top of page

Lesson Nine: Matins -- The "Parent" Office

Matins is the "parent" office of the Breviary because it is both the longest and the first to have come into being.  Matins, with its extended Psalmody and scriptural lessons -- in fact, the only office to have such lessons -- originally constituted the Vigil of prayer before the post-apostolic Eucharist.  For this reason, Matins is still in some places called the Office of Vigils.

Because the early Church celebrated the Holy Sacrifice early in the morning, Matins was originally celebrated in the middle of the night.  Unlike our present time, when convenience in worship seems to be the order of the day, divine service in the early church began in the evening of the preceding day, continued with vigils throughout the night, and culminated in Mass the following morning -- with the expectation that as Our Lord rose on a Sunday morning, he would do so again at his Second Coming.

While Matins is still said at night in some religious communities, it is usually said upon rising in the modern Church, or anticipated the night before.  Because Matins has been so long joined to Lauds, the two are practically regarded as one Office, and clergy under obligation of choir should seek dispensation from the proper authority before separating them.  Clergy not under such obligation, as well as laypersons, may freely recite Matins and Lauds separately or together.

Anglican Breviary Matins

Structure of Matins

Being the longest office, Matins also has the greatest number of elements.  Roughly classified, the parts of Matins are:

        -        Opening Prayers;
        -        Psalm 95 with Invitatory antiphon;
        -        Hymn;
        -        Nocturns (either one or three);
        -        Te Deum on feasts.

Opening Prayers

        -        Prayer Before the Office (A1);
        -        Triple Prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary, and Apostles' Creed) said silently (A2);        
        -        Opening Versicles (A2-A3)
                [At Matins only, "O Lord, open thou my lips," etc., is said from A3 before the versicles]
        -        Alleluia or "To thee, O Lord," etc. (A2-A3)

Psalm 95

With the Opening Prayers completed, Matins continues with Psalm 95 (A11).  An "Invitatory" antiphon is interspersed throughout the Psalm, which makes recitation somewhat difficult at first.

However, when one remembers that the Office is primarily designed to be chanted in choir, one can see that one group chanting the Psalm with another chanting the antiphon as a refrain would produce a beautiful effect.

The reader may practice reciting Psalm 95 with its Invitatory by using those for ordinary Sundays and feriae, found on A12.


Matins continues with a Hymn, such as those seasonal Hymns on A13-A14.



As explained in Lesson Eight, Matins is built around Psalm and lesson groupings called a "Nocturn," whose name reflects Matins' original place as a night-office.

Matins can either be of one Nocturn or three, depending on the rank of the Office (feriae are always of one Nocturn, Sundays always of three).

When Matins is of one Nocturn, the Nocturn consists of 9 Psalms said together, followed by 3 lessons.  When Matins is of three Nocturns, each one consists of 3 Psalms followed by 3 lessons.

Within a Nocturn, as in the rest of the Office, Psalms are recited in a particular way, namely with an antiphon and the Glory Be.  At the end of the Psalm portion of a Nocturn is always said a versicle and response.

Between the Psalm portion and the lesson portion of a Nocturn is said one Our Father, of which only the first two words and "But deliver us," etc. are said aloud.  The Lord's Prayer is followed by an "Absolution" found on A16-A18.  The Absolution is not sacramental, but the "foremost" in a group should recite it, i.e. one in Holy Orders or the eldest layperson.

Each lesson of a Nocturn is preceded by a short bidding prayer, "Pray, Lord, give me thy blessing," and a "Benediction."  Each lesson is followed by "But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.  Thanks be to God," and a "Responsory."

[N.B. -- If in a group with a foremost present, the Benediction is recited by the foremost and the lector asks his or her blessing by saying, "Pray, Sir," or "Pray, Madam," as necessary].

The foregoing order, schematically represented in Lesson Eight, is followed through all 9 Psalms and 3 lessons (for one Nocturn) or each set of 3 Psalms and 3 lessons (for three Nocturns).

