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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.Hence Matutine, Matutinus, Matutinum tempus , or simply Matutinum (i.e.tempus ); some of the old authors prefer Matutini Matutinorum , or Matutinae.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 more solemn watches, which were held on the anniversaries of martyrs or on certain feasts, were also known by this title, especially during the third and fourth centuries.Under this form, the watch (Vigil) might be said to date back as early as the beginning of Christianity.
It was either on account of the secrecy of their meetings, or because of some mystical idea which made the middle of the night the hour par excellence for prayer, in the words of the psalm : media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi , that the Christians chose the night time for their synaxes , and of all other nights, preferably the Sabbath.
The week-day or ferial office and that of simple feasts are composed of one nocturn only, with twelve psalms and three lessons. 8, sq.; Paul Lejay; Ambrosien (rit.) in "Dictionnaire d'Archeol. In the Benedictine Office, Matins, like the text of the Office, follows the Roman Liturgy quite closely. twelve, is always the same, there being three or two Nocturns according to the degree of solemnity of the particular Office celebrated.
The Office of the Dead and that of the three last days of Holy Week are simpler, the absolutions, benedictions, and invitatory being omitted, at least for the three last days of Holy Week, since the invitatory is said in the Offices of the Dead. Ordinarily there are four Lessons, followed by their responses, to each Nocturn.
The Sunday Office is made up of the invitatory, hymn, three nocturns, the first of which comprises twelve psalms, and the second and third three psalms each; nine lessons, three to each nocturn, each lesson except the ninth being followed by a response; and finally, the canticle Te Deum , which is recited or sung after the ninth lesson instead of a response. This Nocturnal Office adapted itself at a later period to a more modern form, approaching more and more closely to the Roman Liturgy.
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.
From the liturgical point of view and in its origin, the use of the term was very vague and elastic.