Learning Matins: The structure of the Hour and the readings

For those interested in saying Matins, this post provides a brief introduction to the hour.


It starts with 'Domine labia mea aperies; et os meum annuntiabit lauden tuam' (O Lord open my lips, that I may announce your praise', said three times while making a sign of the cross on your lips.

Then Psalm 3 (uniquely to the Monastic Office) is said.

Then Psalm 94, interspersed with the antiphon of the day, season or feast (there is a slightly complicated pattern to the interspersing which you can get by looking at Office for the Dead in the Farnborough Diurnal, the Little Office of Our Lady, or a Roman version of the Office).

Then the hymn of the day, season or feast.

Both the antiphon and hymn are generally (though not always) the same as in the Roman Office, so you can find them here (note this link, I'll refer to it again. And make sure you specify 1962 rubrics for this purpose, assuming that is what you are saying otherwise).


Monastic Matins, like Matins in the Roman Office, is divided into 'Nocturns' - the psalms with antiphons followed by a versicle, Our Father, Absolution, and lessons each with responsory. There are significant differences between the Roman and Monastic Office here though:
  • in the Monastic Office, the first two Nocturns almost invariably consist of six psalms with antiphons, compared to the Roman three;
  • the Third Nocturn (used on Sundays and major feasts) consists of canticles and antiphons rather than psalms;
  • the number of readings often differs between the Roman and Monastic Offices.
Matins comes with either two or three Nocturns, and with one, three and twelve 'lessons', depending on the day of the week, time of the year and feast. Each lesson is followed by a responsory, the last of which in each Nocturn includes the Gloria Patri...
The conclusion of the Hour is essentially the same as for the day hours (though it can be somewhat abbreviated on Sundays where Lauds follows immediately).


Sundays and First Class Feasts

On Sundays, there are twelve lessons (each with a request for a blessing, blessing, and responsory), followed by a reading of the Gospel for the Sunday (the same as used at Mass). The normal pattern (to which there are exceptions) is as follows:
  • First Nocturn - Scriptural readings
  • Second Nocturn - Patristic commentary on the first nocturn readings;
  • Third Nocturn - Patristic readings relating to the Gospel of the day, followed by the Te Deum, Gospel, the hymn Te Decet Laus, then the Collect.
In most (though not all) cases the Scriptural and patristic readings are the same as in the pre-1960 Roman Office, but split into four sections rather than three (and so with an extra responsory). So you could use the site I provided a link to above to simply substitute in the Roman version and not be too far off what is said in the Monastic Office (just make sure you specify 'reduced 1955' under rubrics rather than 1962 - the 1962 Roman Office cuts out several of the readings). The Roman Office doesn't actually read out the Gospel though, so you will need to note the reference provided in the third Nocturn (or look it up in your Missal) in order to do this in accordance with the Monastic rubrics.

Days of the week in (Northern Hemisphere) Summer

If the Sunday Office is much longer than the Roman, St Benedict cuts down the number of readings at least in the weekday Office during summer to allow his monks to get enough sleep (remember the night was measured by hours of darkness, so a lot shorter in summer).

So when it comes to readings all you get during this time of year for Nocturn I is a very short, set lesson which is closer to a chapter in length, though does come with an introductory request for a blessing, together with a responsory. For Monday for example, it is from Lamentations, Chapter 2, vs 19.

Nocturn II also has a chapter and versicle of the day, and variants based on the time of saint for Class III feasts.

The ferial Office in winter

In winter, Nocturn I has three readings with responsories, normally identical to those in the Roman Office, so just take it from there. You could follow the Roman pattern for summer as well if you really want to say a reading or two...

Third Class feasts

Third class feasts during summer generally have one reading, usually on the life of the saint - you can generally find these in the Roman Office. In winter, there are three, often the same as in the Roman (assuming the saint is celebrated in both calendars. There is a common of saints where no proper exists).

Second Class Feasts

Second class feasts usually have two nocturns with three three readings (typically patristic, but sometimes including something from the life of the saint) in Nocturn I, and a chapter relating to the type of saint in Nocturn II. You can generally find the Nocturn I readings in the Roman Office.

