Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Learning the Office: Prime**

...first is the hour of Prime, in which we ought to praise God...because it is the beginning of the day, and He gave us the safety of passing through the night without the obstacles of Satan, just as we entreated Him at Compline.

William Durand, c13th, Rationale Bk 5

Introduction to Prime

Said first thing in the morning, Prime is focused primarily on preparing for the day.

For most laypeople it is a conveniently short (well, relative to Lauds at any rate) and is relatively straightforward to say or sing.

In monastic practice, it is normally immediately followed by Chapter (named for the room it takes place in, the monastic equivalent of a meeting room).  Sometimes called the 'capitular office' or chapter is not actually part of the Divine Office at all, and is not even mentioned in the Rule of St Benedict.  Chapter typically includes the reading of the martyrology (short remembrance of the saints who feasts occur the next day), reading of the day's section of the Rule, and other prayers, including for the dead.

The psalms of the Prime have a number of extremely important key themes that are closely linked to the Rule, making it absolutely foundational both for the programmatic focus of the Benedictine Office, as well as for Benedictine spirituality in my view.

Vatican II abolished Prime in the Roman rite version of the Liturgy of the Hours.  Technically this didn't apply to the Benedictine Office, but in an excess of zeal many monasteries were forced (and I do mean forced) to drop it; others did so in order to be in tune with the spirit of Vatican II.  That was very unfortunate in my view because it then meant monasteries had to rearrange the psalms said at the other hour in order to fit the psalms in, disrupting vertical and horizontal themes St Benedict had built into them.

The structure of Prime

The table below summarises the structure of Prime.

Opening prayers

Deus in adjutorium/Gloria (as for all the day hours)
Alleluia/Laus tibi


Iam lucis orto sidere


Variable – of the day of the week, season, day or feast.  Usually the first antiphon of Lauds.

Psalms of the day of the week
-          Psalm+Gloria Patri
-          Psalm+Gloria Patri
-          Psalm+Gloria Patri
-          [Psalm+Gloria Patri]

(three psalms from Psalms 1-2, 5-19;
on Sunday 4 stanzas of  Ps 118 

 Variable  - as above

Regi saeculorum

Exsurge Christe
Closing prayer, including:

 Kyrie eleison
Domine Deus omnipotens, qui ad principium...

The fixed elements of Prime

The opening and closing prayers (including the collect), hymn, chapter and versicle of Prime are the same everyday.

As a result, when you get to Tuesday (pg 9), the Diurnal doesn't bother repeating them. The only variation really is adding an alleluia onto the end of each of the versicle lines during Eastertide (labelled T. P.).

The variable elements of Prime

Prime has two variable components  - the psalms and the antiphon (the same antiphon is repeated before and after the psalms).

The psalms, which (except for a few rare exceptions) are always of  the day of the week are set out in the Psalter section of the Diurnal (note that Sunday Prime comes after Saturday Lauds).

While the Diurnal does provide some antiphons for the main seasons, you do actually need to check an Ordo (or the correct pages in the Proper of Seasons and Proper of Saints) each day to ensure you have the correct ones.

If not otherwise specified, the antiphon for Prime is the first antiphon of Lauds.

Rubrics and page numbers for Prime

The table below provides the rubrics and page numbers for Prime.

Page number in Diurnal
Rubrics (as far as possible when said alone)

Opening prayers
MD 1

MD 1-2; 146-7 (Sunday)
Sung standing, medium bow last verse

 [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.

 [It depends]
Stay standing.

 MD 7
Note response,  ‘Deo Gratias.

 MD 7

Closing prayers, including collect
Bow for Our Father (said silently) and collect.
Ends with ‘fidelium animae…’
* Page numbers may differ in other editions.

Chants for the hymn

For those who want to learn to sing the hymn, the video below provides the version used on Sundays through the year:

If you would like to learn the 'ordinary', weekday tone of the Prime hymn throughout the year, the video below provides it:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


If you are new to the Office, Compline is the best place to start, since it is the same every night, so relatively easy to learn.

Introduction to Compline

Compline is said in the evening, before going to bed, and is, I think, a particularly beautiful hour, helping us deal with the darkness that inevitably surrounds us in this world, as well as the literal night itself.

You can find Compline in the psalter section of the Diurnal, starting at page 256. It is very similar (though not identical) to the traditional Roman Rite version of Compline for Sundays.

A good way to get started is to follow this video - note though that there are some changes you need to make when saying it by yourself, as noted below (and in the post on Diurnal shortcuts and traps).

You could also try following along with the monks of Le Barroux.

The structure of Compline

Compline basically splits into five sections:
  • the first reminds us that we are participants in spiritual warfare, and asks us to reflect on where we have fallen during the day, and commit to repentance;
  • the psalms particularly remind us of the help God gives us as we fulfill our duty to worship him;
  • the hymn, chapter, response and prayers all ask for God's help in getting through the night in good order;
  • a final antiphon (and prayer) for Our Lady;
  • in a monastery, this would be followed by the abbot sprinkling the monks with holy water, usually while the relevant verses of Psalm 50 are chanted. At home, no reason, it seems to me, why you can't use some holy water to bless yourself and recite the verse Asperges me hyssopo (from Psalm 50).
The opening section

Compline starts with a request for a blessing (Jube, domne...). If you were in a monastery, that request would be said by the lector (reader), and then the blessing would be given by the superior. The Diurnal doesn't say this, but at least in the Roman Rite, if you are saying this by yourself, it is customary (but not essential) to change the 'domne' to 'Domine' (the first is just a contraction of the second) to make it clear that you are actually asking Our Lord for a blessing and not a non-existent Father Abbot.

