Matins is the monastic nighttime liturgy, ending at dawn, of the canonical hours. In the Roman Catholic pre-Vatican-II breviary, it is divided into three nocturns. The name "matins" originally referred to the morning office also known as lauds. When the nocturnal monastic services called vigils or nocturns were joined with lauds, the name of "matins" was applied at first to the concluding morning service and later still to the entire series of vigils.
In the Anglican tradition, matins or mattins is the morning prayer, consolidating the hours of matins, lauds and prime. Lutherans preserve recognizably traditional matins distinct from morning prayer, but "matins" is sometimes used in other Protestant denominations to describe any morning service.
Matins (Office of Readings) in Roman Catholicism
The word "matins" is derived from Latin matutinum or matutinae, meaning "of or belonging to the morning". It was at first applied to the office of Lauds, celebrated at dawn, but later became attached to the prayer originally offered, according to the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions, at cock-crow.
The night office retained for some time its name of vigils, since, as a rule, vigils and matins (lauds) were combined, the latter serving, to a certain extent, as the closing part of vigils. The name matins was then extended to the office of vigils, and the original Matins took the name of lauds, a term which, strictly speaking, only designated the last three psalms of that office, i.e., the "Laudate" psalms. At the time when this change of name took place, the custom of saying vigils at night was observed scarcely anywhere but in monasteries, whilst elsewhere they were said in the morning, so that finally it did not seem a misapplication to give to a night Office a name which, strictly speaking, applied only to the office of day-break. The change, however, was only gradual. St. Benedict (6th century) in his description of the liturgy of the hours, always refers to vigils as the night office, whilst that of day-break he calls matins, lauds being the last three psalms of that office, those excised in the reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X (Regula, cap. XIII-XIV; see Lauds). The Council of Tours in 567 had already applied the title "matins" to the night office: ad Matutinum sex antiphonae. Laudes Matutinae; Matutini hymni are also found in various ancient authors as synonymous with Lauds.
The word "Vigils", at first applied to the night office, also comes from a Latin source, both as to the term and its use, namely the vigiliae or nocturnal watches or guards of the soldiers. The night from six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning was divided into four watches or vigils of three hours each, the first, the second, the third, and the fourth vigil. From the liturgical point of view and in its origin, the use of the term was very vague and elastic. Generally it designated the nightly meetings, synaxes, of the Christians. Under this form, the watch (vigil) might be said to date back as early as the beginning of Christianity. It was either on account of the secrecy of their meetings, or because of some mystical idea which made the middle of the night the hour par excellence for prayer, in the words of the psalm: media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi, that the Christians chose the night time for their synaxes, and of all other nights, preferably that leading to the first day of the week.
There is an allusion to it in the letter of Pliny the Younger. The liturgical services of these synaxes was composed of almost the same elements as that of the Jewish Synagogue: readings from the Books of the Law, singing of psalms, various prayers. What gave them a Christian character was the fact that they were followed by the Eucharistic service, and that to the reading from the Law, the letters of the apostles and the Acts of the Apostles was very soon added, as well as the Gospels and sometimes other books which were non-canonical, as, for example, the Epistles of Saint Clement, that of Saint Barnabas, the Apocalypse of Saint Peter, etc.
The more solemn watches, which were held on the anniversaries of martyrs or on certain feasts, were also known by this title, especially during the 3rd century and 4th century. The vigil in this case was also called pannychis, because the greater part of the night was devoted to it. Commenced in the evening, they terminated only the following morning, and involved, in addition to the eucharistic Supper, homilies, chants, and divers offices. These last vigils it was that gave rise to certain abuses, and they were finally abolished in the Church (see Vigils). Notwithstanding this, however, the vigils, in their strictest sense of divine office of the night, were maintained and developed. Among writers from the 4th century to the 6th century we find several descriptions of them. The "De Virginitate", a fourth-century treatise, gives them as immediately following Lauds.
Methodius of Olympus in his "Banquet of Virgins" (Symposion sive Convivium decem Virginum) subdivided the night office or pannychis into watches, but it is difficult to determine what he meant by these nocturns. St. Basil also gives a very vague description of the night office or vigils, but in terms which permit us to conclude that the psalms were sung, sometimes by two choirs, and sometimes as responses. John Cassian gives us a more detailed account of the night office of the 5th century monks. The number of psalms, which at first varied, was subsequently fixed at twelve, with the addition of a lesson from the Old Testament and another from the New Testament. St. Jerome defended the vigils against the attacks of Vigilantius, but it is principally concerning the watches at the tombs of the martyrs that he speaks in his treatise, "Contra Vigilantium".
