by V.G.L.

Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1941

All rights reserved


"V.G.L." are the initials for VILMA G. LITTLE.  Among other things, she wrote THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE - An Introduction to the Meaning and Use of the Divine Office  (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1957),  music for various liturgies (CANTATE DOMINO and LAUDATE DOMINUM) and also a text book in liturgical Latin and chant for teachers and students (THE CHANT).  She was a great proponent of liturgical life and was among the friends of the Abbess of Stanbrook Abbey, Dame Laurentia McLachlan, OSB.

ORATIO VESPERTINA is an unusual text. Its purpose was to fill a need of those

 "who, while wishing to pray with the Church, yet either for lack of knowledge, time or strength are unable to undertake the daily recital of the Divine Office and so have little practical opportunity of becoming familiar with the chief source of Christian mystical prayer, the psalms of David." (Preface).

It is a simple office "intended to be used as a form of night-prayers", though it is hardly the Compline which was then, or is now, the standard night prayer of the Church.  And it is more unusual as it borrows elements from other Western traditions (e.g., the Lucernarium from Ambrosian Rite Vespers;  also from the Ambrosian Rite office are the Little Chapter and the Final Prayer).  The English translation is by the compiler.  The book does not "look like" a breviary, but demonstrates clearly that liturgical prayer does not need a leather cover, red and black printing, gold edges or ribbons.  Stanbrook Abbey Press, as part of Stanbrook Abbey, long associated with liturgy and liturgical renewal, took another step in making liturgical prayer more readily available to those who were overwhelmed by one or more of several reasons which prevented them from using a breviary (cost, among them).  ORATIO VESPERTINA is a book and looks like a book, well made, simple yet beautiful. 

It was published after several years of "trial" use, and had initially (in 1928) been encouraged by the liturgical scholar and authority, the Abbot of Farnsborough, Dom Fernand Cabrol, OSB.  Its delay in actual publication (1941) was due, among other reasons, to the effects of the Great Depression, but at the start of World War II, it was offered to the public as an aid to prayer in a chaotic world. (The same sentiment was made by Abbot Alcuin Deutsch, OSB, of St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, in the preface to the first edition of A SHORT BREVIARY in 1941).

Although it is only a "one-hour" (e.g., night prayer) office, all the elements of office liturgy are included: psalms, reading, prayer, hymn, versicles and responses.  There are additional elements, such as the Lucernarium (from the Ambrosian Rite), the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed (and even an Ave Maria as an optional silent introductory prayer).  All of these, combined with a rich selection of psalms and antiphons, serve to make this text much more than a "night prayer".  For anyone unfamiliar with the complexity and/or length of the many offices (even today) of the complete breviary or Liturgy of the Hours, ORATIO VESPERTINA was (and is) a fine introduction to the prayer of the Church.  It may well have been "unofficial", but it was given its approval for publication by an imprimatur, and deserves certainly to be included among the many "short" breviaries used by lay people and religious during the 20th century.  It is, in many ways, an excellent and decidedly creative compilation:  it takes some of the best of several traditions and provides, as a result, a link to the official Divine Office, and certainly an awareness that borrowings can be made from other liturgical rites.  One of the attractive elements of the text is its balance between unchanging and changeable texts.  The only elements which change from day to day are the antiphons and psalms.  Everything else remains the same each day.

The focus of ORATIO VESPERTINA is on Christ as the LIGHT who destroys the darkness of the night, and of sin.  Again and again, by text and by emphasis of certain words, the compiler stresses this.  In the English translation, the word LIGHT is generally capitalized;  this is also true of many of the Latin words which mean light (e.g., illuminatio, lux, etc.)

It's true that the text can be used privately, as can any breviary or office book.  But, this text emphasizes, not only in word, but also in layout and design, that ORATIO VESPERTINA is best used in a group, in common.  The nature of the office as the common prayer of the church is stressed, as it should be.

When the book was published, Latin was the only language used in the official liturgies of the Roman Rite.  The compiler provides both Latin (the psalms are the Vulgate version) and English texts, partly to familiarize the user with Latin, and partly to underscore the point that a translation, no matter how good, cannot provide the exact sense of the meaning of the original language.  In the compiler's mind, the Latin text served several purposes;  one of them was its ideal role in group prayer. 

There are some who insist that only "official" texts are proper liturgical prayer.  This text, though long out of print in 1963, is certainly among those "little offices" the Constitution on the Liturgy accepted as "official".  And its value today may well be as a source of inspiration for other compilers of office prayer.  The very same rationale for the compilation of the book (in 1928 or so) is valid today (see above).


The Ordo, or Ordinary  (the unchanging order and parts of this prayer) is here.

The Psalm Scheme and the Antiphons are here.

Return to the Home Page here.

Added January 12, 2001