Divine Office – Divinum Officium

The Divine Office

A Study of the Roman Breviary

Part III.—The Canonical Hours.

Chapter III. Terce, Sext, None (Title XVI)

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Etymology. The word Terce comes from the Latin word tertia (hora), third. Because this little Hour was said at the third hour of the Roman day, that is, about 9 o'clock in the forenoon,

Structure. It consists of Pater Noster, Ave, Deus in adjutorium, Gloria Patri ... Sicut erat ... Amen, Alleluia, Hymn, opening words of the antiphon, the three psalms, antiphon in full, capitulum, response, Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo, Oremus, collect, Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo, Benedicamus ... Deo gratias, Fidelium animae.... Amen. And Pater Noster is said silently if another Hour is not begun immediately.

Terce is called the golden Hour, hora aurea, because at this time of the day, the third Hour, the Holy Ghost, who is typified by gold, descended on the apostles. It is called sometimes the sacred Hour (hora sacra) because in conventional churches it is recited immediately before Holy Mass. It is the most solemn of all the small Hours.

Antiquity. The custom of praying at these three hours, terce, sext and none, is very ancient. It was in use amongst the devout Jews, and the early converts to Christianity retained the practice. The Apostolic Constitutions contain the words "Preces etiam vestras facite hora tertia."

Why does the Church wish us to pray at the third hour?

The question is asked by liturgists of olden times. Their replies are:–

1. to remind us of the hour when our Saviour was condemned (St. Mark, c. 15).

2. to remind us of the hour at which the Holy Ghost descended on the Church.

3. as the Church's hymn tells us that at this hour of the day when men are engrossed in worldly affairs, they especially need God's help,

"Come, Holy Ghost, Who ever One, Reignest with Father and with Son. It is the hour, our souls possess With Thy full flood of holiness. Let flesh and heart and lips and mind Sound forth our witness to mankind. And love light up our mortal frame Till others catch the living flame, Now to the Father, to the Son, And to the Spirit, Three in One, Be praise and thanks and glory given, By men on earth, by saints in heaven. Amen."

(Translation by Cardinal Newman of St. Ambrose's hymn, Nunc sancte).


1. "Therefore, Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him."

2. "And the soldiers plaiting a crown of thorns put it on His head; and they put on Him a purple garment."

3. "And they came to Him and said, 'Hail, King of the Jews,' and they gave Him blows" (St. John).

4. "Jesus, therefore, came forth bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment, and he (Pilate) sayeth to them 'Behold the Man!'"

General Intentions. The Pope's Intentions; the conversion of heretics; the conversion of the Jews.

Personal Intentions. Devotion to the Holy Ghost; devotion to the Passion.

Special Intentions. Vocations in America and Australia; for the Irish people throughout the world; for the souls of our deceased penitents.


Etymology. The word Sext comes from the Latin word sexta, (hora), the sixth hour, because the little Hour should be said at what was the sixth hour of the Roman day, about mid-day with us.

Structure. The structure of this hour is similar to that given in Terce above, the hymn, antiphon, psalms, little chapter and responses differing, but the order and form being similar in both.

Antiquity. The Psalmist wrote, "Vespere et mane et meridie narrabo et annuntiabo, et exaudiet vocem meam" (Ps. 54). This practice of devout Jews was maintained by the early Christians and in the Acts of the Apostles we read, "Ascendit Petrus in superiora ut oraret circam horam sextam" (Acts x, 9). At this hour, the Christians met for public, joint prayer.

Why does the Church wish us to pray at the sixth hour of the day?

1. Because at this hour Christ instructed the Samaritan woman, the type of the Gentiles; and He promised to give the living water, springing up unto life everlasting, which was His blood, poured out on Calvary at the sixth hour.

2. Because at this sixth hour Christ was raised on the cross for our salvation and it is right and just, daily, to remember Him and His great love for us. Besides, it is to realise His words "And if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself" (St. John xii. 32). And the Church, in the opening words of Sext for Sunday, impresses this idea on us "Deficit in salutare meum anima mea," "My soul hath fainted after thy salvation" (Ps. 118).

3. To ask God to grant us health and peace of heart, as the hymn for Sext sings:–

"O God, Who canst not change nor fail, Guiding the hours as they go by, Brightening with beam the morning pale, And burning in the midnight sky, Quench Thou the fires of hate and strife, The wasting fever of the heart; From perils guard our feeble life, And to our souls Thy grace impart. Grant this, O Father, only Son, And Holy Ghost, God of Grace, To whom all glory, Three in One, Be given in every time and place—Amen."

(Translation by Cardinal Newman of St. Ambrose's hymn, Rector potens).


1. "And they took Jesus, and after they had mocked Him, they took off the purple from Him and put His own garments on Him and led Him out to crucify Him" (St. Mark, c. 15).

2. "Bearing His own cross, Jesus went forth to that place called Calvary."

3. "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but for yourselves."

General Intentions. The wants of the Church; for peace and goodwill amongst all States and peoples; for the Pope; for Church students.

Personal Intentions. For patience; for fraternal charity; for the love of the practice of mortification.

Special Intentions. For Catholic schools; for increase in number of daily communicants; for the success of catechists and their work.


Etymology. The word None comes from the Latin word nona, ninth (hora nona), because this part of the Office was said at the ninth hour of the Roman day, that is, about three o'clock in our modern day.

Antiquity. This hour was set apart in Apostolic times for joint prayer, "Now Peter and John went up into the Temple at the ninth hour of prayer" (Acts iii. 1).

Structure. See note under this head at Terce.

Why does the Church desire prayer at the ninth hour?

1. In this she follows the example of her Founder, Christ, Who prayed at the ninth hour. "At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying 'Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani?' which is, being interpreted, 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'" (St. Mark xv. 34).

2. That ninth hour was the long-wished-for and long-watched-for hour when reconciliation between earth and heaven was complete.

3. To beg from God light and grace, especially towards the end of life, for the day's decline in the afternoon is a figure of the waning of spiritual and corporal life. The hymn for None expresses this:–

"O God, unchangeable and true, Of all the light and power, Dispensing light in silence through Each successive hour; Lord, brighten our declining day, That it may never wane Till death, when all things round decay, Brings back the morn again. This grace on Thy redeemed confer, Father, Co-equal Son, And Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Eternal Three in One—Amen." (St. Ambrose's hymn, translated by Cardinal Newman).


1. "Come down from the cross" (St. Matthew, c. 27).

2. "Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy Kingdom" (St. Matthew, c. 23).

3. "My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?" (St. Matthew, c. 27).

General Intentions. All the intentions of the Sacred Heart; the conversion of Britain; the Church in America.

Personal Intentions. Fervour in preparation for Mass; fervour in thanksgiving after Mass; fidelity to professional duties and studies.

Special Intentions. The temporal welfare of Ireland; to beg a blessing on her priests; to beg a blessing on her Church students; to beg a blessing on her Catholic laity; to beg a blessing on her elementary schools.


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