How do you encourage people to attend Sunday Vespers?
  • philip_1515
    Posts: 6
    Our parish has both the EF and OF, with EF being primary. We have been doing Sunday EF Vespers for some time but it has always been difficult to get people to come along and then keep them coming. Originally it was Vespers chanted without organ, but recently we found an organist to accompany the chant and Vespers finishes with Benediction now. There are about six of us who chant from the sanctuary, two cantors alternate with everyone else singing the other verse. The laity are encouraged to join in with the singing.

    What are ways you have found to encourage people to attend Vespers and Benediction? Then secondly, how do you keep people coming back?

    We put out Vespers booklets from Gregorian-chant-hymns but I am thinking new typeset booklets with the English and Latin might be easier for people to read and follow. If you have already done the work please let me know! I have no experience with the chant writing software. I am hoping the addition of Benediction will help. I have also thought of giving some instruction about how to pray the psalms before hand. Any other tips or advice would be much appreciated!

    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Philip,

    Welcome to the comment side of the forum.

    Albert Bloomfield has a large cache of these Vespers materials. There are many ways to get in touch with him, but the easiest is

    https://asbloomf.github.io/

    I have a small suggestion: invite specific people. They will invite other people.
  • GerardH
    Posts: 144
    Perhaps those with experience in Anglican or Ordinariate usages could enlighten us on how they attract congregations to Evensong? I too am interested in what advice forum-members could give.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Gerard,

    For reasons I don't understand, Anglicans sing more easily than many Catholics do in this country. Asking them how to attract people to Vespers is like asking a man who hears how to hear. It comes so naturally (I'm a former Episcopalian). Many Catholics do sing, but chanting is an unusual experience.
  • rarty
    Posts: 96
    Philip, that sounds like a pretty great set up for Vespers, with organ, choir, and benediction. I suppose that runs about 45 minutes to an hour? Is it before or after an evening mass?

    Spending some time before or after the service to familiarize people with the book/booklet can go a long way to increasing their interest in coming back. If you can, having some of your choir sit among the congregation might help with cuing them to sing the psalms. The Latin verses, especially if you sing at “seminary pace” with a smaller crowd can be intimidating.

    My parish (FSSP) has used booklets, but for the past year have used books (I made these in two volumes: Advent to Pentecost and After Pentecost). Whatever is used, it helps to have everyone using the same resource.

    Attendance and participation are not great in comparison with even weekday mass, or I should say it varies widely. You almost have to organize your Sunday around it, which can be a tough sell for many that would otherwise be enthusiastic about it. I have considered if a longer service, perhaps with Eucharistic adoration and a rosary before benediction might be more popular, especially if it can begin in the afternoon instead of after dark (in Winter especially).
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • philip_1515
    Posts: 6
    Albert Bloomfield has a large cache of these Vespers materials. There are many ways to get in touch with him, but the easiest is

    https://asbloomf.github.io/


    Amazing resource Chris thank you so much! Its amazing, I have trawled the internet for years looking for something like this. I should I should have posted a comment years ago!

    I have a small suggestion: invite specific people. They will invite other people.


    Yes that is a good idea. There is a small group of regulars who come, I will try asking them to invite others as well. It is true direct invitation does seem to work much better than just notices in the parish newsletter and even better than the Priest announcing it from the pulpit. During Covid we are having to register everyone coming into the Church, I always have the opportunity to catch them after Mass and ask them to come along.

    I suppose that runs about 45 minutes to an hour? Is it before or after an evening mass?


    Thats pretty spot on with the timing Rarty. Last Sunday we were pretty spot on 45mins. There is a 6:00pm Mass so it is important to finish by 5:50pm, but so far that hasn't been a problem. Worse case scenario is that Mass starts 5mins late which is not a big deal.

    I like your other suggestions as well. Explaining the booklet before hand. We were using the Vespers books from Angelus Press, but I just found for people unfamiliar with Vespers even the very little page flipping involved was just too much. I have opted to print the booklets on Gregorian-chant-hymns.com with the appropriate propers sheet. It seems to make people feel more at ease.

    I like the idea of having some stronger singers spread around. Not many members of our choir attend Vespers at this stage. Its held together by the religious community. It would be good if I could encourage some of them to come along.

