Origin Of Morning And Evening Prayer

The Services in the Prayer Book may be roughly classed as (1) those

which are used every week: and (2) those which are used more rarely.

The principal service is the Holy Communion; which is provided with a

special Collect, Epistle and Gospel for each week, and for Holy Days of

special importance as being connected with the Lord's life on earth, or

with His immediate disciples.

The weekly Collection, enjoined by S. Paul in the churches of Galatia

and Corinth (1 Cor. xvi. 2), suggests that the Holy Communion was from

the first the usual Sunday Service. And this is confirmed when we find

S. Paul making a rapid journey from Greece to Jerusalem (Acts xx. 16),

but waiting seven days at Troas so as to be with the disciples there

upon the first day of the week, when they came together to break

bread (Acts xx. 6, 7): cf. also a similar sojourn at Tyre on the same

voyage (Acts xxi. 4). But the Holy Communion was not the only regular

Service. Peter and John went to the Temple (Acts iii. 1) at the hour

of prayer, being the ninth hour. Peter went up upon the housetop to

pray (Acts x. 9) about the sixth hour.

Cornelius saw the vision about the ninth hour (Acts x. 3). They

were all together in one place (Acts ii. 1) upon the day of

Pentecost--and it was the third hour of the day (Acts ii. 15). These

hours may have been suggested to them as Christians by the solemn

scenes of the crucifixion of our Lord (S. Mark xv. 25, 33, &c.)[1].

The constant sense of responsibility and danger tended, of course, to

the frequent assembling for united prayer. It was natural to adopt

some such method as that in Psalm lv. 17, evening, morning and noon

(cf. Daniel vi. 10).

To these were added others: in the 3rd century for example we hear of

one at dawn and one at sunset: the former, being especially a praise

service, came to be known as Lauds or Mattin-lauds; the latter was

soon called Vespers (vesper=evening).

In the 4th century we hear of two more, making up the seven times a

day of Psalm cxix. 164. During this growth of daily services there is

sometimes a {7} doubt whether the night Service is included in the

reckoning: but eventually we find for the daytime Mattin-lauds, Prime,

Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

The precise time of each is not defined by its name. If Mattins (i.e.

Lauds) was not finished when Prime was due, these two Services were


But the office for Terce might be said at the 2nd hour or at the 3rd:

and in like manner Sext belonged to any of the three hours before 12;

and None to the three hours between 12 and 3.

Thus the day was divided into portions of three hours each: each

portion had its own Service, named from its close, but said at a

variable time according to the appointment of the Ordinary[2]. The

tendency was to appoint an early part of the three hours for the

Service; and this is visible in the word 'noon,' if it is true that 12

o'clock is so named from the custom of saying None at that time.

Compline (completorium) is so called from its completing the services

of the day.

It will be noted that many of the names of Church Officers and many

other terms having a technical Church meaning are Greek in their

derivation. Archangel, Angel, Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Church,

Ecclesiastical, Apostle, Prophet, Martyr, Baptism, Epistle,

Evangelical, are instances of this; and many languages show by these

and other terms that Christian Churches derive much of their

organization from times and places where the Greek tongue was prevalent.

It might be thought perhaps that the Latin derivation of the names of

the Day Hour services would imply a more local and a Western Source for

these Hours of Prayer. But some of them are, as we have shown, very

early in their origin, and indeed there is evidence from books that

something of the same order was very early observed in the Eastern

parts of Christendom also.

This frequency of Services had a great charm for men who lived together

and worked together in communities, with no great distance between

their work and their Church, and who were able to fit their day's tasks

and necessary meals to the intervals between the Services.

It was not so suitable for mixed occupations or for isolated houses:

and as populations increased, it became evident that a less frequent

assembly would be more conducive to united worship.

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