The hour of Lauds derives its name from the Latin verb “laudare” (to praise). It is, as the Byzantine Catholic liturgical historian Fr. Robert Taft, SJ points out in his magisterial work The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, one of the oldest traceable parts of the Office, developed very early on (going back at least to the 2-300s) as the liturgical morning praise of the Christian Church.
The Lauds of the Little Office of Our Lady consists of the following parts:
- The opening versicle and response, “V. O God, come to my assistance. R. O Lord, make haste to help me,” followed by “Glory Be” (known as the doxology) and “Alleluia” (or, starting with Septuagesima Sunday and through Lent, “Praise be to Thee O Lord, King of glory everlasting”).
- Four psalms and an Old Testament Canticle that are the same every day of the year, each under its own proper antiphon that varies with the season: Advent, Christmas, and the rest of the year. By the way, if you’re wondering what an “antiphon” is, the Catholic Encyclopedia has the best concise explanation (emphases mine):
“As at present commonly understood, an antiphon consists of one or more psalm verses or sentences from Holy Scripture which are sung or simply recited before and after each psalm . . . The verse which serves as the antiphon text contains the fundamental thought of the psalm to which it is sung, and indicates the point of view from which it is to be understood. In other words, it gives the key to the liturgical and mystical meaning of the psalm with regard to the feast on which it occurs.“
These psalms and Old Testament Canticle are ordered as follows:
- Psalm 92, exalting God’s power in creating the world.
- Psalm 99, calling the nations to praise the Lord and rejoice in Him, and reminding us of our nature as creatures.
- Psalm 62, expressing the Psalmist’s earnest personal longing for God, his (and our) dependence on Him, the joy that stems from keeping Him front and center in our lives, and the surety of His protection.
- Canticle from Daniel 3, the Song of the Three Young Men in the furnace, enumerating all parts of creation, in ascending order from cosmic and inanimate through the plant and animal world, and finally, to mankind, and calling upon all of them to praise and exalt the Lord forever.
- Psalm 148, one of the three traditional “Lauds psalms” (148-150) that, like most of the above, focus on the theme of praising God the Creator. For many centuries, these three psalms were actually combined under one antiphon as one final “psalm” of Lauds (in both the regular Roman Office, and in the Little Office). When Pope St. Pius X reformed the Office in 1911, his changes also affected the Little Office, and the Psalm 148-150 sequence was cut down to just Psalm 148 for brevity’s sake.
- Little Chapter (a very brief Scripture reading), either from Song of Songs exalting the Blessed Virgin (during most of the year), or from Isaiah foretelling the birth of the Messiah of her (during Advent).
- Hymn: O gloriosa virginum, Pope Urban VIII’s 17th-century adaptation of the 6th-century hymn O gloriosa Domina by Bishop Venantius Fortunatus of Poitiers. As the hyperlinked reference explains, this is “Part 2” of the hymn Quem terra, pontus, aethera (in Pope Urban’s revision, Quem terra, pontus, sidera) sung at Matins, and St. Anthony of Padua loved it so much he died with it on his lips.
- Versicle and response: “V. Blessed art thou among women. R. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
- Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus) from chapter 1 of St. Luke’s Gospel, under its seasonal antiphon (varying by Advent, Christmas, Easter, or rest of the year). It is customary to make the sign of the cross when saying or chanting the first word, “Benedictus”/”Blessed be.” It is also customary to stand, if possible, during this Canticle (just like you would at Mass during the Gospel reading).
- Prayer: one for the Nativity season (Dec. 24 through Feb. 2), another for the rest of the year.
- Conclusion. (“V. O Lord, hear my prayer. R. And let my cry come unto thee. V. Let us bless the Lord. R. Thanks be to God. V. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. R. Amen.”)
As I noted in my initial post, Lauds is traditionally combined with, and follows immediately after, Matins. (Of course, it can also be said as a standalone hour.)
I described Matins as the most intimate moment spent with God and with the virgin Mother of God; I usually whisper it all the way through (except for the hymn), and in this way enter into the mystery of the Incarnation.
With Lauds I begin actually chanting the psalmody, but almost always simply recto tono—in a straight tone, instead of its proper melodies. I picked up this way of doing it from a visit to the terrific Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem in West Virginia, who celebrate the traditional Roman Office in choir every day. I’m guessing they, like I, are still too sleepy in the wee hours of the morning to figure out proper psalm tones. It can be hard enough to stay focused and prayerful as it is!
But chanting it this way (in a straight tone) has another, more significant meaning for me as well: it is a natural progression from hushed mystery (Matins) toward the constant “hum” of creation’s real, ongoing praise of God to which I, fellow creature, join my own voice.
In Matins, the Creator comes to all of His creation wondrously incarnate of the young virgin foretold by her holy royal ancestors David and Solomon, and the prophet Isaiah. In Lauds, all creation responds with the only fitting response to so great a gift: by singing its Creator’s endless praise.
One final note: if you are new to the Divine Office and are wondering which hour is the best to start incorporating into your life, I strongly recommend Lauds, which the Second Vatican Council described as one of the two “hinges” (together with Vespers, evening prayer) on which the Office rests. (See Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium 89a.)