CHAPTER XVI. How the Work of God is to be done in the day-time
19 Feb. 20 June. 20 Oct.
As the prophet saith: “Seven times in the day have I given praise to Thee.” And we shall observe this sacred number of seven if, at the times of Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, we fulfil the duties of our service. For it was of these hours of the day that he said: “Seven times in the day have I given praise to Thee”; just as the same prophet saith of the night watches: “At midnight I arose to give Thee praise.” At these times, therefore, let us sing the praises of our Creator for the judgments of His justice: that is, at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline; and at night let us arise to praise Him.
Saint Benedict, with reference to what he calls the septenarius sacratus numerus, the sacred number of seven, sets forth for us the duties of our service, servitutis officia, the expression has an almost military ring to it; we must not forget, all the same, that in Christian Latin, the word servitium also means divine worship. Saint Benedict takes his stand upon the authority of the Word of God, for in Psalm 118 we read, “Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice” (Psalm 118:64), and the same Psalm summons us to prayer in the night: “I rose at midnight to give praise to thee; for the judgments of thy justification.” (Psalm 118:62)
Lauds is a jubilant Hour; it is the hour of dawn and of a three-fold resurrection: the awakening of nature is a kind of resurrection; the resurrection of Our Lord from the dead is the resurrection that gives meaning to all the other resurrections perceived in nature and in the order of creation; each new day is the occasion of a spiritual resurrection, that is, the awakening of the soul to the Word of God, a fresh infusion of grace, and an irrepressible need to convoke all things created in heaven and on earth to praise God. The fruit of Lauds is the absolute primacy given to the praise of God. Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum! “Let every spirit praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:5).
Prime is the second morning prayer: it officially opens, one might say, the work day or the business day. It implores God to sanctify all the day’s doings and to keep us from sin even until the close of the work day. The fruit of Prime is generosity in taking on the work of the day. Et sit splendor Domini Dei nostri super nos, et opera manuum nostrarum dirige super nos, et opus manuum nostrarum dirige. “And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct thou the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do thou direct” (Psalm 89:17).
Terce is the Third Hour, forever sanctified by the descent of the Sanctifier, the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Terce recalls the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at the birth of the Church, and the seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost received by each one at Confirmation. Terce is also the Church’s immediate preparation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The fruit of Terce is the renewal of the Church in the joy of Pentecost. Et introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui lætificat juventutem meam. “And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth” (Psalm 42:4).
Sext addresses the conflict, weariness, and struggles of the day half spent. Psalm 90:6 speaks of the noon-day devil; so universal is this in human experience that the expression has passed into the folk wisdom of countless peoples. Sext is also the daily commemoration of the crucifixion of Our Lord: He is nailed to the gibbet; he ascends to the high place from which He is the Word displayed to all nations; He is the King reigning from the Tree. The fruit of Sext is refreshment in the midst of labour and peace in the midst of combat. Quia fuisti adjutor meus, et in velamento alarum tuarum exsultabo. Adhæsit anima mea post te; me suscepit dextera tua. “Thou hast been my helper. And I will rejoice under the covert of thy wings: my soul hath stuck close to thee: thy right hand hath received me” (Psalm 62:8-9).
None addresses the great questions of the last things. It reflects the seriousness of the declining day, the passage of time, and the longing for rest from labour. In None we pray for the grace of a happy death. None is also the hour of the death of Jesus. It is the hour of the last of His seven words from the Cross. It is the hour of mercy at which the centurion opened his sacred side with a lance, causing blood and water to gush forth. The fruit of None is stability and final perseverance. Quid enim mihi est in cælo? et a te quid volui super terram? Defecit caro mea et cor meum; Deus cordis mei, et pars mea, Deus in æternum. “For what have I in heaven? and besides thee what do I desire upon earth? For thee my flesh and my heart hath fainted away: thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion for ever” (Psalm 72:25-26).
Vespers is the sacrificium vespertinum, the evening sacrifice. Vespers is an offering of thanksgiving. It passes in review not only the graces of the ending day, but also all the mystery-events of salvation history, the mysteries of Christ, the sacraments, the saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant. It is a solemn thanksgiving for the Most Holy Eucharist. It the hour of the union of all believing hearts with the Most Pure Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this by the singing of the Magnificat, her canticle of praise. The fruit of Vespers is thanksgiving. Benedic, anima mea, Domino, et noli oblivisci omnes retributiones ejus. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all he hath done for thee” (Psalm 102:2).
Compline addresses the fears that so often beset men with the coming of night and the need for sleep. It is a prayer for protection from the devil and his troops of marauding demons in the darkness. It is a prayer that asks for the protection of the holy angels. Compline ends with a tender and heartfelt greeting to the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of Mercy, the Refuge of Sinners, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. The fruits of Compline are confidence, peace, and abandonment with Christ to the Father. In pace in idipsum dormiam, et requiescam; quoniam tu, Domine, singulariter in spe constituisti me. “In peace in the self same I will sleep, and I will rest: For thou, O Lord, singularly hast settled me in hope” (Psalm 4:9-10).
As for Matins or Vigils, it is the nocturnal prayer par excellence. It is the prolonged prayer of Christ to His Father in the night. It is the expectant prayer of the Church who tirelessly wakes and waits for the cry in the night: Ecce sponsus venit, exite obviam ei. “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh. Go out to meet Him” (Matthew 25:6). The fruit of Matins is watchfulness. Ecce venio cito, et merces mea mecum est, reddere unicuique secundum opera sua. Ego sum alpha et omega, primus et novissimus, principium et finis. “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Apocalypse 22:12-13).