15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Hours, Canonical

Additional Links

signifies, in ecclesiastical usage, the daily round of prayers and praise in some churches, both ancient and modern. The ancient order of these "hours" is as follows:

1. Nocturns or [Matins, a service performed before daybreak (properly a night service), called vigils by the Council of Carthage (398), but afterwards the first hour after dawn; mentioned by Cyprian as midnight and matins, and by Athanasius as nocturns and midnight (Psalms 119:62-147; Acts 16:25). Cassian and Isidore say this season was first observed in the 5th century, in the monastery of Bethlehem, in memory of the nativity.

2. Lauds, a service performed at daybreak, following the matin shortly, if not actually joined on to it, mentioned by Basil and the Apostolical Constitutions.

3. Prime, a service performed at about six o'clock A.M., "the first hour," mentioned by Athanasius (Psalms 92:2; Psalms 5:3; Psalms 59:16).

4. Tierce or Terce, a service performed at 9 A.M., "the third hour;" mentioned by Tertullian with Sexts and Nones (see below), as commemorating the time when the disciples were assembled at Pentecost (Acts 2:15).

5. Sext, a service performed at noonday, "the sixth hour," commemorating Peter's praying (Acts 10:19).

6. Nones, a service performed at 3 P.M., "the ninth hour," commemorating the time when Peter and John went up to the Temple (Acts 3:1).

7. Vespers, a service performed in the early evening; mentioned by Basil, Ambrose, and Jerome, and by the Apostolical Constitutions (which we cite below), to commemorate the time when Christ instituted the Eucharist, showing it was the eventide of the world. " This hour is called from evening, according to St. Augustine, or the evening star, says St. Isidore." It was also known as the office and the hour of lights as, until the 8th or 9th century, was usual in the East and at Milan; also when the lamps were lighted (Zechariah 14:7). "The Roman custom of saying Vesper after Nones then came into use in the West" (Walcott, Sac. Archaeol. p. 316).

8. Compline, the last evening or "bedtime service" (Psalms 132:3); first separated from Vespers by Benedict.

The office of Lauds was, however, very rarely separated from that of Matins, and these eight hours of prayer were therefore practically only seven, founded on David's habit (Psalm 4:17; 119:62).

The Apostolical Constitutions (8, 34) mention the hours as follows: "Ye shall make prayer in the moranieg, giving thanks, because the Lord hath enlightened you, removing the night, and bringing the day; at the third hour, because the Lord then received sentence from Pilate; at the sixth, because he was crucified; at the ninth, because all things were shaken when the Lord was crucified, trembling at the audacity of the impious Jews, not enduring that the Lord should be insulted; at evening giving thanks, because he hath given the night for rest from labor; at cock-crowing, because that hour gives glad tidings that the day is dawning in which to work the works of light." Cassian likewise mentions the observation of Tierce, Sext, and Nones in monasteries. Tertullian and Pliny speak of Christian services before daylight. Jerome names Tierce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Lauds; also Augustine-for the two latter hours, however, substituting "Early Vigil." Archdeacon Freeman, of the Church of England, gives (Principles of Div. Serv. 1, 219 sq.) the following explanation, viz. that these offices, "though neither of apostolic nor early post-apostolic date as Church services, had, nevertheless, probably existed in a rudimentary form, as private or household devotions, from a very early period, and had been received into the number of recognized public formularies previous to the reorganization of the Western ritual after the Eastern model." "Various reasons have been assigned for a deeper meaning in the hours; one is, that they are the thanksgiving for the completion of creation on the seventh day. Another theory beautifully connects them with the acts of our Lord in his passion: Evensong with his institution of the Eucharist, and washing the disciples' feet, and the going out to Gethsemane; Compline with his agony and bloody sweat; Matins with his appearance before Caiaphas; Prime and Tierce with that in the presence of Pilate; Tierce also with his scourging, crown of thorns, and presentation to the people; Sext with his bearing the cross, the seven words, and crucifixion; Nones with his dismission of his Spirit, descent into hell, and rout of tire devil; Vespers with his deposition from the cross nd entombment; Compline with the setting of the watch; Matins with his resurrection" (Walcott, Sacred Archaeol. p. 317).

Of the origin of these "hours," Bingham (Antiquities of the Christ. Church, bk. 13:ch. 9:p. 661 sq.) says that "they who have made the most exact inquiries can find no footsteps of them in the first three ages, but conclude that they came first into the Church with the monastic life" (compare also Pearson, Praelect. in Act. Apost. mum. 3, 4). It is observable further, that most of the "writers of the fourth age, who speak of six or seven hours of prayer, speak of the observances of the monks only, and not of the whole body of the Church. Thus Jerome, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Cassian, Cassiodorus, and most other writers of the early Christian Church, speak but of three hours of prayers; thus, also, even Chrysostom himself, who, however, when "speaking of the monks and their institutions (Fomil. 14 in I Timothy p. 1599), gives about the same number of canonical hours as others do." Yet it is very likely even that in some Eastern churches these hours of prayers might have been practiced in the 4th century, and quite certain that the different churches observing the hours varied greatly both as to the number of the hours and the service in their first original. "At the time of the Reformation, the canonical hours were reduced in the Lutheran Church to two, morning and evening; the Reformed Church never observed them" (Brande and Cox, Dict. of Science, Literat. and Art, 2, 152). In the Church of England these services were, at the time of the English Reformation, used as distinct offices only by stricter religious persons and the clergy. At the revision of the liturgy of that Church under Edward VI, it was decided to have "only two solemn services of public worship in the day, viz.

Matins, composed of matins, lauds, and prime; and Evensong, consisting of vespers and compline." In the Greek Church, Neale (Essays on Liturgiology and Church Hist., Essay 1, p. 6 sq.) says, "There are eight canonical hours; prayers are actually, for the most part, said three times daily-matins, lauds, and prime, by aggregation early in the morning; tierce, sexts, and the liturgy (communion) later; nones, vespers, and compline, by aggregation in the evening." So, also, is it in the West. "Except in monastic bodies," says the same writer (p. 46 sq.), "the breviary as a church office is scarcely ever used as a whole. You may go, we do not say from church to church, but from cathedral to cathedral of Central Europe, and never hear matins save at high festivals. In Spain and Portugal it is somewhat more frequent, but there, as everywhere, it is a clerical devotion exclusively Then the lesser hours are not often publicly said except in cathedrals, and then principally by aggregation, and in connection with mass In no national Church under the sun are so many matin services said as in our own." It may not be out of place here to add that seven hours formed the basis of the "Primers" (q.v.). "English editions of these, set forth by authority in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward V, and of queen Elizabeth, show that the English reformers did not wish to discourage the observance of the ancient hours of prayer. As late as 1627, by command of Charles I, bishop Cosin published a Collection of Private Devotions in the practice of the ancient Church, called the Hours of Prayer, as they were after this manner published by authority of queen Elizabeth, 1560,' etc." See, besides the authorities already referred to, Procter, Prayer Book, chap. 1; Blunt (the Rev. J. H.), Dict. of Doctrinal and Hist. Theol. (London 1870), 1, 315; Siegel, Christl. Kirche. Alterthü mer, 1, 270 sq.; 4, 65 sq. (See CANONICAL); (See BREVIARY). (J. H. W.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hours, Canonical'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Next Entry