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.


Joshua said...

What do Benedictines do in the Southern Hemisphere - surely it would throw the whole system out if they read the longer "Winter" Matins during the short nights of the austral summer, and the shorter "Summer" Matins during the longer nights of the austral winter?

Terra said...

A question that has much occupied me Joshua!

Historically it seems they have in fact did just that (the problem doesn't arise in the modern liturgy used by our remaining 'Benedictine' monasteries as it is already so short and sparse of readings as to be no serious call on their time).

I guess the reality is that few in the last few centuries, monks included, really work on a dawn to dusk timetable. In reality they have adapted to modern clocks and fixed timetables to a large degree just as the rest of us have.

And there is a problem with reversing the cycle in that the 'summer' part of the cycle typically includes most of Advent and Lent which have specific daily readings linked to the Mass so you wouldn't want to skip them, whereas 'winter' includes few special periods.

I've experimented myself with adding in the missing readings in Winter from the Roman Breviary but found I couldn't quite bring myself to cut out the Oz summer ones! In the end I decided to stick with the breviary as written and approved (those monks might have enjoyed the longer Matins in the long cold nights of winter, but I find it much harder to get up early in winter than I do in summer!). In practice, I more or less follow the Roman ones by virtue of my bible reading plan which loosely follows the breviary schedule anyway.

okie said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH for your help. I wish I did something half as useful that I could offer you in return for your work, but alas, I can only give you a hearty "thank you" and assure you I am already beginning to impliment your advice. Thanks again!

okie said...

i might be firing this off into the ether, but i bought the Matins book from Lancelot. I think winter makes sense, but what is one to do during summer if its a feria...it only has the Sunday's listed...how do we know what scripture to read?

Terra said...

Okie - I don't have the Lancelot book, but there should be a short chapter and responsory set for each day in with the Office of the day. They are very short, and don't change from week to week - so like the ferial chapters for the other hours.

Nathan B. said...

I know this is a little off topic, but I'm hoping I might be able to get some help, and this site seems to be the place to get it.

I've been looking for either a set or the second volume of the 1963 Marietti edition of the Breviarium Monasticum for some time, and have had no luck in my endeavors. It would seem that these books were once much more easy to find.

I am hoping that perhaps someone on this blog might be able to help me out in my search, or perhaps have an extra copy of volume 2 they might be willing to sell? Pardon me if this is the wrong place to ask, but I'm not sure where else to look for help.

Thank you so very much, and may God bless you all, especially the creator of this blog, and may God make to prosper the work of your hands.


Janol said...

"in the Monastic Office, the first two Nocturns almost invariably consist of six psalms with antiphons, compared to the Roman three"

I've got the Lancelot Monastic Matins and long ago divided the six psalms of each nocturn into two groups so as to be recited over two weeks but I'm just wondering which psalms were chosen for the Roman Matins or the rationale for the choice -- would you know?



Kate Edwards said...

You can find the old (pre-1911) psalm distribution for the Roman rite here: http://www.gregorianbooks.com/gregorian/www/www.kellerbook.com/PRE-19~1.HTM

The website has a number of others as well, well worth a look around.

Matins in the Roman Rite basically starts with Psalm 1 on Sunday, and goes through in numerical order, skipping a few used for other hours.

Hope that helps!

Janol said...

Kate, I guess I'm confused. I checked out the schemas for both the pre-Pius X Breviary and also the Pius X Breviary and it isn't so different than the traditional monastic schema. I had thought that you were saying that each of first two nocturnes in the Roman Breviary had just three psalms -- do they have more nocturnes? -- It had completely escaped my mind to check kellerbook for that schemas for the Roman Office -- thanks!

Kate Edwards said...

No, old Roman was quite long - main difference with monastic is order of psalms (monastic starts at Psalm 20 at Matins) and Sundays.