CHAPTER XII. How the Solemn Office of Lauds Is to Be Said
14 Feb. 15 June. 15 Oct.
At Lauds on Sunday let the sixty-sixth Psalm first be said straight on without an antiphon. After this let the fiftieth Psalm be said, with an Alleluia, and then the hundred and seventeenth and the sixty-second. Then the Benedicite and Psalms of praise, a lesson from the Apocalypse, said by heart, a responsory, a hymn, a versicle, a canticle out of the Gospel, and the Litany, and so end.
Saint Benedict introduces Lauds each day with Psalm 66. In the light of dawn, Saint Benedict would have his monks perceive a symbol of the radiance that shines from the countenance of God. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
May God have mercy on us, and bless us:
may he cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us,
and may he have mercy on us.
That we may know thy way upon earth:
thy salvation in all nations.
Let the people confess to thee, O God:
let all the people give praise to thee.
Let the nations be glad and rejoice:
for thou judgest the people with justice,
and directest the nations upon earth.
Let the people, O God, confess to thee:
let all the people give praise to thee:
The earth hath yielded her fruit.
May God, our God bless us,
May God bless us:
and all the ends of the earth fear him.
“The earth,” sings the psalmist, “has yielded her fruit.” What does this fruit-bearing earth signify if not the Mother of God, the virgin earth neither tilled nor seeded by man, yet rendered wonderfully fruitful by the Holy Ghost? “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” Luke 1:42).
I have long loved this psalm at the beginning of Lauds on all days and in every season. The repeated invitation to confess God insists that all peoples are created for the praise of His glory. No man and no nation on earth will find happiness and peace apart from the praise of God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved Son. Ephesians 1:3-6)
People unfamiliar with the particular genius of the Benedictine Office have expressed surprise that we sing Psalm 50, the Miserere, the most poignant of the penitential psalms on Sunday. For Saint Benedict, Psalm 50 is the indispensable morning prayer, inasmuch as it is a psalm of spiritual regeneration, of resurrection to newness of life, and of confirmation in the power of the Holy Ghost. The allusions to being sprinkled with hyssop, cleansed, washed, and made whiter than snow suggest that Psalm 50 be prayed as a renewal of the graces of Holy Baptism at the dawning of the day:
Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed:
thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.
To my hearing thou shalt give joy and gladness:
and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.
Turn away thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create a clean heart in me, O God:
and renew a right spirit within my bowels.
Cast me not away from thy face;
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,
and strengthen me with a perfect spirit.
I will teach the unjust thy ways:
and the wicked shall be converted to thee.
Deliver me from blood, O God, thou God of my salvation:
and my tongue shall extol thy justice.
O Lord, thou wilt open my lips:
and my mouth shall declare thy praise.
Psalm 117, the Paschal psalm par excellence, is well chosen for Sunday Lauds. It is the very psalm quoted by Saint Peter in his witness to the Resurrection before Annas and Caiaphas, and it is repeated daily at Holy Mass during the Octave of Pascha.
Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God hath raised from the dead, even by him this man standeth here before you whole.This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12)
I will give glory to thee because thou hast heard me:
and art become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected;
the same is become the head of the corner.
This is the Lord’ s doing:
and it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day which the Lord hath made:
let us be glad and rejoice therein. (Psalm 117:21-14)
There follows a true morning psalm, a prayer of longing for union with God. Saint Benedict will use the same psalm in his festive Lauds as well.
O God, my God,
to thee do I watch from morning’s first light.
For thee my soul hath thirsted;
for thee my flesh, O how many ways!
In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water:
so in the sanctuary have I come before thee,
to see thy power and thy glory.
For thy mercy is better than lives:
thee my lips shall praise.
Thus will I bless thee all my life long:
and in thy name I will lift up my hands.
Let my soul be filled as with marrow and fatness:
and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.
If I have remembered thee upon my bed,
I will meditate on thee in the morning. (Psalm 62:1-7)
The Benedicite, that is the Canticle of the Three young Men from the Book of Daniel, follows. It is an invitation of all things created to the praise of God. In singing the Benedicite, one experiences the priesthood of man over creation. It is man’s role to convoke all things to that for which they were created, the glory of God, and to lift them up to the Creator, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in an immense oblation of praise.
The Church prescribes the same canticle to priests as their official liturgical thanksgiving after every Holy Mass. Blessed Dom Columba Marmion never omitted the Benedicite with the customary versicles and orations after Holy Mass. The holy Irish Benedictine felt it singularly appropriate to summon all creatures to the praise of the Word indwelling him sacramentally after Holy Communion.
Saint Benedict treats the last three psalms of the Psalter as if they were a single symphony of undiluted praise. They are sung under one Gloria Patri, not only on Sunday, but every day. It is this final portion of the psalmody that gives to the morning Office the name of Lauds. Over and again, we chant laudate, calling upon God’s good creation to enter into its doxological finality. Dom Gabriel Sortais (1902-1963), Abbot General of the Trappist Order, was, on one occasion, so enthused by the bright succession of the Laudate psalms that he afterwards commented to his secretary, “Today, I danced my way through Lauds.”
There are Oblates who, given the duties of their various states in life, can but rarely pray the full Office. These do well to choose one or another of the psalms of Sunday Lauds for their morning prayer. Oblates with young children at home may want to introduce them to the Benedicite and the Laudate psalms, praying them together on alternate days. Children take easily to the praise of God, and are enchanted by the opportunity to invite all things created to join in their praise.