    I spoke to some of our regulars who do come to find out what attracts them and why they think others do not come. They were attracted by the idea they are praying with the rest of the Church, and they think that people just don't understand what its all about. One of them suggested putting together a small trifold brochure explaining what Vespers is, its parts, a little explanation on praying the psalms, and how to pray it fruitfully, so I am in the middle of putting something together which can be handed out to parishioners after Mass. A hurdle is the latin and a lack of understanding, but I figure for those who struggle with it, they can be encouraged to follow the English if they wish.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,914
    philip_1515 - Does the 'religious community' routinely celebrate parts of the daily office in the church?
  • philip_1515
    Posts: 6
    a_f_hawkins only Sunday Vespers. The community is only 'religious' in so far as we are Catholic. We ordinarily do not say the Office in common.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,914
    I wonder how many people in the parish regularly say part of the Office privately. The small parish in which I live has one or two lay members of Third Orders, with an obligation to the Office, and there are, or were, others who were assiduous.
    The Church of England had a rule that a curate* must say Morning and Evening Prayer in his church every day, and have a bell tolled to give people time to gather. (*curate = whoever has a cure of souls, ie the pastor). I have seen that it only took two lay people able to commit to regular celebration, that is enough to sustain a daily Morning Prayer (OF) before Mass which will attract a small number of parishoners. Even better if a member of the clergy, who after all is obliged to say the Office, were to normally participate (or lead).
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 271
    We had better luck with attendance on days when it was Vespers+Benediction+Something Special.

    –Corpus Christi we have a big procession from the Catholic school to the church, and that pulls probably 125-175.
    –Our pastor wanted his 50th anniversary to be celebrated at Vespers, after a big banquet. That had probably north of 250, but that’s counting the many priests and relations who came down.
    –At our parish picnic, we sang Vespers before dinner. Not the fanciest occasion, but hundreds belting out the Mundelein service outdoors was quite thrilling, and it was much better than an outdoor Mass for no good reason (which the committee initially wanted)

    On other occasions, when it’s just straight Vespers and Benediction on a Sunday afternoon, we still only see 80ish, or about the same crowd as Advent and Lent Compline.

    It seems to me the problem is twofold:

    1) Inconvenient time; 4p on a Sunday is so handy for lawnmowing, napping, sports, being with family, etc.

    2) Vespers is not obligatory; centuries of believing that the sum of Christian life is to “show up for low Mass for 45 minutes on a Sunday, or else you go to hell” doesn’t really give a reason to come back later that day if you don’t have to.
  • philip_1515
    Posts: 6
    We used to have Vespers at 4pm, but here in the subtropics it was unbearable during the summer heat. Also not much time between lunch. The regulars so far have all been commenting on how much easier it is now that its at 5pm.

    The Latin mentality of reducing everything to its bare minimal legalism has done abit of damage in this regard. If you are going to Mass primarily to avoid hell, you're probably not going to bother showing up for Vespers. In some places I am sure a culture shift is/was necessary, that we should go to Mass and Vespers for that matter not primarily because we don't want to go to hell, but because we are excited and happy to give worship, praise, and petition to God. A way forward does seem to promote the positive aspects. This obviously needs to be tackled in many ways, but I am hoping a brochure I am putting together explaining why the Divine Office is different from private prayer and why it is important will encourage people to come along because they want to.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,809
    We are an OF parish that has EF Vespers, we originally had monastic Vespers, but swopped to the Roman use many years ago.

    We too do not have a great attendance, sometimes we have more people in choir than in the congregation. Vespers even on a Sunday has a number of problems,
    1. For many Catholics Sunday is no longer a special day where we spend the day in the service of God.
    2. The invention of Sunday evening Mass makes fitting in Vespers difficult. We have Vespers at 5pm, followed by Benediction then the evening Mass at 6pm.
    3. Saturday evening Mass pretending to be Sunday, gives too many people the option of avoiding the house of God on Sundays.
    4. Because our EF community travel from some distance it is not easy for them to travel back to the church for Vespers.

    Our former parish priest would regularly ask people to come back, and was not successful. He also tried to have a rota of the OF altar boys to come back and serve, this worked for a while but still meant only 1 or two extra families coming.

    Having a parish lunch after Mass, followed by an activity followed by Vespers works but can you really do that every Sunday? We are left with setting an example that Vespers is important and hopefully the next generation will consider making more of an effort.
    Thanked by 2philip_1515 Elmar
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,914
    philip_1515 - I hope you are successful. I agree with tomjaw, persistence is needed to change parish habits.
    In England 70 years ago most parishes had Sunday Vespers. I do not know that it attracted large crowds, but they were sufficient. Looking back to 1868 I see in a two priest parish -
    SUNDAYS : 8, Low Mass; 9, ditto; 11, High Mass and Sermon.
    AFTERNOON : 3, Catechism. EVENING : 6, Complin, Benediction, and Instruction.
    Both the Church and the world changed to destroy this pattern; the church because the relaxation of the Eucharistic Fast made it possible to celebrate Mass later in the day, and congregations were larger than for Vespers; the world, because 70 years ago shops were closed all Sunday, pubs and bars were closed from 2pm to 7pm, TV stations did not broadcast on Sunday afternoon, and most housholds owned no motor vehicle. By the start of Vatican II, Vespers had largely been displaced, and secular counter-attractions were multiplying rapidly.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,452
    I like the idea of inviting specific people who will invite others.

