by Sr Fidelis
Seven Times a Day
Psalm 119:164 was the biblical verse that was the basis for Benedict’s order of Divine Office in his Rule. The early monks strove to “pray without ceasing,” and praying seven times a day was one way they could come closer to this goal. These Offices were evenly dispersed throughout the day and night. Their names are: Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, and Matins (the Night Office).
The two “pillar” Offices are Lauds and Vespers — sanctifying the beginning and end of each day. Lauds means “praise,” and one of the key components is the Praise Psalm, always placed at the end of the particular day’s psalms. The origin of Vespers finds its roots in the Jewish custom of the lighting of lamps to hallow the end of the day. These pillar Offices are connected to the natural course of the day, and our dependence on the light.
The other Offices — Prime, Terce, Sext, and None — which are somewhat shorter, are sprinkled throughout the day, traditionally at three hour intervals. Their names are practical…Latin words for the specific hours when they were celebrated in ancient times.
Compline, an English word, is a derivative of the Latin Completorium — meaning “completion.” It’s the last Office recited before bedtime.
The Rule of Benedict, although very precise in setting forth a schedule for the Divine Office, also allowed for the possibility of each monastic house to adapt the schedule to fit its own needs. This flexibility has enabled many to follow the Rule in various cultures and times. Today many Christians wrestle with how to maintain the round of daily Offices in the midst of the pressures of twenty-first century living. Many modern monastic houses have altered the original schedule to fit their own unique circumstances. At the Community of Jesus, we observe four Offices a day: Lauds, Midday, Vespers, and Compline. There are some traditional monastic houses that still pray the original seven Offices.
Whether seven or four, or any number in between, the Benedictine day is punctuated by these encounters with God. They are our lifeline of prayer.