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Order of Matins

Te deum laudaumus, te dominum confitemur

The Office of Matins

 Several people have enquired of late about the particularities of the order of Matins, most notably its lack of the Lord’s Supper and the confession of sins. The historic development of Matins has been well-documented in the scholarly literature and doesn’t need repeating here. Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to review why our liturgy has the character it does so that it might be prayed, sung, and heard with intentionality.

 

To understand Matins one must understand the daily offices. The early church, later codified in Benedict’s Rule, took as a prescription Psalm 119: 164, “Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous laws,” dividing the day—and night—into seven roughly three-hour intervals in which, at least as specified by Benedict, all 150 psalms would be prayed each week. (Due to the complexities of the changing seasons and inexact measuring of time, the seven intervals of division were seldom exact, hence the division of 24 hours by seven.) The offices were characterized by prayer, hymns/chants, and scripture reading. Indeed, such a regulated order of prayer, particularly in the nighttime hours, derives from Jesus’ own practice, as His prayer the night He was betrayed on the Mount of Olives was not unique to that particular night, but was apparently a regular practice (Luke 22: 39) Christian tradition, perhaps because of Christianity’s own reclusive beginnings, seems to favour night gatherings. The daily offices as they eventually developed are Matins (night), Lauds (dawn), Prime (early in the day), Terce (9am), Sext (noon), None (3pm), Vespers (close of day) and Compline (before bed). In practice, Matins (which means “of the morning”) and Lauds were combined so that the psalmist’s prescription of a sevenfold pattern of daily prayer might be preserved. Working backwards, then, Matins would actually have been prayed at midnight, and literally at the beginning of the day as opposed to the rising of the sun, which would have been Lauds or Prime. Again, the vagaries of the seasons work themselves into this discussion—anyone who has visited Northern Europe, say Scandinavia, in the summer, understands that the dawn may break as early as 3am! So the fact that Matins was the first service of the day is the aspect that has still been preserved in our current practice, although we think of the beginning of the day more as characterized by the rising of the sun.

 

The offices are distinct from the Divine Services in that they do not celebrate communion. They are prayer offices in which the reading and meditation on scripture plays a predominate role. Consider the responses which are taken straight from the psalms: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” (Psalm 51: 15) “Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord.” (Psalm 70: 1) After the entrance hymn (which might properly be omitted so that the first part of the service truly “opens our lips”), the next major element is the Venite, a setting of Psalm 95, having originally been included by Benedict in a Nocturne, an early constituent element of the Matins liturgy.[1] In another indication of the psalm-orientation of this service, the hymnal then instructs us that we may sing “Additional Psalms.” Later, after the Reformation, Matins became largely a daily service prayed and sung by students primarily who could retain the psalm-focused nature of the readings.[2] These days, however, as it has taken on the character of the chief service of the day, the readings are the OT, epistle and gospel lessons appointed for the day. Even the responsory after the readings is taken from Psalm 119: 89. (“Forever, O Lord, Your Word is firmly set in the heavens. . .”) The next major element of Matins is the canticle called the Te Deum, which Luther Reed calls “. . . one of the noblest hymns of the Western church and one of the greatest confessions of faith in song. It combines praise and prayer in exalted strains of rhythmic prose. Its affirmations, almost creedal in form constitute a basis for petitions of universal significance.”[3] The Te Deum, according to legend, was composed by Augustine and/or Ambrose upon the occasion of Augustine’s baptism by Ambrose. No doubt its composition was more nuanced than that—we praise “God to be the Lord,” the “Father everlasting,” but unlike in the creeds, which simply state the objective facts, the Te Deum sings them by following these statements with, “To You all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein. To you cherubim and seraphim continually do cry: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord.” The first article takes on an expressive, emotional, and laudatory character in the Te Deum it lacks in the regular creeds, and for this reason the Te Deum has found expression in music throughout history. The second article of the creed is manifest in the second part of the Te Deum: “When You tookest upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin. When you had overcome the sharpness of death, You open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” The third article of the creed may not be quite as easy to determine in the Te Deum, but the final section is devoted to praying for the Church on earth (“We therefore pray You to help Your servants”), the Holy Spirit being the One who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.” Too often I look around during the great creedal hymn to see some people unenthusiastic, or simply mouthing the words, perhaps afraid to be heard. This is theology that yearns to be proclaimed through that connection of heart and mind only good church music can conceive!

 

The rubrics (“rubrics” are liturgical instructions in red, from the Latin word for “red”) then allow for us to sing the Benedictus instead, which was itself a constituent element of Lauds as opposed to Matins. The remainder of the service is given to prayer, which was a hallmark of all the daily offices, particularly those of the nighttime. The responses again are taken from the psalms (Psalm 102: 1, Psalm 103: 1) in addition to some New Testament references. Just as properly one does not begin the service with a hymn, one does not conclude with a hymn either. With Matin’s appropriation into modern use as the chief service of the day, we have made it more like the Divine Service by adding these customary hymns. Nothing is wrong with adding hymns especially at those points, although Matins (and Vespers) lose a bit of their distinctiveness in doing so. Since Matins is an office and not a Divine Service, there is no communion. There is no confession with this service because it is not a Divine Service. Again, since we have now appropriated it into use as the chief service on some Sundays, the absence of a confession is more acute.

