Matins (also known as Orthros or Oútrenya in Eastern Churches) is the early morning or night prayer service in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox liturgies of the canonical hours. The term is also used in some Protestant denominations to describe morning services.

The name "Matins" originally referred to the morning office also known as Lauds. When the nocturnal service called Vigils or Nocturns, celebrated at night only in monasteries, became joined with Lauds, which came to be treated as the concluding portion of that service, the name of "Matins" was extended to the whole of the morning service and later still became attached to what had originally been that of Vigils.[1]


Eastern Christianity

In the Eastern Churches, Matins is called Orthros in Greek (ὄρθρος, meaning "early dawn" or "daybreak") and Oútrenya in Slavonic (Оўтреня). It is the last of the four night offices, which also include Vespers, Compline, and Midnight Office. In traditional monasteries it is celebrated daily so as to end at sunrise. In parishes it is normally served only on Sundays and feast days.

Matins is the longest and most complex of the daily cycle of services. It is normally celebrated in the early morning, sometimes—especially in monasteries—preceded by the Midnight Office, and usually followed by the First Hour. On Great Feasts it is celebrated as part of an All-Night Vigil on the evening before, combined with Vespers and the First Hour. In the Slavic tradition, an All-Night Vigil is served every Sunday (commencing on Saturday evening). In the Greek parish tradition, Matins is normally served just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning.

The akolouth (fixed portion of the service) is composed primarily of psalms and litanies. The sequences (variable parts) of Matins are composed primarily of hymns and Canons from the Octoechos (an eight-tone cycle of hymns for each day of the week, covering eight weeks), and from the Menaion (hymns for each calendar day of the year). During Great Lent, some of the portions from the Octoechos and Menaion are replaced by hymns from the Triodion and during the Paschal Season with material from the Pentecostarion. On Sundays there are also Gospel readings and corresponding hymns from the eleven-part cycle of Resurrectional Gospels.


All of the psalms used herein are numbered according to the Septuagint, which is the official version of the Old Testament used by the Orthodox Church. To find the corresponding KJV numbering, see the article Kathisma.
  • Matins opens with what is called the "Royal Beginning", so called because the psalms (19 and 20) are attributed to King David and speak of the Messiah, the "king of kings"; in former times, the ektenia (litany) also mentioned the Emperor by name. (The Royal Beginning is omitted at All-Night Vigil and also during Paschal season, when it is replaced by the Paschal troparion chanted thrice):
    • The priest's opening blessing: Blessed is our God ..., reader: Amen. O Heavenly King ..., and the Trisagion prayers (Note: Heavenly King ... is omitted between Pascha and Pentecost)
    • Psalms 19 and 20, during which the priest performs a full censing of the temple (church building and worshippers).
    • Glory... Both now... and the Trisagion prayers.
    • The Royal Troparia:
      • Troparion of the Cross: Save, O Lord, Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting unto Orthodox Christians [formerly the Emperor] victory over enemies; and by the power of Thy cross do Thou preserve Thy commonwealth.
      • Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
      • Kontakion of the Cross: O Thou Who was lifted up willingly on the Cross, bestow Thy mercies upon the new community named after Thee, O Christ God; gladden with Thy power the Orthodox Christians, granting them victory over enemies; may they have as Thy help the weapon of peace, the invincible trophy.
      • Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
      • Theotokion: O awesome intercession that cannot be put to shame, O Good one, disdain not our prayer; O all-hymned Theotokos, establish the commonwealth of the Orthodox, save the Orthodox Christians, and grant unto them victory from heaven, for thou didst bring for God, O thou only blessed one.
    • The priest offers a brief litany
    • Ekphonesis by the priest: Glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-giving and undivided Trinity, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages
  • The Six Psalms (3, 37, 62, 87, 102, and 142),[2] during which the priest says twelve silent prayers: six in front of the Holy Table (altar), and six in front of the Holy Doors
  • The Litany of Peace (also known as the Great Litany)
  • Theos Kyrios ... (God is the Lord ...) and the apolytikion (troparion of the day)
  • The Psalter (either two or three sections, depending upon the liturgical season). For each section the following order is followed:
    • The kathisma (section from the Psalter)
    • The Little Litany
    • The Sessional Hymns (Greek: kathismata, Slavonic: sedalen)
  • On Sundays: Evlogetaria (Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes)
  • The Little Litany
  • On Sundays and Feast Days:
    • The Hypakoë is chanted to prepare for the message of the Gospel reading
    • The Anavathmoi ("hymns of ascent") based on Psalms 119-133, called the Song of Degrees)
    • The Prokeimenon
    • The order of the Matins Gospel is as follows:
      • Deacon: Let us pray to the Lord, Choir: Lord, have mercy, and the priest responds with an ekphonesis
      • Deacon Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord
      • The Gospel is read by the priest
    • On Sundays, and every day during Paschal season: Choir: Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ ...
  • Psalm 50
  • Sundays and Feast Days: Glory ..., both now ... and a hymn
  • Sundays, Feast Days and Lenten Days, the petition: O God, save your people and bless your inheritance ..."
  • The Canon:
    • First and Third Odes
    • Little Litany
    • Sessional Hymns
    • Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Odes
    • Little Litany
    • Kontakion and Oikos
    • Synaxarion (commemorating the saints of the day)
    • Seventh and Eighth Odes
    • The Magnificat (My soul doth magnify the Lord ...) while the deacon censes the Church
    • Ninth Ode
    • Little Litany
    • Sundays and certain Feast Days: Holy is the Lord our God, three times
    • The Exapostilaria (hymns related to the day's Gospel, or the day's feast)
  • The Lauds or Praises (Greek: Ainoi): Psalms 148, 149, 150 - if it is Sunday or a feast day, stichera are interspersed between the final verses
  • The ending:
  • The Doxastikon (the Glory hymn), when chanted properly is the longest, and usually the richest, hymn of the service. Both the Glory... and Both Now... are chanted.
    • Sundays and Feast Days: the Great Doxology is chanted, followed by the apolytikion, the two litanies and the Dismissal
    • Weekdays: the Small Doxology is read, followed by the first litany, the Aposticha, It is good to give praise unto the Lord..., the Trisagion sequence followed by the apolytikion, and the second litany (there is no dismissal)
  • The First Hour

