The name Prime ( prima hora ) belongs with those of Terce, Sext, None, to the short offices recited at the different hours of the day, called by these names among the Romans, that is, prima towards 6 a.m.; tertia , towards 9 a.m.; sexta , towards noon; nona towards 3 p.m. At first Prime was termed matitutina (hora) , morning hour; later, in order to distinguish it from the nocturnal hours of Matins and Lauds, and to include it among hours of the day, it was called prima . The name is first met with in the Rule of St. Benedict. In the Bangor Antiphonary it is called secunda .
This short office is one of those whose origin is best known. Cassian, speaking of Prime, says expressly "sciendum . . . hanc matitutinam canonicam functionem [i.e. Prime] nostro tempore in nostro quoque monasterio primitus institutam" (Instit., III, IV).
As the chronology of Cassian's works has recently been established fairly accurately, the institution of Prime must be placed towards 382 (see Pargoire, op. cit. below, 288). Apropos of this monastery, of which Cassian speaks as the cradle of Prime, it has now been proved that it was not St. Jerome's monastery at Bethlehem, but another, perhaps one established beyond the Tower of Ader (or of the Flock) beyond the village of the Shepherds, and consequently beyond the modern Beth-saour; it has been identified either with Deïr-er-Raouat (convent of the shepherds) or with Seiar-er-Ganhem (enclosure of the sheep).
We learn further from Cassian the reason that led to the institution of this office. The office of the night, comprising Matins and Lauds, ended then at sunrise, so that Lauds corresponded to the dawn. After the night offices at Bethlehem, as in the other Palestinian monasteries, the monks might retire to rest. As no other office called them together before Terce, those who were lazy seized the opportunity of prolonging their sleep till nine in the morning, instead of applying themselves to manual work or spiritual reading. To end this abuse, it was decided, in the above monastery, to continue the custom of reposing after the night office, but, to prevent an undue prolongation of sleep, the monks were recalled to choir at the hour of Prime, and after the recital of a few psalms they were to work until Terce (Cassian, "Instit.", III, iv). All this is established by authentic texts. The only difficulty is that some contemporaries of Cassian or even his predecessors, as Eusebius of Cæsarea, St. Jerome, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, speak of an office recited at sunrise, and which therefore would seem to be identical with Prime. But it must be noted that they are speaking of Lauds, which in some communities was recited later, and so was identified with the hour but not with the subject matter of Prime.
The matter composing the new hour was drawn from the office of Lauds ; or rather Prime, as an office, was a repetition of part of Lauds, and added nothing to the ensemble of the psalmody, only Psalms i, lxii, and lxxxix, which were formerly part of Lauds, were recited at this hour. Such at least was the original composition of Prime; but the monasteries which gradually adopted it in the East and in the West changed its constitution as they liked. It is impossible to describe here all the variations this office underwent in the different liturgies. We need only remark that one of the most characteristic features of Prime is the recitation of the famous symbol "Quicumque vult salvus esse", called the Athanasian Creed, which has recently been the subject of much controversy in the Anglican Church. St. Benedict orders to be recited at Prime on Sundays four groups of eight verses of Ps. cxviii; on week-days, three psalms, beginning with the first and continuing to Ps. xix, taking three psalms each day (Ps. ix and xvii being divided into two). In that way Prime is symmetrical, like the other short hours of the day. It resembles these also in composition, the psalmody being accompanied by a hymn, an antiphon, capitulum, versicle, and prayer. In the Roman Liturgy the office of Prime is not composed so symmetrically. Usually it consists of Ps. liii, cvii, the first four groups of eight verses of Ps. cxvii, and during the week Pss. liii, xxiii, xxv, xxiv, xxii, and xxi. The capitulum and other elements are after the model of the short hours (cf. NONE).
So far we have spoken only of the office of Prime properly so called, which ends like the other short hours. It is followed by some prayers which are called the office of the chapter, and are composed in the Roman Liturgy of the reading of the martyrology, of a prayer, "Sancta Maria et omnes sancti", a prayer concerning work, "Respice in servos tuos . . . Dirigere et sanctificare", and a blessing. This addition to Prime is a legacy bequeathed by the monks to the secular clergy. As has been said above, originally after Prime the monks had to betake themselves to manual work or reading. The office therefore ended with a prayer for their work ". . . et opera manuum nostrarum dirige super nos et opus manuum nostrarum dirige", and the prayer "Dirigere". Later the reading of the martyrology, the necrology, the rule, and a prayer for the dead were added (see Baümer-Biron, loc. cit., I, 361-62).
In view of its origin and constitution, Prime is to be considered as the prayer of the beginning of the day, whereas Lauds is devoted to recalling with the dawn the memory of Christ's Resurrection, Prime is the morning hour which consecrates all the work of the day. Its institution has made the liturgical day more regular and symmetrical. Prime, until then without an office, received its psalmody like Terce, Sext, None, Vespers. With Complin and Lauds, the liturgical day reached the sacred septenary, "septies in die laudem dixi tibi". While for the night office there was the text: "media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi".
Biography Of St Anne
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online