Brush up your rubrics: When are the hours properly said?

I had a query recently about the extent to which it is permissible to join together hours, with a reference to Cardinal Richelieu's infamous practice of saying the entire Office at midnight each night.

Accordingly, this week I thought I might provide a refresher on just what the rubrics are on this subject, and some of the issues around them.

The rules around saying the hours at the proper time

The rules for saying the Benedictine Office using the Diurnal are governed both by overarching Church law, and the rubrics of the 1963 breviary.

In particular, Universae Ecclesiae sets out that breviaries are to be used as they were, so technically the relevant provision of the current Code of Canon law, 1175 arguably doesn't apply:
In carrying out the liturgy of the hours, the true time for each hour is to be observed insofar as possible.
In reality, however, the 1963 rubrics for the Benedictine Office say virtually the same thing, saying that the canonical hours are intended for the sanctification of the hours of the natural day and accordingly should be said as near to their proper time as possible (General Rubrics of the Breviary, Bk II, 137).  There is no provision, as far as I can see, for joining of hours (ie saying more than one under the same set of concluding prayers) other than Matins and Lauds, though this was done in earlier versions of the Office.

There are good reasons for this, as most of the hours have specific associations with the time of day that are mentioned in the hymns, psalms and prayers set for each hour.  Terce, for example, is associated with Pentecost, that took place 'at the third hour', and this connection is alluded to in the hymn.

So what are the proper times?: The rubrics

The general principles for when the hours should be said are set out in the Benedictine Rule in various chapters (both in the liturgical section of the Rule, and in the discussion of the arrangement of the day) and make it clear that St Benedict was fairly flexible (within certain limits) about when most of the hours are said.  As a result, may monasteries do things like say Sext and None one after the other, or join Terce to Mass.

The two absolutes, if you read the Rule, would seem to be that Matins needs to be said in the dark of the night (with an instruction to rise at the eighth hour of the night), and to start Lauds at first light.

Experience has shown, however, that while St Benedict's timetable for the Night Office, of rising at the 'eighth hour of the night' (around 3am depending on the time of sunset), might arguably have worked well in Monte Cassino, at other latitudes with much greater variations in the number of daylight or night hours, adjustments may need to be made.  There are several ways this can be done, including saying Matins the day before (which is permitted in the 1963 rubrics 'for a just cause', but not before 2pm ("Matutinum, ex iusta causa, horis post meridianis diei praecedentis anticipare licet, non tamen ante horam quartamdecimam"); saying Matins at midnight and then going back to bed until Lauds (done by at least one contemporary Benedictine women's monastery); or cutting down or out the gap between Matins and Lauds.

The 1963 rubrics also specify that Lauds should be said first thing in the morning when said in common or in choir (ie cannot be anticipated), but can be said 'when convenient' if said by oneself.

They also allow Vespers in Lent and Passiontide to be said any time after midday (in consideration of the fasting rules set out in the Rule) when said in common or in choir (or a time convenient if said alone).

The final provision is that Compline is always said as the last hour of the day (but in this case the Pater Noster etc in the opening section is omitted, and examen done privately) in, even if Matins is anticipated.


For those with a formal obligation to say the Office, however, there has to be some more flexibility, and the rubrics do provide that it is sufficient to say all of the hours within a twenty-four hour period.

In this light I recently came across some timely advice for hermits on what to do if you sleep in for Matins (I think from St Basil, but I can't currently lay my hands on the reference): viz close the windows and doors (to simulate darkness outside) and get on and say it, however late it may be!

For laypeople though, if you sleep through Matins or Lauds, or can't say the proper hour at more or less the correct time (plus or minus a few hours), I would suggest that the appropriate solution is to just skip the hour: you have no obligation to say any or all of the hours. If you really want to say the psalms, just say them, it doesn't have to be part of the Office.

Best practice?

Either way, we should not, in my opinion, just be ruled by law, but should also consider why we are praying the 'liturgy of the hours' (and the name is not just a modern invention!).

Though St Benedict doesn't set out an explicit rationale for each of the hours, he probably thought he didn't need to: he could assume that his readers were familiar with the expositions of the subject provided by SS Cyprian, Basil, Cassian  and many others of the Fathers.

