Learning the Office Part XA: Lauds

Apologies for being a bit slow to get to this! But in any case, I've deliberately left the best, my favourite hour, Lauds, until last, partly because it is the most elaborate of the Hours in many respects as far as rubrics go and so easier to learn once you are familiar with the other hours. But it is an hour that really repays the learning curve.

I'm going to split this up into a couple of parts, with this one serving as a general introduction.

Where Lauds fits in the scheme of things

Vatican II describes Lauds and Vespers as the hinges of the Office. I'm not sure that is really quite as true of the Benedictine Office, where really Matins, Lauds and Vespers are the 'big three'.

In the traditional Roman Office, the norm is for Matins and Lauds to be effectively treated as one Office, said with little or no separation between them. That isn't the case in the Monastic Office, where St Benedict specifies that in winter at least there should be a reasonable gap between the two hours, with the time to be devoted to studying the psalms or lectio divina.

The main point is that Lauds is intended to be said at first light (RB 8), and see in the dawn. The hymns of the hour and the psalms (all of which have been carefully selected for the hour) contain many references to the dawn and the morning, the coming light and so forth, so watch out for them. And the length of the hour itself works nicely to take you from first light to dawn (note: some translators argue that the Rule should be read as saying that Lauds should start at dawn. I think the arguments for a first light reading are compelling, not least from the context of the text of the Office itself). Realistically, not many people these days can arrange their schedule as a vigil for the dawn, but try it at least once or twice if you can, just to get the flavour of it.

The structure of Lauds and its spirituality

Lauds is the longest of the day-hours, and has quite a bit of repetition in it, so I think it is worth looking at some of the reasons for this.

The first point, as I've noted relates to it being a dawn vigil. After the long night Vigil which the monk keeps through the darkness of the literal and metaphorical night, Lauds focuses us on preparing for and rejoicing at the coming of the sun/Son.

The hour always starts (after the Deus in Adjutorium) with Psalm 66 (page 38 in the psalter section of the Farnborough Monastic Diurnal), a beautiful psalm asking for God's blessing to come upon us.

We then get a mini-lesson on the pattern of our lives, the struggle to free ourselves from sin so that we might rejoice with God for eternity. The first psalm (save on some Sundays and on feasts) is the Miserere (Ps 50), begging forgiveness for our sinfulness. My favourite line is always 'Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui....' (Give me back the joy of thy salvation..).

The next two psalms set for the hour vary each day of the week, and are all particularly pertinent to the themes of the hour, take a look through!

Then comes a canticle, a selection from one of the great psalm-like songs from elsewhere in Scripture, often focusing on what God has already done for us, and his promises, followed by the Laudate psalms from the very end of the psalter.

To me all of this, together with the ever increasing light in the sky always seems to symbolise the 'almost/but not yet' time we live in - after the Coming of Our Lord, but before the Kingdom is fully realised on earth. The literal day, of course, does come, and so the use of the Laudate ('praising' - Psalms 148-150) psalms serve as a reminder that the Kingdom too, will inevitably come. The other great highlight of the hour, the Gospel canticle, the Benedictus, with its prophecies, serves a similar purpose.

Two schemas....

In his Rule, St Benedict sets out two schemas for Lauds, one for Sundays (RB 12) and another for weekdays (RB 13). Each of these has a festal variant, which I'll explain in the next two parts.

In the meantime, enjoy a little of a much longer setting of the Benedictus then I expect you will ever use at Lauds, by Lully.

You can find the next part of this series here.

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