The short reading itself, from the first letter of Peter chapter 5 is definitely one of those verses on spiritual warfare that bears constant repetition and we should all know by heart.

Then comes a verse and response:

Adjutórium † nostrum in nómine Dómini.
Qui fecit cælum et terram.

The little cross sign I've included here is because it is normal to make the sign of the cross here.

The diurnal then instructs you to make an examination of conscience or say an Our Father - how short or long a time you want to take over this is up to you, but this is obviously a good chance to reflect on the day, sort out what needs to be confessed, and make any necessary resolutions.

In the diurnal you should then ignore the version of the Confiteor that follows immediately on page 257 (which is only used in choir, or with a group that includes a priest), and skip over to the bottom of page 258 for the Confiteor...Misereatur..Indulgentium...which should sound fairly familiar to anyone who attends the Traditional Latin Mass. And just as the priest and server do at mass, it is appropriate to make a profound bow as you say the Confiteor.

This section really ends I think with the final call for God's help in our conversion, a reminder of the Benedictine vow of conversion of life (with another sign of the cross here, this time make it with your thumb on your chest):

Convérte nos, + Deus salutáris noster.
Et avérte iram tuam a nobis.

Second opening and psalms

Now that we've hopefully cleansed ourselves at least of our (venial) sins, or at least resolved to do something about them, Compline actually almost seems to start again, this time with the standard opening for all of the hours, Deus, in adjutorium...(and another sign of the cross).

I actually really like this restart feeling, because it seems to me to reinforce the message that in our lives we will inevitably sin, but we have to beg God's forgiveness, pick ourselves up again, and go on. And also that when we approach God to worship him through the liturgy, we should first cleanse our hearts and souls.

The three psalms that follow (without antiphon, but with a Gloria Patri, etc at the end of each) are all obviously carefully chosen for the hour, and are worth studying carefully, verse by verse, with the help of a good commentary as part of your lectio divina. There are some wonderful images here, beautiful poetry, and some messages that I for one need to keep hearing over and over.

Hymn, chapter, verse and ending of the hour

The hymn, chapter and verse are all straightforward rubrics wise as the Diurnal writes everything out in full. Don't forget though to add those alleluias during Eastertide (marked T.P. for Tempore Paschali). And the final section (from the Kyrie) more or less follows the standard pattern for the conclusion all of the hours. The key differences are that the prayer is always the same, a final blessing is added, and tht 'Fidelium animae...' is not said. Also, ignore the instruction in the Diurnal to say 'Divinum auxilium...Et cum fratibus...' after the Marian antiphon - that is only said in choir.

Marian antiphon

The final formal part of Compline is the singing (or saying!) of the antiphon to Our Lady for the season, a beautiful final beautiful way of asking for Our Lady's intercession before, in a monastery at least, the Great Silence begins.

The only thing to note here is that you need to make sure you have the correct antiphon for the season. At the time of writing this it is Eastertide, so I thought you might enjoy this recording of the simple version of the Regina Caeli, generally used during the week, and easy to learn.  For the more ambitious, search youtube and you will find the solemn tone there as well.




In monastery, lector kneels
Fratres…(2 Pet 5:8-9) In a monastery one person reads,   all join in response: Deo Gratias (thanks be to God).
Other readings can be substituted in here

V. Adjutórium nóstrum  in nómine Dómini.
R. Qui fecit cælum et terram.

(Make the sign of the cross)

Bow (profound)
Confiteor Deo…

Use second version (bottom of MD 258) unless saying with a priest
Bow, strike breast x3 at mea culpa.

At absolution
Converte Nos

Sign of cross with thumb over heart

V. Deus (make the sign
of the cross) in adjutórium meum inténde.
R. Dómine, ad adjuvándum me festína.
V. (Bow) Glória Patri, et
Fílio, * et Spirítui
Sancto.(stand straight) R. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, * et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.

Alleluia or Laus tibi,
Dómine, Rex ætérnæ glóriæ.

Gloria Patri etc in

Laus tibi is said from Septuagesima
Sunday to Holy


Ps 4, 90, 133
Psalms intoned (first half of verse 1) by cantor.

Verses sung by alternate sides of the choir.

Add Gloria Patri to end of each psalm
Before psalm
starts - stand (if
not already)

First half of verse 1 of psalm
- stay standing

Second half of verse 1 - sit.

Second half of last verse of psalm (or early enough to be ready for the Gloria Patri) - stand

Sancto - bow 

Et in saecula
saeculorum - all

Te Lucis…Amen


Last verse bow

Tu autemR Deo
 Note response

V Custodi nos


[v] Kýrie, eléison.
(R) Christe, eléison.
Kýrie, eléison.
Pater noster...Et ne nos indúcas in tentatiónem: R. Sed líbera nos a malo.

Stand (kneel in
Advent and


Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam....
(Unless priest or deacon leading)

Note add full conclusion to the collect

Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam....



(sign of cross)


Varies by time of year – Salve Regina, Alma
Redemptoris Mater, Ave regina caelorum, Regina caeli laetare
Said kneeling except Saturdays,
Sundays and Eastertide.

Varies to fit with antiphon


Varies to fit with antiphon

V.Divínum auxílium máneat semper nobíscum. R. Et cum frátribus nostris abséntibus.

In some places, sign of the cross is made.