Lauds – The Office of Light

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

In current usage, the day, running from midnight to midnight, is divided up into 24 hours of equal length.  The Romans, however, kept time in a different manner.  Their day was divided between the time when there was daylight (the day) and the time when it was dark (the night).  The Roman day was divided into 12 hours of equal length, regardless of how much time of daylight there might be on a given day.  So, as the year progressed, the length of each of these daylight hours would increase or decrease.  The Third Hour (Hora Tertia), for its part, marked when the sun was halfway to its zenith, the Sixth Hour (Hora Sexta) when it reached it the zenith, and the Ninth (Hora Nona) when the sun was halfway down.  This way of telling time is still reflected in the Divine Office – which divides the 150 Psalms among the days of the week and then distributes the Psalms assigned to each day to different parts of the day, each part called an “Hour,” along with other readings from Scripture, ecclesiastical compositions, and prayers – where the Minor Hours of the day are called Prime (the First Hour – Hora Prima), Terce (the Third Hour), Sext (the Sixth Hour), and None (the Ninth Hour).

Ancient Roman Time Keeping (source)

The Roman night was also divided up into 12 hours of equal, yet variable length, but these hours were organized into four Watches (Vigilia).  As Mr. Gregory DiPippo has explained, the first three Watches correspond to the three Nocturns in the Office of Matins, while the fourth Watch, which ends with the dawn, corresponds to the Office of Lauds.It is no surprise, then, that one commonly finds in the Office of Lauds references to the dawn, light, and the morning.

T. de Leu’s God Creating Light (source)

Prior to the changes made to the Roman Psalter under Pope St. Pius X, every Lauds contained Psalm 62,2 which proclaims: “O God, my God, to thee do I watch (vigilo) at break of day…I will meditate on thee in the morning,” and Psalm 66 which prays: “May God have mercy on us, and bless us: may he cause the light of his countenance to shine upon us, and may he have mercy on us.”  Just as the material sun was beginning to shine its rays upon them, the faithful would pray for the supernatural light of God, the God for Whom they had been keeping vigil throughout the night and Whose arrival is symbolized by the rising sun.3  Being followed by the variable Old Testament Canticles and the three Psalms of Praise which conclude the Psalm-portion of Lauds (Psalms 148, 149, and 150; the Laudate Psalms from which the name Lauds is derived), Psalms 62 and 66 serve as a fitting culmination to the night Watches.  Further, it is also becoming that the praise of the Laudate Psalms breaks forth with the symbolic arrival of the Watched-for-One.

T. de Leu’s God Creates the Sun, Moon and Stars (source)

In addition to the daily praying of Psalms 62 and 66, Psalm 5 (“For to thee will I pray: O Lord, in the morning thou shalt hear my voice.  In the morning I will stand before thee, and I will see: because thou art not a God that willest iniquity”) was recited on Mondays; Psalm 42 (“Send forth thy light and thy truth: they have conducted me, and brought me unto thy holy hill, and into thy tabernacles”) on Tuesdays; Psalm 64 (“Thou shalt make the outgoings of the morning and of the evening to be joyful”) on Wednesdays; Psalm 89 (“In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish”) on Thursdays; Psalm 142 (“Cause me to hear thy mercy in the morning; for in thee have I hoped”) on Fridays; and Psalm 91 (“It is good to give praise to the Lord: and to sing to thy name, O most High.  To shew forth thy mercy in the morning”) on Saturdays.4

The Lauds ferial Chapter (a short reading from Scripture), taken from Romans 13:12-13, fittingly marks the transition from night to the day at the dawn and the associated spiritual lessons Christians should learn from this daily occurrence:

The night is passed and the day is at hand.  Let us, therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us walk honestly, as in the day.

References to light are also regularly found in the feria Lauds hymns throughout the year (the hymns sung when no when feast is kept).  The relevant portions of the hymns of each day will be presented in turn.

In the Sunday Lauds hymn Æterne rerum conditor (St. Ambrose), which is used “from the Octave of the Epiphany until the first Sunday of Lent, and from the Sunday nearest the [First] of October until Advent,”5 the Church hymns the following:

Now the shrill cock proclaims the day,
And calls the sun’s awak’ning ray—
The wand’ring pilgrim’s guiding light,
That marks the watches night by night.

Roused at the note, the morning star
Heaven’s dusky veil uplifts afar:
Night’s vagrant bands no longer roam,
But from their dark ways hie them home.6

The hymn Ecce jam noctis (St. Gregory the Great), also used for Sunday Lauds “from the third Sunday after Pentecost until the Sunday nearest the [First] of October,”7 contains the following:

LO, the dim shadows of the night are waning;
Lightsome and blushing, dawn of day returneth;
Fervent in spirit, to the world’s Creator
Pray we devoutly:

Monday’s hymn, Splendor paternæ gloria (St. Ambrose), uses the theme of light to praise the Son Who is from the Father as “Light from Light” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) and Who mutually indwell in one another:

O SPLENDOR of God’s glory bright,
O Thou that bringest light from light,
O Light of Light, light’s Living Spring,
O Day, all days illumining.