Of all the descriptions the most complete is that in the "Peregrinatio Aetheriae" the author of which assisted at Matins in the churches of Jerusalem, where great solemnity was displayed. Other allusions are to be found in Caesarius of Arles, Nicetiuis or Nicetae of Treves, and Gregory of Tours.
The elements of this office from the fourth to the sixth century
In all the authors we have quoted, the form of Night Prayers would appear to have varied a great deal. Nevertheless, in these descriptions, and in spite of certain differences, we find the same elements repeated: the psalms generally chanted in the form of responses, that is to say by one or more cantors, the choir repeating one verse, which served as a response, alternately with the verses of psalms which were sung by the cantors; readings taken from the Old and the New Testament, and later on, from the works of the Fathers and doctors; litanies or supplications; prayer for the divers members of the Church, clergy, faithful, neophytes, and catechumens; for emperors; travellers; the sick; and generally for all the necessities of the Church, and even prayer for Jews and for heretics. It is quite easy to find these essential elements in the Tridentine Matins.
Roman liturgy of recent centuries
In the Tridentine Roman liturgy, matins, on account of its length, the position it occupied, and the matter of which it was composed, was the most important office of the day, and for the variety and richness of its elements the most remarkable. As the first canonical hour of the day, it commenced more solemnly than the other offices, with Psalm 94 (Psalm 95 in the Masoretic numbering), called the invitatory, chanted or recited in the form of a response, in accordance with the most ancient custom.
The hymns, which were but tardily admitted into the Roman Liturgy, as well as the hymns of the other hours, formed part of a very ancient collection which, so far at least as some of them are concerned, may be said to pertain to the 7th or even to the 6th century. As a rule they suggested the symbolic signification of this hour, the prayer of the middle of the night.
The Sunday office was made up of the invitatory, hymn, three nocturns, the first of which comprised twelve psalms, and the second and third three psalms each; nine lessons, three to each nocturn, each lesson except the ninth being followed by a response; and finally, the canticle Te Deum, which was recited or sung after the ninth lesson instead of a response. The office of feasts was similar to that of Sunday, except that there were only three psalms to the first nocturn instead of twelve. The week-day or ferial office and that of simple feasts were composed of one nocturn only, with twelve psalms and three lessons. The office of the dead and that of the three last days of Holy Week were simpler, the absolutions, benedictions, and invitatory being omitted, at least for the three last days of Holy Week, since the invitatory is said in the offices of the dead.
The psalms used at matins in the Tridentine Breviary were made up of a series commencing with Psalm 1 and running without intermission to Psalm 108 inclusive. The order of the psalter was followed almost without interruption, except in the case of feasts, when the psalms were chosen according to their signification, but always from the series 1-108, the remaining Psalms being reserved for vespers and the other offices.
The lessons formed a unique element, and in the other canonical hours give place to a capitulum or short lesson. This latter was possibly introduced only for the sake of symmetry, and gave but a very incomplete idea of what a true reading or lesson is. The lessons of matins on the contrary were readings in the proper sense of the term: they comprised the most important parts of the Old and the New Testament, extracts from the works of the principal Doctors of the Church, and legends of the martyrs or of the other saints.
The lessons from Holy Scripture were distributed in accordance with certain fixed rules (rubrics) which assigned such or such books of the Bible to certain seasons of the year. In this manner extracts from all the books of the Bible were read at the office during the year. The Invitatory and, on certain days, the Te Deum also formed two of the principal characteristics of this office.
The responses, more numerous in this office, recalled the most ancient form of psalmody: that of the psalm chanted by one alone and answered by the whole choir, as opposed to the antiphonic form, which consists in two choirs alternately reciting the psalms.
The division into three or two nocturns was also a special feature of matins, but it is impossible to say why it was thought by some to be a derivative of the military watches (there were not three, but four, watches) or even of the ancient vigils, since ordinarily there was but one meeting in the middle of the night. The custom of rising three times for prayer could only have been in vogue, as exceptional, in certain monasteries, or for some of the more solemn feasts.
Pope Pius X's reform of the breviary included radical changes in the office of matins, reducing on all days the number of psalms or portions of psalms to nine and abandoning the tradition of reserving Psalms 1-108 for matins. He thus reduced the relative importance of matins with respect to the other canonical hours.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI reformed the Office of the Roman Rite by introducing the book called Liturgy of the Hours which replaced the breviary (but remains in use by traditionalist Catholic communities such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Pope Benedict XVI, in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007), permitted any bishop, priest, or deacon to use this form of the divine office).