For a restatement of the foregoing regarding Nocturns, see A16.

Te Deum

After the last lesson of the last Nocturn (lesson iii in offices of one Nocturn or lesson ix in offices of three Nocturns), on most Sundays and feasts is said the canticle, Te Deum, found on A19, instead of a final Responsory.

On feriae or other days on which the Te Deum is not said (and the Breviary's specific rubrics will guide in this regard), the final lesson will have a Responsory, which is recited instead.

Joining of Matins and Lauds

Long usage and ancient practice treats Matins and Lauds as practically one office, so that upon the Te Deum or final Responsory of Matins, Lauds is immediately begun with the Opening Versicles.  In such a case, Lauds is not begun with the Our Father and Hail Mary as is done when Lauds is said on a "stand alone" basis.

However, Matins and Lauds together make a longer office than many laypersons are able to recite.  It is entirely permissible to recite Lauds separately (in which case Lauds is begun with the Dual Prayer).

When Matins is separated from Lauds, it must be brought to a close on its own.  At such times, following the Te Deum or last Responsory is said the Salutation ("The Lord be with you, etc." or "Lord, hear my prayer, etc."), followed by the Bidding and the Collect of the Day.

Matins is then completed with the Closing Versicles (A7) and one Our Father said silently.

Finding the Elements for Matins

In what should now be a somewhat familiar pattern, from whence the changeable parts of Matins come depends entirely on whether the day is a feast or feria, and if a feast, on the rank of that feast.


The basic rule is that on feriae, the Invitatory antiphon, Hymn, Psalms and their antiphons are taken from the weekly Psalter, while the lessons and their Responsories are taken from the Proper of the Season.

On feasts, unless the Proper indicates otherwise, the Psalms with their antiphons are from the weekly Psalter, the lessons are a combination of those from the Proper of the Season and the Proper of the Saints, and all else (Invitatory, Hymn, etc.) is from the appropriate Common.

The foregoing rule can be modified by specific directions in the Proper of the day.  If the Proper states, "All from Common 9," that directive is to be followed and all of the office is taken from the Common.  Obviously, in this case, since the Common gives 9 lessons, a direction "all from Common X" means that the Office is of three Nocturns.  This is comparatively rare.

The Proper may give certain elements, such as lessons, or an Invitatory, but not others -- in such a case, what is given in the proper should be used, with the remainder being taken from the usual sources (i.e., Psalms with antiphons from weekly Psalter, lessons from C and E Sections, allelse from appropriate Common).

What the Proper of Saints provides will also indicate whether the Matins office is of one Nocturn or three.  The vast majority throughout the year are of one Nocturn only; however, if the Proper gives lessons iv, v, and vi, it is immediately evident that Matins will be of three Nocturns since that is the only situation in which such lessons are used.

Invitatory Antiphon

On feriae and ordinary Sundays, the Invitatory Antiphon is taken from the Ordinary of the Office or the correct day in the weekly Psalter (in both sections the antiphon is printed for convenience).

During certain seasons, e.g. Advent and Lent, a particular Invitatory is used daily, which is also given in the Ordinary.

On feasts, use the Invitatory from the appropriate Common unless the Proper provides its own, in which case use the Invitatory in the Proper.


On feriae and ordinary Sundays, the Hymn is taken from the weekly Psalter, except in the certain seasons given in the Ordinary, when it is taken from there.

On feasts, the Hymn is taken from the appropriate Common unless the Proper provides a particular Hymn.

Psalms, Antiphons and Nocturn Versicles

On feriae and ordinary Sundays, these are taken from the weekly Psalter.
They are always so taken unless the Proper either directs to a particular Common, gives proper Psalms, or a mix of both.

If Matins is of one Nocturn, recite all nine Psalms straight through, ignoring the versicles and responses that appear after the third and sixth Psalms.  If Matins, however, is of three Nocturns, versicles and responses after the third and sixth Psalms are used.

