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Lesson Eleven: Prime -- The Odd Hour

Prime is here called the "odd" hour because it is unlike any of the other Hours of the Divine Office.  Along with Compline, it was the latest in development, designed to be recited in one's chamber immediately upon rising.  Later, Prime was brought into communal recitation when it was joined to the "Chapter Meeting," or daily meeting of those in a particular monastic community.  Prime is now composed not only of the office proper, but of a "capitular office" which is built around this meeting.

Thus Prime exhibits a strange combination of elements, some of a domestic flavor, and others of a communal nature.  It also, like Compline, has few changeable elements.  As one of the Lesser Hours, it is brief in duration and suited to private morning recitation.

Structure of Prime

        -   [Prayer Before the Office (A Section), if first office recited that day];
        -   The Triple Prayer (Our Father, Hail Mary and Apostles Creed) (A Section);
        -   The Opening Versicles (A Section);
        -   The Hymn (A26);
        -   The Psalms (e.g., from weekly Psalter);
        -   The Little Chapter and Brief Respond (A27-A28);
        -   The Preces (A29);
        -   The Salutation, Bidding, and Collect of the Office (A30);
        -   The Closing Versicles (A30);
        -   The Capitular Office
        -   Opening Prayers (A31);
        -   The Benediction and Brief Lesson (A31-A32);
        -   Final Blessing (A32);
        -   Final Our Father

The Hymn

The Hymn at Prime is always taken from A26, but its doxological ending may be changed for certain feasts and seasons as given on A5.

The Psalms

The three Psalms at Prime are taken from the appropriate day in the weekly Psalter, or occasionally from the Proper or the appropriate Common if the rubrics of the day so direct.

The Psalms are said under one antiphon, meaning that the antiphon is recited, followed by all Psalms as a group (each ending with the Gloria Patri), followed by the antiphon in full.

When Lauds 2 (the penitential form of Lauds, beginning with Psalm 51) is said, Prime is recited with a fourth Psalm as set forth in the weekly Psalter.

The antiphon at Prime is usually from the weekly Psalter, but in certain seasons it is found on A26-A27.  Of course, if at any time the Proper of the day provides an antiphon or directs to a particular Common, that antiphon should be used.  On some saints' days, the antiphon will be taken from those used for Lauds, as explained below. 

The Little Chapter and Brief Respond

The Little Chapter is found on A27, and is always followed by "Thanks be to God."

The Brief Responds are set forth on A27-A28, and the first is changed with a proper versicle on certain feast days.  A table of such versicles is on A28.

The Preces

The Preces on A29 are always said unless a feast of double rite is celebrated or commemorated, during days within Octaves, or on certain other days as explained in the rubric on A29.

Otherwise, the Preces are recited in "ferial" or "dominical" fashion.  "Ferial" Preces are simply the Preces on A29, recited kneeling.  The "ferial" Preces are said when the Preces have been recited at Lauds (i.e., on penitential days).

The "dominical" Preces are recited standing, and in abridged format as explained on A29.  Both forms of the Preces continue with additional versicles and the General Confession as on A30.

The Salutation, Bidding and Collect

Following the Preces or, if they have been omitted, the Brief Respond, the Salutation ("The Lord be with you," etc. or "Lord, hear my prayer," etc.) is said, followed by the Bidding ("Let us pray") and the Collect of the Office (A30).

Following the Collect, modified closing versicles are said as on A30.

The Capitular Office

Immediately after these closing versicles, the Capitular Office is recited.  It is praiseworthy, although not required, to read the day's entry in the Martyrology prior to this office.  This reading, recited prior to the Chapter Meeting in religious houses, lists those Christians martyred on this day throughout history.  The Roman Martyrology in effect prior to Vatican II is entirely appropriate for use here where it may be had.

The Capitular Office begins with the unchanging prayers on A31, through and including the Collect.

It continues with the Brief Lesson, preceded by the Benediction on A31.  The Brief Lessons are given in table format on A31-A32, but on feasts the Brief Lesson is the Little Chapter from the Office of None.  (See rubric on A32).  The Brief Lesson, like the lessons of Matins, is always followed by "V. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.  R. Thanks be to God."

After the Brief Lesson is said the versicles and Benediction on A32, followed by a final Our Father said silently.  The Benediction is to be recited by the "foremost," which is the clergyman of highest dignity present, the senior clergyman in groups of equal rank, or the master or mistress of the house in a group composed of laymen.

Peculiarities of Prime

Like the Day Hours, the Psalms at Prime are buttressed about by one antiphon as a group, instead of each Psalm having an antiphon.  This antiphon is never "doubled," i.e. it is always said up to the dagger before the Psalms and in full after them.  This phenomenon is similar to that in Compline.

Second, the antiphon for the Psalms at Prime is sometimes the first antiphon from Lauds of the same Office.

This occurs either through an explicit rubric or, when using the appropriate Common for a feast it becomes clear that a specific antiphon for Prime is not given.

Concluding Thoughts

Prime is unlike any other Hour of the Divine Office, and despite most of its elements being found in the Ordinary, it is sufficiently affected by the day in question (i.e., whether a feast is celebrated, whether it is of double rite, etc.) that it is necessary to have mastered issues of Rite and Rank prior to learning it.

However, like the Day Hours, Prime can serve as a way of briefly recollecting ourselves in God at our rising or after breakfast.  On the other hand, because it is the one Hour most strongly influenced by the monastic tradition, many find it odd to recite in private devotion.  For those not under obligation to recite the Office, Prime may certainly be omitted in favor of other Hours more suited to individual recitation.

Anglican Breviary Prime
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