Vespers (even-song; Lat. vespera, ofcium vespertinum, lucernarium; Gr. λυχνικόν) is the worship canonically assigned to the hour of sunset or of lamp lighting, being the last but one of the seven canonical hours (q.v.). In significance the vesper service corresponds with the daily evening sacrifice of the Old-Test. cultus, but also with the descent of Christ from the cross, and it is supposed to coincide in time with the hour when the Lord's supper was instituted. From the fact that it is mentioned by the most ancient fathers, it is probable that the custom of holding an assembly for public worship at this time of the day is of very high antiquity. In the 4th century — perhaps in the 3nd — there was public evening service in the Eastern churches, as we learn from the Apostolical Constitutions. Cassian, in the beginning: of the 5th century, refers the evening and nocturnal assemblies of the Egyptians to the time of St. Mark the Evangelist. Vespers is the first addition to the original three hours of prayer known to Cyprian- tertius, sextus, and nonus (see Cyprian, De Orat. Dominica, s. fin.; Chrysostom, Hom. 59 ad Pop. Antioch.; and Jerome, Ep. 22 ad Eustoch. c. 37; comp. Da 6:11; Ac 2:15; Ac 3:1; Ac 10:9). The monastic rules of the 6th and 7th centuries had already increased the number of canonical hours of prayer to eight. The original form of the vesper service consisted of the singing of twelve psalms. This number was afterwards reduced to seven, four of which were assigned to the vesper service proper, to be sung antiphonally, and three to the Completorium. Benedict of Nursia (q.v.) adds to these psalms-the reading of a chapter of Scripture, a responsorium, the Ambrosian hymn and connected versicle, the Magnificato, and the Litany, the Lord's Prayer, and, the, closing prayer as constant elements of the vesper service. The non-monastic liturgy of the Western Church has a similar service, five psalms being prescribed instead of four — the number having reference to the five senses in man, and denoting also the inferior degree of perfection possessed by the secular clergy and the laity. The Roman Breviary makes vespers the exact counterpart of the Lauds (q.v.): five psalms with antiphones, a chapter from the Bible, a hymn, a versicle with responsorium, the Magnificat with antiphone, the daily prayers, with occasional commemorations, suffrages, and proeces. Vespers is the only portion of the canonically prescribed worship for each day which is constantly celebrated in the public services of the Romish Church. In the evangelical churches voices have been heard asking for a liturgical vesper service, particularly on great occasions, and especially in the Lutheran Church, and the demand has not been altogether unheeded in many quarters. See Evangel. Kirchenzeitung, 1861, p. 349 sq., 487 sq.; Hengstenberg, Vespergottesdienste (Berlin, 1861); Diedrich, Breviarium (ibid. s. a.); Herzog, Real-Encyclop. s.v.

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