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.
There is an allusion to it in the Acts of the Apostles (xx, 4), as also in the letter of Pliny the Younger.
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.
Of all the descriptions the most complete is that in the "Peregrinatio Ætheriae", the author of which assisted at Matins in the Churches of Jerusalem, where great solemnity was displayed. 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. Missal, in "Studien des Benediktinerordens", II (Raigern, 1886), 287, 289.] It is quite easy to find these essential elements in our modern Matins.
Notwithstanding this, however, the Vigils, in their strictest sense of Divine Office of the Night, were maintained and developed.
Among writers from the fourth to the sixth century we find several descriptions of them.
tempus ); some of the old authors prefer Matutini Matutinorum , or Matutinae.
Under this form, the watch (Vigil) might be said to date back as early as the beginning of Christianity.In the modern Roman Liturgy, Matins, on account of its length, the position it occupies, and the matter of which it is composed, may be considered as the most important office of the day, and for the variety and richness of its elements the most remarkable.It commences more solemnly than the other offices, with a psalm (Ps.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.
Commenced in the evening, they only terminated the following morning, and comprised, in addition to the Eucharistic Supper, homilies, chants, and divers offices.