Thursday, July 19, 2018

Liturgy of the Divine Office, Part 5: Terce, Sext, and None

Previous parts in this series:
Part 1: Introduction to the traditional Divine Office
Part 2: Matins
Part 3: Lauds
Part 4: Prime

The next three little hours of Terce, Sext, and None have exactly the same structure, so it will be convenient to describe them together. Three times throughout the workday, we pause to offer our sacrifice of praise to God in the Divine Office by singing psalms and prayers. Terce is offered at the third hour, around 9:00 a.m.; Sext is offered at the sixth hour, around noon; and None is offered at the ninth hour, around 3:00 p.m. To make a couple things clear, the name “Sext” comes from the Latin word for “six,” and “None” (pronounced “nohn”) comes from the Latin word for “nine.” They have nothing to do with the identically spelled English words.

The timing of these three hours has mystical significance. The third hour, the hour of Terce, was the hour that Jesus was nailed to the Cross (Mark 15:25). At the sixth hour, the hour of Sext, darkness fell upon the earth. This darkness lasted until the ninth hour, the hour of None, when Jesus died (Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44). One unnamed historical author poetically connected the hours of the Divine Office with events in Christ's Passion.

At Matins bound, at Prime reviled
Condemned to death at Terce
Nailed to the Cross at Sext
At None his blessed side they pierce
They take him down at Vesper-tide
In grave at Compline lay
Who thenceforth bids his Church observe
The sevenfold hours alway

Since our Lord's Passion occurred between the third and ninth hours of the day, our daily participation in his Passion, the Holy Mass, is traditionally offered between these hours. The Mass is the centerpiece of the day's liturgy. The entire Divine Office exists to support and complement the Mass.

In religious communities, cathedrals, and collegiate churches, the principal Mass of the day is known as the conventual Mass. Usually, the conventual Mass is offered after Terce. When a bishop offers a Solemn Pontifical Mass, the clergy may sing Terce in a side chapel (called the secretarium) while the bishop vests for Mass. On certain days, such as Christmas Eve, the conventual Mass is offered, not after Terce, but after None. Historically, Mass was offered after None every day during Lent. It might then have been followed by Vespers and a community meal—the only meal of the day during the Lenten fast.

After the prayers Aperi Domine, Our Father, and Hail Mary if they are said, each of these hours begins with the usual opening verse.

Deus ☩ in adjutórium meum inténde.
Dómine, ad adjuvándum me festína.
Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto. Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen. Allelúia.
O God, ☩ come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Alleluia.

Like at Prime, this verse is followed by an invariable hymn. At Terce, it is a hymn of adoration to the Holy Spirit, which descended upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost at the third hour, the hour of Terce.

Nunc, Sancte, nobis, Spíritus,
Unum Patri cum Fílio,
Dignáre promptus íngeri
Nostro refúsus péctori.

Os, lingua, mens, sensus, vigor
Confessiónem pérsonent.
Flamméscat igne cáritas,
Accéndat ardor próximos.

Præsta, Pater piíssime,
Patríque compar Únice,
Cum Spíritu Paráclito
Regnans per omne sǽculum.
Come Holy Ghost, who ever one
Reignest with the Father and with the Son
It is the hour, our souls possess
With thy full flood of holiness.

Let flesh and heart and lips and mind
Sound forth our witness to mankind;
And love light up our mortal frame,
Till others catch the living flame.

Grant this, O Father ever One
With Christ, thy sole-begotten Son,
And Holy Ghost, whom all adore,
Reigning and blest forevermore.

At Sext, the hymn references the heat and light of midday, praying that we may have a heated passion to do God's will.

Rector potens, verax Deus,
Qui témperas rerum vices,
Splendóre mane illúminas,
Et ígnibus merídiem:

Exstíngue flammas lítium,
Aufer calórem nóxium,
Confer salútem córporum,
Verámque pacem córdium.

Præsta, Páter piíssime,
Patríque compar Únice,
Cum Spíritu Paráclito
Regnans per omne sǽculum.
O God, who canst not change nor fail,
Guiding the hours as they go by,
Brightening with beam the morning pale,
And burning in the midnight sky,

Quench thou the fires of hate and strife,
The wasting fever of the heart;
From perils guard our feeble life,
And to our souls thy grace impart.

Grant this, O Father ever One
With Christ, thy sole-begotten Son,
And Holy Ghost, whom all adore,
Reigning and blest forevermore.

The hymn at None references the progression of the sun and prays that we may be in God's good grace as our lives, like the day, come to an end.

Rerum, Deus, tenax vigor,
Immótus in te pérmanens,
Lucis diúrnæ témpora
Succéssibus detérminans:

Largíre lumen véspere,
Quo vita nusquam décidat,
Sed prǽmium mortis sacræ
Perénnis instet glória.

Præsta, Pater piíssime,
Patríque compar Únice,
Cum Spíritu Paráclito
Regnans per omne sǽculum.
O God, unchangeable and true,
Of all the light and power,
Dispensing light in silence through
Each successive hour;

Lord, brighten our declining day,
That it may never wane
Till death, when all things round decay,
Brings back the morn again.

Grant this, O Father ever One
With Christ, thy sole-begotten Son,
And Holy Ghost, whom all adore,
Reigning and blest forevermore.

All three of these hymns are attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan from the fourth century. (English translations are by Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.) They are also all relatively short, consisting of only three stanzas. The third stanza of each hymn is the same, giving praise to the Trinity. Finally, they all mention the light of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit in reference to the movement of the sun throughout the day.

Next are the psalms, the core of the Divine Office. One antiphon is sung. On first class feasts, the antiphon is proper to the feast, but on all other days, it corresponds to the day of the week. Three psalms or portions of psalms are sung, each concluded with Gloria Patri, followed by the repetition of the antiphon. On first class feasts, the psalms of Sunday are used. Of the twelve psalms sung at the little hours on Sundays and first class feasts (three psalms at each of the four little hours), eleven are portions of the longest psalm, Psalm 118. This psalm is a Hebrew acrostic poem that exalts obedience to God's law. Nearly every verse has some reference to God's word and law. Psalm 118 begins, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.”

After the psalms and antiphon are the capitulum, short responsory, and versicle and response, just like at Prime, all of which are proper to the day. The Mass's collect of the day is then sung. The hour has the following conclusion.

Dóminus vobíscum.
Et cum spíritu tuo.
Benedicámus Dómino.
Deo grátias.
Fidélium ánimæ per misericórdiam Dei
requiéscant in pace.
The Lord be with you.
And with thy spirit.
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
May the souls of the faithful, through the mercy
of God, rest in peace.

As you can see, the hours of Terce, Sext, and None are short and simple. If only said and not sung, they only take five minutes each. However, they are still absolutely necessary. If a priest or someone else obligated to offer the Divine Office omits one of these hours without grave reason, he commits a mortal sin. St. Paul commanded us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and Holy Mother Church calls us to sanctify each part of the day with the Divine Office. Thus, we take a break from our daily work to be with God for the brief hours of Terce, Sext, and None.

New terms
  • conventual Mass – The principal Mass of the day in religious communities, cathedrals, and collegiate churches.

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