The Supression of Prime

22 February 2007

Prime is one of the traditional hours of the Divine Office, but you rarely find it anymore. The contemporary Catholic Liturgy of the Hours omits it, as the Second Vatican Council ordered the supression of the Office of Prime in the document on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The Breviary I use during Lent has it, and I pray Prime during Lent. I find Prime to be quite beautiful, and it is a shame that it is so rarely prayed. As I understand it, Prime is a particularly monastic office with a capitular feel. In other words, it is rarely prayed outside of monasteries, and it is usually prayed in “chapter” the daily meetings of the community and not as a public celebration of the Divine Office. It has some great prayers in it. For example,

O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day : defend us in the same with thy mighty power ; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger ; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

and

Vouchsafe, we beseech thee, O Lord God, King of heaven and earth, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the way of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments : that through thy most mighty protection, O Saviour of the world, both here and for evermore, we may be preserved in body and in soul. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.

The final blessing is also killer:

May the Lord Almighty order our days and our doings in his peace.

Much like Compline, Prime is neither like a major hour (Lauds and Vespers, which are very similar in structure) nor is it like the hours of Terce, Sext, and None, which are all very similar structurally to each other. Matins, or Vigils, is essentially an Office of Readings, and so cannot be compared to Prime or Compline; Matins is its own thing.  Wikipedia, unsurprisingly, has an interesting article on Prime based on the Catholic Encyclopedia‘s article.

If you have prayed Compline and find it particularly comforting (I know I do) immediately before going to sleep, take up Prime, right after you arise. If you don’t normally pray any kind of systematic office, Prime might be a good place to start (so might Compline for that matter: it was the first hour I prayed regularly, specifically because it was the first one I understood how to pray).

Today’s Prime, fairly close to the Breviary I use, can be found here. This is a complicated version, so read whatever is “ferial” or marked for use on “ferias” as today is one.

Note that this particular text I’ve linked to is Old School of Old School: this office predates the reforms of Pius XII (not a typo), and so I don’t pray the Prayer Before Office, or the Triple Prayer, and I don’t generally worry about proper doxologies, or pray “Sacrosanctae,” the final prayer to the Trinity.

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