Thursday, November 11, 2010

Matins at Midnight

This one is a liturgical musing about scheduling private recitation of the Office that isn't necessarily of much interest to anyone but me. Who knows, though; my readers constantly surprise me.

Anyway, I've tried a few times in my life with success for several-months-long periods (during some Lents, for example) to recite the full traditional Breviary (in English from 1950) and go to daily Mass on my own (Old Rite when I had that available, Novus Ordo now...)

Someday, I always imagine, this will be just a structural part of my life when I have a job that is forcing me to wake up and discipline myself anyway, and when I finally get everything else sorted out for myself practically and mentally (a procrastinating excuse, obviously, but whatever). Getting back out of suburbia to an environment where everything is within walking distance would be helpful too.

One limitation is that I am something of a purist (even to the point of making the perfect the enemy of the good, unfortunately). So on the traditional schedule, I'd always want to get Matins, Lauds, and Prime (with Martyrology!) done before "Low Mass" in the morning. Which is what I'll consider daily Mass; as a layman I don't have a daily Conventual Mass to worry about. On Sundays and major Feasts, of course, I'd want a (Solemn) High Mass if possible, and to have completed Terce by then (with no Low Mass to worry about). But Sunday Mass is usually later in the morning anyway.

So, the real burden of such a schedule comes in the morning. At my parish, we have a 6:30AM and an 8:00AM Mass daily, but just browsing some random lists of suburban parishes on, it seems like 8:30 AM is the most common time for daily Mass at a lot of parishes around here, and nowhere else has anything earlier than 7:00AM. This situation is convenient for lazy priests, maybe, not very convenient for anyone who works a 9-5 job (and certainly not for school teachers who need to be in even earlier, usually).

In other areas, like in the city, it looks like 7:00AM is more common, but nothing earlier. Which is fine. If I have to be into work by 8:00AM, let's say, and assuming daily Mass takes like a half-hour, and that I don't commute great distances (a lot of assumptions, but I'd take it into consideration when deciding where to live) then 7:00AM seems a convenient time. Matins-Lauds-Prime, however, takes like an hour or even hour and fifteen minutes all together (especially in the older office where most days have 9 lessons). So I'd have to be starting at 5:45 or 6:00 and probably up near 5 to wake up and get washed up and everything. I've done a schedule like this before, and it starts to get really tiring.

Mainly because in "real life" (outside a monastery) I'm usually not getting to bed until around midnight anyway. That's just how life has tended to work out in my experience. No matter how early I was up in the morning or need to be up the next morning, I just can't get myself to sleep before around midnight. "Things" are still "happening" until then! So such a schedule gets tiring. And I've also found that the earlier I get up, the slower I take doing the prayer. Like, one time about a year ago, I tried getting up at 5 for Matins for a 7:15 daily Mass where I was living then...and I was taking over an hour to do it (not to mention Lauds and Prime) before my shower because I wasn't woken up yet. When I started showering and everything first, and starting Matins at like 6, then I was able to do it in like 40 minutes, because I was more awake.

But it also may be needless, I realized. Once Mass is over for the day, the rest of the hours are super easy and every Catholic could probably incorporate them into their lives. Terce, Sext, and None take about 5 minutes each and are easy to spread out at their "correct" times (9Am, Noon, 3PM). Vespers can take 10-12 minutes in private recitation around dinner, and Compline is just like 7 minutes before bed.

However, this is where I realized things were getting rather inefficient. Okay, Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers were all pretty evenly spread out, three hours apart, roughly. But then, doing Compline immediately before bed (around midnight, remember) was like six hours after Vespers. Yet then, just 5 or 6 hours later, three Hours (including Matins, by far the longest one of all) all crammed together right before Mass (the second longest thing in the daily cycle). So, six empty hours, but then like a nearly two-hour chunk in the morning.

Of course, part of this combining is necessary. I'm not going to break my sleep to pray Lauds at 3AM. It's taken on the character of a dawn office anyway (even though Prime is officially the 6AM office) and in the Roman Breviary, at least, there is a rubric forbidding it to be separate from Matins in choir recitation. So the practice implied is to do Matins, Lauds, and Prime all in a row early in the morning. Convenient for canons for whom reciting the Office is their whole job, maybe, but not terribly convenient in private recitation...

Of course, this was recognized, and priests were allowed to eventually "anticipate" Matins for the next day as early as 2PM the previous day, even totally detached and out of order relative to the other Hours of that day. The purist in me does not see this as acceptable. However, as the title of this post implies, I've started thinking recently that doing Matins at its "native hour" (midnight) instead of in a row with Lauds and Prime early in the morning...may be the solution. Usually, I'm wide awake (and often bored) at night before bed. And as I said earlier, it strikes me as rather skewed that for the twelve hours between 6PM and 6AM...the only Hour I'd be praying would be Compline (even taking the fact of a big chunk for sleep).

But if I did Compline at it's imagined hour of 9PM and then Matins later around midnight, it would spread things out more evenly, and leave me with only Lauds and Prime (together maybe 20-25 minutes) before Mass in the morning, allowing me to wake up like an hour later too, and not have the whole thing be so tiring (especially assuming my afterwork nap). The only problem with this is that Compline would no longer actually fall immediately before sleep (sort of what its beautiful prayers imply), but so be it.

