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Choral Corner #38: At Forgiveness Vespers, “Vouchsafe, O Lord” is read extremely slowly, while the vestments and paraments are changed and the choir begins to use Lenten melodies. What’s going on?

These actions signify the official beginning of Great Lent. “Vouchsafe, O Lord” is read very slowly to allow the maximum possible time for the changing of vestments and paraments, and after that point the choir sings Lenten melodies because we are now, in fact, at the beginning of the Fast. Liturgically, it is now Monday. 

The coincidence of these events with “Vouchsafe” is not arbitrary. Vespers is the first service of each new liturgical day, and the transition is not abrupt, but gradual. It begins with the stichera (hymns) interpolated between the final verses (in today’s case, 10) of “Lord, I call upon Thee” (Psalm 140), but is not considered complete until the end of “Vouchsafe”. Any further references to “this evening” or “this night” refer to the calendar date, not the liturgical one. 

Interestingly, the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, which begins with portions of Lenten Daily Vespers, omits the prayer “Vouchsafe” entirely, which means that the change to the new liturgical day begins when the Presanctified Liturgy ends. Orthodox Christians may not receive Communion twice in one liturgical day, so this has special relevance for those who wish to receive the Holy Mysteries at the Presanctified on a Friday evening, and receive them again at a Memorial Saturday Divine Liturgy the following morning. 

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