The Church makes a solemn celebration of Vespers because Abraham and the other patriarchs before the Law, and the priests and prophets under the Law, all offered sacrifices in the evening; and the Lord gave his Body to his disciples while dining in the evening. The five psalms of this hour signify the five wounds of Christ who sacrificed himself for us in the evening of this world. The verse indicates this meaning: Let my prayer rise to your presence as incense, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice (Psalm 140). With the twelfth hour the day comes to a close, and when the work is done the laborers receive their denarius (Matthew 20). Further, it can be understood as the end of each person’s life, when each will be given the reward he merited.
On the Five Psalms of Vespers
Five psalms are sung because the five senses will be rewarded for their labor. The hymn that follows is understood to be the praise of victory, because just as the laborers in the Gospel gave thanks after receiving their reward, so the saints will be glad in eternal glory after the world has been defeated. The chapter spurs them to rise and meet the coming Lord. In the following verse, it is as if they knock on the door and ask to be let in. Having lit the lamps of good works they enter into the joy of their Lord with the five virgins (Matthew 25).
On the “Magnificat” Canticle
Thus their “souls do magnify the Lord” with the canticle of Holy Mary, and their “spirit rejoices in the Lord who has done great things for them,” whose mercy endures forever.
On the Collect
The collect that follows is a blessing by which each receives the Lord’s blessing. When Vespers of the preceding day is being sung, then it denotes the time of the present life, because from the beginning of the world the day has preceded and the night has followed, signifying that the joy of paradise came first and then—alas!—death has pursued man ever since. But when it is Vespers of the following day, it signifies the happiness of the coming life, because ever since Christ’s resurrection night has gone and the day follows, signifying that after their death in the flesh believers will be granted the day of eternal life.
CAP. LXII. – De Vespera.
Vesperam ideo Ecclesia solemniter celebrat, quia Abraham et alii patriarchae ante legem, sacerdotes et prophetae sub lege, sacrificia ad vesperam offererant; et dominus in vespera coenans corpus suum discipulis tradebat. Quinque autem psalmi huius horae quinque vulnera Christi significant, qui se vespera mundi pro nobis sacrificabat. Hoc et versus insinuat. Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum in conspectu tuo. Elevatio manuum mearum sacrificium vespertinum (Psal. CXL). Duodecima hora dies clauditur, et operariis iam peracto opere denarius dabitur (Matth. XX). Finis autem uniuscuiusque intelligitur, cum pro transacta vita merces cuique redditur.
De quinque psalmis ad Vesperas.
Ideo quinque Psalmi canuntur, quia pro labore quinque sensus remunerabuntur. Hymnus qui subiungitur, laus victoriae accipitur; quia sicut illi post laborem adepta mercede gratulantur, ita isti post devictum mundum pro aeterna gloria iucundantur. Hos capitulum excitat, ut surgentes venienti Domino occurrant; per versum, qui sequitur, quasi ostium pulsant, et sibi aperiri postulant. Accensis autem bonorum operum lampadibus in gaudium Domini sui intrant cum quinque virginibus (Matth. XXV).
De cantico « Magnificat. »
Unde cum cantico sanctae Mariae anima illorum Dominum magnificat, et spiritus illorum in Domino exsultat, qui fecit eis magna, cuius misericordia est in saecula.
Oratio quae sequitur est benedictio qua quisque a Domino benedicitur. Cum vespera de praecedenti die cantatur, tunc praesentis vitae tempus denotatur; quia ab initio mundi dies praecessit, nox sequebatur, significans quod gaudium paradisi praecessit: mors hominem, heu! sequebatur. Cum vero de sequenti die celebratur, tunc futurae vitae laetitia designatur, quia a Christi resurrectione nox praecedit, dies sequitur, designans quod post mortem carnis dies vitae dabitur credentibus.
On the Little Office of Mary
We sing the Office of Our Lady or of All Saints out of devotion, not because any law obliges us, so that, because like worthless servants we have carelessly discharged the service we owe, we offer gifts to the friends of Our Lord, so that through them we might render our service acceptable and obtain grace from Our Lord.
On the Blessing of Food and the Table Reading
The custom of blessing food and giving thanks after a meal began with Our Lord who blessed five loaves and said a hymn after the Last Supper. Reading at table was instituted by Augustine, who desired that our minds should be refreshed along with our bodies, because man lives not by bread alone, but by the word of God (Matthew 4).
On the Collation
That religious gather for the collation is a custom that comes from the holy fathers, who used to come together in the evening to discuss the Scriptures. The discussions they had were called collationes, and thus these texts, similar to their discussions, are read at the collation.
CAP. LXIII. – De cursu sanctae Mariae.
Cursum de sancta Maria vel de omnibus sanctis nulla lege constricti, sed ob devotionem canimus, ut, quia servi inutiles debitum servitium negligenter persolvimus; munera amicis Domini nostri offerimus, ut per eos obsequium nostrum acceptabile faciamus, et gratiam Domini nostri obtineamus.
De benedictione cibi, et lectione.