In very traditional monasteries, readings from the Church Fathers can be added after each of the Sessional Hymns.

Types of Orthros

There are seven types of Matins:

Basic Forms

  • Sunday Orthros—The longest of the regular orthros services - Gospel Reading and Great Doxology. If this service is celebrated in its entirety it can last up to three hours. As a result, in most practical situations, abbreviations are made.
  • Daily Orthros—Celebrated on most weekdays - No Gospel reading, Small Doxology.
  • Feast-day Orthros—Very similar to Sunday Orthros, excluding those parts which are strictly Resurrectional in nature - Gospel reading and Great Doxology.

Special Forms

  • Lenten Orthros—Weekdays (Monday through Friday) during Great Lent, and certain days during the lesser fasting seasons (Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast). The service follows the order of Daily Orthros but with penitential material added (hymns and prayers), most days have three kathismas from the Psalter, "God is the Lord" is replaced by "Alleluia" (from which fact these days are called "days with Alleluia"). The petition: "O God, save your people and bless your inheritance ..." is read by the priest. There is no Gospel reading. At the canon the Biblical Odes are read, the Small Doxology is read. Special Lenten ending of the service, including the Prayer of St. Ephraim.
  • Great and Holy Friday Orthros—Twelve Passion Gospels are interspersed throughout the service; Antiphons are used between the Gospels (these originated in a different office); While the troparion at the 15th antiphon Today is hung upon the cross... (Simeron krematai) is chanted, the priest brings a large crucifix into the center of the church, and all venerate the cross. The Beatitudes are chanted with special stichera. Small Doxology.
  • Great and Holy Saturday Orthros—Lamentations are chanted around the epitaphios, interspersed between the verses of Psalm 118. Contains some elements of the old cathedral office: procession with epitaphios, reading of three pericopes (lessons from the Old Testament, epistle and Gospel) at the end - Great Doxology.
  • Paschal Orthros—Celebrated during Bright Week, from the Sunday of Pascha (Easter) until Thomas Sunday. The service is completely different from the rest of the year; only the Ektenias, Canon and Lauds are the same; everything else, including the psalms, are replaced by special Paschal hymns. The Priest vests fully in his Eucharistic Vestments on the Sunday of Pascha, and in Epitrachelion (Stole) and Phelonion (chasuble) for the other days of Bright Week - Gospel only on Sunday, no Doxology at all (neither Small nor Great).

