When noon really is noon...

One of the things I like about the traditional Office compared to the new is the constant reminder of nature's cycles - the four Ember Days around the change of the seasons (the Spring one is coming up soon), the differences between the winter and summer Benedictine Office, and the reminders of the time of day in many of the hymns for example.

Awareness of these changing cycles is one of the things we tend to lose in the modern world where most people spend 90% of their day inside, so it is nice to get the occasional prompt to look out the window!

Of course these days, monasteries don't really adjust the start time of Lauds each day to coincide with first light as St Benedict instructs in his Rule: to do so would be utterly impractical.  In late antiquity and the medieval period the day and night were divided into twelve equal hours based on the length of the solar day - so a day 'hour' was longer in summer, shorter in winter.  Today of course, the length of an hour these days is fixed regardless of the time of sunrise and sunset.

Still, if you do have some flexibility in your day, it is nice to be able to adjust the time you say your prayers a little to take note of the shifting seasons.

Right now where I live 'solar noon' actually coincides with actual noon for a few days, giving extra meaning to that phrase about the noonday heat (Et ignibus meridiem) in the hymn for Sext.  And in a few weeks, the length of the day will actually be exactly twelve hours, so the old Roman hour will equal the length of our modern ones - so if one said Prime an hour after sunrise, it really will be the same length of hour as those medieval monks used (well for a day or two anyway!).

For us moderns used to rising at a fixed hour each day, the idea of adjusting everything to the length of the light is hard to imagine.

But if you want to either work out such a schedule for yourself, or at least say the hours at the official times for those few days of the year when the two time systems align, take a look at the schedule of solar noon in time and date.com.

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