Vespers is the daily evening prayer of the Church. The roots of this prayer stretch back to the Jewish synagogue and temple, where it began as a practice to connect the Diaspora to the evening sacrifice held at the unique temple in Jerusalem. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians gathered at regular intervals to sing God’s praises, especially through the use of Psalms. The collection of these prayers, known as the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) in the West, form the ornate setting in which is placed the daily celebration of the Eucharist, as the pinnacle of the liturgy.
According to the Second Vatican Council, the liturgy is an enactment of “the priestly role of Jesus Christ,” a “complete and definitive public expression” of the “mystical body of Jesus Christ.” [Sacrosanctum Concilium 7] Thus, “the liturgy is…the high point towards which the activity of the church is directed [ibid. 10], culminating in the Holy Eucharist, “the source and summit,” of the Church’s divine life [Lumen Gentium 11].
When we bear in mind that the Mystical Body of Christ includes all the saints who have gone before us, we come to some startling realizations. The liturgy is something going on all the time, in the heavenly courts, with the saints and angels singing God’s praises. When we sing the liturgy together, we enter into this reality. That is to say, we don’t do liturgy ourselves; we join something already in progress. “We are singing the hymn of God’s glory with all the troops of the heavenly army [SC 8].”
Good liturgy, then, must begin with listening to our forebears in the faith. It need not be a rote repetition of puzzling formulas, but at the same time, we are not the creators of the liturgy, but the receivers, and, after the profound experience of being transformed by what we have received, the transmitters of what we have received to the next generation.
It is a special blessing for us to be joined this evening by Chicago Men’s A Cappella, adding the later polyphonic settings of liturgical texts proper to the Solemnity of the Ascension.
—Fr. Peter Funk, OSB