O Thou true Sun, on us Thy glance
Let fall in royal radiance,
The Spirit’s sanctifying beam
Upon our earthly senses stream.

Rejoicing may this day go hence,
Like virgin dawn our innocence,
Like fiery noon our faith appear,
Nor know the gloom of twilight drear.

Morn in her rosy car is borne;
Let Him come forth our Perfect Morn,
The Word in God the Father One,
The Father perfect in the Son.

The hymns for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were written by the great Christian poet Prudentius (A.D. 348-413).  Found in his Cathemerinon, “it will be observed that they are replete with figurative expressions.  As darkness and mists are symbolical of sin and unbelief, so light is a symbol of truth and of Christ.”8

The hymn for Tuesday Lauds, Ales diei nuntius, begins by referencing the birdsong which accompanies the dawn:

AS the bird, whose clarion gay
Sounds before the dawn is grey,
Christ, who brings the spirit’s day,
Calls us, close at hand:

“Wake!” He cries, “and for my sake,
From your eyes dull slumbers shake!
Sober, righteous, chaste, awake!
At the door I stand!”

Lord, to Thee we lift on high
Fervent prayer and bitter cry:
Hearts aroused to pray and sigh
May not slumber more:

Break the sleep of Death and Time,
Forged by Adam’s ancient crime;
And the light of Eden’s prime
To the world restore!

Nox, et tenebræ, et nubila is sung on Wednesdays, the day the Sun was created according to the Genesis account:

DAY is breaking, dawn is bright:
Hence, vain shadows of the night!
Mists that dim our mortal sight,
Christ is come! Depart!

Darkness routed lifts her wings
As the radiance upwards springs:
Through the world of wakened things
Life and color dart.

Thee, O Christ, alone we know:
Singing even in our woe,
With pure hearts to Thee we go:
On our senses shine!

In Thy beams be purged away
All that leads our thoughts astray!
Through our spirits, King of day,
Pour Thy light divine!

Thursday’s hymn, Lux ecce surgit auria, begins as follows:

SEE the golden sun arise!
Let no more our darkened eyes
Snare us, tangled by surprise
In the maze of sin!

From false words and thoughts impure
Let this Light, serene and sure,
Keep our lips without secure,
Keep our souls within.

Friday’s hymn, Æterna coeli gloria (Ambrosian, 5th century), contains the lines:

The morning star fades from the sky,
The sun breaks forth; night’s shadows fly:
O Thou, true Light, upon us shine:
Our darkness turn to light divine.

Within us grant Thy light to dwell;
And from our souls dark sins expel;
Cleanse Thou our minds from stain of ill,
And with Thy peace our bosoms fill.

In the last hymn of the week, Aurora jam spargit polum (Ambrosian, 4th or 5th century), sung on Saturdays, is found the following:

THE dawn is sprinkling in the east
Its golden shower, as day flows in;
Fast mount the pointed shafts of light:
Farewell to darkness and to sin!

Finally, the daily Benedictus (Canticle of Zacharias, Luke 1:68-79) references Christ as “the Orient [or Dawn] from on high” sent “to enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

Thus does the Office of Lauds, preeminently the Office of Light, express the sentiments which our Christian forefathers associated with the dawn, the daily coming of light, and the morning.  May we strive, through the praying of this Hour, to make them our own.

Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently providing coverage at the FSSP Apostolate in Edmond, Oklahoma.

In support of the causes of Blessed Maria Cristina, Queen, and Servant of God Francesco II, King 

  1. What is now called Lauds was called at one point “Laudes matutinæ” or “Morning Praises” while what is currently called Matins was called “Vigilia,” “Vigils” or “Watches.”  Over time, “Laudes” came to be applied to just the dawn Office, while the “matutinæ” (Matins) was applied to the previous.  The term “Vigil” was then used to indicate a day of preparation, usually penitential in nature, immediately before a major feast day.  It is important to note for this discussion that Matins and Lauds originally constituted only one Hour.  This explains why, unlike when other Hours are prayed continuously, Matins and Lauds can be concluded together with only one oration rather than one at the end of Matins and the other at the end of Lauds, which would be the case for the other Hours.  This also helps explain why, historically, both Matins and Lauds were able to be anticipated on the day before.
  2. All Psalm numbers are given according to the Vulgate numbering.
  3. In the reform of Pope Pius X, Psalm 62 was assigned to be recited only on Sundays and Psalm 66 only on Tuesdays.
  4. The reform of Pope Pius X maintained these Psalms on the above mentioned days.
  5. Britt, Matthew. The Hymns of The Breviary and Missal. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1936), p. 51.
  6. The translation of this and the following hymns are taken from Britt, Matthew. The Hymns of The Breviary and Missal. New York: Benziger Brothers, 1936.
  7. Britt, p. 54.
  8. Ibid., p. 60.

July 10, 2024