I've tried to summarise the key associations/rationales often cited in the table below by way of an aid.

Time of day to be said

Matins (not in Diurnal)

Darkness, very early morning

Ps 118: at midnight…;

Anna prayed in the temple day and night (Lk 2:37);

Paul and Silas prayed at midnight;

Watching for the second coming

First light
Psalm 118: Seven times a day

Hour when lamps trimmed, incense offered, morning sacrifice in tabernacle and temple;

Rising of the sun/Son - celebrates the Resurrection.

First hour after sunrise -  before starting work
First hour when workmen recruited for the vineyard (Mt 20:1-6).

Consecrate first thoughts and work of day to Christ the first and last.

 Literally the third hour after sunrise - mid-morning
In honour of the Trinity;

Labourers in the vineyard recruited;

Hour of Pentecost

The sixth hour after sunrise,  
Midday - lunchtime
In honour of the Trinity;

labourers in the vineyard recruited;

Visitors to Abraham (Genesis 18);

Hour Peter prayed, vision of the gentiles (Acts 10);

Time of the crucifixion

The ninth hour after sunrise - mid-afternoon
In honour of the Trinity;

Labourers in the vineyard recruited;

Peter and John prayed at the temple (Acts 3);

Cornelius prayed at this hour (Acts 10);

Death of Jesus on the cross.

 As the sun is setting - early evening
Labourers in the vineyard recruited (11th hour);

Lighting of the lamps and evening sacrifice in tabernacle and temple;

At setting of sun, ask the true Sun/Son to come again.

Before bed
Prayer before sleep, asking for a resurrection from the little sleep that mimics the sleep of death;

Hour Christ prayed with his disciples in the Garden;

Fulfils four night hours of Nehemiah 9:3 (with Vespers, Matins and Lauds)


Jon said...

Ah, but how about Oblates, especially those of traditional monasteries, in this case, Silverstream, in Ireland (I'm in the U.S.)?

Should Oblates who miss Lauds because of work or other domestic responsibilities say the Hour later? If you're not able to pray till noon, should you begin with Sext? Just curious as to your opinion.


Kate Edwards said...

Jon - You need to ask your Prior or oblate director that not me as it really depends on the oblate statutes/rules/guidelines of your particular monastery.

I don't know what Silverstreams rules are but most trad monasteries oblate statutes encourage (but not require) oblates to say one or two hour a day, such as Lauds or Prime and Vespers or Compline, or listen to the occasional podcast of the Office.

In general though, Oblates do not have an obligation to say the Office in the same way that religious do (ie under pain of sin). Priests and religious have a formal obligation to say all of the hours (subject to dispensation, illness etc); it is a sin for them to omit it. Oblates merely strive to say the hours when they can, consistent with their promises (not vows).

That said, I'd probably urge you to get up ten minutes earlier and say the shorter hour of Prime so you have at least some hour to start off your day before work (consistent with St Benedict's advice to ask for God's help before we do anything) rather than waiting for midday and saying either Lauds or Sext!

George P said...

Do strict rules also apply to the laity ? I read the morning and evening prayers and with family obligations not always at the same time, or according to the given schedule.

Kate Edwards said...

The rubrics apply to everyone.

However,that doesn't mean you have to say the hours at the same time each day or anything. Monks or nuns of course in a monastery to stick to a set schedule, but when the Office is said alone the rubrics often say 'as convenient'.

The key points to note I think are:
1) You don't have to say any or all of the hours - just pick the ones that suit your own circumstances/available prayer times (or are specified in your Oblate statutes).
2) Say the hours you use in their correct order.
3) Try and fit them in at the appropriate time of day as far as possible - so Lauds and/or Prime in the morning, Vespers and/or Compline in the evening.

Unknown said...

Hello! I am admin for a Russian internet-group on the Benedictines. Do you mind if I translate parts of it into Russian?

Vitalis, Obl.S.B.

Kate Edwards said...

Dear Vitalis - Please email me offline australiaincognita @ gmail . com to discuss