Matins (Office of Readings) in Roman Catholicism


The word "Matins" is derived from Latin matutinum or matutinae, respectively neuter singular (qualifying "tempus", time) and feminine plural (qualifying "vigiliae", vigils) of the adjective matutinus, meaning "of or belonging to the morning".[3] It was at first applied to the office of Lauds, celebrated at dawn, but later became attached to the prayer originally offered, according to the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions, at cock-crow.[4]

The night office retained for some time its name of Vigils, since, as a rule, Vigils and Matins (Lauds) were combined, the latter serving, to a certain extent, as the closing part of Vigils. The name Matins was then extended to the office of Vigils, and the original Matins took the name of Lauds, a term which, strictly speaking, only designated the last three psalms of that office, i.e. the "Laudate" psalms. 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 change, however, was only gradual. St. Benedict (6th century) in his description of the Liturgy of the Hours, always refers to Vigils as the Night Office, whilst that of day-break he calls Matins, Lauds being the last three psalms of that office, those excised in the Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X (Regula, cap. XIII-XIV; see Lauds). The Council of Tours in 567 had already applied the title "Matins" to the Night Office: ad Matutinum sex antiphonae. Laudes Matutinae; Matutini hymni are also found in various ancient authors as synonymous with Lauds.[5]

The contradiction between the name (which referred to the morning) and the content of the office, in particular the hymns (which referred to night), was removed in the revision of 1 November 1970,[6] whereby the name was changed to "Office of Readings" (Officium Lectionis) and a new choice of hymns was made so that "the Office of Readings, while retaining its nocturnal character for those who wish to celebrate a vigil, is now of such a nature that it can be said at any time during the day."[7]

Origin (Vigils)

The word "Vigils", at first applied to the night office, also comes from a Latin source, both as to the term and its use, namely the vigiliae or nocturnal watches or guards of the soldiers. 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. Generally it designated the nightly meetings, synaxes, of the Christians. 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 that leading to the first day of the week.

There is an allusion to it in the letter of Pliny the Younger.[citation needed] 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, various 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 letters of 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 3rd century and 4th century. The Vigil in this case was also called pannychis, because the greater part of the night was devoted to it. Commenced in the evening, they only terminated the following morning, and comprised, in addition to the Eucharistic Supper, homilies, chants, and divers offices. These last Vigils it was that gave rise to certain abuses, and they were finally abolished in the Church (see VIGILS). Notwithstanding this, however, the Vigils, in their strictest sense of Divine Office of the Night, were maintained and developed. Among writers from the 4th century to the 6th century we find several descriptions of them. The "De Virginitate", a fourth-century treatise, gives them as immediately following Lauds.

The author, however, does not determine the number of psalms which had to be recited. Methodius of Olympus in his "Banquet of Virgins" (Symposion sive Convivium decem Virginum) subdivided the night office or pannychis into watches, but it is difficult to determine what he meant by these nocturns. St. Basil also gives a very vague description of the Night Office or Vigils, but in terms which permit us to conclude that the psalms were sung, sometimes by two choirs, and sometimes as responses. John Cassian gives us a more detailed account of the night office of the 5th century monks. The number of psalms, which at first varied, was subsequently fixed at twelve, with the addition of a lesson from the Old Testament and another from the New Testament. St. 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".

Of all the descriptions the most complete is that in the "Peregrinatio Aetheriae" the author of which assisted at Matins in the churches of Jerusalem, where great solemnity was displayed.[8] Other allusions are to be found in Caesarius of Arles, Nicetiuis or Nicetae of Treves, and Gregory of Tours.

The elements of this office from the fourth to the sixth century

In all the authors we have quoted, the form of Night Prayers would appear to have varied a great deal. 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.[9] It is quite easy to find these essential elements in the Tridentine Matins.

