Brush up your rubrics: Prime

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Today in this quick revision series I want to look at Prime.

Why you should say Prime!

Prime is the ideal hour for beginners in my view, a much better place to start than Lauds, because it is very straightforward to say.  But more importantly, it is an ideal hour to say as preparation for the day's work.

Prime is less familiar to many people coming from the modern Liturgy of the Hours, since Vatican II abolished it for the Roman (but not monastic) Office, largely as far as I can gather in the interest of shortening the length of the Office, and its perceived duplication of Lauds.

In the Benedictine Office though it is extremely important structurally and theologically, so it is a great shame in my view, that so many monasteries have followed the Roman Office and suppressed it.  So let me take this opportunity to say why I think they should revert to tradition on this front and why you should embrace this hour yourself.

The Lord's call for labourers at the first hour of the day: First, St Benedict uses the image of the labourer in the vineyard in the prologue to the Rule, calling out for workers:
And the Lord, seeking his workman among the multitudes to whom he thus crieth, saith again: What man is he that desireth life and would fain see good days?
The image of us as God's labourers, above all in the Opus Dei, is a key one in the Rule I think, and several of the early commentaries on the Office, most notably Cassian, linked the times for the day hours with the times the master seeks out workers for his vineyard in the marketplace in St Matthew 20:
The kingdom of heaven is like to an householder, who went out early in the morning [primo mane] to hire labourers into his vineyard. And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Prime then, stands for the first of the hours at which the Master calls for his faithful to join his cause.

Christ aleph and tau: Secondly, the hour is foundational, teaching us that Christ is both first and last, alpha and omega, or, in the Hebrew alphabet, aleph and tau.  On the first day of the week, Sunday, Prime actually starts with the stanza of Psalm 118 in which each line starts with the letter aleph in the Hebrew.  And the last psalm of Prime on Saturday, Psalm 19, is about the triumph of Christ the King.  It is noteworthy then, that the hour also consists of exactly 22 'psalms' (St Benedict counts each stanza of Psalm 118 as a separate psalm), the same number as the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Through and with Christ:  The importance of 'preferring nothing to Christ' is also reinforced by the two beatitudes that feature in this hour.  Psalm 1 (Beatus vir) on Monday can be interpreted as presenting us with the image of Christ the perfect man, who invites us to choose his path, and meditate on his law day and night.  The opening verse of Psalm 118, said on Sunday, which is both the first day of the week (of creation) and last day of the week (the eighth day, of the Resurrection), can be interpreted as Christ leading the many (Beati immaculati in via) who have persevered in his way into heaven.

Prime  in the Rule:The psalms set for the hour are extremely important ones too - Psalms 1 and 2 (Monday) are generally regarded as introductions to the whole psalter and centre on the Incarnation and Passion.   There are strong links between the psalms of Prime with several of the other key themes of the Rule, such as God's constant scrutiny of us, and our proper focus on entering heaven; several of the psalms set for this hour are quoted extensively in the Rule.

The rubrics - key tips

There are a few key things to keep in mind in saying Prime with the aid of the Diurnal.

Opening and closing sections:  The Diurnal only includes the opening and closing sections of Prime once, for Monday Prime, but these are in fact said each day.

So the hour always starts with the standard opening prayer for the day hours, Deus in Adjutorium...

This is then always followed by the hymn, Iam Lucis Orto Sidere (the sole exception is during the Sacred Triduum).

And Prime always has the same chapter (though note that older books provide an alternative one for use on some days), versicle and concluding prayers.

The collect of Prime is always the same, asking for God's protection for us during the day, so even if you don't actually say the full hour it is perhaps worth adding this one to your routine:
O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day: defend us by thy mighty power; and grant that this day we not fall into sin, but that all our words, thoughts and works may be directed to doing what is righteous in thy sight. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Psalms and antiphons: The middle section of Prime consists of an antiphon said before and after the three psalms of the day of the week.

Feasts: Note that there is no 'festal' set of psalms for Prime in the Benedictine Office - apart from during the Easter and Pentecost Octaves, the psalms are always of the day of the week.

In fact on feasts, the only thing that changes at Prime (in terms of the texts, there are different chant tones if you are singing it) is the antiphon.

Chapter: It is worth noting that in a monastery, Prime is generally followed by 'chapter', which normally includes the reading of the martyrology, the Rule, remembrance of the monastery's dead, and some prayers for the day.

This isn't included in the Diurnal, as traditionally this is said in the chapter room (hence its name), and each Congregation or monastery is free, according to the rubrics in the breviary, to use their own version of it.  But if you listen to the podcasts of Le Barroux, they use the version provided in the Antiphonale Monasticum (which can be downloaded at CC Watershed).  Many monasteries also include some preaching from the abbot at chapter, for example on the Rule (and I believe Silverstream Priory provides podcasts of some of their Prior's chapter talks).

 The key rubrics and page numbers in the Diurnal
The table below summarises the key parts of Prime, and where you can find them in the Diurnal.
            PRIME
 Where to find
it in your book…*
RUBRICS (if possible, optional when said alone)
Opening prayers
MD 1
Stand, 
Hymn
MD 1-2; 146-7 (Sunday)
Sung standing, medium bow last verse
Antiphon
 [It depends]
Sung standing.
In choir or in a group cantor intones, rest join in at *
Psalms of the day of the week
Monday - start MD 3
Tuesday - start MD 10
Wednesday – MD 16
Thursday – MD 21
Friday - MD 25
Saturday - MD 32
Sunday- MD 146
Sit after first half of verse 1 of psalm; stand and bow for the Gloria Patri at the end of each psalm.
Antiphon
 [It depends]
Stay standing.
Chapter
 MD 7
Note response,  ‘Deo Gratias.
Versicle 
 MD 7
Closing prayers, including collect
 MD 8-9
Bow for Our Father (said silently) and collect.
Ends with ‘fidelium animae…’

* Page numbers may differ in other editions.

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