The Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, enriched by readings, is principally a prayer of praise and petition. It is the prayer of the Church with Christ and to Christ. The Liturgy of the Hours belongs to the whole body of the Church.
The season of Advent offers an opportunity for us to celebrate the Hours, most especially Evening Prayer: Vespers.
Vespers sets the approach of night within the context of Christian hope, and is marked by a strong sense of God’s mercy and hope for the coming of Christ.
The Structure of Vespers
The Prayer begins with the Sign of the Cross, a request for God’s assistance, and a doxology of praise.
The introduction is followed by a hymn suited to the season or event. Since the papal visit will take place during the Easter Season, the hymn will focus on the saving death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Singing or recitation of Psalms follows the hymn. At Evening Prayer, the psalmody consists of two psalms (or two parts of a longer psalm) and a canticle (or hymn) taken from the Epistles or the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. The Psalms are an important part of the Church’s prayer. In praying the Psalms, the Church follows Jesus’ example since he, too, prayed the Psalms (see, for example, Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 which quote Psalm 22 or Luke 23:46 which quotes Psalm 31). The New Testament canticles come from the earliest days of the Church.
Each Psalm is preceded by an antiphon. The antiphon calls attention to the spiritual meaning of the Psalm, particularly any meaning especially appropriate to the feast or season. When the Psalms are chanted, the antiphon gives the tone (or melody) for the singing.
Each Psalm is followed by a brief period of silent reflection. It may be followed by a short prayer highlighting important themes of the Psalm.
The Psalmody is followed by a reading from Sacred Scripture (the Bible). This reading may be followed by a period of silence or a brief reflection.
A short responsory is sung or recited. This responsory highlights themes of the reading or the season and concludes with a doxology of praise.
At Evening Prayer, those assembled sing or recite the Canticle of Mary, also called the Magnificat after the first word in the Latin text of this prayer. This canticle comes from Luke 1:46-55. Mary sang this song upon meeting her kinswoman Elizabeth, a meeting that took place shortly after Mary assented to God’s plan that she bear his Son, Jesus. This Canticle is treated with the reverence given to the reading of the Gospel at Mass. It is introduced with an antiphon and the Sign of the Cross and it concludes with a doxology of praise and the repeating of the antiphon. At celebrations of particular solemnity, it make be accompanied by incense.
In the Intercessions, those assembled pray for the needs of the Church and the world. These Intercessions often include a prayer for those who have died.
The Intercessions conclude with the Lord’s Prayer (also called the “Our Father” or the ” Pater Noster“). Jesus taught this prayer to his disciples when they asked how to pray (cf. Mt 6:9-13, Lk 11:2-4). In this prayer, the people join their voices to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom and to ask God to provide for our needs, forgive our sins, and bring us to the joy of heaven. Each day the Our Father is prayed by the Church at Morning Prayer, at Evening Prayer, and at Mass.
The celebrant then offers a final prayer of praise and intercession to God. This prayer is appropriate to the Church season.
Unless a layperson is presiding, the celebrant blesses the people and dismisses them from the celebration, inviting them to “Go in peace.” When a layperson presides, those present ask the blessing of God and are dismissed as usual.