The Canonical Hours
|Preparation for the Divine Office’
Focus your eyes on one place in front of you to the best
of your ability and as your human frailty allows. Wandering
eyes are most harmful to the mind’s stability. To elicit
humility, therefore, form a mental picture of the Lord as
if he were lying in the manger in front of you. To feel compunction
visualise him suspended on the Cross. Grieve and be thankful
because of the nails, the thorns, the spittle and the gaping
wound at his side.
[Stephen of Sawley, Mirror for Novices, ch. 3, p. 91].
The monks’ time was structured around
eight services (Offices), known as the Canonical Hours, which they celebrated
in their choir in the church. At harvest time, however, these were recited
as the monks worked in the fields. Following the words of Psalm 119: 164 ‘Seven
times a day have I given praise to thee’, and Psalm 119: 162 ‘At
midnight I rose to give thanks to Thee’, there were seven daytime
Hours [Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None(s), Vespers and Compline] and a night
office known as Vigils (although this was generally celebrated at around
2 am rather than midnight.)
As the monastic day was determined by the
rising and setting of the sun, the exact time of each Office varied over
of the year. Whereas Prime was celebrated at c. 8 am in winter,
it took place at c. 4 am in summer.
Each Office was led by the priest of the
week (the hebdomadary) and began with the Lord’s Prayer, which was
followed by hymns (sung from the hymnal),
psalms (from the psalter) and canticles or chants (from the antiphoner).
The time of Vigils was standardised from 1429 and the sacrist was to give
the signal for this Hour at
2 am every morning, regardless of the time of year; however,
Vigils was at 1 am on Sundays and feast days since the liturgy
was longer on these days.