Collect for Prime - 1
Stan Metheny confided to me that he once did a full-length exegesis of the
Collect for Prime but no longer has a copy of this opus. I hope my own
efforts in this direction bring a little seasonal joy into his life, and
into your lives.
Our Collect is somewhat Protean, changing both form and function in the
various sacramentaries and missals. Goulburn gives a translation (though
not the Latin text) of the earliest version, in the Gelasian Sacramentary.
Here it appears as one of a series of short prayers, headed "Prayers at Matins":
We give thee thanks, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, who hast
vouchsafed to bring us, after passing through the period of the night, to
the hours of the morning. Grant us, we beseech thee, to pass this day
without sin, so that at eventide we may return thanks [to thee]. Through.
It appears in a more expanded form in the Gregorian Sacramentary:
Deus, qui nos ad principium hujus diei pervenire fecisti, da nobis hunc diem
sine peccato transire; ut in nullo a tuis semitis declinemus, sed ad tuam
justitiam faciendam nostra semper procedant eloquia. Per (etc).
"O God, who hast brought us to the beginning of this day, grant us to pass
through it without sin, that in nothing we may turn aside out of thy paths,
but that the words which go forth from us may be always directed to do that
which is righteous in thy sight. Through (etc)."
In the Roman Breviary it is appointed for Prime. It may be helpful to
explain what is meant by "Prime", and indeed by the other terms, "Matins,
Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline"; and so I shall; but let me
first complete my accounts of the various texts of our Collect.
The form in the Roman Breviary is as follows:
Domine Deus omnipotens, qui ad principium hujus diei nos pervenire fecisti:
tua nos hodie salva virtute; ut in hac die ad nullam declinemus peccatum,
sed semper ad tuam justitiam faciendam nostra procedant eloquia, dirigantur
cogitationes et opera. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum filium tuum, qui
tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula
"O Lord God Almighty, who hast brought us to the beginning of this day,
defend us today by thy mighty power, that in this day we may turn aside to
no sin, but that our words may go forth, and our thoughts and actions be
directed to do that which is righteous in thy sight. Through our Lord Jesus
Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy
Ghost, God for ever and ever."
The Sarum Breviary however has a slightly different form:
Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus, qui nos ad principium hujus
diei pervenire fecisti; tua nos hodie salva virtute; et concede ut in hac
die ad nullum declinemus peccatum, nec ullum incurramus periculum, sed
semper ad tuam justitiam faciendam omnis nostra actio tuo moderamine
dirigatur. Per (etc).
The Reformers translated this as "The third Collect at Morning Prayer, for
O Lord, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely
brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us in the same with thy
mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into
any kind of danger; but that all our doings may be ordered by thy
governance, to do always that is righteous in Thy sight; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
And now the promised word about Prime. This is "Prima Hora", the first hour
of the day, that is, an hour after sunrise. At the Equinox, this would
occur at 7 am; in the winter, rather later, in the summer, rather earlier.
It is one of the "canonical hours" at which the Church has traditionally
offered prayers. The full schedule is as follows:
Matins - said at midnight, or in the early hours.
Lauds - said at dawn.
Prime - as aforsaid, said soon after dawn.
Terce - i.e. "Tertia Hora", the third hour. At the Equinox this would be 9 am.
Sext - i.e. "Sexta Hora", the sixth hour, which is actually noon whatever
the time of year.
None - i.e. "Nona Hora", the ninth hour, mid-afternoon.
Vespers - said at sunset.
Compline - "Completorium", the completion of the daily round of prayer, said
This eight-fold office is related by St Benedict [Rule of St Benedict, ch.
16] to two verses from the psalms, "Seven times I have sung thy praises" [Ps
118(119):164] and "At midnight I arose to confess to thee" [Ps 118(119):62].
Terce, Sext and None seem to be of pre-Christian (i.e. Jewish) origin.
Daniel is said to have prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). A threefold
office may perhaps be implied by Ps. 54(55):17, "Evening and morning and at
noon I utter my complaint." The Apostles were gathered for prayer at the
Third Hour, when the Holy Spirit was sent upon them (Cf. Acts 2:15); "Peter
went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour" (Acts 10:9) and
"Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth
hour" (Acts 3:1). These three are attested by Clement of Alexandria,
Cyprian and others as times of private prayer; but it is not until the 5th
century that we find public services attached to them.
According to Cassian, Prime was introduced as 'altera matutina', a second
Matins, in his monastery in Bethlehem about 395 AD. It was first recited in
the dormitory, then became part of the choir office, and finally became
recognised as part of the office even of the secular (non-monastic) clergy.
In 1964 its recitation was made voluntary for the secular clergy, and it
finds no mention at all in the current Breviary. I don't know if any
religious orders anywhere still recite it; perhaps Mon Lib could enlighten us.
Tomorrow I hope to begin my detailed exegesis of the Collect for Prime.