising the works of His Hands (the Hands of the Father are the Son and the Spirit, according to the Fathers).

Posture, too, comes into all this: I customarily kneel (when praying more formally) before beginning the Hour standing (for the Deus in adjutorium), and of course bow for the Glory be's in worship of the Trinity; after the first antiphon and first half-verse, one sits for the psalmody; one rises for the little chapter and remains standing through to the end - but for the Ave maris stella, for whose first stanza one kneels. Finishing Vespers of Our Lady, one does the same for the day's Vespers (of the Holy Angels), but, for Placebo (Vespers of the Dead), one sits for the psalmody (nor are there Glory be's to bow for), rising only for the Magnificat, then kneels for the concluding prayers.

During the combined Hours, some gestures are constant: the sign of the Cross at the Deus in adjutorium and Magnificat; bowing one's head at the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary; and, by custom, bowing one's head also at the words Sanctum et terribile nomen ejus (Ps 110:9a) and Sit nomen Domini benedictum (Ps 112:2a), and, following less common practice, at et sanctum nomen ejus (fourth verse of the Magnificat) and at Sanctificetur nomen tuum (in the Lord's Prayer).

Am I niggling and wasting my time on absurdities? If this outward practice were the sum of my cares, yes! But if the posture reflect something of the heart, then external reverence reinforces the wavering flame of interior piety. I hope in blogging about "shutting the door and praying to your Father in secret" I have not lost my reward (!), but offer these thoughts in case others pray in similar ways, and may find these little points of interest.

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