Brush up your rubrics 1: terminology

Le Barroux

We believe that God is present everywhere and that the eyes of the Lord behold the good and the bad in every place. Let us firmly believe this, especially when we take part in the Work of God. 

Let us, therefore, always be mindful of what the Prophet saith, "Serve ye the Lord with fear". And again, "Sing ye wisely".And, "I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels". Therefore, let us consider how it becometh us to behave in the sight of God and His angels, and let us so stand to sing, that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.

Rule of St Benedict, chapter 19

Over the next several weeks I plan to post a series of 'brush up your rubrics' posts, reminding you of some of the key aspects of how to say the Office correctly as I update my how to say the office reference posts.  Today, I want to start with a list of key terms.

The Monastic Diurnal uses a lot of terms you may not have encountered before, so here is a set of brief definitions for some of the key ones you are likely to encounter.  Please do feel free to propose better definitions, correct, or suggest other terms I should include.

The Divine Office 

The Divine Office, also sometimes called the Liturgy of the Hours or 'Work of God', is the official set of prayers said through the day and night.  Together with the Mass, it constitutes the official public (liturgical) prayer of the Church.

Just as there are different versions of the Mass, such as the Eastern rites, the traditional Mass (Extraordinary Form) and the modern Mass (Ordinary Form); there are different versions of the Divine Office.  The main ones are the Roman Rite (modern Liturgy of the Hours, the 1962 Roman Breviary), those of the Eastern Churches, and the forms of the Office used by the various religious orders.

The form of the Office we are looking at on this blog is the one set out by St Benedict (c485-547) in his Rule, and used in various versions by some Benedictines, Cistercians and some other religious orders such as the Carthusians.

The 'hours'

The Divine Office is made up of a number of separate sets of prayers, said at various times through the day and night, called 'hours' (because they mark the passing of the hours).  The shortest hours (Terce, Sext and None) actually only take around 5-10 minutes to say, while the longest, Matins, can last up to 2-3 hours.

In the traditional form of the Benedictine office, the names of the 'hours' are Matins (aka Night Office, Nocturns), Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.

The part of the hours

Each of the hours is made up of a number of separate elements, including:

Hymns -  The word hymn derives from Greek hymnos, which means a song of praise.  In this context a hymn is a song that is not Scriptural.  In St Benedict's Rule he sometimes refers to hymn as 'the Ambrosian', after St Ambrose who introduced hymn singing to the Western church, and composed a number of hymns that remain in use today, such as the Te Deum.

Psalms - Songs from the book of psalms in the Bible.

Canticles (canticum) - Terms used for songs that come from books of the Bible other than the Book of Psalms.

Antiphon - Short text used with a psalm.  It is used as part of a call and response approach to reciting the psalms.

Chapter (capitulum) - Short lesson from Scripture.

Versicle (versus) - Verse and response, such as 'The Lord be with you; And also with you'.

Responsory - Verses and responses in a more elaborate structure than than the versicle.

Collect (oratio) - Prayer said as part of the closing of each hour of the Office.

The Diurnal

The name of the book most people will be using is the Monastic Diurnal.  Diurnal just means day, so the literal meaning is the Monastic Day.  In fact it means the book that contains all of the texts needed to say the day prayers of the Divine office.

Other key terms you may come across to refer to books containing the parts of the Office include:

Breviary - Office book including all of the hours, including the night hours.

Psalter (pronounced 'salter') - Book containing the psalms arranged in the order they are said in the office, usually with the key prayers for each hour included.

Antiphonale (Monasticum) - Book containing the chants used for the day hours of the Office.


Ordo is short for 'ordo recitandi', or 'order of reciting.  It is a set of instructions arranged by calendar date that tells you what texts are used in the office on a particular day.  It usually lists the day of the week, the season (if not time throughout the year), any feasts being celebrated and their level.  It may also provide page numbers for texts that vary from the norm.

Rubrics - Rules for saying the Office.  The rubrics include what words should be said, when they should be said, and the gestures and postures to be used.  The rubrics used for this blog come from the 1962 Breviarium Monasticum.

1 comment:

Andrew Tillcock said...

Starting to learn all over again as I've been away for so long.But this time with the help of everyone here I hope to learn the monastic diurnal.