Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Learn the office 3.2: Prime

Image result for iam lucis orto sidere image
King David composing Psalm 1

At Prime let three psalms be said, one by one and not under the same Gloria; and before the psalms begin, but after the verse Deus in adjutorium, the hymn proper to that Hour.  Then at the end of the three psalms, let there be the lesson, versicle, Kyrie eleison and concluding prayers.

Rule of St Benedict, Ch 17

Prime - Christ: first, last, and always

Prime, literally means first, as it was originally said at the first hour after sunrise.

Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium claimed that Vespers and Lauds are the 'hinges' of the hours in the Roman Office.    Whether that is true or not, so far as the Benedictine Office goes, I think Prime has a stronger claim to be the foundational hour for the day; pity then, that so many monasteries have abolished it!

St Benedict alludes, in the Prologue to the Rule, to the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20); the first group of workers you will recall, were called at the first hour.  

St Benedict's predecessor, St Basil made a clear link between this parable and the hours of the Office, and St Benedict surely had this in mind in his design of the hour, since many of the Fathers interpreted the first workers called as the Jews.   

St Benedict reminds us of this by starting the hour each week on Sunday with a stanza of Psalm 118, labelled 'aleph', the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Psalm 118 is an alphabetical psalm:  in Hebrew every one of the eight lines of the stanza start with Aleph, and so on through the alphabet up to 'Tau', the twenty-second and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

And even though St Benedict shifts, on Monday, to Psalm 1&2, then 6-19 at this hour, he still ends up setting exactly the same number of psalms (or parts of psalms) as there are letters of the Hebrew alphabet (viz 22) for this hour.

Psalm 118 also opens with a beatitude (Blessed are those who...), a verse that was often interpreted by the Fathers as signalling that Christ, on the eighth day that is Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, is leading the many into heaven.

And the hour ends each week on Saturday with an ode to Christ the King in Psalm 19.

The key message of Prime, then is Christ the alpha and omega; Aleph and Tau; first, last and always.

The structure of Prime

Prime has a very simple structure: opening prayer, hymn, three psalms (or parts of psalms; four sections of Psalm 118 on Sunday) with antiphon, and closing prayers. 

The hymn, chapter, versicle and collect are the same everyday, and give the hour a strong focus on preparing for the day.

Prime has two key moving parts: the psalms and the antiphons (see below)

In monastic practice, Prime is normally immediately followed by Chapter, which includes the reading of the martyrology and Rule, and prayers to be said before work, which reinforces this focus.  

While some books combine the two 'offices' the 1962 breviary does separate them, so I will post on the capitular office separately.

The psalms of Prime

Benedictine Prime has no fixed or repeated psalms.  Instead three psalms or parts of psalms (four on Sunday) are said each day.

There is, however, a thematic unity in the psalms of the hour (Psalms 1-2, 6-19 and Psalm 118), with many revolving around key themes in the Rule, such as God's constant scrutiny of our actions - even when we are not conscious of it - to see if we are striving to do right, and are availing ourselves of his grace.

You can find notes on them by following the links in the table below.

Sunday (Ps 118)
Ps 6 

It is worth noting that there are no 'festal' psalms for feasts in the Benedictine Office: instead the psalms of the relevant day of the week are always used, except on a few rare occasions, such as the Sacred Triduum, and during the Octaves of Easter and Pentecost.

The antiphons of Prime

The antiphons of Prime can vary with the day of the week, season or feast.

Most Office books provide the main seasonal antiphons in the psalter section of the book.

In Lent, for example, the antiphon is the same each day, 'Vivo ego...' (As I live).

On ordinary days throughout the year (per annum), by contrast, there is an antiphon for each day of the week (Alleluia on Sundays; Servite Domino on Mondays, and so forth).

On other special days, however, such as the feast of saints (third class or above), if no antiphon is specified, the default is the first antiphon of Lauds from the feast or Common of the type of saint.

Where to find Prime in your book

Even though Prime is not the first of the day hours (Lauds is), Monday Prime can be found at the start of the psalter section of your Office book, with the other weekdays (up to Saturday) immediately following.

That is because the books try, as far as possible, to follow the numerical ordering of the psalms (to make it easier to find psalms needed for feasts at Matins).

Because Sunday Prime uses verses from Psalm 118, however, it is placed after Saturday Lauds, in order to (more or less) preserve the numerical sequence of the psalms.

Saying or singing Prime

The table below provides page numbers for Prime, with links to notes on the rubrics for each component of the hour.

The table below gives you the key words (in Latin) that start each section of Compline, in the first column.

The relevant page numbers in the Monastic Diurnal (MD) and Antiphonale Monasticum (AM) are in the last column. 

The notes column provides advice on the rubrics (note that gestures and postures are optional in private recitation).

If you are familiar with the traditional Roman Office, the table is probably all you need, as the Benedictine version is very similar to Sunday Compline in the 1962 Office (or daily Compline in the pre 1911 Office).  The key differences are that the psalms are said without antiphon, and the Nunc Dimittis is not said (except during the Triduum).

For those who are familiar with the 1970 Liturgy of the Hours or are complete beginners, I would recommend working your way through the links on the Office components (second column) if you haven't already.

OFFICE COMPONENT (with links to rubrics notes)
Deus in adjutorium/O Lord come to my aid

Opening prayers
Stand, +, bow for first half of doxology; note that the Alleluia is not said from Septuagesima til the end of Lent

Note: Said each day, even though the books do not explicitly indicate this.

Iam lucis orto sidere/Now that the daylight fills the sky

Chants used vary depending on day, season or feast
MD/AM 1-2;
MD 146-7, AM 81-2
[Antiphon of the day, season or feast]

 [It depends]

Psalms of the day of the week

Start of psalms:

Sunday: MD 146/AM 83

Monday: MD/AM 3

Tuesday: MD 10/AM 12

Wednesday: MD 16/AM 15

Thursday: MD 21/AM 17

Friday: MD 25/AM 19

Saturday: MD 32/AM 22

[Repeat antiphon]
Stand until the end of the hour.
 [It depends]

Regi saeculorum/To the King


AM provides an alternative verse for use on some occasions, but this is not used in the 1962 Office

Note that Deo Gratias is added to the end.

 MD 7/AM 6
Exurge Christe/Arise O Christ


 MD 7/AM 6
Kyrie eleison/Christ have mercy
Closing prayers, including fixed collect
If using Antiphonale omit preces, jump to bottom of AM 8 and end on that page).

Bow for Pater Noster and collect.

Said kneeling during Lent.
 MD 8-9/AM 6 , 8

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