Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies of the canonical hours. The word comes from Latin vesper, meaning "evening." The term is also used in some Protestant denominations to describe evening services.
The general structure of the Roman Catholic service of vespers is as follows:
- Vespers opens with the singing or chanting of the words Deus in adiutorium meum intende; Domine ad adiuvandum me festina. (O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.)
- A hymn is then sung;
- Anywhere from two to four psalms are then sung, with the psalms concluding in a doxology and answered by an antiphon.
- After the psalms, there is a reading from the New Testament.
- Following the reading, the participants sing the Magnificat, the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Gospel of Luke I:46-55.
- Then a litany is recited, the Lord's Prayer, and a closing prayer.
The general structure of the Eastern Orthodox service of vespers is as follows (psalm numbers are according to Greek usage):
- Vespers opens with the Trisagion and then the Proemial Psalm 103 (Bless the Lord, O my soul; O Lord my God, Thou hast been magnified exceedingly).
- Psalm 140 (Lord I have cried unto Thee), 141, 129, and 116 are chanted in the tone of the week. Starting with the last two verses of Psalm 141, verses about the feast day (or Christ's resurrection on a Saturday evening) are chanted alternately with the verses.
- The hymn "O Joyous Light" is sung.
- The Prokeimena are chanted.
- The prayer "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this evening without sin" is read.
- The Aposticha are chanted. These are verses that teach about the feast day (or on a Saturday evening, Christ's resurrection).
- The Prayer of Saint Symeon (Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace) is read.
- The closing prayers are read.
The psalms and hymns of the Vespers service have attracted the interest of many composers, including Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
From the traditional Christian Vespers, the term has come to be used more broadly for various evening services. In Unitarian Universalism, vespers often include congregational singing, readings, and a period of silent meditation, contemplation, or prayer.
Some regular community vespers services are completely areligious (or at least are not sponsored by any church) and serve simply as a time for quiet contemplation in the evening hours.