In the Fourth Nocturn

The Noonday Office

In combining Matins, Lauds, and bits of Prime into Mattins, and Vespers and Compline into Evensong, Thomas Cranmer effectively abolished entirely the three midday offices of Terce, Sext, and None.

Recently, Anglican prayer books have started to fill this gap by providing a midday office, sometimes simply called ‘Sext’, and sometimes ‘Noonday’ (my preferred name) or ‘Diurnum’. The character is usually of a reasonably short office, in character with Terce, Sext, and None being ‘little hours’ of the breviary. Here is my essay at an outline of such an office, incorporating a pattern of psalmody I feel is obvious but which I haven’t seen proposed elsewhere.

Simplifying slightly, the traditional Benedictine system of psalmody foresees psalms 119–128 being said at the three midday offices, such that one prays through all of them at the midday hours each week. Breaking psalm 119 into its 22 individual parts, this makes exactly 30 psalms — one for each day in the month. So why not do the obvious and assign these to be said, one each day, throughout the month?1 These are all excellent psalms: meditative in character; short, and roughly equal in length; and on the whole neither excessively penitential nor excessively jubilant, and so suitable for any season of the church year.

Personally I only rarely pray the little hours, but when I do have two or three minutes to spare at around midday, this noonday scheme fits in nicely; as a corporate office it would take about seven or eight minutes. It’s a perfect length to conclude morning activities before ending lunch, and you can even add a prayer over your food in at the end if you are about to eat. Those who desire a slightly longer office can always double or quadruple the number of psalms per day, yielding a shorter cycle.

The Office

[℣. Our help standeth in the name of the Lord; ℟. Who hath made heaven and earth.]

℣. O God, make speed &c.; ℟. O Lord, make haste &c.

℣. Glory be &c.; ℟. As it was &c.

Praise ye the Lord; The Lord’s name &c.

Here may be said or sung an Office Hymn, or another Hymn as appropriate to the day. [I would suggest that throughout ordinary time, the respective hymns of Terce, Sext, and None be said in a three-day cycle.]

Then shall be said or sung a Psalm, according to the scheme following: on the first twenty-two days of each month, one Part each day of Psalm 119 is to be said, in order; on the remaining days up to the thirtieth day, the first Gradual Psalms, from Psalm 120 up to Psalm 128, shall be said, each day one; and if there be a thirty-first day, then shall Psalm 1 be said on that day.

Then a Chapter, a short passage of Scripture, not more than a sentence or two, is read, changing with the season of the year — to which the people respond, ℟. Thanks be to God.

Lord, have mercy &c. Christ, have mercy &c. Lord, have mercy &c.

Our Father … but deliver us from evil. Amen.

One or more midday collects, possibly including the Collect of the Day, are said.

The grace of our Lord &c.

[℣. Let us bless the Lord; ℟. Thanks be to God.]

  1. Having done this, those who pray Noonday daily could remove Psalm 119 and 120–8 entirely from their regular cycle at Mattins and Evensong.