A Vesper Book for Priests and Deacons

One of the perennial issues with creating liturgical books here at the MCI is the whole question of how many  books per service, and what goes in them.  A book with everything for the cantor and people?  Cantor music in a separate book?  What about a book without music for parishes that want to reduce printing costs?  And of course, what about all the priest’s prayers and the detailed rubrics – where do those go?

In the tradition of the Byzantine Rite, there is a fairly consistent answer: there is a book for the priest with all his prayers and exclamations, called the Liturgicon (liturgy book) or Sluzhebnik (service book).  There is a book with all the psalms and fixed hymns of the daily cycle, the Horologion or Chasoslov (both names mean “book of hours”).  There is a book with the Gospel readings, the Psalter with the complete set of psalms, one or two books with the other Scripture readings (the Apostolos/Apostol and Prophetologion / Paremenik), and one or more books with musical notation for the cantor or psalmist.

These books have been reorganized over the centuries, but the basic rule is clear: have a book with the parts you are going to need for the liturgical service, and watch or listen to the rest.

The MCI Vespers books have never included ALL the priest’s parts, or very detailed rubrics;  they rather assumed the clergy knew the services (not always a good assumption) and having the cantor flip past all the priest’s parts is a potential source of  confusion. We made available a little RTF file with the priest’s prayers, but it has long been out of date.

And so if it with great pleasure that I would like to announce a new series of books from the MCI: service books for Vespers and Matins (the principal services of the daily office that have a lot of content for the priest and deacon)., to serve until our church has official books to meet this need. My hope is that we can use this series of books to do some fine-tuning in advance of official books from our bishops.

The first book is the Clergy Service Book for Vespers.  This book is set up for printing on LETTER-SIZE (not legal-size) paper, in two colors.  If you take this file to a copy shop, you should be able to get a copy printed and coil or comb bound without great difficulty.  I will also see about making it available through the Byzantine Seminary Press, along with the MCI Vespers book for cantors and congregations.

What’s in the new book?

First of all, it has the office of Great Vespers (for Saturday evening and the eves of feasts), followed by the office of Daily Vespers.  These services are somewhat different:

  • Great Vespers has an entrance into the sanctuary, and ideally is celebrated with a deacon as well as a priest. There may be reading, Litija (a procession with prayers for the needs of the world), and the blessing of bread.
  • Daily Vesper is simpler, taking place before the Royal Doors. Usually the only celebrant is a priest.  The order of litanies is slightly different, and there are special endings on weekdays of the Great Fast and the minor fasts.

These two forms of Vespers are just different enough that writing them out separately simplifies the presentation quite a bit. On the other hand, putting them together in a single volume means that only one Vespers book is needed.

The Great Vespers part of the new book also includes rubrics for the celebration of Vespers with the Divine Liturgy, on both the feast-day vigils for which this service is apppointed, and for the Vigil Divine Liturgy when celebrated on Saturday evenings and the eves of feasts.  Surprisingly enough, though our green Divine Liturgies book for the cantor and people have their parts of this service, the priest’s Liturgikon does NOT. So this new book fills a gap there as well.

After the two forms of Vespers, there are special rules for Vespers in the days leading up to the Great Fast, and on the Sundays evenings in Lent; these Vespers services are halfway between regular and Lenten Vespers, and have some peculiarities of their own. Finally, there are rubrics for the All-Night Vigil, when Vespers is celebrated together with Matins, and for Vespers on Great and Holy Friday, with procession with the plashchanitza or burial shroud of Christ.

All of these services are in the Slavonic priest’s book, or Sluzhebnik, so it makes sense to have them here as well. One service is NOT included: Vespers on the Sunday of Pascha, and during Bright Week.  Official texts for Pascha are in preparation, but work on them is not yet complete, so in this one case I would rather wait and see them added in a later edition.

A few things were left out intentionally. For example, the text of Psalm 103 is NOT in this book, since the priest should be saying the Prayers of Light while the psalm is being chanted;  leaving it out means less to flip past, especially since the text of Psalm 103 differs depending on whether it is chanted or sung. I am sure that some priests would like it added, because they are used to taking the cantor’s part and singing parts of the services, either omitting their own prayers or praying them before Vespers. But honestly, this is an abuse, and one I would like to move out of – by making sure cantors and people can properly perform their own parts of Vespers! (And if the priest really DOES need them, he can keep a copy of the people’s Vespers book.)

We considered some formatting touches like colored backgrounds to mark optional parts of the service, but settled on a simpler system: horizontal lines show the start and end of optional sections, and wherever possible, these sections take up whole pages, so it is easy to flip past them whenever necessary.

All in all, I think this book for Vespers (and the one for Matins, in preparation) will fill a real need in our Church’s liturgical library until we have official books from our bishops. May that day come soon!

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