Books for Matins (revised)

Someone asked about chant books for Monastic Matins, so I thought I'd set out what I've found on books for Matins more generally - others may wish to chip in!

This is a post for the enthusiasts only!

The Breviary

The essential book for officially approved version of Matins is the Monastic Breviary - in full, 'Breviarium Monasticum Summorum Pontificum cura recognitum pro omnibus sub regula S. P. Benedicti militantibus issu abbatis primatis editum'. It is published by Marietti at Rome, 1963 and comes in two volumes. These days it is of course out of print, but can be found readily in secondhand book shops. This edition is of course in Latin only.

If you really want the English, there are a couple of options. Lancelot Andrews Press have published an edition of it entirely in English. It follows the structure for Matins set out by St Benedict, but uses the psalms from the Book of Common Prayer/Scripture from the King James Version. The Gospels and other readings do not always line up with the official version, and it obviously doesn't come with an imprimatur.

The other option is that Clear Creek monastery has produced a partial parallel Latin-English text for the use of their novices and visitors, covering ferias only (you can obtain it through lulu). It does not provide the variable texts such as readings, and texts for seasons and feasts however.

I have also mentioned in a previous post the book of Liturgical Readings put out by Grail Publications which provides many of the patristic readings (available in a reprint).

Singing Matins

In terms of actually singing Matins, a fair amount of the music is available from books you may already have, or that can be downloaded from the net. In particular:
  • the Liber Hymnarius provides most (though not all) of the invitatory antiphons and hymns;
  • the psalms and antiphons for the daily (ferial) Office can be downloaded here;
  • the Liber Responsorialis provides most of the responsories and other texts you need is available (also reprinted by Nova et Vetera)
The other useful book you may wish to acquire is the Processionale Monasticum (though most of its contents also appear in the Liber Responsorialis), which is also readily available in a reprint.

Getting ready to tackle Matins

Yesterday I suggested you should think twice about how much Office you should be saying. But there are some people who want and will be able to say Matins, even if not everyday, so I am going to provide some notes on it.

I'd have to warn though, that Matins has a higher level of difficulty than the day hours, so I strongly recommend a programme of preparation before you actually start trying it. And this post is about some suggestions on what to prepare.

So why is Matins harder?

Monastic Matins is much longer than the Roman EF version, and quite a bit tougher than the day hours to tackle for a number of reasons including that:
  • it is much longer than any of the day hours - around double the length of Lauds on a short day;
  • it is much more variable in length than the day hours - its length differs significantly between days of the week, for feasts, between summer and winter, etc, making it potentially more difficult to fit into your daily schedule;
  • it is much more tailored to particular feasts and seasons - depending on the level of feast and the time of year it can have 1, 3 or 12 readings. Many feasts have their own set of psalms as well as hymns etc;
  • lacks a complete parallel Latin-English edition - there are some partial ones around, and all Latin or all English versions, but a little more work is required;
  • if you do say it in Latin, the text is a bit more challenging than the day Office - lots of Patristic readings, the more difficult psalms, etc.
So, before you start actually saying it, my advice is to thoroughly prepare.

Be familiar with the day Office first

In many of the traditional monasteries, postulants, and even novices don't necessarily say Matins. Instead, they go through a few cycles of the Day Hours first, so that they really understand the different levels of feasts, and acquire some familiarity with the Scriptural and Patristic readings first. So my first suggestion is that laypeople saying the Office should consider taking the same approach! If you want to block out the time for Matins, use it to study and really penetrate the meaning of the Day Office first, and then to prepare for Matins.

Start with a short Office version of Matins

My second suggestion is to start by saying a short Office version of Matins to 'mark the spot' in your day and become familiar with some of the structural features of the hour.

A good option is Matins for the Dead, contained in the Monastic Diurnal. Apart from being an excellent work of spiritual mercy, it will help you become familiar with the structure of Matins - the way the Invitatory antiphon and psalms work, the Nocturns etc, not to mention expanding your repertoire of psalms a little.

