St Benedict's liturgical code: Terce, Sext and None (Feb 22/June 23/Oct 23)

c13th Songs of the Ascent
Today's section of the Rule deals with the Little Hours.


Ad Tertiam vero, Sextam, Nonamque secundae feriae novem capitula quae residua sunt de centesimo octavo decimo, ipsa terna per easdem horas dicantur. Expenso ergo psalmo centesimo octavo decimo duobus diebus, id est dominico et secunda feria, tertia feria jam ad Tertiam, Sextam, vel Nonam psallantur terni psalmi, a centesimo nono decimo usque centesimo vigesimo septimo, id est psalmi novem. Quique psalmi semper usque Dominicam per easdem horas itidem repetantur, hymnorum nihilominus lectionum vel versuum dispositione uniform! cunctis diebus servata; et ita scilicet semper Dominica a centesimo octavo decimo incipietur.

Chapter 18/2

At Terce, Sext, and None on Monday, let the remaining nine sections of the hundred and eighteenth psalm be said, three at each of these Hours. The hundred and eighteenth psalm having been said thus on two days, that is Sunday and Monday, let Terce, Sext, and None of Tuesday each have three psalms, taken in order from the hundred and nineteenth to the hundred and twenty-seventh, i.e. nine psalms. And let these psalms be repeated at these Hours every day until Sunday; but let the arrangement of hymns, lessons, and versicles be kept the same on all days. Thus Prime on Sunday will always begin with the hundred and eighteenth psalm.


I’ve mentioned previously that the hours of Terce, Sext and None, at least in some form, date back to the earliest days of the Church, and almost certainly back to Jewish prayer patterns. Still, the early Church Fathers gave them a makeover with Christian associations, so that Tertullian and other early third century commentators, for example, associate Terce with the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost; Sext with Peter going to pray on the housetop at the sixth hour, and having the vision that leads to the abandonment of the Jewish dietary and other restrictions (Acts 10:9); and None with Our Lord’s crucifixion. The hymns for these hours allude at least in passing to these themes.

St Benedict, however, seems to me to give these hours a firm focus on our pilgrimage through life in his selection of the psalms for them. He takes the long and beautiful meditation on the law of the Lord in Psalm 118, with its frequent allusions to the way of life, at a very leisurely pace, spread out over two days.

Then for the rest of the week, he sets six of the ‘Gradual Psalms’, the pilgrim songs that were sung on the way to Jerusalem for major feasts, thus helping us mark the progress of our daily pilgrimage towards the heavenly Jerusalem. These psalms are short, and the hymn the same each day, allowing it to be readily memorized and said if necessary in the workplace or fields (RB 50): not a bad idea for us to emulate.

There is also, in my view, a reason for them starting on Tuesday in the psalter.  Many of Tuesday's psalms, including at Matins, have a strong focus on the Temple, and the desire to enter into it fully.  Indeed, all but one of the fifteen Gradual Psalms, or  'Songs of the Ascent', are sung on this day.

If Monday in the Office is about the Incarnation, then, the theme for Tuesday, in my view, is Christ's public ministry, during which he teaches us how to live properly as Christians.

First we must prepare ourselves, by meditating on the law, using Psalm 118.   Then we must learn how to be pilgrims towards heaven, and constantly remind ourselves that we are on a journey, that has a purpose and an endpoint.

For the next part of the series, see here.

1 comment:

platonist said...

Thank you so much for this blog!
It is a great blessing and help to me.

C. Crume+
Cleveland, Ohio USA