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The liturgical services of these synaxes was composed of almost the same elements as that of the Jewish Synagogue : readings from the Books of the Law, singing of psalms, divers prayers.
What gave them a Christian character was the fact that they were followed by the Eucharistic service, and that to the reading from the Law, the apostles and the Acts of the Apostles was very soon added, as well as the Gospels and sometimes other books which were non-canonical, as, for example, the Epistles of Saint Clement, that of Saint Barnabas, the Apocalypse of Saint Peter, etc.
The name Matins was then extended to the office of Vigils, Matins taking the name of Lauds, a term which, strictly speaking, only designates the last three psalms of that office, i.e. At the time when this change of name took place, the custom of saying Vigils at night was observed scarcely anywhere but in monasteries, whilst elsewhere they were said in the morning, so that finally it did not seem a misapplication to give to a night Office a name which, strictly speaking, applied only to the office of day-break. The night from six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning was divided into four watches or vigils of three hours each, the first, the second, the third, and the fourth vigil.
From the liturgical point of view and in its origin, the use of the term was very vague and elastic.
The Office of Feasts is similar to that of Sunday, except that there are only three psalms to the first nocturn instead of twelve. Here too are found the three Nocturns, with Antiphon, Psalms, Lessons, and Responses, the ordinary elements of the Roman Matins, and with a few special features quite Ambrosian.
The Vigil in this case was also called pannychis , because the greater part of the night was devoted to it.
In the modern Roman Liturgy, Matins, on account of its length, the position it occupies, and the matter of which it is composed, may be considered as the most important office of the day, and for the variety and richness of its elements the most remarkable.
It commences more solemnly than the other offices, with a psalm (Ps.
The number of psalms, which at first varied, was subsequently fixed at twelve, with the addition of a lesson from the Old and another from the New Testament . Jerome defended the Vigils against the attacks of Vigilantius, but it is principally concerning the watches at the Tombs of the Martyrs that he speaks in his treatise, "Contra Vigilantium". 79, 122, 139, 186, 208, 246, etc.) Other allusions are to be found in Caesaurius of Arles, Nicetiuis or Nicetae of Treves, and Gregory of Tours (see Baumer-Biron, loc. In all the authors we have quoted, the form of Night Prayers would appear to have varied a great deal.
Of all the descriptions the most complete is that in the "Peregrinatio Ætheriae", the author of which assisted at Matins in the Churches of Jerusalem, where great solemnity was displayed. Nevertheless in these descriptions, and in spite of certain differences, we find the same elements repeated: the psalms generally chanted in the form of responses, that is to say by one or more cantors, the choir repeating one verse, which served as a response, alternately with the verses of psalms which were sung by the cantors ; readings taken from the Old and the New Testament , and later on, from the works of the Fathers and doctors ; litanies or supplications; prayer for the divers members of the Church, clergy, faithful, neophytes, and catechumens ; for emperors; travellers; the sick; and generally for all the necessities of the Church, and even prayer for Jews and for heretics. Missal, in "Studien des Benediktinerordens", II (Raigern, 1886), 287, 289.] It is quite easy to find these essential elements in our modern Matins.