The matins were renamed to "office of readings" (officium lectionis); in order to facilitate greater participation by the secular clergy and the laity, its character as a night office has been made optional; it can now be celebrated at any time of the day. An additional series of hymns (one for praying at night, one for daytime) was added so that "the office of readings, while retaining its nocturnal character for those who wish to celebrate a vigil, is now of such a nature that it can be said at any time during the day."
The office is no longer organized according to units call "nocturns". The psalmody consists of three psalms or parts of psalms, each with its own antiphon. After the psalms, two lessons with their responsories are read, the first from the Bible, but not from the Gospels, and the second being patristic, hagiographical, or magisterial.
A third lesson, the Gospel reading of ancient times, may optionally be added to this office if it is celebrated at night on a feast or solemnity, preceded by vigil canticles. These are given in an appendix of the book of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Non-Roman Western Rites
In the office of the Church of Jerusalem, of which the pilgrim Ætheria gives us a description, the vigils on Sundays terminated with the solemn reading of the Gospel, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This practice of reading the Gospel has been preserved in the Benedictine liturgy. In the Tridentine Roman Liturgy this custom, so ancient and so solemn, was no longer represented but by the Homily; but after the Second Vatican Council it has been restored for the celebration of vigils.
The Ambrosian Liturgy, better perhaps than any other, preserved traces of the great vigils or pannychides, with their complex and varied display of processions, psalmodies, etc. The same liturgy also preserved vigils of long psalmody. This nocturnal office adapted itself at a later period to a more modern form, approaching more and more closely to the Roman liturgy. Here too were found the three nocturns, with Antiphon, psalms, lessons, and responses, the ordinary elements of the Roman matins, and with a few special features quite Ambrosian.
As revised after the Second Vatican Council, the Ambrosian liturgy of the hours used for what once called matins either the designation "the part of matins that precedes lLauds in the strict sense" or simply "office of readings". Its structure is similar to that of the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, with variations such as having on Sundays three canticles, on Saturdays a canticle and two psalms, in place of the three psalms of the other days in the Ambrosian Rite and of every day in the Roman Rite.
In the Benedictine office, matins followed the Roman liturgy quite closely. The number of psalms, viz. twelve, is always the same, there being three or two nocturns according to the degree of solemnity of the particular office celebrated. Ordinarily there are four lessons, followed by their responses, to each nocturn. The two most characteristic features of the Benedictine matins are: the canticles of the third nocturn, not found in the Roman liturgy, and the Gospel, sung solemnly at the end, the latter trait, as already pointed out, being very ancient.
In the Mozarabic liturgy, on the contrary, Matins is a system of antiphons, collects, and versicles which make them quite a departure from the Roman system.
Signification and symbolism
The office of readings is, apart from the eucharist, the office of the church that, in its origin, dates back the farthest, as far as the Apostolic ages, as far even as the very inception of the Church, being doubtless, after having passed through a great many transformations, the ancient night office, the office of the vigil. In a certain sense it was perhaps the Office which was primitively the preparation for the mass, that is to say, the Mass of the Catechumens, which presents at any rate the same construction as that office:- the reading from the Old Testament, then the epistles and the Acts, and finally the Gospel- the whole being intermingled with psalmody, and terminated by the homily.
According to another theory suggested by the testimony of Lactantius, St. Jerome, and St. Isidore, the Christians, being ignorant of the date of Christ's coming, thought he would return during the middle of the night, and most probably the night of Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, at or about the hour when he arose from the sepulchre.
Hence the importance of the Easter Vigil, which would thus have become the model or prototype of the other Saturday vigils, and incidentally of all the nightly vigils. The idea of the Second Coming would have given rise to the Easter Vigil, and the latter to the office of the Saturday vigil. The institution of the Saturday vigil would consequently be as ancient as that of Sunday.
Although lauds (or the morning office) has now eclipsed the office of readings or vigils, it is because lauds, once but a part of matins, drew to itself the solemnity, probably on account of the hour at which it was celebrated, permitting all the faithful to be present.
In the Armenian liturgy of the hours, Matins is known as the Midnight Office (Armenian: ի մեջ գիշերի ""i mej gisheri""). The Armenian Book of Hours, or Zhamagirk` (Armenian: Ժամագիրք) states that the Midnight Office is celebrated in commemoration of God the Father.
