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.


CountrySteve said...

Hi, I was just wondering, I have this book,

but it has no readings for the Hour, is there any recommendations you would have for adding readings?
God bless!

Kate Edwards said...

During 'summer' the readings are only very short in any case so you really aren't missing anything. During 'winter' (starts November) they pretty much mirror the Roman Breviary, so you could use that if you have access to one, or use the Divinum Officium site to generate appropriate ones.

Alternatively, you could read from the books set for this time (this week is Esther) from Sundays, or the Bible in a year schema you can find here:

CountrySteve said...

Thanks for the reply, I think I shall use the Divinum Officium for Sundays! I believe the Rule also says at Matins there will be read works by the Fathers and commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures there were read. Is there any books you'd recommend for that? God bless! And thanks again for the reply.

Kate Edwards said...

Steve - Apologies I've now looked at the Matins book, and it does contain the short readings used during the week. As you note, what it is missing is the Sunday readings.

These are generally from Scripture in for Nocturn I, a patristic reading on the Nocturn I readings for Nocturn II, and a patristic reading on the Gospel of the Sunday (which is the same as for the EF Mass) for the third Nocturn. You can generally find at least some or all of these on the Divinum Officium website.

In future though I'll try and include a short note on the week's readings in my blog entry on the Office for the week. I'll put up a note on this week's shortly.

Nick Halliday said...

I have a the Breviarium Monasticum and it contains Matins for all week I think in Latin. Would you like me to send you a scanned page? Maybe it could be helpful to the readers?

God bless


Kate Edwards said...

Thanks Nick, a kind thought, but I too have a copy of the Monastic Breviary.

I haven't actually tried to post from it firstly because there is so much of it, especially in winter, and secondly because there would be copyright issues in posting large chunks of it online.

Moreover those using books other than the Monastic Breviary are presumably doing so because they don't have enough Latin to say the Office in that language - and the Breviary comes only in Latin.

CatholicSteve said...

It seems the book the Lesson of the Temporal Cycle is back in print!

Kate Edwards said...

That is good news indeed. I wonder if it is possible to confirm that it really is a reprint of the old book, and not a new one?

CatholicSteve said...

I actually bought a copy, it has an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat from August 10, 1941 so I assume its the original, for the most part the feasts match up with the Dirunal. God bless!

Kate Edwards said...

Excellent, that is indeed great news. I'll put an alert up on the blog in due course, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I am really enjoying your blogs, they are a great help to me as I learn to pray using the Diurnal!

I was wondering if you have any reference list to Matins readings throughout the year? I have been slowly copying the readings from the Divinum Officium website (pre-Tridentine monastic), was wondering if you had a complete list somewhere on one of your blogs? If so I would really appreciate a benedictine matins reading list!

Kate Edwards said...

No I'm afraid not - but aside from feasts, they generally follow the Roman readings, so the Divinum Officium website should give you the three daily readings.

The key difference of course is that the Benedictine Office only has three readings each day during winter (starts first or second week of November).