The offices of the day
The office of Vigils
Vigils, or watching in the night, is prayer which was originally designed to be celebrated in the middle of the night. For many, as for myself, this has now become the first office of the day, celebrated in the early morning, before dawn.
During Vigils which we meditate on salvation history as it unfolded down through the ages, through the use of psalmody and readings both scriptural and Patristic.
The sense of vigilance and waiting for the dawning of the day begun with this office continues by spending time in silence and prayer until the office of Lauds.
Recited as the light of the new day dawns, the office of Lauds recalls the resurrection of Christ, the true light. who 'enlightens all' (Jn 1:19), the 'Sun of Righteousness' (Malachi 4:2), arising over us. The reciting of Lauds consecrates the first actions and hours of the day to God.
'I say this prayer to you O Lord, for at daybreak you listen for my voice; and at dawn I hold myself in readiness for you.' (Ps 5:3)
Lauds is so called because the psalms always concludes with one or more of the Laudate psalms - those which begin 'Alleluia!' - 'Praise the Lord!'.
The climax of the Office is the singing of the Benedictus, the words with which Zechariah both praises God with and prophesies with at the birth of John the Baptist.
' Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel......' 'The dawn from on high shall break upon us....' (Lk 1:68-79)
This is a shorter office that arises out of the old 'lesser hours' of Terce, Sext and None. It recalls us to the 'Opus Dei'- the 'work of God' in the midst of our busyness.
Vespers is celebrated in the evening when the working day is drawing to a close and the daylight beginning to fail.
As a modern translation of the evening hymn the 'Phos Hilaron' says, 'O light serene of God the Father's glory, To you O Chist we sing, and with the evening star, at hour of sunset, our worship bring. (Stanbrook Abbey)
As we give thanks for those things that have been given us during the day, and as we also recall our redemption, our prayers 'rise before you like incense'. (Ps 141:2)
The climax of Vespers is the singing of the Magnificat, the song of Mary.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord..., the Lord has done great things for me, and holy is his name..'
Compline is the final office of the day and is said in the evening, before going to bed. It provides an opportunity to look back at the day, to ask forgiveness for things that we might have done differently, and to commend ourselves once again into the hands of God.
The office includes the 'Nunc Dimittis' -
'Lord now you let your servant depart in peace..... My own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared for all....' (Lk 2:29-32)