Note further that the Psalter gives different versicles and responses, some for feriae in various seasons and others for feasts.  Be sure to use the correct one, and remember that when one is reciting the Office of a feast in a particular season, e.g. Lent, the versicle for feasts and not for feriae in Lent is used.


Lessons and Responsories

On feriae and ordinary Sundays, the lessons with their Responsories are taken from the Proper of the Season.  The Responsories may follow each lesson or, in certain months, the Breviary provides a table of Responsories in the C Section. (This will be self-evident when it occurs).

On most feasts, one proper lesson is given by the Proper of the Saints which is combined with the lessons from the Proper of the Season as explained below.

If the Proper of the Saints, however, directs the reader to a particular Common ("All from Common 5"), then the lessons in the C Section must be ignored and the more specific rubric followed.  The Proper of the Saints may also give its own specific lessons, in which case, they should be used.

Sometimes the Proper will give only some of the needed lessons, such as lessons iv, v, and vi.  When this occurs, unless the Proper directs you to a Common for the remainder: (1) the lessons of the I Nocturn are from the Proper of the Season; (2) any remaining needed lessons are taken from the Proper or, if not given there, from the appropriate Common.

While this all sounds most complex, in practice, the majority of Offices involve lessons either entirely from the C Section, or two from the C Section and one from the E Section.  As with all things, practice will make this process easier.

Combining Matin Lessons When Necessary

On most saints' days ranked lower than a greater double, the Proper of the Saints provides one reading called a "Legend."  In the old Roman use, any feast ranked double or higher required three Nocturns, and consequently nine lessons.

Since the Proper of the Season provided three (the lessons for I Nocturn), the Legend was broken into three parts at the asterisks (for the II Nocturn), and then the lessons for III Nocturn from the appropriate Common were used.

The requirement that any double feast have nine lessons caused Matins to be excessively long on even "ordinary" feasts, and also caused the III Nocturn Common lessons to be robbed of all freshness by their frequent repetition.

The compilers of the Anglican Breviary looked to other Western uses of the Divine Office which authorized most double feasts to have one Nocturn, and consequently three lessons, only.

This rule is applicable throughout the Breviary whenever a saint's Proper does not give particular II or III Nocturn lessons.  Of course, those who wish to make every double feast an office of nine lessons are still free to do so.

Most Breviary users, however, will want to take advantage of the rule which permits lesser saints' days to be offices of one Nocturn.

        Matins by Rule 1

To "source" the lessons for such feasts, which are the majority that occur throughout the year: lesson i is taken from the Proper of the Season (with its Responsory); lesson ii is actually lessons ii and iii from the Proper of the Season combined, followed by the Responsory for lesson iii; and the "actual" lesson iii is the Legend given in the Proper of the Saints, followed by Te Deum.

This simplification process is called "Matins by Rule 1."

        Matins by Rule 2

"Matins by Rule 2" is much less frequently used, and is needed when the Proper of the Season gives three Gospel Homilies as lessons (e.g., in Lent).

In that event, lesson i with its Responsory is taken from the appropriate Common; lesson ii is the Legend from the E Section with the Responsory for lesson iii from the Common; and then as lesson iii is read the three Gospel Homilies in the Proper of the Season, followed by the Te Deum.


When an office of nine lessons must be commemorated, its III Nocturn lessons combined are read as lesson ix in the principal Office being celebrated.

This occurs very rarely, usually when a major feast displaces a Sunday, and the III Nocturn lessons of the Sunday are read as lesson ix of the Office (in much the same way as the Last Gospel at Mass will be the Gospel of an occurring lesser feast).

Concluding Thoughts

Of all the offices, Matins will take the reader the longest to learn, and several months should be allocated for this purpose.  If difficulty is encountered, the reader may wish to break Matins up into parts, and refrain from attempting to recite the entire office until, for example, the issue of Nocturns is thoroughly conquered.

bottom of page