The morning hour of the Divine Office. The term "lauds" is derived from its nature as praise (laud) and from the Laudes or the three Psalms (148, 149, 150) that always concluded its psalmody until the reform of Pius X (d. 1914). Because it is the Church's morning prayer, its more ancient Latin names made reference to that fact, for example, matutinum, matutinum officium, matutini hymni, matutina solemnitas.
Early morning, with its wonderful freshness and stillness, is a time of day especially suited to the praise of God. When human beings and nature once again awaken and undergo their daily "resurrection," it is natural for all to rejoice anew in life and light and to acclaim the beneficent creator of all things. The rising sun has traditionally been looked on as a symbol and reminder of the Lord's Resurrection. Over time, the hour of Lauds evolved into a beautiful and solemn service of morning praise.
Resurrection thoughts are very evident in the antiphons, where the Alleluia (the resurrection acclamation par excellence) occurs frequently. This is preeminently true on Sunday, the Lord's day, when both the resurrection day and resurrection hour coincide at Lauds. On Easter Sunday there is a triple coincidence of this basic Christian motif. The climax of Lauds' praise comes at the Gospel canticle, the Benedictus, Zechariah's joyful "filled with the Holy Spirit" hailing the dawn of the day of salvation. At the beginning of each new day of grace and redemption the Church loves to greet her risen Lord and Savior as the divine Sun, the oriens ex alto.
Lauds was the fruit of a slow, persistent development. The first Christians, converted Jews, made no attempt at an immediate break with Judaism. It was to be expected that they would continue to follow Jewish prayer practices. There was prayer thrice daily in the synagogues; these services consisted of instructional Scripture readings and of prayer. The Shema and the 18 benedictions were said at the morning and evening hours. It is considered probable that the Lord's Prayer, advocated thrice daily for Christians by the Didache, had already supplanted the Shema in apostolic times.
All the early Christian writers who spoke of times of prayer, such as, Cyprian (d. 258) and Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215), mentioned morning prayer (Cyprian, De oratione dominica 35; Clement, Stromata 7.7). Tertullian, at the beginning of the third century, did not hesitate to call the morning and evening prayers "legitimate prayers" (De oratione 25). Some say "legitimate" means prescribed, but does not demand a public service. Others say it means that these prayers were in conformity with a custom already well established, if not a veritable law, and that they were kept regularly by the Christian community, in short, were liturgical. The work of Tertullian's contemporary, Hippolytus of Rome, tends to bear out the judgment that morning prayer was kept regularly by the Christian community. It describes an early morning assembly every day at places designated by the bishop at which the presbyters and deacons gave instruction and then there were prayers (Apostolic Tradition 39, 41). The faithful were urged, not obliged, to attend. The instruction was quite likely given in connection with a reading from Holy Scripture. This is the most important and detailed early witness to an organized service in the morning. From such lessons and prayers the liturgical hour of Lauds eventually took form.
During the peace that followed Constantine's edict of toleration in 313, the Church everywhere soon appointed times of prayer for her rapidly growing community. Lauds and Vespers became canonically established hours of prayer throughout Christendom. Research has brought to light a striking uniformity throughout the Church in the basic structure of these hours. Lauds commonly had Psalm 63 and the Laudate Psalms, a Scripture reading with explanation, a hymn (inserted somewhat later), Preces (a litany of intercessions for the needs of the Church), and the concluding prayer and blessing by the presiding bishop or priest.
St. Benedict described the basic arrangement of Lauds already in his 6th–century Rule (ch. 12 and 13). His is the first complete account of the daily organization of the Office. He himself acknowledges that he is following the Roman Church, that is, the practice of the communities, more or less regular, that served the Roman basilicas at that time. Even the titular churches of Rome, served by the secular clergy, very probably had much the same Office for Lauds.
By the middle ages, Lauds consisted of introductory versicles, five Psalms and antiphons, a short Scripture reading, a hymn, a versicle, the Benedictus, Preces on penitential days, an oration, and the concluding versicles. Unlike most of the other hours, Lauds had specially selected Psalms. Of set purpose, they are Psalms of praise and often contain nature motifs. The first Psalm of Lauds (except on penitential days) was always one in praise of God's kingship, and in the New Testament context this means the kingship of the risen Christ. In at least one of the next two Psalms there was some reference to morning. On Sundays and great feasts, the Old Testament canticle that follows is the Benedicite (Canticle of the Three Young Men); it called on all creation to join in praise of the Lord. Lastly came one of the Laudate Psalms that have praise as their dominant characteristics. The 1971 revision of the Liturgy of the Hours has preserved much of the classical structure of Lauds. Lauds or Morning Prayer begins with an introductory versicle, followed by a morning hymn. The number of psalms and canticles has been reduced to three: a psalm, an Old Testament Canticle, and a psalm of praise. Next comes a short Scripture reading, a responsory, the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus ), intercessory prayers (preces ), the Lord's Prayer, closing prayer, and a blessing.
Bibliography: p.f. bradshaw, Daily Prayer in the Early Church: A Study of the Origin and Early Development of the Divine Office (London 1981). g. guiver, Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God (New York 1988). r. taft, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today, 2nd rev. ed. (Collegeville 1993).
[g. e. schidel/eds.]
Recorded from Middle English, the name comes from the frequent use, in Psalms 148–150, of the Latin imperative laudate! ‘praise ye!’