Spanish Vespers…

Lumen Christi

This is the form of Spanish Vespers for the Sunday before Epiphany, as given in Bishop & Feltoe’s “The Mozarabic and Ambrosian Rites.” My own annotations are given with parenthesis.

Introductory: + In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, light with peace. R. Thanks be to God. V. The LORD be always with you. R. And with thy spirit.

Lucernarium: All the angels praised and hymned thee, LORD, when thou didst finish the firmament of heaven : the day is thine, and the night also is thine. P. [ie: pressa, or repetitio] Thou hast prepared the light and the sun. V. Thou didst divide the sea through thy power, thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou hast prepared the light and the sun.

[A Collect follows the Lucernarium. The text is not clear whether this is seasonal or votive, so I have substituted a Collect against nightly perils.]

Collect: O LORD, who hast preserved us during the labours of the day: guard us, we pray thee, through the dangers of the night, let thine Holy Spirit watch over us, and be now, and evermore, our defence. Through our LORD Jesus Christ thy Son, who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Sonus: Ride on, O LORD. P. Because of the word of truth, of meekness and righteousness. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. V. My heart is inditing of a good matter : I speak of the things which I have made unto the King. P. Because of the word of truth, of meekness and righteousness.

Antiphon: Rejoice ye with Jerusalem ; and be glad with her, all ye that love her. P. Rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her. V. Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem ; praise thy God, O Sion. P. Rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her. Glory and honour be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, forever and ever. Amen. P. Rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her.

Laudes: Alleluia. The Day-spring from on high hath visited us. P. To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. V. Like as we have heard, so have we seen ; in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God : God upholdeth the same for ever. P. To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia. V. Glory and honour be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen. P. To give light, &c. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Hymn: [I pasted the Latin text from here. The translation given in Bishop & Feltoe, by someone called G.R. Woodward, is awful. I got as far as “pilot of our barque,” Woodward’s rendering of gubernator, and thought it too affected and artificial. The Latin is simple enough for readers accustomed to the traditional hymns of the Roman Breviary.]

Agni genitor Domine:
Verbum natum de Virgine,
Conceptum sine semine,
Dux luminis, et fons vitæ:

Esto nobis in salutem
Filius Dei unice:
Gubernator Jesu Christe
Ad precem nostram aspice.

In mundum nobis missus es
Captivos repræsentare,
Lumen cæcis reformare,
Mutorum linguas solvere.

Ne nos relinquas, Domine
Omnium conditor pie,
Propitius miserore,
Qui nullum cupis perdere:

Rectorque mundi Domine
Salvator Unigenite,
Tu nos a morte protege,
Ut capti dulci opere.

Christus Dominus vigilet,
Fidesque nostra germinet,
Zabuli discedat munimen,
Non valeat subrepere.

Per Jesum Christum Dominum,
Qui regnat cum Deo Patre,
Et nos dignavit docere,
Credamus in Trinitate.

Trino Deo, ac Domino
Omnes dicamus gloriam:
Quia Pater in principio
Semper fuit cum Filio.

Supplicatio: Let us pray our LORD Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world, and with supplication beseech Him that He would grant to His Holy Catholic Church an increase of faith, peace and a firm defence. R. Grant this, Almighty and everlasting God. Kyrie eleison. R. Christe eleison. R. Kyrie eleison.

Oratio completoria. O God, without beginning and without end, the Author of the earthly universe : grant to us that we, who have dedicated to thee the beginning of this year, may pass through it unto the end in such prosperity as is pleasing unto thyself, and let our light shine in works of holiness. R. Amen.

The LORD’s Prayer.

Embolismus. Delivered from evil, and strengthened always in good, may we be made to serve thee our LORD and God. Put an end, O LORD, to our sins ; give joy to the sorrowing : grant release to the captives, health to the sick, rest to the dead. Give peace and safety in all our days ; break the insolence of our foes ; hear, O LORD, the prayer of thy servants and of all faithful Christians, this day and every day. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our LORD, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God for ever and ever. R. Amen.

