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The name Matins was then extended to the office of Vigils, Matins taking the name of Lauds, a term which, strictly speaking, only designates the last three psalms of that office, i.e. At the time when this change of name took place, the custom of saying Vigils at night was observed scarcely anywhere but in monasteries, whilst elsewhere they were said in the morning, so that finally it did not seem a misapplication to give to a night Office a name which, strictly speaking, applied only to the office of day-break. The night from six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning was divided into four watches or vigils of three hours each, the first, the second, the third, and the fourth vigil.From the liturgical point of view and in its origin, the use of the term was very vague and elastic.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.Cassian gives us a more detailed account of the Night Office of the fifth century monks.Notwithstanding this, however, the Vigils, in their strictest sense of Divine Office of the Night, were maintained and developed.Among writers from the fourth to the sixth century we find several descriptions of them.The word "Matins" ( Latin Matutinum or Matutinae ), comes from Matuta , the Latin name for the Greek goddess Leucothae or Leucothea , white goddess, or goddess of the morning ( Aurora ): Leucothee graius, Matuta vocabere nostris , Ovid, V, 545.
The hymns, which have been but tardily admitted into the Roman Liturgy, as well as the hymns of the other hours, form part of a very ancient collection which, so far at least as some of them are concerned, may be said to pertain to the seventh or even to the sixth century.
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.
The night-office retained its name of Vigils, since, as a rule, Vigils and Matins ( Lauds ) were combined, the latter serving, to a certain extent, as the closing part of Vigils. Benedict (sixth century) in his description of the Divine Office, always refers to Vigils as the Night Office, whilst that of day-break he calls Matins, Lauds being the last three psalms of that office (Regula, cap. The Council of Tours in 567 had already applied the title "Matins" to the Night Office: ad Matutinum sex antiphonae; Laudes Matutinae; Matutini hymni are also found in various ancient authors as synonymous with Lauds. des Conciles", V, III, 188, 189.) The word Vigils, at first applied to the Night Office, also comes from a Latin source, both as to the term and its use, namely the Vigiliae or nocturnal watches or guards of the soldiers.
The number of psalms, which at first varied, was subsequently fixed at twelve, with the addition of a lesson from the Old and another from the New Testament . Jerome defended the Vigils against the attacks of Vigilantius, but it is principally concerning the watches at the Tombs of the Martyrs that he speaks in his treatise, "Contra Vigilantium". 79, 122, 139, 186, 208, 246, etc.) Other allusions are to be found in Caesaurius of Arles, Nicetiuis or Nicetae of Treves, and Gregory of Tours (see Baumer-Biron, loc. In all the authors we have quoted, the form of Night Prayers would appear to have varied a great deal.
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.
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.