This page outlines the structure and detailed rubrics of the Office of Vespers, according to two methods: Solemn and Non-Solemn. Solemn Vespers is always sung and is a formal liturgical ceremony which may be performed on all Sundays and major Feast days. Non-Solemn Vespers may still be sung but lacks the liturgical ceremony of ministers, incense, etc.
The Office of Lauds, likewise, takes on the same structure and ceremonies as Vespers. Therefore, what follows below is equally applicable to Lauds, except the Benedictus is prayed instead of the Magnificat.
Six candles are lit on the altar, a lectern is placed in front of the sedilia with a cloth of the appropriate liturgical color draper over it, the Celebrant is vested in surplice and cope of the appropriate color (also a Stole if Benediction is to follow), and a minimum of four ministers/servers assist in the sanctuary (MC, Thurifer, 2 Acolytes). Additional clergy vested in cope (not to exceed six coped ministers) may also be in the sanctuary.
The Celebrant and ministers process into the sanctuary as at Mass and make the appropriate reverence. The Celebrant immediately goes to and stands in front of the sedilia behind the lectern with the MC at his right side. The two acolytes place their candles on either side of the sanctuary on the opposite corners of the first step leading up to the altar and then they extinguish their candles. The Thurifer, carrying nothing at this time, simply goes to his appointed seat in the sanctuary.
All making the Sign of the Cross, the Celebrant intones the “Deus in adjutorium…”. The MC lifts the Celebrant’s cope slightly to allow him to make the Sign of the Cross. All sing the response “Domine, adjuvandum…” and continue in unison singing the entire “Gloria Patri” and “Alleluia” or “Laus tibi…” (from Septuagesima Sunday until Palm Sunday). The “Deus in adjutorium…” is normally sung in the Festal Tone, but the Solemn Tone may be employed only on First and Second Class Feasts (not on First or Second Class Sundays unless those Sundays happen to be actual Feast Days). At the “Gloria Patri” all bow toward the tabernacle.
The Cantor(s) hum(s) the notes for the first antiphon and the Celebrant intones the first antiphon after which all continue singing the remainder of the antiphon.
The Cantor(s) intone(s) the first psalm after which all, except the MC, sit. The side of the aisle on which the intoning Cantors sit continues the first verse. The opposite side sings the second verse. The Cantors’ side the third verse, and so on. All bow slightly at the “Gloria Patri”. Following the end of the first psalm, all together in unison repeat the entire first antiphon.
The Cantors, alone standing, intone the second, third, fourth, and fifth antiphons after which all sing the remainder of the antiphon together. The Cantors, alone standing, intone each of the remaining psalms, and the same alternation of psalm verses occurs. Each antiphon is repeated by everyone together in unison after each psalm.
When Psalm 112 is sung, all slightly bow at the words “Sit nomen Domini benedictum” in the second verse.
At the beginning of the fourth psalm, the Thurifer leaves the Sanctuary and lights the charcoal in the thurible. During the Hymn (see below), he returns to the Sanctuary with the thurible and incense, genuflects, bows to the Celebrant, and stands in his place.
At the fifth to last verse of the fifth psalm, the 2 acolytes rise from their seats and making the appropriate reverences, go each to their respective candles and relight them. There, they wait until the “Gloria Patri” is sung at the end of the psalm at which time bow; at the “Sicut erat…” they pick up their candles, meet and genuflect in the middle, and then proceed to the lectern. Bowing to the Celebrant, they each stand at the opposite sides of the lectern, facing each other, with their candles on whichever side is closer to the lectern (e.g. the acolyte who is facing towards the altar has the candle on his right side; the other, on his left side).
The last psalm finished and antiphon having been repeated, all stand.
The Celebrant chants the Chapter to which all respond “Deo gratias”.
The Celebrant then intones the Hymn at which time the 2 Acolytes turn toward the Celebrant, bow to him, then return their candles to the same places on the altar step where they were previously, and the 2 acolytes return to stand beside their seats in the sanctuary. The candles are left lit at this time.