Benediction: (the Deacon): Bow down yourselves for a blessing. (Priest): The LORD be always with you. R. And with thy spirit. O LORD Jesus Christ, who is the Crown of all the Church, which was formed out of himself, grant us to pass this year in peace. R. Amen. May he gladden us with the fruits of the earth, and grant us strength to gather them. R. Amen. That we may without harm pass through the circle of the year rejoicing in such prosperity as is pleasing unto him. R. Amen. Through his mercy, who liveth and governeth all things, and is blessed for evermore. R. Amen.

Laudes. Alleluia. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them. P. And the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. Alleluia. Alleluia. V. O be joyful in the LORD, all ye lands ; serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with song. P. And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. V. Glory and honour be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost for ever and ever. Amen. P. And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.

Collect: Only begotten Son of the unbegotten Father, dispel from us the sleep of the body and mercifully spare our offences ; that that which is now sown in the weakness of our vile body, by the gift of thy divinity may rise in glory : do thou, therefore, O LORD, bestow an abundant assistance on all that trust in thee, and by the overshadowing of thy wings draw us to our fatherland on high. R. Amen. Through our LORD, &c.

[The following is said daily.]

Laudes: In the evening, and in the morning, and at noonday. P. We praise thee, O LORD.

Collect: O LORD, Almighty, who hast commanded us to call the evening, the morning, and the noonday one day ; and hast made the sun to know his going down : dispel, we beseech thee, the darkness from our hearts, that by thy light we may know thee to be the true God and eternal light. R. Amen. Through thy mercy, O our God, who livest and reignest and governest all things, and art blessed for evermore. R. Amen.

Conclusion: +In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, let us go forth in peace. R. Thanks be to God.

It would appear on first reading that this was a service of evening prayer without any psalms at all! But this is by no means the case. Notice that all the versicles begin with a verse of a Psalm, e.g: “Like as we have heard,” which is from Psalm 48. This demonstrates that the custom was to sing the whole psalm intercalating the refrain after every verse, as opposed to the Roman tradition of antiphons before and after each psalm. The Trinitarian doxology takes a unique form too, with the addition of “honour.” This was apparently enjoined by the fourth Synod of Toledo (633), but is also found in the Ambrosian Rite, and doubtless elsewhere too. Given that this Sunday precedes Epiphany, it’s interesting that the rite makes reference to the new year. Clearly the custom of marking new year’s day on 1st January was in use. Notice also the conspicuous absence of the Magnificat, which hitherto I had thought of as the evening hymn par excellence. Given what I had said in the previous post about secular vs monastic praxis, it’s interesting that Spanish Vespers usually only required one or two complete psalms (usually chosen to compliment the theme of the service rather than a monastic “course”). Compare Anglican Evensong.

My impression of this particular service is that it is very cyclical. There are constant repetitions of the themes of light and darkness, beginning and end, vis-à-vis the Lucernarium and the Oratio Completoria. The Collect given before the conclusion encapsulates these themes, and indeed the meaning of all evening prayer. It takes the theme of the whole day, beginning at evening (very important) up to the noonday in the cycle inclusively, and then combines these elements of time, as betokened by the celestial bodies, with the theology of the “sun of righteousness” at the end of prophecy (Malachi 4:2); that as we mark the going down of the sun with the kindling of lamps (the symbol of the Lucernarium), so we are mindful of the darkness of our own hearts and hope in the true light of God’s countenance. In a sense, it goes from nature to theology and thence to eschatology. It’s very clever, and I’ve found this to be a hallmark of other Spanish Collects, and indeed some of the better Roman ones too.

