Historically, Easter had a first vespers, which was said after communion at the vigil Mass on Holy Saturday morning. If you have an old breviary lying around—who doesn’t?—you can find it. It consists of the antiphon Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia and Psalm 116, the antiphon Vespere autem sabbati and the Magnificat, and the postcommunion prayer Spiritum nobis. Following the prayer, the vigil Mass is then concluded with Ite, missa est, alleluia, alleluia. Gregory DiPippo explains that this form of the first vespers of Easter is likely of great antiquity. While the vigil Mass was said in the morning, it was still possible to have an evening service: one could anticipate matins and lauds of Easter. In other words, one was not necessarily done for the day after the vigil Mass.
All of this changed in 1955, however. Indeed, the changes of 1955 are most striking when considering Holy Saturday and the vigil of Easter. First, as everyone knows, the vigil of Easter was turned into an evening service. Evelyn Waugh had some pungent complaints about this, noting, quite reasonably, that the evening service is not really compatible with the orientation toward the dawn of Easter. (Even when many of the 1955 changes were dropped in the Novus Ordo, the Easter vigil remained an evening service, as you no doubt know.) For those who take part in the service, the vigil Mass takes the place of matins of Easter. (Bafflingly, some apparently believed that the prophecies in the vigil Mass were a kind of matins.) A truncated lauds along the lines of the old first vespers of Easter is inserted at the end of the Mass. A new vespers of Holy Saturday, along the lines of the vespers of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, was created, and the compline of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday carried over. As DiPippo notes, this has some strange results. For one thing, it means Easter no longer has a first vespers. It also means that Holy Saturday’s vespers are not the first vespers of the following Sunday. For those in attendance at the vigil, it means that Easter does not have matins or a Te Deum, either.
However, one other curious result of the post-1955 rites stuck out to us: as far as we can tell, the only mandatory vespers of the Triduum under the post-1955 rites is vespers of Holy Saturday. Vespers of Maundy Thursday are not said by those who are present at the evening Mass, which would, we suspect, cover many bound to the recitation of the office. Likewise, vespers of Good Friday are not said by those who are present at the solemn postmeridian liturgical action (what used to be called the Mass of the Presanctified); again, most bound to the recitation of the office will be at the postmeridian action. However, there is no such rubric for Holy Saturday. In other words, the only truly obligatory vespers of the Triduum in the post-1955 rite is, as far as we can tell, vespers of Holy Saturday—the whole-cloth addition. At least so it seems by our reckoning. And while we can find our way around the breviary, we wonder if this can really be right—even if we suspect it is. If we’re wrong, feel free to shoot us a note and explain where we came off the tracks.
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