Using the long empty stretch at night to spread things out and take the burden of Matins off the early morning...strikes me as the most efficient solution, even if it means separating it from Lauds as was forbidden in choir recitation (I never really understood that rubric anyway). Matins was supposed to have a midnight character anyway, and it makes the schedule actually highly doable instead of such a big morning burden.


Who Am I said...

I thought the break down was as follows:

Prime = 7AM
Tierce = 9AM
Sext = 12PM
None = 3PM

Vespers, etc.

Who Am I said...

Likewise, why do you say it takes only five minutes ? It takes about 15-20 minutes in my experience to recite just one Canonical Hour.

A Sinner said...

Well, "theoretically" the Hours are imagined as "ideally" spread out every three hours, that's why there are eight:

Matins - Midnight
Lauds - 3AM
Prime - 6AM
Terce - 9 AM
Sext - Noon
None - 3PM
Vespers - 6PM
Compline - 9PM

Things evolved somewhat, however. Lauds got always joined to Matins (so that the monks didn't have to break their sleep TWICE) and eventually, for most groups (that didn't want to break their sleep at all) both got pushed up to the early morning before Prime (which may indeed have bumped Prime up a bit later).

Also, it used to be the case that the individual low masses would follow Prime, and the conventual high mass would follow Terce on Sundays and Solemnities, Sext on Ferias, and None on Penitential Days (due to fasting until dinner anyway).

However, when the law came to be that Mass could usually only be said between Dawn and Midday (except on Christmas midnight mass)...rather than throwing out the connection between Mass and None on penitential days, they simply started doing all the Little Hours around Mass earlier in the day (hence why "None" and "Noon" are entymologically related).

This was seen as more convenient than actually having Conventual Mass at three different times depending on the rank of day. Instead, Mass would be at a fixed time around noon no matter what, and they'd simply put Sext or None either before or after it depending on the type of day.

So on ferias, it would be Sext-Mass-None, on Sundays Mass-Sext-None, and on Penitential Days Sext-None-Mass, but all in a row at the same time around noon.

A Sinner said...

As for how long it takes, the Little Hours in my experience do not take much longer than 5-7 minutes in private "whispered" recitation.

Even in the public recitation of the traditional office I've seen, it was only like 10-12.

Only in SUNG public recitation can I imagine the little hours taking more than 15 minutes.

The difference between private Vespers and Lauds and Solemn Vespers and Lauds is even greater given all the ceremony that accompanies the latter.

Who Am I said...

Thanks for the insight on the matter. I use The Byzantine Form, so perhaps that might explain the difference. I'm not exactly accustomed to the entire process (I recite Prime-None), but have yet to figure out Vespers etc. . There are subsections related to candle lighting etc. that throw me off entirely.

A Sinner said...

Oh, well of course the Byzantine form is going to be entirely different.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think Who Am I may actually be correct, at least if one exams the manuscript tradition. Lauds was originally the dawn office, as its canticle (the Benedictus) and its psalmody, esp. ps. 62 (63) reveals. And Prime actually was originally done about 7. Mattins may have started out about midnight, and some (I think of the Carmelites) continued this, but in fact fairly early on (first millenium) it came to be done in the hour or so before sunrise, hence its connection to lauds. So, if you do compline at nine and get to bed, then you could get up at 5 and start mattins and have gotten 7 1/2 hours of sleep. Following the ancient tradition of my Order (SMOM), I say mattins (one nocturn of three psalms with three lessons, followed by lauds) plus a commemoration of prime at about 6. Then I say one of the little offices during the day, then vespers and compline. Sundays and Holy days of obligation (and other non-working feast days) mattins has three nocturns of three psalms and three lessons each. This way all the psalms except those at mattins get said weekly, some more often (ps. 118), the mattins psalms getting said on a four-week cycle. This also allows me to get to the gym in the morning, before work. Actually the key to this are getting to bed on time, getting up on time, and getting to the gym (a 15-30 minute nap helps too). If I stay up too late or miss the gym then my prayers tend to be thrown off as well.

A Sinner said...

Well, I just meant if you spread the Hours out every three hours. It was never "really" done like that so, yes, Prime got bumped up to around 7AM (after early morning Matins and Lauds usually) in most places. However, Catholic Encyclopedia suggests in its article on Lauds:

"The reason of this confusion of names is, perhaps, that originally Matins and Lauds formed but a single office, the Night Office terminating only at dawn."

As for Prime, the same Encyclopedia says:

"The name Prime (prima hora) belongs with those of Terce, Sext, None, to the short offices recited at the different hours of the day, called by these names among the Romans, that is, prima towards 6 a.m.; tertia, towards 9 a.m.; sexta, towards noon; nona towards 3 p.m. At first Prime was termed matitutina (hora), morning hour; later, in order to distinguish it from the nocturnal hours of Matins and Lauds, and to include it among hours of the day, it was called prima."

So Prime was originally linked with 6AM and the morning, and Matins and Lauds were considered "nocturnal hours" originally.