The office of Vigils takes place at the midnight hour when one awaits the arrival of the Bridegroom (Mt 25:6; Mk 13:35). In monastic communities the concentration on vigilance began with this office which continues until lauds. Monastics spend this time enveloped in and supported by darkness and silence, in lectio divina, prayer and meditation.
Lauds is celebrated at daybreak when the sun is dispelling the night and the new day is born. The Church has always considered the sun to be a symbol of Christ rising from the dead. This prayer is called Lauds because it is a laudatory liturgy of praise in the early morning light. We thank God for the first light at the beginning of creation and for the second light of our redemption in Christ’s paschal victory. It is a joyful, optimistic hour reflected by hymn, psalms and canticles.
Midday prayer, takes place when the sun is at its apex and one has become a bit weary and mindfulness is all but impossible. It is a time for earnest prayer to resist temptation, to keep from being overcome by the demands and pressures of life. Reminded of Christ being crucified at the sixth hour, we unite ourselves with Him. We are aware of failures and mistakes and pray for deep and abiding conversion even to the point of sacrifice.
Vespers, celebrated at day’s end, takes on the character of evening. The day is almost over, our work is done. The golden evening light is like old, mature wine, and in some late summer and autumn days it is like gold, transfiguring our world and making it transparent for God. This is the hour of wise age, of resting in thanksgiving and humility after the struggles, successes and failures of the day and of a productive life.
Compline comes from the Latin which means to complete. It is the last prayer before retiring for the night, we pray it privately. It marks the completion of our day and heralds life’s end. It leads back into the darkness of the night. This is the darkness of God’s mysterious presence, the abyss of mercy into which God lets us fall. Compline may be understood as a daily exercise in the art of dying. For what is sleep if not a little rehearsal for death? But it is a death that ends in the fullness of life and light.
compiled from several sources
graphic:Rhythm of the day, by Leslie Avon Miller