Another good option, and a good step up (as the Office for the Dead cuts out a lot of the standard lead ins to the Office) and a way of building up your repertoire of psalms further, is the Little Office of Our Lady. Baronius put out a very nice edition of this, including the chants for the Office, so well worth acquiring in any case. But there is also an online version.

As there are three Nocturns, one used for each day, in these two short Offices, you could use the two in combination to say a different set of psalms for Matins six days a week. Many people may saying Matins from one or both these short Offices sufficient to satisfy their desire to pray all of the Hours of the day.

Study the psalms in advance

If you do plan on tackling the full thing though, I'd also suggest a systematic study of the psalms used before you start. This is something you should really do in any case for the day hours, but is especially important I think for Matins.

Even if you read them in English, a lot of these psalms rely on your knowing the Scriptural references for it to make sense - so sit down with a concordance or good commentary and learn the context. And if you are doing it in Latin, prepare the text so you can mentally translate the psalm when you say it with ease.

Study the hymns, responsories, chapters etc

These will be less of an issue if you say the Office in English, but still worth becoming familiar with before you really start on in. The hymns are generally the same as for the Roman Office (though in a nicer version of the Latin!), so use the sites that provide the Roman Breviary online to get a working translation. Or better still, acquire a copy of Connelly's Hymns of the Roman Liturgy for literal translations and helpful notes.

The Benedictine Office has more responsories than the Roman, but the Roman Office is still a useful starting point. In the end though, familiarity with the Vulgate Scripture (which will come from doing the readings at Matins) is the key here if you are saying the Office in Latin.

The Readings

The readings for Matins are a mix of Scripture, the Fathers, the lives of saints, and more. A monk novice would traditionally become familiar with many of these texts through his lectio divina, which was often structured around reading the entire Bible in a year. Consider doing something similar. You might find this post on my other blog a useful introduction.

In terms of the Patristic readings, again, they are mostly the same as the Roman Office (though split into four lessons on Sundays and major feasts rather than three). It is, though, possible to buy second hand (although copies are scarce) a book containing most of them in English (not including the Commons of Saints, and with some gaps due to differences between the pre-1962 and 1962 Offices). It is called 'Liturgical Readings The Lessons of the Temporal Cycle and the Principle Feasts of the Sanctoral Cycle according to the Monastic Breviary', Grail Publications, St Meinrad, 1943. This can then either be used as a crib, to help you to prepare the Latin, or even to substitute for the Latin if you prefer.

Hope these suggestions prove helpful, more soon.

On Ordos!

I gather there are a few people searching around for an Ordo to use with the Office, and some confusion about which Ordo is what. So I thought I'd just try and summarise the key differences between the various Ordos I know of, or have been told about, as a bit of an aid to those searching.

This is also a chance for those who are using the Ordo I produce each week to let me know what additional details they would like me to include (no guarantees on delivery though!).

What is an Ordo?

An Ordo is essentially a calendar for use in conjunction with the Mass and/or Office that tells you which feasts are celebrated on a particular date so that you can ensure you use the appropriate texts for the day. At a minimum, it simply lists the feast of the day and tells you the level of it (as in the summary in the sidebar to the right on this blog page). But it often provides a few more details of the particulars of the day (see for example the more detailed weekly notes on this site).

An Ordo is pretty essential - some feast days (such as Easter) change their date every year, and everything else flows from that. And there are inevitably clashes between possible feasts on particular dates, so you need to know what the rules determine should be celebrated on a particular date, and an Ordo should do that.

Some Ordos are extremely detailed - but this is the exception not the norm! In general, unless you live in a monastery where someone else is working it all out for you, you will need to become sufficiently familiar with the structure of the Office to be able to work out that if it is a third class feast, the things that change are....

