Lauds is a jubilant hour, fresh as the morning dew, perhaps the most beautiful of all the hours. Its symbolism deserves attention. It is night; nature and men are asleep. In the far east the grey of dawn appears; then the ruddy hue of morning, the harbinger of a new day, spreads across the horizon, and the world of nature begins to stir. But all this natural beauty is only a symbol and reminder of a most wonderful event in the story of salvation. It was at this beautiful hour that our Saviour burst the bonds of death. Resurrection—that is the background theme of Lauds. And the two pictures together, dawn and resurrection, remind us of a third arising from slumber, the spiritual awakening of the human soul.
There is, then, a threefold resurrection: nature awakens, the Saviour rises from the dead, the human soul celebrates its spiritual resurrection. Such is the background to our prayer of Lauds. It is an explicit song of praise; praise is the hour’s central theme. If we can get a feeling for these three pictures intermingling in our Lauds prayer, if we can enter into the spirit of this threefold resurrection, if we can enlist the forces of nature to pray and praise and exult along with us while reciting this hour reasonably early in the morning, perhaps even in the open air, then we are certain to be struck by the full impact of its meaning.
Lauds is, actually, one of the most striking examples of what a proper observance of the characteristic thought of an hour and the background theme from the story of salvation can do for personal devotion. The psalms at Lauds are all specially chosen hymns of praise.
Very frequently we find nature themes in the psalms. The thoughts of Christ’s resurrection occur mostly in the antiphons at Lauds, where there is almost always an Alleluia. This feature we can observe particularly in Sunday Lauds, Sunday being the liturgical commemoration of the resurrection. The liturgical day and the liturgical hour of the resurrection coincide, and the references to Easter Day are doubled and tripled.
The climax of Lauds is the Gospel song, the Benedictus. It is a hymn in praise of man’s redemption, a greeting to the dawning day of salvation which is destined to be one more step toward its completion. It is the Church who prays the Benedictus, taking Zachary’s place. Every day is a new coming of the Redeemer, and the Church greets her Saviour as the “Day-Spring from on high”.
Sunday and feast-day Lauds are classically beautiful. First the praises of awakening nature before God the King upon his throne, the earth, decked with all the wonders of creation, Victor over the primeval chaos (Ps. 92); then a pious man in procession to the sanctuary (Ps. 99); morning prayer (“the bride-soul’s morning kiss for the divine Bridegroom”—Ps. 62); finally a joyous exclamation over the works of God’s hands and the great symphony of praise that echoes through the Benedicite and Laudate.
by Dr. Pius Parsch