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Methodius 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 nocturnes. 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.Cassian gives us a more detailed account of the Night Office of the fifth century monks.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 the Sabbath.There is an allusion to it in the Acts of the Apostles (xx, 4), as also in the letter of Pliny the Younger.tempus ); some of the old authors prefer Matutini Matutinorum , or Matutinae.In any case the primitive signification of the word under these different forms was Aurora , sunrise.The name Matins was then extended to the office of Vigils, Matins taking the name of Lauds, a term which, strictly speaking, only designates the last three psalms of that office, i.e. 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 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.
The hymns, which have been but tardily admitted into the Roman Liturgy, as well as the hymns of the other hours, form part of a very ancient collection which, so far at least as some of them are concerned, may be said to pertain to the seventh or even to the sixth century.
The Office of the Dead and that of the three last days of Holy Week are 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. Ordinarily there are four Lessons, followed by their responses, to each Nocturn.
The Ambrosian Liturgy, better perhaps than any other, has preserved traces of the great Vigils or pannychides , with their complex and varied display of processions, psalmodies, etc. The two most characteristic features of the Benedictine Matins are: the Canticles of the third Nocturn, which are not found in the Roman Liturgy, and the Gospel, which is sung solemnly at the end, the latter trait, as already pointed out, being very ancient.
It was at first applied to the office Lauds, which, as a matter of fact, was said at dawn (see LAUDS), its liturgical synonym being the word Gallicinium (cock-crow), which also designated this office.
The night-office retained 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. Benedict (sixth century) in his description of the Divine Office, 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 (Regula, cap. 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. des Conciles", V, III, 188, 189.) 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 number of psalms, which at first varied, was subsequently fixed at twelve, with the addition of a lesson from the Old and another from the New Testament . 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". 79, 122, 139, 186, 208, 246, etc.) Other allusions are to be found in Caesaurius of Arles, Nicetiuis or Nicetae of Treves, and Gregory of Tours (see Baumer-Biron, loc. In all the authors we have quoted, the form of Night Prayers would appear to have varied a great deal.