Learning the Office: Prime**

...first is the hour of Prime, in which we ought to praise God...because it is the beginning of the day, and He gave us the safety of passing through the night without the obstacles of Satan, just as we entreated Him at Compline.

William Durand, c13th, Rationale Bk 5

Introduction to Prime

Said first thing in the morning, Prime is focused primarily on preparing for the day.

For most laypeople it is a conveniently short (well, relative to Lauds at any rate) and is relatively straightforward to say or sing.

In monastic practice, it is normally immediately followed by Chapter (named for the room it takes place in, the monastic equivalent of a meeting room).  Sometimes called the 'capitular office' or chapter is not actually part of the Divine Office at all, and is not even mentioned in the Rule of St Benedict.  Chapter typically includes the reading of the martyrology (short remembrance of the saints who feasts occur the next day), reading of the day's section of the Rule, and other prayers, including for the dead.

The psalms of the Prime have a number of extremely important key themes that are closely linked to the Rule, making it absolutely foundational both for the programmatic focus of the Benedictine Office, as well as for Benedictine spirituality in my view.

Vatican II abolished Prime in the Roman rite version of the Liturgy of the Hours.  Technically this didn't apply to the Benedictine Office, but in an excess of zeal many monasteries were forced (and I do mean forced) to drop it; others did so in order to be in tune with the spirit of Vatican II.  That was very unfortunate in my view because it then meant monasteries had to rearrange the psalms said at the other hour in order to fit the psalms in, disrupting vertical and horizontal themes St Benedict had built into them.

The structure of Prime

The table below summarises the structure of Prime.

Opening prayers

Deus in adjutorium/Gloria (as for all the day hours)
Alleluia/Laus tibi


Iam lucis orto sidere


Variable – of the day of the week, season, day or feast.  Usually the first antiphon of Lauds.

Psalms of the day of the week
-          Psalm+Gloria Patri
-          Psalm+Gloria Patri
-          Psalm+Gloria Patri
-          [Psalm+Gloria Patri]

(three psalms from Psalms 1-2, 5-19;
on Sunday 4 stanzas of  Ps 118 

 Variable  - as above

Regi saeculorum

Exsurge Christe
Closing prayer, including:

 Kyrie eleison
Domine Deus omnipotens, qui ad principium...

The fixed elements of Prime

The opening and closing prayers (including the collect), hymn, chapter and versicle of Prime are the same everyday.

As a result, when you get to Tuesday (pg 9), the Diurnal doesn't bother repeating them. The only variation really is adding an alleluia onto the end of each of the versicle lines during Eastertide (labelled T. P.).

The variable elements of Prime

Prime has two variable components  - the psalms and the antiphon (the same antiphon is repeated before and after the psalms).

The psalms, which (except for a few rare exceptions) are always of  the day of the week are set out in the Psalter section of the Diurnal (note that Sunday Prime comes after Saturday Lauds).

While the Diurnal does provide some antiphons for the main seasons, you do actually need to check an Ordo (or the correct pages in the Proper of Seasons and Proper of Saints) each day to ensure you have the correct ones.

If not otherwise specified, the antiphon for Prime is the first antiphon of Lauds.

Rubrics and page numbers for Prime

The table below provides the rubrics and page numbers for Prime.

Page number in Diurnal
Rubrics (as far as possible when said alone)

Opening prayers
MD 1

MD 1-2; 146-7 (Sunday)
Sung standing, medium bow last verse

 [It depends]
Sung standing.
In choir or in a group cantor intones, rest join in at *

Psalms of the day of the week

Monday - start MD 3
Tuesday - start MD 10
Wednesday – MD 16
Thursday – MD 21
Friday - MD 25
Saturday - MD 32
Sunday- MD 146

Sit after first half of verse 1 of psalm; stand and bow for the Gloria Patri at the end of each psalm.

 [It depends]
Stay standing.

 MD 7
Note response,  ‘Deo Gratias.

 MD 7

Closing prayers, including collect
Bow for Our Father (said silently) and collect.
Ends with ‘fidelium animae…’
* Page numbers may differ in other editions.

Chants for the hymn

For those who want to learn to sing the hymn, the video below provides the version used on Sundays through the year:

If you would like to learn the 'ordinary', weekday tone of the Prime hymn throughout the year, the video below provides it:


Anonymous said...

I am confused concerning which psalms to say at Prime during the octaves of Christmas and Easter
.If the antiphons are the only moving parts of Prime how can the psalms vary from the weekly pattern as presented in the psalter. Regards James

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. Just to clarify:at Prime one always says the psalms from the Psalter under the relevant day; the unique exception is during the Easter Triduum when one says psalms 53,118. These two psalms are said in addition to those from the psalter and are said at the very beginning of the Prime.Have I got this correct? Regards James

Terra said...

Not quite James. During the triduum Ps 58 and the relevant parts of psalm 118 are said instead of the psalms of the day not as well as.

As far as I can ascertain (and I'm just reading the rubrics here, I'm not an expert!), on all other days, the three or four psalms (or sections of psalms) said are those prescribed for the day in the psalter.

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason why Psalm 13, said on Thursday at Prime, is missing a few lines? After checking my Bible, it appears that verse 3 of this psalm isn't listed in its entirety in the Diurnal. Is that a typo or is that just part of the Office? Great website by the way.