The side of the aisle on which the Celebrant is continues singing the first verse of the Hymn. The opposite side sings the second verse, the Celebrant’s side the third verse, and so on. Whenever the last verse of the Hymn is a Trinitarian Doxology, all slightly bow to the tabernacle for the first three stanzas of the last verse. All join together and sing the final two stanzas of the last verse.
For the Hymns “Veni Creator” and “Ave maris stella”, all kneel for the first verse and then stand for the remaining verses. For the Hymn “Vexilla regis”, all kneel for the sixth verse and then stand for the next and final verse.
The Cantors chant the versicle and all make the response.
The Celebrant intones the Magnificat Antiphon after which all continue singing the antiphon.
The MC lifting the Celebrant’s cope, the Cantors intone the Magnificat and all make the Sign of the Cross.
The Celebrant, MC, and Thurifer then immediately go to incense the altar as at Mass. The Celebrant says the entire Magnificat silently as he incenses the altar, after which he and the two servers go back to the lectern. At the lectern, the MC incenses the Celebrant (and any other coped ministers). The Thurifer then incenses the MC, the 2 Acolytes, others in choir, and finally the congregation just as during the Offertory at Mass. The Thurifer then stands in his place.
During the incensation, everyone else sings the Magnificat, alternating the verses between the two sides just as for the psalms. Following the last verse before the “Gloria Patri”, there is a pause to allow for the completion of the incensation. Once the congregation has been incensed, the Cantors intone the “Gloria Patri” and all bow. The Cantors’ side finishes that verse, and the opposite side sings the “Sicut erat…”. All then sing the Magnificat Antiphon again together in unison from the beginning.
The acolytes retrieve their candles again and go to the lectern and stand in the same places just as they did for the Chapter.
The Celebrant sings “Dominus vobiscum” and all reply “Et cum spiritu tuo”, and then he chants the Collect prayer to which all respond “Amen”. If there be any commemorations (see below), the acolytes remain as they are; if not, the Acolytes then return with their candles to the two opposite sides of the altar step and remain there standing, holding their candles.
If there be any Commemorations per the rubrics (e.g. Comm. of a Sunday superseded by a First Class Feast), following the Collect, the Celebrant immediately intone the Antiphon for the Commemoration, and all sing the remainder of the antiphon once through. The Cantors then chant the versicle (in the same simple tone as “Dominus vobiscum” not in the more elaborate tone from the earlier versicle after the Hymn) to which all make the corresponding response. The Celebrant, not saying “Dominus vobiscum” again, immediately says “Oremus” and chants the Collect for the Commemorated Feast or Sunday to which all respond “Amen”.
Following the Collect(s), the Celebrant again chants “Dominus vobiscum” to which all make the appropriate response.
The Cantors chant the “Benedicamus Domino” in the applicable tone, to which all respond in the same tone “Deo gratias”.
The Celebrant then says in a low, recto tono, slowly “Fidelium…”. The Sign of the Cross is not made at this point. Thus ends Solemn Vespers. All exit the Sanctuary or the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament may follow.
Non-Solemn Vespers may be sung or recited on any day of the year, with or without ordained clerics present.
Everything is the same as Solemn Vespers above, with the following exceptions:
There are no ministers or servers in the Sanctuary, no candles are lit, nor is incense employed.
Clergymen do not wear any vestments nor surplices; surplices are worn, however, if the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.
The role of the Celebrant above is assumed by the Officiant in Non-Solemn Vespers. The Officiant may be an ordained cleric or a layman since there is no liturgical ceremony.
The Cantors take on the same role as above for Solemn Vespers.
When chanting or reciting the Magnificat, there is no pause between the last verse and the “Gloria Patri”; the whole canticle is sung continously.
If the Officiant is not an ordained cleric, he says “Domine exaudi orationem meam” in place of “Dominus vobiscum” at the applicable times.