 

We moderns are not accustomed to the daily worship from which the offices proceed. We are accustomed to attending “church” once a week, always on Sunday morning, and the rigorous disciplines of the monastics who developed such a prayer life is largely foreign to us. That is possibly a sad loss. We don’t have to pray in an orderly way because God commands it and we must do it to be saved. But structuring our devotional and worship lives in a way that is orderly and makes sense might be a good idea because it allows our humanity to interact with the sacred in a way that is organized and familiar. We all organize our lives in some way (banking, schedules, family responsibilities.) God, in His infinity, does not need us to organize Him. But because He is infinite and we are not, our interaction with the Holy Trinity will necessarily not be fully realized on earth. These services helped generations of people to comprehend the Infinite, to understand God as He spoke to His people in scripture, and allowed them to approach Him through collective and individual prayer.

 

 

[1] John Pless, “Daily Prayer” in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, ed. Fred Precht. (St Louis: CPH, 1993), 445.

[2] AE 53: 13.

[3] Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1947), 416.

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My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”  This popular hymn text was written by British Baptist minister Edward Mote (1797-1874) in 1834. Although his childhood was characterized by no particular religious education, he soon found himself under the sway of the Rev John Hyatt at Tottenham Court Road Chapel. A contemporary biographer of Mote's writes of this particular hymn's development:

The writer of this hymn has kindly informed us that the chorus of this hymn flowed into his mind one morning as he was walking up Holborn Hill, London, on his way to business, about thirty-five years ago. Four verses were soon written, and two more on the following Sunday. They were of immediate use in affording comfort to a dying friend. This encouraged their author to have a thousand copies printed. These being without initials, were inserted in collections, and other names put to them; but the author vindicated his claim in the ‘Gospel Herald.’ The original being—“Nor earth nor hell my soul can move.”[1]

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders inspired Mote to compose this text. In this familiar story (found in Matthew 7 and Luke 6), Jesus exhorts us to put His Word into practice—to build our house on the secure rock rather than on the sinking sand. Mote’s hymn, with a refrain, encourages us to build on the solid rock which is Christ:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

No merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

What does it really mean for one’s hope to be built on “nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness?”  To me, for whom the careless use of clichés can cause indescribable mental pain, this phrase can too easily degenerate into a harmless platitude.  In another stanza not contained in LSB, Mote writes, “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus name.”  What is this “sweetest frame” which seems to be the antithesis of “Christ the solid Rock?”  One might recall the many heroes of the faith.  The martyrs of the first three centuries of the Church proved with their lives that they trusted Christ above that of Roman law.  The “sweet frame” of earthly life, although they probably would have preferred it, could only pale in comparison to eternal life.  One thinks of the so-called “Morningstar of the Reformation,” the Englishman John Wycliff who, because of his biblical translations and teachings, was burned at the stake.  Certainly he could have recanted and lived into old age.  He chose to forsake that “sweet frame” in favor of faithfulness to his conscience which, although they are not necessarily always congruent, happened to correspond to God’s Word, particularly with the Great Commission.  Of course, Martin Luther could have chosen to ascend the ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy as the gifted professor of Wittenberg—esteemed, rich, powerful, famous.  It has always amazed this writer that Luther was not burned at the stake as many of his friends and co-reformationists were.  Luther himself gave up a life of luxury to become one of the most despised men in Europe, although his faithfulness to his conscience resulted not only in the return to an evangelical Church, but even of some reform in the Roman Church (Council of Trent [1545-1563]).   Certainly the list from Christian history is extensive of those who have proven, not through empty words but through their lives and sacrifices, that they truly could sing with assurance, “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;  All other ground is sinking sand.” 

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant and blood support me in the raging flood;

When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

Scripture is replete with nautical references and metaphors, which unsurprisingly make their way into the corpus of hymnody which so depends on scripture for its own inspiration. This is all fine and good, but we still have little more than platitudes in applying this to our lives. Do we truly forsake “every earthly prop?” Do those of us who are “professional” church workers test every thought, saying, and doctrine with God’s Word?  Do we simply take the word of others simply because we assess their piety as being equal to or greater than ours?  Do we take for granted the words of human beings instead of heeding the advice of I John 1: 4, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world”?  Consider Hebrews 6: 16-19: "Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all arguments. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." Ideas, culture, practices, and the world may change, but Jesus Christ and His promise remains unchanged.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found,

Clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before His throne!

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

[1] Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church: Being Biographical Sketches of the Hymn Writers in all the Principal Collections (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1869), 449.

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

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