Roman liturgy of recent centuries

In the Tridentine Roman liturgy, Matins, on account of its length, the position it occupied, and the matter of which it was composed, was the most important office of the day, and for the variety and richness of its elements the most remarkable. As the first canonical hour of the day, it commenced more solemnly than the other offices, with Psalm 94 (Psalm 95 in the Masoretic numbering), called the Invitatory, chanted or recited in the form of a response, in accordance with the most ancient custom.

The hymns, which were but tardily admitted into the Roman Liturgy, as well as the hymns of the other hours, formed part of a very ancient collection which, so far at least as some of them are concerned, may be said to pertain to the 7th or even to the 6th century. As a rule they suggested the symbolic signification of this Hour, the prayer of the middle of the night.

The Sunday office was made up of the invitatory, hymn, three nocturns, the first of which comprised 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 was recited or sung after the ninth lesson instead of a response. The office of feasts was similar to that of Sunday, except that there were only three psalms to the first nocturn instead of twelve. The week-day or ferial office and that of simple feasts were composed of one nocturn only, with twelve psalms and three lessons. The Office of the Dead and that of the three last days of Holy Week were 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.

The Psalms used at Matins in the Tridentine Breviary were made up of a series commencing with Psalm 1 and running without intermission to Psalm 108 inclusive. The order of the Psalter was followed almost without interruption, except in the case of feasts, when the Psalms were chosen according to their signification, but always from the series 1-108, the remaining Psalms being reserved for Vespers and the other Offices.

The lessons formed a unique element, and in the other canonical hours give place to a capitulum or short lesson. This latter was possibly introduced only for the sake of symmetry, and gave but a very incomplete idea of what a true reading or lesson is. The lessons of Matins on the contrary were readings in the proper sense of the term: they comprised the most important parts of the Old and the New Testament, extracts from the works of the principal Doctors of the Church, and legends of the martyrs or of the other saints.

The lessons from Holy Scripture were distributed in accordance with certain fixed rules (rubrics) which assigned such or such books of the Bible to certain seasons of the year. In this manner extracts from all the Books of the Bible were read at the office during the year. The Invitatory and, on certain days, the Te Deum also formed two of the principal characteristics of this office.

The Responses, more numerous in this office, recalled the most ancient form of psalmody: that of the psalm chanted by one alone and answered by the whole choir, as opposed to the antiphonic form, which consists in two choirs alternately reciting the psalms.

The division into three or two nocturns was also a special feature of Matins, but it is impossible to say why it was thought by some to be a souvenir of the military watches (there were not three, but four, watches) or even of the ancient vigils, since ordinarily there was but one meeting in the middle of the night. The custom of rising three times for prayer could only have been in vogue, as exceptional, in certain monasteries, or for some of the more solemn feasts.

Pope Pius X's reform of the breviary included radical changes in the office of Matins, reducing on all days the number of psalms or portions of psalms to nine and abandoning the tradition of reserving Psalms 1-108 for Matins. He thus reduced the relative importance of Matins with respect to the other canonical hours.

The 1970 reform of the Divine Office renamed this canonical hour the Office of Readings. In order to facilitate greater participation by the secular clergy and the laity, its character as a night office has been made optional; it can now be celebrated at any time of the day. The invitatory psalm is retained only if the Office of Readings is celebrated as the first canonical hour of the day, otherwise it is attached to Lauds. The office is no longer organized according to units call "nocturns". The psalmody consists of three psalms or parts of psalms, each with its own antiphon.

After the psalms, two lessons with their responsories are read, the first from the Bible, but not from the Gospels, and the second being patristic, hagiographical, or magisterial. A third lesson, the Gospel reading of ancient times, may optionally be added to this office if it is celebrated at night on a feast or solemnity, preceded by vigil canticles. These are given in an appendix of the book of the Liturgy of the Hours.[10]

The 1962 edition of the Roman Breviary, including the office of Matins (Ad Matutinum), is still used by traditionalist Catholic communities such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Pope Benedict XVI, in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007), permitted any bishop, priest, or deacon (or anyone not bound to pray the Office, but desiring to do so) to use this form of the Divine Office.