Consuetudo cibum benedicendi, vel post cibum gratias agendi ab ipso Domino coepit, qui quinque panes benedixit, et post coenam hymnum dixit. Legere autem ad mensam sanctus Augustinus institituit, qui mentes cum corporibus refici voluit, quia non in solo pane, sed in verbo Dei homo vivit (Matth. IV).
Quod religiosi ad collationem conveniunt, hoc a sanctis patribus acceperunt, qui in vesperis solebant in unum convenire, et de Scripturis insimul conferre, et quae ipsi tunc invicem contulerunt, collationes dicebantur, et haec his similia ad collationem leguntur.
On Compline and theEvening and Morning Confession
We make the confession at Compline to wash away whatever sin we have committed during the day. We do it at Prime to punish whatever sins we committed during the night. It is called Compline because it brings our daytime service to a close. Since during the night our body is bereft of the human senses, so in this hour we commit it more earnestly to God. We sing four psalms because we are composed of the four elements.
On the Hymn “Te lucis”
In this hymn we ask for victory over the phantasies of the night. In the verse we seal ourselves, as the apple of his eye, with the sign of divine protection.
On the “Nunc dimittis”
In the Nunc dimittis we desire God’s peace and light.
On the “Pater noster”
In the Lord’s prayer and the symbol of faith we strengthen ourselves against our enemies.
On the “Credo”
We say the Pater noster and Credo at Prime because we begin all our works through Christ in whom we believe. We say the same prayers at Compline, because we conclude our daily works in him. Compline, which is sung at the time when day is taken away by night, recalls to our mind the time when our life is taken away by death. We begin with Converte nos so that we may be converted from evil and God’s anger may be turned away from us. And because we put no trust in our merits, we invoke God through the verse Deus, in adiutorium meum intende.
Then we sing the psalm Cum invocarem (Psalm 4), which sings of the Lord’s death on Holy Saturday, so that when we fall asleep in death, we may rest in the peace that is Christ. Next we sing In te, Domine (Psalm 30), which Our Lord sang from the cross, when he breathed his last and commended his spirit into his Father’s hands, so that he may be pleased to receive our spirit when we die. Next we add Qui habitat (Psalm 90), in which we sing of the temptation and passion of Our Lord, so that the Lord may save us during the night from the temptation of the asp and the basilisk, and deliver us from the attacks of the lion and the dragon. Next we sing Ecce nunc (Psalm 133), so that we may be blessed in the house of the Lord. In the hymn, chapter, and verse we ask for victory, so that we may triumph in Christ who has conquered the world. In the canticle of Simeon we ask for peace, so that just as Simeon entered the peace of eternal life after he saw Christ the light (Luke 2), so after the light of faith we may enter into the peace of eternal rest.
CAP. LXIV. – De Completorio et de confessione sero et mane.
Ad completorium ideo confessionem agimus, ut quidquid in die commisimus, diluamus. Ad primam vero ideo agimus, ut quidquid in nocte peccavimus, puniamus. Completorium inde dicitur, quod diurna servitus nostra per hoc completur. Et quia corpus nostrum in nocte ab humanis sensibus destituitur, ideo per hanc horam intentius Deo committitur. Ideo autem quatuor psalmos, quia ex quatuor elementis subsistimus.
De hymno « Te lucis.»
Per hymnum victoriam de nocturnis illusionibus rogamus: per versum nos signaculo divinae custodiae quasi pupillam oculi sigillamus.
De « Nunc dimittis. »
Per Nunc dimittis pacem et lucem Dei optamus.
De « Pater noster. »
Per Dominicam orationem et symbolum fidei nos ab hostibus firmamus.
De « Credo. »
Ad Primam ideo Pater noster, et Credo in Deum dicimus, quia cuncta opera per Christum incipimus, in quem credimus. Ad Completorium eadem dicimus, quia diurnas operationes in eo concludimus. Per completorium enim, quod tunc canitur cum dies a nocte excipitur, illud tempus nobis ad memoriam reducitur cum vita nostra a morte praecipitur. Ideo per Converte nos inchoamus, ut a malis convertamur, et ira Dei a nobis avertatur. Et quia de meritis desperamus, Deum per versum Deus, in adiutorium meum intende invocamus.
De Completorio, « Cum invocarem.»
Tunc psalmum Cum invocarem (Psal. IV), qui de morte Domini in Sabbato sancto psallitur, cantamus, quatenus in morte dormientes in pace, quae est Christus, quiescamus. Deinde In te, Domine (Psal. XXX) scilicet canimus, quem Dominus in cruce cantavit, cum iam exspirans spiritum in manus patris commendavit, ut tunc spiritum nostrum suscipere velit. Hinc Qui habitat (Psal. XC) subiungimus, quem de tentatione vel passione Domini canimus, quatenus tempore nocturno ab aspidis et basilisci tentatione Dominus nos eruat, et a leonis et draconis incursione eripiat. Deinde Ecce nunc (Psal. CXXXIII) psallimus, quatenus in domo Domini benedici possimus. In hymno, capitulo et versu victoriam poscimus, ut in Christo, qui vicit mundum, triumphemus. In cantico Simeonis pacem rogamus, ut, sicut Simeon (Luc. II), postquam lumen Christum vidit, pacem vitae intravit, ita nos post lumen fidei intremus pacem requiei.