St Benedict's Liturgical Code: Matins/4 (Feb 13/June 14/Oct 14)


Agnès de Kiqeumberg's Matins, c1425

Today's section of the Benedictine Rule deals with the much longer than usual Sunday Night Office.

Caput 11: Qualiter diebus Dominus Vigiliae Agantur

Dominico die temperius surgatur ad Vigilias. In quibus Vigiliis teneatur mensura: id est, modulatis ut supra disposuimus sex psalmis et versu, residentibus cunctis disposite et per ordinem in subselliis, legantur in codice ut supra diximus quattuor lectiones cum responsoriis suis; ubi tantum in quarto responsorio dicatur a cantante Gloria, quam dum incipit, mox omnes cum reverentia surgant. Post quas lectiones sequantur ex ordine alii sex psalmi cum antiphonis, sicut anteriores, et versu. Post quos iterum legantur aliae quattuor lectiones cum responsoriis suis, ordine quo supra. Post quas dicantur tria cantica de 'Prophetarum',quae instituerit abbas; quae cantica cum Alleluia psallantur. Dicto etiam versu, et benedicente abbate, legantur aliae quat-tuor lectiones de Novo Testamento, ordine quo supra. Post quartum autem responsorium incipiat abbas hymnum Te Deum laudamus. Quo perdicto, legat abbas lectionem de 'Evangelia', cum honore et timore stantibus omnibus. Qua perlecta respondeant omnes Amen; et subsequatur mox abbas hymnum Te decet laus, et data benedictione incipiant Matutinos. Qui ordo Vigiliarum omni tempore tam aestatis quam hiemis aequaliter in die dominico tene-atur; ni, si forte (quod absit) tardius surgant, aliquid de lectionibus breviandum est aut responsoriis. Quod tamen omnino caveatur ne proveniat; quod si contigerit, digne inde satisfaciat Deo in oratorio, per cujus evenerit neglectum.

Chapter 11: How the Night Office is to be said on Sundays

On Sundays let the brethren rise earlier for the Night Office, in which let this order be kept. When the six psalms and the versicle have been chanted, as we ordained above, and all are seated in their stalls, duly and in order, then let there be read from the book, as we said before, four lessons with their responsories. In the fourth responsory only shall the reader chant the Gloria, and when he begins it let all rise immediately with reverence. After these lessons let there follow in order another six psalms with antiphons, like the previous ones, and a versicle. After these again let four more lessons be read with their responsories, in the same way as before. After these let there be three canticles from the book of the prophets, as appointed by the abbot, and let these canticles be chanted with Alleluia. Then, when the versicle has been said and the abbot has given the blessing, let another four lessons be read from the New Testament, in the same way as before. When the fourth responsory is finished, let the abbot begin the hymn Te Deum Laudamus. When that has been said, the abbot shall read the lesson from the book of the Gospels, all standing with fear and reverence. That having been read, let all answer Amen, and then let the abbot follow with the hymn Te decet laus, and the blessing having been given let them begin Lauds. This order of Matins shall be observed on Sundays all the year round, both in summer and winter; unless (which God forbid) they be late in rising, so that the lessons and responsories have to be shortened. However, let the greatest care be taken that this do not happen; but if it happen, let him through whose neglect it has occurred, make due satisfaction to God in the oratory.

Commentary

These days we tend to think of Sundays as a day of rest; St Benedict, however, presents it as a day for worship, with his monks rising earlier order to say a much longer than usual Night Office. 

Though this approach to Sunday might seem counter-cultural to us today, in fact St Benedict’s schema represented a considerable concession at the time, compared to the common monastic practice of the time of staying up all night as Vigil for Sunday.

Blessed Pope John Paul II’s letter Dies Domini suggests that we need to recover something closer to St Benedict’s conception of the Sunday, and treat it as a ‘day of faith’ first and foremost rather than a day of rest:

“The commandment of the Decalogue by which God decrees the Sabbath observance is formulated in the Book of Exodus in a distinctive way: "Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy" (20:8). …Before decreeing that something be done, the commandment urges that something be remembered. It is a call to awaken remembrance of the grand and fundamental work of God which is creation, a remembrance which must inspire the entire religious life of man and then fill the day on which man is called to rest. Rest therefore acquires a sacred value: the faithful are called to rest not only as God rested, but to rest in the Lord, bringing the entire creation to him, in praise and thanksgiving, intimate as a child and friendly as a spouse….Therefore, the main point of the precept is not just any kind of interruption of work, but the celebration of the marvels which God has wrought.”

The second point to note, also reflected in Pope John Paul II’s exposition, is the joyous character of Sunday’s Office.

The psalms are upbeat in tone, containing many obvious allusions to the Resurrection and the coming joy of heaven, starting from psalm 20 at Matins, one of the Royal psalms which speaks of the crowning of the King.

It is normally festooned with Alleluias.

And each week, a Te Deum is sung (the hymn was probably composed by Bishop Nicetas c400) in thanksgiving for all God does for us, as well as the Te Decet Laus.

Sunday, Pope John Paul II reminds us, was viewed by the early Church as a mini-Easter:

‘"We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do so not only at Easter but also at each turning of the week": so wrote Pope Innocent I at the beginning of the fifth century, testifying to an already well established practice which had evolved from the early years after the Lord's Resurrection. Saint Basil speaks of "holy Sunday, honoured by the Lord's Resurrection, the first fruits of all the other days"; and Saint Augustine calls Sunday "a sacrament of Easter".’

Finally, minor additions of prayers and blessing aside, it is worth noting that the modern Office differs from that prescribed by S Benedict in one important respect, and that is the selection of readings: Patristic commentaries on the Gospel now generally substitute for the New Testament readings that St Benedict prescribed for the third nocturn.

This concludes St Benedict's commentary on Matins.  For his notes on Lauds, see the next part of this series.

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