Terra said...

On psalm 13, good catch. I don't know the answer but it seems to be deliberate - the 1962 breviary doesn't include that bit of the vulgate either....

Michael Dorner said...

I'm still confused about Prime.

At the end of Prime every day, without exception, do I say The versicle "Regi saeculorum immortali..." and the response "Exsurge Christe, adjuva nos...."?

Then, is the collect on p.8 (Monday Prime) said every day without exception and no feasts collect replaces it?

Michael Dorner

Kate said...

Corect Michael.

The second half of Prime (Collect Regi, versicle Exurge and concluding prayers including collect) are the same every day.

The moving parts are the psalms (by day of the week) and antiphon (day of the week/season/feasts).

CountrySteve said...

Hey, I don't know if this could help anyone, but heres the prayers for after Prime.


God bless!

CountrySteve said...

If I may ask a questions, for the instruction on Reading the Holy Rule, what does the S.P.N before St.Benedict's name mean? God bless!

Kate Edwards said...

It means of Our (Most) Holy Father, ie =Sancti(ssimi) Patris Nostri (hope I've got the case right, can't find it written out anywhere!).

Vespere mundi said...

Dear Kate,

The absence of the capitular office in the Diurnale surprised me. Is it not considered part of Prime? Would someone praying "only the first half" of this Hour - omitting the capitular office and martyrology - truly be praying Prime in its fullness?

Thank you!

Kate Edwards said...

The 'capitular office' or chapter is not actually part of the Office at all, not even mentioned in the Rule of St Benedict.

It is simply a set of prayers (the content of which varies between congregations/monasteries) that has become a traditional part of the monastic day down the centuries rather than a formal part of the liturgy of the hours. Indeed, its name comes from the fact that it is traditionally said in the chapter room, not the church.

Greg said...

I tried reading Prime this morning (October 3, 2016 St. Therese) and the first psalm is supposed to be Psalm 23 but the Diurnal uses Psalm 1. I thought I would check the common for Virgins but Psalm 23 was not there. In fact I cannot find Psalm 23 in the Diurnal at all! What am I doing wrong? Thanks!

Kate Edwards said...


What makes you think the first psalm should be Psalm 23?

1. The first psalm of Monday in the Benedictine office is indeed Psalm 1 not Psalm 23 - perhaps you are thinking of the post 1911 Roman Office? The Benedictine psalm cursus is not the same - it is as set out in the rule of St Benedict so the psalms of Prime are 1-2, 6-19. You can find the full psalm scheme for the Benedictine Office laid out here: http://www.gregorianbooks.com/gregorian/www/www.kellerbook.com/Monastic.htm

2. Psalm 23 is indeed not in the Diurnal - in the Benedictine Office it is said at Sunday Matins (Vigils), which is not one of the day hours so not in the book.

3. St Therese is a memorial only in the Benedictine Office which means that her feast only affects Lauds, not the other hours (at lauds you add the versicle, antiphon and collect after the collect of the day in the closing prayers).

Greg said...

Thank you Kate. I download the Breviarum Meum app and set the version to 1960 Rubrics. The first psalm noted was Psalm 23...that is why I got confused. I changed to pre-Trent monastic and it worked!

Kate Edwards said...

Glad the problem is solved, but be careful with that ap though. It is a useful tool for helping to learn to follow the Office, but the 'pre-Trent' Office doesn't really line up that closely with the monastic office as laid out in the Rule, doesn't follow the 1962 calendar and is not ecclesiastically approved, so not appropriate for liturgical use in my view.

KS said...

Two questions.

I noticed that yesterday for the feast of All Souls of the Benedictine Order there seems to be a special Collect for Prime. Is this because the Office for the Dead is a unique circumstance or is the collect that is mentioned for Prime under Nov. 14th an additional collect to be sung after the regular one in a manner similar to a memorial?

I have in some brief notes I took while staying at monastery that Prime is generally sung Recto Tono. What I can't remember is if this also applies to the things like "Deus in adjiutorium..." "Kyrie Eleison" and "Benedicamos Domino." Are those also sung Recto Tono for this hour, or are they generally sung in the Simple/Solemn Tones as is proper to the day?

Thank you!

Kate Edwards said...

KS -

There are two sets of exceptions for the normal rubrics of Prime:
(1) All Souls and All Souls of the Benedictine Order; and
(2) Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday.

These are quite different than for all other days of the year, with no starting prayers or hymn; the Gloria at the end of the psalm not said, and on All Souls replaced by Requiem Aeternam; and collects for the days. These special (and very ancient) offices (from the Roman Office) have come to replace the normal (Benedictine) Prime of the day.

In terms of the chant, there is no requirement that it be done recto tono - some monasteries but others sing it in full. Either way, the mix of recto tono vs chant to use is really up to you. Where they are sung in chant, the simple tones are generally used, but the hymn for example has a number of variants for the level of the feast/season. If you want to see how one monastery does it recto tono, listen to Le Barroux online...

Charles Klimushyn said...

Hi Kate,

Just making sure, is the antiphon, "As I live...," used every week day for Prime during Lent baring a class one feast?

Thxs, -Chuck

Kate Edwards said...

Class II feasts override its use as well, but yes, it used on all weekdays up until Passiontide.