The choices

The most commonly referred to Ordos are as follows:

  • the Novus Ordo calendar used by the Catholic Church post 1970 - you can find a version of it here. This is the calendar most people will see used at Mass, and works well with the Liturgy of the Hours. It talks about feasts being solemnities or memorials. It is pretty hard to use it, however, in conjunction with one of the traditional forms of the Office (see below);
  • the 1962 Roman Calendar, which you can find here, used for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and fits easily with the Roman Breviary. It talks about feasts being Class I, II or III, memorials or commemorations;
  • the 1962-3 Benedictine Calendar, which is what I am providing on this site, is very similar to the 1962 Roman Calendar, differing only in terms of a few saints' feasts in the main. It can readily be used (or adapted) by anyone attending the EF mass, and using any of the traditional forms of the Benedictine Office (ie 1962 or earlier);
  • a pre-1962 Benedictine or Roman calendar, used I gather in the Anglican Breviary and older forms of the Breviary - if your calendar talks about 'doubles' or 'duplexes' and such like terms then it is using one of these calendar variants. If your breviary uses this terminology it is actually pretty easy to superimpose the 1962 calendar onto it (it means dropping a few octaves and other changes though);
  • Anglican or Anglican Use Ordos - Anglican Ordos will not include all feasts used in the Catholic Church, and may include some additional saints' feasts. Anglican Use ordos will presumably be something of a hybrid;
  • the Western Rite Orthodox Ordo - uses the Orthodox calendar which dates Easter differently to the Western Church;
  • Ordos for other religious orders such as the Dominicans, Carmelites, etc. These may come in either Novus Ordo, 1962 or pre-1962 forms.

Note also that most individual Benedictine monasteries (such as Le Barroux) produce their own Ordos for internal use, and by their Oblates, which are likely to differ in some respects from the Universal calendar.

Choosing and Ordo to use

Most people will instinctively want to use the Ordo that goes with whichever form of the Office they have purchased in the interests of simplicity. Fair enough, especially when you are just starting off and struggling to learn the Office.

My own view though is that as far as possible you should work up to using the calendar that aligns most closely with the Mass you attend (particularly if you are a daily mass goer), but admitting of variants to reflect a particular spirituality, such as Benedictine or Dominican, to which you may be attached. So if you attend an EF Mass, by all means use the variants provided by the Benedictine Ordo, it will fit well enough.

The reason is simple: the Office takes the Mass as its starting point, and expands out from it. So on a Sunday, for example, the Gospel at Mass will often provide the antiphon for the Benedictus and Magnificat. At Matins, the Patristic readings will relate to that Gospel. And so forth.

Using the Mass as your starting point of course is harder than it sounds if you want to use one of the traditional forms of the Office, whether Roman, Monastic or some other in conjunction with the OF Mass. Essentially, if you attend a Novus Ordo Mass, you might be able to line up saints' feast days, but the normal passage of liturgical seasons is harder to make work (though technically possible if your Latin is good enough, at least in relation to the Benedictine Office - you need to purchase the new Antiphonale Monasticum from the Monastery of Solesmes).

You should also be aware that whatever Ordo you use, there are local feasts that you will need to add to it - feasts particular to your country, diocese and parish.

My Ordo notes

This site is primarily dedicated to the Benedictine Use. If you are using any of the breviaries or diurnals that are based around the monastic form of the Office (modelled on the provisions set out in the Rule of St Benedict), you should be able to use the Ordo and notes I provide here.

I normally provide page references to the Farnborough edition of the Monastic Diurnal, but if there is sufficient demand, I would be happy to either provide references to the 1962 Monastic Breviary as well. From some of the queries I'm receiving, I think I perhaps need to provide a few more details of the texts to be used in any case, and it may be that this would assist those using other editions of the Diurnal (such as the Lancelot Andrews Press version). I'd certainly be happy to add in Ordo notes for Matins if that would be of assistance to anyone (presumably references to the English of the Office would be preferred?). So let me know what information would be useful - no guarantees, but I'll see what I can do!

Further reading

To learn a bit more about Ordos and the issues associated with them, take a look at my series on learning the Office in the sidebar - parts II, III and XII are relevant.