Much of the service consists of the kanon (Armenian: Կանոնագլուխ ""kanonagloukh""), consisting of a sequence of psalms, hymns, prayers, and in some instances readings from the Gospels, varying according to tone of the day, feast, or liturgical season. It should be noted that the Armenian kanon is quite different in form from the canon of the Byzantine matins service, though both likely share a common ancestor in the pre-dawn worship of the Jerusalem liturgy.
Basic Outline of Matins in the Armenian Church
Introduction (common to all liturgical hours): "Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father...Amen."
“Lord, if you open my lips, my mouth shall declare your praise.” (twice)
Acclamation: “Blessed is the consubstantian and unitary Holy Trinity...Amen.
Psalms: 3, 88, 102, 142
“Glory to the Father...now and always...Amen”
Hymn of the Night Liturgy by Nerses Shnorhali: “Let us remember your name in the night, Lord...”
Proclamation by John Mandakuni “Having all been awakened in the night from the repose of sleep...”
“Lord, have mercy” (variable number of times: thrice for Sundays and feasts of Christ, 50 times for the feasts of saints, 100 times on days of fasting)
Hymn of Nerses Shnorhali: “All the world... (Ashkharh amenayn)”
“Lord, have mercy” (thrice). “Through the intercession of the Birthgiver of God: Remember, Lord, and have mercy.”
Hymn of Nerses Shnorhali: “The rising of the sun... (Aṛawowt lowsoy)”
Prayer: “We thank you...”
Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Alleluia, alleluia.
At this point a section of the Psalter is read, followed by a canticle from the Old or New Testament. See Armenian Liturgy. Following the Psalms and the Canticle is the Canon, a complex sequence of psalms, hymns, and prayers which varies in part according to the liturgical calendar.
Conclusion: "Our father...Amen."
The Armenian Matins or Midnight Office bears some resemblance with the Midnight Office of the Byzantine Rite, such as the recitation of a movable set of hymns depending on the feast. However, the Armenian Midnight Office is generally more elaborate than the Byzantine Midnight Office, in that the Armenian counterpart includes readings from the Gospel, as well as cycles of psalms and prayers reflecting the liturgical season or feast. Other material in the Byzantine office of Matins which has a counterpart in the Armenian daily office, such as the recitation of large sections of the Psalter and the recitation of biblical canticles, occurs in the Armenian liturgy at the Sunrise Hour which follows Matins, corresponding to Lauds.
In the Eastern Churches, matins is called orthros in Greek (ὄρθρος, meaning "early dawn" or "daybreak") and Oútrenya in Slavonic (Оўтреня). It is the last of the four night offices, which also include vespers, compline, and midnight office. In traditional monasteries it is celebrated daily so as to end at sunrise. In parishes it is normally served only on Sundays and feast days.
Matins is the longest and most complex of the daily cycle of services. The akolouth (fixed portion of the service) is composed primarily of psalms and litanies. The sequences (variable parts) of matins are composed primarily of hymns and canons from the Octoechos (an eight-tone cycle of hymns for each day of the week, covering eight weeks), and from the Menaion (hymns for each calendar day of the year).
Matins opens with what is called the "Royal Beginning", so called because the psalms (19 and 20) are attributed to King David and speak of the Messiah, the "king of kings"; in former times, the ektenia (litany) also mentioned the emperor by name. The Sunday orthros is the longest of the regular orthros services. If celebrated in its entirety it can last up to three hours.
- Liturgy of the Hours
- Canonical hours
- Anglican Morning Prayers
- Night Hours
- Book of Hours
- Matins in Lutheranism
- Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary
- "Offer up your prayers in the morning, at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, the evening, and at cock-crowing" (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, VIII, iv, 34)
- Cabrol, Fernand. "Matins." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 2 May 2014
- Benedictine Monks of Buckfast Abbey, "Divine Office: Matins — Prayer at Night", Homilectic and Pastoral Review, pp.361-367, Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, January 1925
- For all these texts, see Bäumer-Biron, loc. cit., p. 79, 122, 139, 186, 208, 246, etc.
- Baumer, Litanie u. Missal, in "Studien des Benediktinerordens", II (Raigern, 1886), 287, 289.
- Apostolic Constitution Laudis Canticum
- Apostolic Constitution Laudis Canticum
- Liturgia Horarum iuxta ritum Romanum, editio typica altera, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000
- The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 73
- Ambrosian liturgy of the hours in latin: Introduction
- Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours in latin: chapter II, IV. De Officio Lectionis
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Matins". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.
- "Matins". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). 1911.
- Sunday Orthos Greek Orthodox Church in America
- Daily Matins Russian Orthodox (in English)
- Byzantine Catholic Daily Prayer
- The Office of Readings for today's date (Roman Catholic)