Saturday, 10 September 2011
What happened to Vespers?
Whilst looking for something else I was recently struck by the number of churches in Westminster that had Vespers sung on Sundays. Of course, this is not current praxis, I was looking at a copy of the 'Catholic Directory' well over a century old dating from 1893.
Of a total of 71 churches listing the times of public services 34 had Vespers on Sunday afternoons and 35 had some form of 'Evening Service'. For the purpose of this exercise all forms of advertised afternoon or evening services other than Vespers were counted as the same be they 'RSB', Compline or whatever. So in 1893 48% of churches in the 'London' part of the Archdiocese of Westminster were singing Vespers on Sundays - quite impressive really.
Carrying out the same exercise for fifteen years later (Catholic Directory, 1908) the result is strikingly different. Applying the same criteria there are now 87 churches: of those churches 24 advertised Vespers on Sundays whilst 60 of them advertised 'Evening Service'. Many churches that had advertised Vespers in 1893 were now offering 'Evening Service' - only one new church was listing Vespers.
In fifteen years, with a growth in the number of churches, the percentage of churches singing Vespers on Sundays had fallen from 48% to 28% with a corresponding increase in the number offering 'Evening Service'. A similar pattern is apparent with the Warwickshire part of the Archdiocese of Birmingham with a respective fall from 41% to 23% of churches singing Vespers from 1893 to 1908.
Any ideas as to why Vespers was in decline? My hypothesis would be changes in demographics of parishes due to immigration.
Update: Having now looked at the 'Catholic Directory' for 1939 the figures for Westminster are even more depressing. (The Directory is no longer distinguishing between 'London', Middlesex etc., so this is not exactly comparable to the above but the trend is all too clear). Sunday Services are listed for 184 churches and places of worship. Of these 184 churches only 17 have Vespers on Sundays (and one of those, the Servites in Fulham Road, only on the first Sunday of the month). 'Evening Service' is advertised by 160 of those churches, i.e. 87% of the churches. So the percentage of Westminster churches having Vespers on Sunday has fallen from 48% (1893) to 28% (1908) and then to 9% in 1939. (According to the website of the 'Diocese' [sic] of Westminster it now has 216 or 214 parishes: of those I understand 2 have Vespers on Sundays, less than 1%).