A Book of Vigils

A Book of Vigils

by Christopher L. Webber

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This useful book falls in the category of resources for structuring liturgies to fit local occasions. In addition to seven complete vigil services inspired by the ancient monastic discipline of nighttime prayer and meditation, there are new models such as

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780898697414
Publisher: Church Publishing Inc.
Publication date: 01/01/2000
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 152
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER L. WEBBER is an Episcopal priest, who has led urban, rural, and overseas parishes. He is a graduate of Princeton University and General Theological Seminary. In addition to Welcome to the Christian Faith, he is the author of many other books and several hymns. He lives in San Francisco and gives workshops and lectures on his writings.

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A Book of Vigils

By Christopher L. Webber

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2002 Christopher L. Webber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89869-741-4


A Vigil in the Presence of God

NOTES FOR A Vigil in the Presence of God

The material provided here for prayer and meditation centers attention on the presence of God: recalling God's presence, being open to God's presence, being present to God. It can be used with any of the other vigils in this book (except the vigil for the Eve of Pentecost) or separately. Begin the time with prayer, using one or more of the passages provided. Use the words provided here as a framework for your prayer, then let your own life and the guidance of the Spirit enlarge upon that framework. Spend most of your time in silence: waiting, listening, using the Jesus Prayer or any other centering devices you find useful.

The Jesus Prayer is an ancient method of prayer that comes to us from the Russian Orthodox tradition. It consists of repeating the sentence, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner," or, more simply, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." This is said slowly and meditatively, preferably in time with one's breathing, so that the address ("Lord Jesus, etc.") is said as breath is drawn in, and the petition ("have mercy, etc.") is said as one breathes out.

The vigil model presented here provides an opening prayer followed by four segments, each one of which contains a reading, a psalm or hymn, and a prayer. The model is intended for a private vigil but can also be used for a large public vigil with readers for the readings and a leader who directs the liturgy and leads the prayers, hymns, and psalms.

For a private vigil

For a private vigil, simply have these materials or materials modeled on them ready for those keeping the vigil. If the vigil is to be kept for many hours, it is usually best to ask individuals to volunteer for one or more hours and to assign two segments for each hour. Those keeping the vigil would begin with the opening prayer, spend a half hour on each of the two segments assigned, and conclude with the closing prayers. There should be no uncertainty among participants about which segments they have been assigned.

For long, private vigils, you may wish to provide a liturgical way for each participant to mark his or her cumulative contribution to the ongoing prayer. One way to do this is with candles: each participant lights a candle before beginning and leaves it burning to be joined by other candles as the turns come and go. The last participant concludes the vigil on behalf of the group by extinguishing the candles. The practice of burning candles throughout much of the night, however, presents serious safety concerns. Very tall votive candles may prove safer than tapers which can fall from their holders. Never leave burning candles unattended. If candles are to be used, at least two individuals should be in the vigil space at all times.

For a public vigil

If this material is used as part of a public vigil, hymns and talks by civic and religious leaders also may be added. The recommended order is as follows: 1) reading; 2) psalm or hymn (the hymns printed here after the readings are intended to be read like psalms); 3) prayer; 4) talk by civic or religious leader; 5) hymn to be sung by the congregation. Additional instructions for public prayer are as follows:

Prayers: Beginning with the opening prayer ("You are great, O God, and worthy of highest praise") and for every prayer thereafter, the leader says, "Let us pray" (if the leader is to pray aloud on behalf of the assembly) or "Let us pray the following prayer together" (if the assembly is to join in).

Psalms: Before each psalm, the leader says, "Let us say Psalm [number] responsively"; or, "Let us say Psalm [number] together." For hymns that follow the readings, the leader says, "Let us say the words of the hymn together." For responsive readings for large ecumenical gatherings, print the congregation's responses in italics.

Readings: The reader announces each reading as indicated. After the reading, the reader remains in place, keeping the silence. If there is some concern that less experienced readers may rush the silence, have an unobtrusive watch or small clock at the podium so that the silence is kept for an appropriate length of time. The silence concludes when the reader proclaims the brief, epigraphic "echo" from the previous reading; these epigraphs appear in the vigil text immediately following the rubric "Silence."

Segments: The text is divided into four segments, each prefaced with a "title" that states a theme as follows: I. The Importance of Prayer; II. How is God's Presence Known?; III. The Vision of God; IV. The Vision of God in Christ. If the liturgy you are planning will be multimedia, you may wish to use an overhead projector to flash these titles before the assembly at the appropriate moment. In addition, or instead, the leader may establish the theme of each segment by saying the following:

Segment I: The next part of our vigil will help us focus our thoughts on the importance of prayer.

Segment II: The next part of our vigil will help us turn our thoughts to the ways in which God's presence is known.

Segment III: In the next part of our vigil, we reflect on the vision of God.

Segment IV: In the final part of our vigil, we reflect on the vision of God in Christ.

Note that this vigil also may serve as the "First Hour" for the much longer Vigil for Peace and Justice (see notes for A Vigil for Peace and Justice below).

A Vigil in the Presence of God

Opening Prayer

You are great, O God, and worthy of highest praise: you stir in us the joy of praising you, since you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.

One thing have I asked of the Lord, one thing I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation.

