Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter VIII.

Of the Vigil service which is celebrated on the evening preceding the Sabbath; of its length, and the manner in which it is observed.

In the winter time, however, when the nights are longer, the Vigils, 745 which are celebrated every week on the evening at the commencing the Sabbath, are arranged by the elders in the monasteries to last till the fourth cock-crowing, p. 217 for this reason, viz., that after the watch through the whole night they may, by resting their bodies for the remaining time of nearly two hours, avoid flagging through drowsiness the whole day long, and be content with repose for this short time instead of resting the whole night. And it is proper for us, too, to observe this with the utmost care, that we may be content with the sleep which is allowed us after the office of Vigils up to daybreak,—i.e., till the Mattin Psalms, 746 —and afterwards spend the whole day in work and necessary duties, lest through weariness from the Vigils, and feebleness, we might be forced to take by day the sleep which we cut off from the night, and so be thought not to have cut short our bodily rest so much as to have changed our time for repose and nightly retirement. For our feeble flesh could not possibly be defrauded of the whole night’s rest and yet keep its vigour unshaken throughout the following day without sleepiness of mind and heaviness of spirit, as it will be hindered rather than helped by this unless after Vigils are over it enjoys a short slumber. And, therefore, if, as we have suggested, at least an hour’s sleep is snatched before daybreak, we shall save all the hours of Vigils which we have spent all through the night in prayer, granting to nature what is due to it, and having no necessity of taking back by day what we have cut off from the night. For a man will certainly have to give up everything to this flesh if he tries, not in a rational manner to withhold a part only, but to refuse the whole, and (to speak candidly) is anxious to cut off not what is superfluous but what is necessary. Wherefore Vigils have to be made up for with greater interest if they are prolonged with ill-considered and unreasonable length till daybreak. And so they divide them into an office in three parts, that by this variety the effort may be distributed and the exhaustion of the body relieved by some agreeable relaxation. For when standing they have sung three Psalms antiphonally, 747 after this, sitting on the ground or in very low stalls, one of them repeats three Psalms, while the rest respond, each Psalm being assigned to one of the brethren, who succeed each other in turn; and to these they add three lessons while still sitting quietly. And so, by lessening their bodily exertion, they manage to observe their Vigils with greater attention of mind. 748



Vigiliæ is here used as the equivalent of Nocturns.


I.e., the office of Lauds.


Tria Antiphona. The word is here used (as above, II. c. ii.), not in the modern sense of antiphon, but to denote a Psalm or Psalms sung antiphonally.


In this chapter Cassian describes two of the different methods of Psalmody employed in the ancient Church: (1) Antiphonal singing, where the congregation was divided into two parts, or choirs, which sang alternate verses; (2) the method according to which one voice alone sang the first part of the verse, and the rest of the congregation joined in at the close. Both methods are described in a well-known passage in an Epistle of S. Basil (Ep. ccvii. ad clericos Neocœs), where he tells us that in the morning service, at one time the people divide themselves into two parties and sing antiphonally to each other (ντιψάλλουσιν ἀλλήλοις), while at another time they entrust to one person the duty of beginning the strain, and the rest respond (πηχοῦσι). This latter method seems to have been a very favourite one, the Psalms which were thus sung being called Responsoria. See Isidore, De Offic., i. 8; and compare the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, Vol. II. p. 1745; and Bingham, Antiquities, Book XIV. c. i. A third method has been already described by Cassian in Book II. c. xi.; viz., that called Tractus, where the Psalm was executed by a single voice, while all the rest of the congregation listened.

Next: Chapter IX. The reason why a Vigil is appointed as the Sabbath day dawns, and why a dispensation from fasting is enjoyed on the Sabbath all through the East.