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In the Roman Liturgy of today Lauds designates an office composed of psalms and canticles, usually recited after Matins.


The word Lauds (i.e. praises) explains the particular character of this office, the end of which is to praise God. All the Canonical Hours have, of course, the same object, but Lauds may be said to have this characteristic par excellence . The name is certainly derived from the three last psalms in the office (148, 149, 150), in all of which the word laudate is repeated frequently, and to such an extent that originally the word Lauds designated not, as it does nowadays, the whole office, but only the end, that is to say, these three psalms with the conclusion. The title Ainoi (praises) has been retained in Greek. St. Benedict also employs this term to designate the last three psalms ; post haec [viz, the canticle ] sequantur Laudes (Regula, cap. xiii). In the fifth and sixth centuries the Office of the Lauds was called Matutinum , which has now become the special name of another office, the Night Office or Vigils, a term no longer used ( see MATINS ). Little by little the title Lauds was applied to the whole office, and supplanted the name of Matins. In the ancient authors, however, from the fourth to the sixth or seventh century, the names Matutinum, Laudes matutinae , or Matutini hymni , are used to designate the office of daybreak or dawn, the Office of Matins retaining its name of Vigils. The reason of this confusion of names is, perhaps, that originally Matins and Lauds formed but a single office, the Night Office terminating only at dawn.

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In the liturgy, the word Lauds has two other meanings: It sometimes signifies the alleluia of the Mass; thus a Council of Toledo (IV Council, c. xii) formally pronounced: "Lauds are sung after the Epistle and before the Gospel" (for this interpretation compare Mabillon, "De Liturgia gall.", I, iv). St. Isidore says: "Laudes, hoc est, Alleluia, canere" (De div. offic., xiii). The word Lauds also designates the public acclamations which were sung or shouted at the accession of princes, a custom which was for a long time observed in the Christian Church on certain occasions.


In the actual Roman Liturgy, Lauds are composed of four psalms with antiphons (in reality there are usually seven, but, following the ordinary rules, psalms without the Gloria and antiphon are not counted separately), a Canticle, Capitulum, Hymn, Versicle, the Benedictus with Antiphon, Oratio, or Collect, and, on certain days, the Preces , or Prayers and Versicles. The psalms, unlike those of Matins and Vespers, are not taken in the order of the Psalter, but are chosen in accordance with special rules without reference to their position in the Psalter. Thus the psalm "Miserere mei Deus" (Ps. 1) is said every day on which a feast does not occur. The psalms "Deus, Deus meus" (Ps. lxii) and "Deus misereatur nostri et benedicat nobis" (Ps. lxii) and "Deus misereatur nostri et benedicat nobis" (Ps. lxvi), and finally the last three psalms, "Laudate Dominum de coelis", "Cantate Domino canticum novum", and "Laudate Dominum in sanctis ejus" (Pss. cxlviii-cl), are recited every day without exception. As we have remarked, it is from these last that this office derives its name. It will be noticed that, in general, the other psalms used at Lauds have also been chosen for special reasons, because one or other of their verses contains an allusion either to the break of day, or to the Resurrection of Christ, or to the prayer of the morning which, as we shall presently point out, are the raison d'être of this office. Such are the verses; "Deus Deus meus ad te de luce vigilo"; "Deus misereatur nostri. . .illuminet vultum suum super nos"; "mane astabo tibi et videbo"; "Emitte lucem tuum et veritatem tuam"; "Exitus matutinum et vespere delectabis"; "Mane sicut herba transeat, mane floreat et transeat"; "Ad annuntiandum mane misericordiam tuam", etc. Another characteristic of this office are the canticles which take place between the psalms lxii-lxvi and the last three psalms. This collection of seven canticles from the Old Testament (Canticle "Benedicite", Canticle of Isaias, Canticle of Ezechias, Canticle of Anne, the two Canticles of Moses, the Canticle of Habacuc ) is celebrated, and is almost in agreement with that of the Eastern Church. St. Benedict borrowed it from the Roman Church and, having designed the plan of the Office of Lauds in accordance with that of the Church of Rome, prescribed a special canticle for each day: "Canticum unumquodque die suo ex prophetis, sicut psallit Ecclesia Romana, dicatur" (Reg., xiii).