—Psalms 27:5–6; 62:1

God of peace, let us rest in your presence, let us keep watch in your holy place, let our restless thoughts be stilled, let your peace sink deep into our souls, let your presence be sufficient for us, as we keep watch before you.

O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy; let that mercy be with those who keep watch this night; with those who seek for peace in human hearts in places of conflict and tension; with those who preach the gospel to those who have not heard it; with those who witness to your love to those who have not seen it; with those who work for healing tonight in places of conflict, in hospitals and homes; with those who bring your presence to those who need your love and healing power.

Be present, Lord Christ, with those who watch this night; with those who are ill; with those who are dying; with those who are hungry; with those who are homeless; with those who rejoice in the birth of a child, in a marriage, in an anniversary, in prayers answered, in the gift of love, in the confidence of faith; with those who wait for the Spirit's gift; and grant that our waiting and watching this night may draw us closer to your love, and make us more faithful servants of your purpose. Amen.

* * *

I. The Importance of Prayer

A Reading from Man's Quest for God by Abraham Heschel

As a tree torn from the soil, as a river separated from its source, the human soul wanes when detached from what is greater than itself. Without the holy, the good turns chaotic; without the good, beauty becomes accidental. It is the pattern of the impeccable which makes the average possible. It is the attachment to what is spiritually superior: loyalty to a sacred person or idea, devotion to a noble friend or teacher, love for a people or for mankind, which holds our inner life together. But any ideal, human, social, or artistic, if it forms a roof over all of life, shuts us off from the light. Even the palm of one hand may bar the light of the entire sun. Indeed, we must be open to the remote in order to perceive the near. Unless we aspire to the utmost, we shrink to inferiority. Prayer is our attachment to the utmost. Without God in sight, we are like the scattered rungs of a broken ladder. To pray is to become a ladder on which thoughts mount to God to join the movement toward Him which surges unnoticed throughout the entire universe. We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub, but the spoke of the revolving wheel. In prayer we shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. God is the center toward which all forces tend. He is the source, and we are the flowing of His force, the ebb and flow of His tides.

Abraham Heschel, Man's Quest for God, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1954, pp. 6–7


... God is the center ...

Psalm 84 Quam dilecta!

1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

2 The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height, and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God; and look upon the face of your Anointed.

9 For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.

12 O Lord of hosts, happy are they who put their trust in you!


Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here, where shall I look for you in your absence? Yet if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in "light inaccessible." And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And then, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.

Look upon us, Lord, hear us and enlighten us, show us your true self. Restore yourself to us that it may go well with us whose life is so evil without you. Take pity on our efforts and our striving toward you, for we have no strength apart from you. Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me; nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you. Amen.

from the Proslogion of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, as quoted in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, J. Robert Wright, Church Publishing Incorporated, pp. 7–8.

II. How Is God's Presence Known?

A Reading from the First Book of Kings

Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

—1 Kings 19:9–13


... a sound of sheer silence ...


God himself is with us; let us all adore him, and with awe appear before him. God is here within us, souls in silence fear him, humbly, fervently draw near him. Now his own who have known God, in worship lowly, yield their spirits wholly. Thou pervadest all things; let thy radiant beauty light mine eyes to see my duty. As the tender flowers eagerly unfold them, to the sunlight calmly hold them, so let me quietly in thy rays imbue me; let thy light shine through me.

Come, abide within me; let my soul, like Mary, be thine earthly sanctuary. Come, indwelling Spirit, with transfigured splendor; love and honor will I render. Where I go here below, let me bow before thee, know thee, and adore thee.

—Gerhardt Tersteegen (1697–1769) Hymn #475, stanzas 1, 3, 4, The Hymnal 1982, Church Publishing Incorporated


Let me not live apart from you, O Giver of Life, my breath, my life, my joy, and the salvation of the world. Therefore I come to you seeking forgiveness and the gift of your presence in my life. Therefore I fall before you and implore you to come to me as you came to Matthew in his work, as you came to Mary and Martha in their home, as you came to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Come to me, Lord, I pray, in my home, in my work, in my travel; purify my heart, guide my thoughts, and direct all that I do by your presence in my life. Amen.

III. The Vision of God

A Reading from the Book of Revelation

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come."

—Revelation 4:1–8


... Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty ...

Psalm 62:1–2, 8–9 Nonne Deo? & Psalm 63:1–8 Deus, Deus meus

62:1 For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation.

2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be greatly shaken.

8 In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge.

9 Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

63:1 O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.

2 Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory.

3 For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise.

4 So will I bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your Name.

5 My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

6 When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches.

7 For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.

8 My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.


O God, who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully renewed our human nature; grant us to be sharers of his divine nature who was willing to be a partaker of our humanity; the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.

from the Leonine Sacramentary, as quoted in Holy Communion: An Anthology of Christian Devotion, Massey Shepherd, Seabury Press, 1959, p. 30

Excerpted from A Book of Vigils by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2002 Christopher L. Webber. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction to A Book of Vigils          

What is a vigil?          

Using this book          

Planning a vigil          

A Vigil in the Presence of God          

A Vigil for Peace and Justice          

A Vigil for the Sick          

A Vigil at the Time of Death          

A Vigil for Maundy Thursday          

A Vigil of Pentecost          

A Vigil before the Election or Consecration of a Bishop (with notes for
adapting the vigil to other uses)          

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