As to what form the Lucernarium took, it’s difficult to say with certainty. Gregory Woolfenden was of the opinion that it was like a miniature vesperal liturgy from Holy Saturday, with a ceremonial offering of light (the “oblatio luminis”) at the altar, perhaps with an accompanying blessing and the ceremonial kindling of candles around the church. The Ambrosian Rite retains such a ceremony at Vespers to this day and there are parallels all over the place. Egeria spoke of what she knew to be the “Lucernare” at home in her travels; in Byzantine Vespers there is the hymn O Gladsome Light, &c. Ultimately, the ethos of the rite was to begin the day, not to conclude it.

As Tolkien once said, in the series Pater ad filium natu (sed haud alioquin) minimum, I’d pay a bit for a time machine!

Image: Stolen shamelessly from my friend Rubricarius. It depicts the last remnant of lucernaria in the Roman Rite, in the vesperal liturgy of Holy Saturday – ruined, of course, by Pius XII.


5 thoughts on “Spanish Vespers…

  1. “the ethos of the rite was to begin the day, not to conclude it”. Seems very true.
    This is a fascinating glimpse into a deep past. From the overarching imagery, particularly at the beginning and the end, do you think it is true to say that in some sense the whole of these Vespers are a kind of extended lucernarium?
    I was awakened to the idea of the lucernarium, attending Vespers in the church at the top of Mont Saint-Michel, years ago. The community there sang the hymn O pere des lumieres at the beginning of Vespers while lighting the candles. Only the deep blue of the evening sky was visible through the plain glass gothic windows high up in the choir.


    • Thank you for commenting Dr Graham.

      I first encountered the Lucernarium when I read Egeria for the first time at Heythrop, and I was fascinated. I remember I tried to convey my impression to a friend at the time, himself very devoted to the Novus Ordo and the “spirit of Vatican II,” and he wasn’t moved in the slightest. What strikes me as odd, looking back, was when he told me (at another time) of how moved he was at his chaplaincy’s “paschal vigil,” as the candles were all being lit. Far be it from me to pooh pooh somebody else’s piety but it seems to me that his is just sentimentalism based on a rite constructed 50 years ago; mine is a fascination with a curious piece of liturgical history, and a sense of regret that it was lost. And the times! Time is so important liturgically, and the Lucernarium is a symbol of time (among other things). When I say that people or whole institutions are aliturgical, I mean precisely that they are as indifferent to liturgy as most British people are to religion; that is to say, it’s something that, if you raised publicly, people would probably shy away from you. Does Cardinal Sarah know what the Lucernarium is?

      I agree with your assessment of Vespers being an extended Lucernarium. Vespers here begins “lumen cum pace” and ends in peace, which the world cannot give (John 14:27). I like to imagine faithful coming to church as the sun sets with lamps and going home after their evensong with the lamps lighted from the ceremonial fire. At any rate, that’s how Gwindor got out of Angband – by using a mystical lamp.

      I’ve never been to Mont Saint-Michel but your vivid description makes me think it might be worth a visit. Are they Benedictine monks?


  2. The Abbey is a strange place, eerie in its mudflats. It is built in stories as it must be on the top of the hill, rather than spread out. The refectory is one of the most beautifully constructed rooms I have ever seen. The guided tours are very good & give one a real sense of what the life of the place once was. I felt a terrible sense of the loss when I was there, an ancient & holy place of pilgrimage which is reduced to something to be “done” by tourists. The community are there on sufferance, permitted by the French state, but live in the lower town and use the church a couple of times a day.
    They are a modern French outfit:
    I am not sure how you would find Vespers there. I was unprepared for their version of the lucernarium and found the hymn very beautiful. The abbey church has a Romanesque nave, looking up the steps into a towering Gothic choir. This kind of gives the idea –


    • I have been to the Mont Saint Michel twice, always in January and February to avoid the crowds. One does have an impression that the religious community is little more than a tenant looking after a museum. However, it is all fascinating and a reflection of the medieval class system.


  3. Pingback: Spanish Mass… | Patrick's Blog

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