Non-Roman Western Rites

In the office of the Church of Jerusalem, of which the pilgrim Ætheria gives us a description, the vigils on Sundays terminated with the solemn reading of the Gospel, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This practice of reading the Gospel has been preserved in the Benedictine liturgy. In the Tridentine Roman Liturgy this custom, so ancient and so solemn, was no longer represented but by the Homily; but after the Second Vatican Council it has been restored for the celebration of vigils.[11]

The Ambrosian Liturgy, better perhaps than any other, preserved traces of the great Vigils or pannychides, with their complex and varied display of processions, psalmodies, etc. The same liturgy also preserved vigils of long psalmody. This nocturnal office adapted itself at a later period to a more modern form, approaching more and more closely to the Roman liturgy. Here too were 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.

As revised after the Second Vatican Council, the Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours used for what once called Matins either the designation "the part of Matins that precedes Lauds in the strict sense" or simply "Office of Readings".[12] Its structure is similar to that of the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, with variations such as having on Sundays three canticles, on Saturdays a canticle and two psalms, in place of the three psalms of the other days in the Ambrosian Rite and of every day in the Roman Rite.[13]

In the Benedictine office, Matins followed the Roman liturgy quite closely. The number of psalms, viz. twelve, is always the same, there being three or two nocturns according to the degree of solemnity of the particular office celebrated. Ordinarily there are four Lessons, followed by their responses, to each nocturn. The two most characteristic features of the Benedictine Matins are: the canticles of the third nocturn, not found in the Roman liturgy, and the Gospel, sung solemnly at the end, the latter trait, as already pointed out, being very ancient.

In the Mozarabic liturgy, on the contrary, Matins is a system of antiphons, collects, and versicles which make them quite a departure from the Roman system.

Signification and symbolism

The Office of Readings is, apart from the Eucharist, the Office of the Church that, in its origin, dates back the farthest, as far as the Apostolic ages, as far even as the very inception of the Church, being doubtless, after having passed through a great many transformations, the ancient Night Office, the Office of the Vigil. In a certain sense it was perhaps the Office which was primitively the preparation for the Mass, that is to say, the Mass of the Catechumens, which presents at any rate the same construction as that Office:- the reading from the Old Testament, then the epistles and the Acts, and finally the Gospel- the whole being intermingled with psalmody, and terminated by the Homily.

According to another theory suggested by the testimony of Lactantius, St. Jerome, and St. Isidore, the Christians, being ignorant of the date of Christ's coming, thought he would return during the middle of the night, and most probably the night of Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, at or about the hour when he arose from the sepulchre.

Hence the importance of the Easter Vigil, which would thus have become the model or prototype of the other Saturday Vigils, and incidentally of all the nightly Vigils. The idea of the Second Coming would have given rise to the Easter Vigil, and the latter to the office of the Saturday Vigil. The institution of the Saturday Vigil would consequently be as ancient as that of Sunday.

Though Lauds or the Morning Office has now eclipsed the Office of Readings or Vigils, it is because Lauds, once but a part of Matins, drew to itself the solemnity, probably on account of the hour at which it was celebrated, permitting all the faithful to be present.

See also


  1. ^ * "Matins". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ One of the oldest elements in the orthos service and according to a pious tradition said to recall the Last Judgement, as Psalm 104 at Vespers recalls the Creation.
  3. ^ Lewis and Short, Latin Dictionary
  4. ^ "Offer up your prayers in the morning, at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, the evening, and at cock-crowing" (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, VIII, iv, 34)
  5. ^ Hefele-Leclercq, "Hist. des Conciles", V, III, 188, 189.
  6. ^ Apostolic Constitution Laudis Canticum of Pope Paul VI
  7. ^ Apostolic Constitution Laudis canticum Promulgating the Divine Office as Revised in Accordance with the Decree of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican
  8. ^ For all these texts, see Bäumer-Biron, loc. cit., p. 79, 122, 139, 186, 208, 246, etc.
  9. ^ Baumer, Litanie u. Missal, in "Studien des Benediktinerordens", II (Raigern, 1886), 287, 289.
  10. ^ Liturgia Horarum iuxta ritum Romanum, editio typica altera, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000
  11. ^ The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 73
  12. ^ Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours in latin: Introduction
  13. ^ Ambrosian Liturgy of the Hours in latin: chapter II, IV. De Officio Lectionis

External links

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). "Matins". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

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