On the Feasts of Saints
On saints’ feast days we do the night office as on Sunday night because we believe that they have reached the joys of heaven through Christ’s resurrection. We celebrate it with nine psalms and as many readings and Responsories, which teaches us that they are in the company of the nine orders of angels.
CAP. XXVII. – De festivitate sanctorum.
In festis sanctorum ita nocturnale officium ut in nocte Dominica agimus, quia eos per Christi resurrectionem gaudia consecutos credimus. Ideo autem cum novem psalmis et totidem lectionibus ac responsoriis celebramus, quia eos in consortio novem ordinum angelorum esse praedicamus.
() Monastic Matins (28 – 30)
On Monastic Matins
Now the divine office as arranged by St. Benedict signifies nearly the same thing, since its intention is the same, namely, to praise God and celebrate the deeds of the just. The Church has received this office because it came from a man who was “filled with the spirit of the saints” and had been approved by the authority of the apostolic pontiff Gregory. Indeed it is obvious that this same man, “full of God,” had in mind the laborers in the vineyard and the sentinels on night watch when he distributed the psalms in this manner and divided Sunday night into three watches through the three nocturns. For he assigned six psalms and four readings because the number six signifies the work of the active life, on account of the six Works of Mercy in the Gospel, which stand as it were for six days of work in the vineyard. The number four is a figure for the perfection of the contemplative life, by which an eternal watch is kept against the enemies of souls, namely the vices and the demons. Thus, the six psalms proclaim the laborers in the Lord’s vineyard, the four readings those keeping watch in the Lord’s camp, and the responsories the eagerness of the laborers.
Observe how Benedict, who established this divine service, began with the psalm Domine, in virtute tua (Psalm 20), which is about the peace of the Church, and concluded the office with others that signify Christ’s passion. For when our Lord was on the cross he sang ten psalms, beginning with Deus, Deus meus, respice (Psalm 21) and ending with the verse In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (Psalm 30). Benedict obviously instituted the office in this way on the night of the Lord’s resurrection because Christ went through his Passion to the peace of his resurrection, and conferred peace on the Church through his Passion. We who are now at peace, if we imitate Christ’s Passion by crucifying ourselves in these watches, will be granted peace through Christ at the Resurrection.
CAP. XXVIII. – De Matutinis monachorum.
Porro divinum officium a beato Benedicto ordinatum pene idem significat, praesertim cum ad idem, videlicet ad laudem Dei et ad iustorum praeconia, tendat. Hoc ideo ab Ecclesia est receptum, quia ab illo qui omnium iustorum spiritu plenus fuit est prolatum, et ab apostolici pontificis, scilicet Gregorii, auctoritate roboratum. Siquidem patet quod idem vir Deo plenus in vinea laborantes et in vigiliis excubantes attenderit, dum tali modo psalmos distribuerit, et Dominicam noctem tribus vigiliis per tres nocturnos distinxerit, licet ipse psalmos senario, lectiones vero quaternario numero assignaverit, quia videlicet per senarium activae vitae actio designatur, propter sex opera Evangelii quibus in istis sex diebus quasi in vinea laboratur, per quaternarium vero contemplativae vitae perfectio propter quatuor Evangelia figuratur, quibus contra hostes animarum, scilicet vitia et daemones, iugiter vigilatur; per sex ergo psalmos in vinea Domini laborantes declarantur, per quatuor lectiones in castris Domini vigilantes demonstrantur, per Responsoria alacritas laborantium denotatur.
Notandum quod hic divini servitii ordinator a psalmo Domine in virtute tua (Psal. XX), qui de pace Ecclesiae constat, incoepit, et reliquos, qui passionem Christi sonant, in officio conclusit. Dominus enim in cruce a Deus Deus meus, respice incoepit, et ita decem psalmos cantans in versu In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (Psal. XXI) finivit. Hoc idcirco in nocte Dominicae resurrectionis instituit, quia nimirum Christus per passionem ad resurrectionis pacem pervenit, et Ecclesiae pacem per passionem suam contulit. Et nos in pace degentes si passionem Christi in vigiliis nos cruciando imitabimur, in resurrectione pace per Christum ditabimur.
