Lauds is a divine office that takes place in the early morning hours. In the ordinary form of the Roman Rite (Liturgy of the Hours), as celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, it is one of the two major hours in the Roman Catholic.
The name is derived from the three last psalms of the psalter (148, 149, 150), the Laudate psalms, which in former versions of the Lauds of the Roman Rite occurred every day, and in all of which the word laudate is repeated frequently, and to such an extent that originally the word Lauds designated not, as it does nowadays, the whole office, but only the end, that is to say, these three psalms with the conclusion. The title Ainoi (praises) has been retained in Greek. St. Benedict also employed this term to designate the last three psalms; post haec [viz, the canticle] sequantur Laudes (Regula, cap. xiii). In the 5th and 6th century the Lauds were called Matutinum, which later became the name of another office - "matins" in English, replaced in 1971 by the Office of Readings - previously called vigils. Little by little the title Lauds was applied to the whole office, and supplanted the name of Matins. In the ancient authors, however, from the 4th century to the 6th or 7th century, the names Matutinum, Laudes matutinae, or Matutini hymni, are used to designate the office of daybreak or dawn, the Office of Matins retaining its name of Vigils. The reason of this confusion of names is, perhaps, that originally Matins and Lauds formed but a single office, the Night Office terminating only at dawn.
Lauds, or the Morning Office or Office of Aurora, is one of the most ancient Offices and can be traced back to Apostolic times. Descriptions during the fourth and fifth centuries appear in writings by John Cassian, St. Melania the Younger, St. Hilary, Eusebius and in the Peregrinatio Ætheriae by St. John Chrysostom. During the 6th century St. Benedict gave a detailed description of them in his Rule. Gregory of Tours also made several allusions to this Office, which he calls Matutini hymni. He described as its constitutive parts: Psalm 50, the Benedicite, Psalms 148 - 150, and the versicles.
Other forms of the Office are practiced in the different Christian provinces. The general features, however, remain the same: it remains the Office of the dawn (Aurora), the Office of sunrise, the morning Office, the morning praises, the Office of cock-crow (Gallicinium, ad galli cantus), the Office of the Resurrection of Christ. The Catholic Encyclopedia labels this hymni matutinales; it is considered the principal office of the day. In Jerusalem the liturgy displays all its pomp: the bishop was present with all his clergy, the office being celebrated around the Grotto of the Holy Sepulchre itself; after the psalms and canticles had been sung, the litanies were chanted, and the bishop then blessed the people. The earliest evidence of Lauds appears in the second and third centuries in the Canons of Hippolytus and in writings by St. Cyprian, and the Apostolic Fathers.
Symbolism and significance
For the Christian, the light of dawn brings to mind Jesus Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12), who came to dispel spiritual darkness. In addition, Lauds recalls that Christ first met his followers at dawn following the resurrection. The Office of Lauds reminds the Christian that the first act of the day should be prayer, and that one's thoughts should be of God before facing the cares of the day. The tranquil hours just before and at sunrise are often favorable to contemplation and prayer.
This section incorporates information from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917, and concern the office prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. References to psalms follow the numbering system of the Septuagint, and the Latin of the Vulgate.
In the Roman Rite prior to the modifications made after the Second Vatican Council, Lauds (Latin Laudes, pl.) was composed a number of psalms, a canticle, a hymn, a short reading from the Bible ("capitulum"), the Benedictus and other prayers. Prior to the reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X the psalm "Deus misereatur nostri et benedicat nobis" (Ps 66 Vulgate) was prayed every day. Also, "Miserere mei Deus" (Ps 50 Vulgate) was said every day on which a feast did not occur. The psalm "Deus, Deus meus" (Ps 62 Vulgate) was also repeated daily. Finally, psalms 148-150, the Laudate psalms (from which the whole office probably received its name, see above) were recited every day without exception.
Liturgia horarum (1970)
In the edition of the Roman breviary of 1970 which was revised according to the mandate of the Second Vatican Council, Lauds (Latin Laudes matutinae, pl.) has the following structure:
- A short introductory verse (unless it is being prayed immediately after the Invitatory or Office of Readings)
- A hymn, which is optional when combining with the Office of Readings
- A morning psalm, an Old Testament canticle, and a psalm of praise. These are opened and closed by antiphons.
- A short reading with a responsorial verse
- The Benedictus, with its antiphon
- The Lord's Prayer
- Concluding prayer
- Blessing and dismissal (if prayed in community)
All psalms and canticles are concluded with the doxology, "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen." (The current translation of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, given here, differs from the traditional English translation used in other countries.) The psalms and readings are distributed in a four-week cycle, which forms the heart of the prayer.
The text of Lauds for today's date can be found here.
On feast days, the various parts of the hour may be taken from the office of the saint being celebrated or from common texts for the saints. If the feast has the rank of "memorial", any parts specifically provided for the saint (the "proper" parts) are used, while the other parts come from the weekday, with exception of the hymn (which may be optionally taken from the common texts), the antiphon for the Benedictus (which must be taken from the proper or the common), the intercession (which may be optionally taken from the common texts), and the closing prayer (which should be proper, or if missing, common).
For a "feast" or solemnity, all texts are taken from the proper, or if some part is missing, from the common. On these days, the morning psalm is always Psalm 63, verses 2-9, the canticle is the "Song of the Three Holy Children" (Daniel 3:57-88 and 56), and the psalm of praise is Psalm 149. On Corpus Christi, the hymn O Salutaris Hostia is sung.
In the important seasons of the Church year, such as Lent or Easter, many of the prayers are proper for each day of the season. In Lent, Christmas, Holy Week, Easter Week, and the last eight days of Advent, celebration of feast days is somewhat restricted. On some of these days, a memorial may be celebrated as a "commemoration", adding an extra prayer at the end of the hour, while on others the memorial is completely removed from the calendar.
Other rites of the Western Church
In the Ambrosian Office, and also in the Mozarabic, Lauds retained a few of the principal elements of the Roman Lauds: the Benedictus, canticles from the Old Testament, and the laudate psalms, arranged, however, in a different order (cf. Germain Morin, op. cit. in bibliography). In the Benedictine Liturgy, the Office of Lauds resembles the Roman Lauds very closely, not only in its use of the canticles but also in its general construction.
Among the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, the office comparable to the Lauds of the Roman Rite is the Orthros. It also contains the three Laudate psalms (148-150), with which it traditionally closes.
Like the other canonical hours, Lauds is observed by Christians in other denominations, notably those of the Anglican Communion. Elements of the office have been folded into the service of Morning Prayer as celebrated according to the Book of Common Prayer, and the hour itself is observed by many Anglican religious orders.
- Bäumer-Biron, op. cit., I, 81, 114, 134, 140, 150-68, 208, 210.
- chap. xii and xiii.
- "Hist. Francorum", II, vii, in P. L., LXXI, 201, 256, 1034 etc. Cf. Bäumer-Biron, Hist. du brev. Rom., I, 229-30.
-  The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 9: Laprade-Mass Liturgy
- cf. Dom Cabrol, Etude sur la Peregrinatio Silviae, les Eglises de Jerusalem, la discipline et la liturgie au IVX siecle, Paris, 1895, pp. 39, 40. For the East cf. De Virginitate, xx, in P G., XXVIII, 275.