    The other thing I have realized is that (perhaps?) as Catholics we feel we need a large turn out to what we do, when, in fact, I don't think this should matter. Even if we have just a handful of people, we are still praying with them. I have noticed that in a lot of protestant churches only a few people will come out to things (even Sunday service) and that is just fine.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Elmar
  • philip_1515
    Posts: 6
    tomjaw and a_f_hawkins, you both present some of the difficulties that not just the modern world has caused, but also the modern church. Evening Mass has certainly given evening devotions on Sunday an absolute beating. Short of getting rid of evening Masses, the only way I can see these difficulties over come at the parish level is removing evening Mass (I doubt many PPs would be in favour of this), but also increasing the general holiness of the faithful. I think we need to promote the idea -through catechises- of attending morning Mass to sanctify the beginning of the day, and Vespers to sanctify and unify the end of the day with the beginning. Hopefully a good number of people will shift and start to make this part of their routine.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,014
    Or allow participation in public Sunday Vespers to satisfy one's preceptual obligation of Sunday worship....
    Thanked by 3tomjaw WGS CharlesW
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,737
    The music itself cannot be the end of the means. The need to implore Almighty God must drive all to our sacred duties of fervent prayer. We live in a time where God is forgotten and rejected. We must implore the people to pray. (Please read thread, Anni Sacri)

    Keep up the good effort. Teaching people to pray is a noble office.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    Or allow participation in public Sunday Vespers to satisfy one's preceptual obligation of Sunday worship....


    It does in eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox. Vespers is important and I never understood why it has been so downgraded in western churches.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Liam
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,633
    First off, my hats off to you, Philip. This has always been a passion of mine, and it's good to find others taking the necessary steps. I agree with a lot of the advice found on here - invite specific people, connect it with another liturgical function, and try and find an appropriate time to start. My recommendation? Encourage gentrification. :)

    The communities which have had the most success with Sunday & Vespers are those where a large number of the faithful living withing walking/short drive distances - St. Mary's, Post Falls, etc. Which rules out a large number of TLM parishes, at this point in time. At the school where I was working before Covid Cooties, we celebrated Sunday Vespers and Benediction weekly. The boys generally sang well, but this was because A) they were required to attend and B) they were taught the chants the week before in music class. Also - this was a boarding school, so it was a five minute walk from their dorm to the chapel.

    If memory serves, in quite a few countries it was believed that attending both Mass AND Vespers was the proper way to fulfill one's Sunday obligation. Such was the case in France, but don't quote me on that.

    One thought which those more rubrically-minded might be able to answer: many parishes in days of yore consistently offered Vespers of a particular office (most commonly, Vespers of the BVM; cf. Pius X Hymnal and the St. Gregory's Hymnal) with the understanding that this is a devotional service, as the priests would say the Vespers of the Sunday on their own. That being the case, would that make it possible to have Vespers earlier than usually scheduled as a properly liturgical service - by which I mean, closer to the 12pm-2pm than the 5pm-7pm time slot?

    (philip_1515, pardon my digression, but are you planning to dispose of the Angelus Press books? If so, I'd be happy to discuss taking them off your hands.)
    Thanked by 2tomjaw philip_1515
  • Chrism
    Posts: 682
    Have people move closer to the church. The one place I saw Sunday Sung Vespers work with a devoted congregation, the only people who attended lived within walking distance. It would also be great for parish community life if we could consolidate geographically. People will not travel to a faraway church twice in a day let alone twice in a week. Another alternative would be lay-led offices at oratories, chapels or tabernacles distributed throughout the parish, but we would need approval for this. Or we could gather in homes.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Elmar
  • Chrism,

    My family has hosted a small group for Vespers, the rosary and Compline (with a light meal beforehand) before the current unpleasant pestilential amnesia set in. It was never a huge draw, but since I live in a (relatively) tiny house, that worked well.
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Elmar
  • philip_1515
    Posts: 6
    We had a much better turn out this Sunday after following some of the advice given here. I realised one of the biggest reasons people didn't come was that they simply had no idea what Vespers was. After Mass I handed out this flyer with some basic information and asked people to come along.

    I actually think we would have much fewer people if we did it in the earlier afternoon. It gets very hot in summer, and the last thing you feel like doing is going out. For us, 5:00pm means people don't have to cut their afternoon short, and they can still be home in good time to get dinner ready.

    Stimsoninrehab, the gentrification is a good idea and the importance of having locals to draw on. Keep encouraging people to move closer! Be in it for the long game!
    Thanked by 2tomjaw GerardH
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