Struggling with Matins
Matins is the most complicated Office to master. It is also the most rewarding Office to master because of its enormous wealth of Scripture, and various kinds of interactions with Scripture. Scripture – of course – is the word of God. In a very real sense therefore interaction with the word of God is interaction with the Word of God! The Bible is the medium in, with. and through which we interact with God. More of that later in others blog-posts. For now let us have a look at saying Matins.
On page A11 of the AB you will find the Ordinary for the Office of Matins – its basic or skeleton structure if you will. Notice the small cursive print at the very top of page A11:
Each and every one of the several Hours of the Divine Office is said according to the form here given in the Ordinary unless it be otherwise indicated in the Proper of the Season, or in the Proper or Common of the Saints.
In small print, but of GREAT importance! It is also quite self-evident. The Offices always have the exact basic outline given in this section unless a specific instruction from another section of the AB states otherwise. It really is that simple. The trick is to notice before hand that a special instruction is given and than to implement said instruction. Fear not, you will – over time – be able to do so without too much trouble.
Still on page A11 take the time to carefully read all the words in red from A11 to A12 and on A13 the part concerning Advent and from the very bottom (right column) of page A14 to page A15 including the first half of column one (stop at the black line). Do so now.
I am assuming that you have actually bothered to read all these parts at this point. If you have not continuing with Matins will be much more challenging and perhaps it will become so difficult that you will give up. Putting in the effort to read what I just suggested will be richly rewarded. At first praying with the Breviary will be slow-going. But that’s actually as it should be. Your familiarity with the Breviary Office and how to say it should match the stage of your ascetic struggle in the attainment of unity with God in Jesus Christ. Frustration at the slow pace must be mastered by patience – it does not become a slave to the passions to be a virtuoso in the outer rituals of prayer. What is visible on the outside ought to be an accurate reflection of what is invisible (but no less real) on the inside! The AB is a tool at your disposal to walk the narrow path indicated by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel. The broad and easy path leads to perdition, the narrow path where you must put in an effort is the path to glory.
You will have noticed that the Venite (Ps. 95) is interspersed with a verse (Invitatory) which is repeated whole and half throughout this Psalm. Simply follow these instructions to the letter. The usual Invitatories are all listed on page A12. However, they are not used because of the Advent Season. You have found the proper Invitatory on page A14 instead. This is the one to use this morning/night for Matins. The Hymn is also found on page A14.
Let’s do it!
You will now begin the Office of Matins. Again a close reading of the red will allow you to correctly say the black. You will now need to turn your AB to page C1 to The Proper of the Season. Below the instructions for Vespers you will find the instructions for Matins, again in red:
- Invit. and Hymn for Advent, as in the Ordinary: Pss. of Sunday with Ants. and the Nocturn VV and RR for Advent, as in the Psalter.
The rubrics are not hard to understand. It is telling you that the Invitatory and Hymn for Advent (which is what you will be using) are to be found in the Ordinary section of the AB. It is also telling you where to find the responsories to be used after each Lesson in Matins. If you will now devote your attention to the small red print at the bottom of page C1 it will tell you exactly what to do after you have completed the Invitatory and Hymn of Matins. In order to begin the First Nocturn you will need to flip back to the Psalter for Sunday.
On page B1 you will again find basic instructions for beginning the Office of Matins. Notice the line at the top of the left column on page B1:
- All as in the Ordinary, except:
So that you will need to be reasonably familiar with the Ordinary of Matins. You can achieve this familiarity by reading through the Ordinarya few times. Don’t get stuck in the details, but notice the basic structure of the Offices. For Matins this structure is something like this:
- Beginning of the Office
- Nocturn I
- Nocturn II
- Nocturn III
The Beginning consists of the opening Versicles, the Invitatory and the Office Hymn. The first are always the same but the latter depend on the Season and Sanctoral cycles respectively. A Nocturn consists of three Psalms with their Antiphons, the Our Father, three readings with their absolutions, blessings and responses. If you can master the pattern of one Nocturn, you have mastered them all. They follow the same very predictable pattern.
Through the Year: can be ignored for now. You will need to follow the instructions that apply to Advent. Notice on page B2 (again in red) below the first horizontal black line there are rubrics telling you how to say the beginning of the Office of Matins. The AB, if you pay attention to it, is very user-friendly and always willing to assist you in finding your way through the Office correctly. Here you are told that the Hymns given for Summer and Winter are used when no propers are provided for the Season or a possible feast. The General Note which follows will give some practical guidance regarding the special signs and marks used in the AB.
At the top of page B3 you will find more rubrics. These are the ones you will immediately need to start the Nocturn. The rubrics point out that with the Psalms you are also provided the Antiphons for the Seasons ofAdvent and Eastertide and that when none of these two are in season you will need to use the Antiphons marked for Through the Year. Nocturn I therefore begins with “Behold, the King” which is the first half of the entire first Antiphon. You will say the entire Antiphon after the Psalm. But notice that before you recite the entire Antiphon you will first recite the doxology! This happens after each Psalm and Canticle and the only exceptions to that rule will be specifically mentioned to you when the time comes. If you paused at the “red” after Psalm 1 and took the time to digest it, you will know exactly what the doxology is and how to use it. You can now continue the Office of Matins. The instructions with regard to the doxology will not be repeated. The AB is helpful, but it also assumes that if you can read, you can re-read by flipping back if you are not sure how to proceed in a similar situation. At the end of the next Psalm – for example – the instruction with regard to the doxology will not be repeated. If you are uncertain what to, return to the previous point where specific instructions were given.
Having completed the first set of three Psalms you have almost completed your first Nocturn. The only thing you need to master now is the Readings and what surrounds them. The Readings of Matins can be represented as follows:
- Our Father
- Short V & R
- Short V & R
A more detailed explanation is given on pages A15 – A16. Please consult these pages now, for there a detailed explanation of the structure of a Nocturn and its Readings is provided. Once you have familiarized yourself with this you will have all the basic knowledge in place that will enable you to say Matins. Again the AB is your friend, if you will let it be your friend. Also I remind you that the time and effort you are putting in isascesis and when looked at from that spiritual perspective itself beneficial to you. Even if you should fail to complete the Office you are trying to say, you have reached a point in your climb of the spiritual mountain of Christian living you have not previously achieved. It is with prayers as the AB says concerning reverence: reverence is not primarily a matter of feeling pious, but rather of taking pains (p. xxvii). All our ascetic Fathers and Mothers that I can think of have taught the same. Union with God, achieving the state of prayer, or traversing the path of theosis always begins with taking pains.
For today the Readings are from Isaiah for the Ist Nocturn. The Second and Third Nocturns have their own. Once have arrived at the IIIrd Nocturn you will realize that the Gospel Reading is not given entirely, but only a phrase of it. This is a flaw in the AB. I will make it a point to provide the Gospel Readings in their entirety on this Blog. For today the entire reading is found in Matthew 21 1-13. For now – when you get to the end of the Office of Matins you will not have to bother about the Te Deum it is not normally used during Advent. After you have completed the final Response to the IXth Reading you are done with Matins. You did it!