To these canticles the Roman Liturgy adds, as the finale to this office, that of Zachary, "Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel", which is recited every day and which is also a canticle to the Light, viz. Christ: "Illuminare his qui in tenebris et in umbra mortis sedent". The hymns of Lauds, which in the Roman Church were only added later, also form an interesting collection; they generally celebrate the break of day, the Resurrection of Christ, and the spiritual light which He has made to shine on earth. They are very ancient compositions, and are probably anterior to Saint Benedict. In the Ambrosian Office, and also in the Mozarabic, Lauds retain a few of the principal elements of the Roman Lauds -- the Benedictus, canticles from the Old Testament, and the psalms cxlviii, cxlix, cl, arranged, however, in a different order (cf. Dom G. Morin, op. cit. in bibliography). In the Benedictine Liturgy, the Office of Lauds resembles the Roman Lauds very closely, not only in its use of the canticles which St. Benedict admits, as we have already remarked, but also in its general construction. The Greek office corresponding to that of Lauds is the orthos , which also signifies "morning"; its composition is different, but it nevertheless retains a few elements of the Western Lauds -- notably the canticles and the three psalms, cxlviii-cl, which in the Greek Liturgy bear the name Ainoi or Praises, corresponding to the Latin word Laudes (cf. "Dict. d'archeol. chret. et de lit.", s.v. Ainoi; "Horologion", Rome, 1876, p. 55).


Lauds, or, to speak more precisely, the Morning Office or Office of Aurora corresponding to Lauds, is incontestably one of the most ancient offices and can be traced back to Apostolic times. In the sixth century St. Benedict gives us a very detailed description of them in his Rule (chap. xii and xiii): the psalms (almost identical with those of the Roman Liturgy ), the canticle, the last three psalms, the capitulum, hymn, versicle, the canticle Benedictus, and the concluding part. St. Columbanus and the Irish documents give us only very vague information on the Office of Lauds (cf. "Regula S. Columbani", c. vii, "De cursu psalmorum" in P. L., LXXX, 212). An effort has been made to reconstruct it in accordance with the Antiphonary of Bangor, but this document, in our opinion, gives us but an extract, and not the complete office (cf. Cabrol in "Dict. d'archéol. et de lit.", s. v. Bangor, Antiphonaire de). St. Gregory of Tours also makes several allusions to this office, which he calls Matutini hymni ; he give us, as its constitutive parts, psalm 1, the Benedicite, the three psalms, cxlviii-cl, and the veriscles ("Hist. Francorum", II, vii, in P. L., LXXI, 201, 256, 1034 etc. Cf. Bäumer-Biron, "Hist. du brev. Rom.", I, 229-30). At an earlier period than that of the fifth and fourth centuries, we find various descriptions of the Morning Office in Cassian, in Melania the Younger, in the "Peregrinatio Ætheriae", St. John Chrysostom , St. Hilary, Eusebius (Bäumer-Biron, op. cit., I, 81, 114, 134, 140, 150-68, 208, 210).

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Naturally, in proportion as we advance, greater varieties of the form of the Office are found in the different Christian provinces. The general features, however, remain the same; it is the office of the dawn (Aurora), the office of sunrise, the morning office, the morning praises, the office of cock-crow ( Gallicinium, ad galli cantus ), the office of the Resurrection of Christ . Nowhere better than at Jerusalem, in the "Peregrinatio Ætheriae", does this office, celebrated at the very tomb of Christ, preserve its local colour. The author calls it hymni matutinales ; it is considered the principal office of the day. There the liturgy displays all its pomps; the bishop used to be present with all his clergy, the office being celebrated around the Grotto of the Holy Sepulchre itself; after the psalms and canticles had been sung, the litanies were chanted, and the bishop then blessed the people. (Cf. Dom Cabrol, "Etude sur la Peregrinatio Silviae, les Eglises de Jerusalem, la discipline et la liturgie au IVX siecle", Paris, 1895, pp. 39, 40. For the East cf. "De Virginitate", xx, in P G., XXVIII, 275.) Lastly, we again find the first traces of Lauds in the third, and even in the second, century in the Canons of Hippolytus, in St. Cyprian, and even in the Apostolic Fathers, so much so that Bäumer does not hesitate to assert that Lauds together with Vespers are the most ancient office, and owe their origin to the Apostles (Bäumer-Biron, op. cit., I, 58; cf. 56, 57, 64, 72 etc.).


It is easy to conclude from the preceding what were the motives which gave rise to this office, and what its signification is. For a Christian the first thought which should present itself to the mind in the morning, is the thought of God ; the first act of his day should be a prayer. The first gleam of dawn recalls to our minds that Christ is the true Light, that He comes to dispel spiritual darkness, and to reign over the world. It was at dawn that Christ rose from the tomb, Conqueror of Death and of the Night. It is this thought of His Resurrection which gives to this office its whole signification. Lastly, this tranquil hour, before day has commenced, and man has again plunged into the torrent of cares, is the most favourable to contemplation and prayer. Liturgically, the elements of Lauds have been most harmoniously combined, and it has preserved its significance better than other Hours.

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