On the Third Nocturn
The same “man of God” gave the third nocturn three canticles, for he wanted the Trinity to be praised in faith, hope, and charity. He ordered the same canticles to be sung with the Alleluia, teaching those who praise the Trinity to call upon the aid of heaven’s joyful song. Next he commanded four readings from the Gospel, showing that Christ’s watchmen are defended by the four virtues through the doctrine of the four Gospels, so they may be prudent in human and divine things, strong in good and bad times, temperate in discharging the divine service, and obedient in all things to the will of their superiors. They do even better if they do these things eagerly. Next “the beloved of God” decided the hymn Te Deum laudamus should be sung, so that in all these things they do not ascribe anything to themselves, but everything to the divine praise, holding themselves to be unworthy servants. In the Te Deum laudamus we may also understand the song of joy sung by the workers when the work is done. Next the Gospel is read, in which we are promised eternal life; it is the denarius the laborers receive for their work. The hymn Te decet laus, sung at the very end, is their final thanksgiving when, having received the denarius of life, they rejoice in the Lord who permits them to pass from work to rest, from the vineyard to the homeland.
CAP. XXIX. – De tertio nocturno.
Tertium nocturnum idem vir Dei tribus canticis attribuit, quia Trinitatem in fide, spe et charitate, laudari voluit. Unde eadem cantica cum Alleluia cantari instituit, quia laudatores Trinitatis ad canticum coelestis laetitiae vocare docuit. Deinde quatuor lectiones de Evangelio legi praecepit, quia Christi vigiles per doctrinam quatuor Evangeliorum in quatuor virtutibus munitos monuit, ut videlicet in divinis et humanis sint prudentes, in adversis et prosperis fortes, in Dei servitio solvendo et praelatis obediendo iussum omnibus actibus suis temperati. His quatuor etiam subiungunt, si haec omnia alacriter peragunt. Post haec constituit Deo dilectus cantari: Te Deum laudamus, quatenus nil sibi in his omnibus ascribant, sed cuncta divinae laudi attribuant, se vero inutiles servos dicant. Per Te Deum laudamus etiam ille cantus intelligitur qui peracto opere ab operariis prae gaudio canitur. Deinde Evangelium legi praecipitur; per quod vita aeterna promittitur, quod denarius intelligitur qui operariis post laborem dabitur. Per hymnum Te decet laus, qui ad extremum canitur, illa ultima gratulatio accipitur quando, percepto vitae denario, in Domino exsultant, quod de labore ad requiem, de vinea ad patriam eis ire licet.
When we bow to the altar upon entering the church, we pay homage to the king as soldiers. For we are the warriors of the Eternal King, standing near him at arms as a special bodyguard. Then when we bow to the East and West, we show that we adore the omnipresent God, whom we must follow in a rational motion “from the rising” of our birth “to the setting” of our death, just as the heavens move in a natural revolution from East to West. The monks portray this clearly by turning their whole bodies from East to West .
CAP. XXX. – De inclinationibus.
Dum ecclesiam ingredientes ad altare inclinamus, quasi regem milites adoramus. Aeterni quippe Regis milites sumus, cui semper in procinctu specialis militiae adsumus. Cum autem ad Orientem et Occidentem inclinamus, Deum ubique praesentem nos adorare monstramus, quem ita rationali motu ab ortu nostrae nativitatis usque ad occasum mortis sequi debemus, sicut coelum ab Oriente in Occidentem naturali revolutione ferri videmus. Quod monachi expressius designant, qui se toto corpore ab Oriente in Occidentem gyrant.
 An interesting passage from Plutarch’s Life of Numa (14.4) suggests that the ancient Romans practiced this sacred turn, and interpreted it in the same way: “The first two rules would seem to teach that the subjection of the earth is a part of religion; and the worshippers’ turning round is said to be an imitation of the rotary motion of the universe; but I would rather think that the worshipper who enters a temple, since temples face the east and the Sun, has his back towards the sunrise, and therefore turns himself half round in that direction, and then wheels fully round to face the god of the temple, thus making a complete circle, and linking the fulfilment of his prayer with both deities; 5 unless, indeed, this change of posture, like the Aegyptian wheels, darkly hints and teaches that there is no stability in human affairs, but that we must contentedly accept whatever twists and turns our lives may receive from the Deity.”