The author, however, does not determine the number of psalms which had to be recited.
Methodius in his "Banquet of Virgins" ( Symposion sive Convivium decem Virginum ) subdivided the Night Office or pannychis into watches, but it is difficult to determine what he meant by these nocturnes. Basil also gives a very vague description of the Night Office or Vigils, but in terms which permit us to conclude that the psalms were sung, sometimes by two choirs, and sometimes as responses.
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Of all the descriptions the most complete is that in the "Peregrinatio Ætheriae", the author of which assisted at Matins in the Churches of Jerusalem, where great solemnity was displayed. Nevertheless in these descriptions, and in spite of certain differences, we find the same elements repeated: the psalms generally chanted in the form of responses, that is to say by one or more cantors, the choir repeating one verse, which served as a response, alternately with the verses of psalms which were sung by the cantors ; readings taken from the Old and the New Testament , and later on, from the works of the Fathers and doctors ; litanies or supplications; prayer for the divers members of the Church, clergy, faithful, neophytes, and catechumens ; for emperors; travellers; the sick; and generally for all the necessities of the Church, and even prayer for Jews and for heretics. Missal, in "Studien des Benediktinerordens", II (Raigern, 1886), 287, 289.] It is quite easy to find these essential elements in our modern Matins.In the modern Roman Liturgy, Matins, on account of its length, the position it occupies, and the matter of which it is composed, may be considered as the most important office of the day, and for the variety and richness of its elements the most remarkable.In any case the primitive signification of the word under these different forms was Aurora , sunrise.It was at first applied to the office Lauds, which, as a matter of fact, was said at dawn (see LAUDS), its liturgical synonym being the word Gallicinium (cock-crow), which also designated this office.Under this form, the watch (Vigil) might be said to date back as early as the beginning of Christianity.
It was either on account of the secrecy of their meetings, or because of some mystical idea which made the middle of the night the hour par excellence for prayer, in the words of the psalm : media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi , that the Christians chose the night time for their synaxes , and of all other nights, preferably the Sabbath.
The Sunday Office is made up of the invitatory, hymn, three nocturns, the first of which comprises twelve psalms, and the second and third three psalms each; nine lessons, three to each nocturn, each lesson except the ninth being followed by a response; and finally, the canticle Te Deum , which is recited or sung after the ninth lesson instead of a response. This Nocturnal Office adapted itself at a later period to a more modern form, approaching more and more closely to the Roman Liturgy.
The Office of Feasts is similar to that of Sunday, except that there are only three psalms to the first nocturn instead of twelve. Here too are found the three Nocturns, with Antiphon, Psalms, Lessons, and Responses, the ordinary elements of the Roman Matins, and with a few special features quite Ambrosian.
From the liturgical point of view and in its origin, the use of the term was very vague and elastic.
Generally it designated the nightly meetings, synaxes , of the Christians.
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