Midnight Office

The Midnight Office or Nocturns (Gk. mesonyktikón; Slav. polúnoščnitsa) is a liturgical service to be celebrated "in the middle of the night."   In the Byzantine Rite, it is a monastic office which looks to the coming of the Lord.   

The Midnight Office is particularly important on the night between Holy Saturday and Pascha, when it starts (according to the Typikon) around 11:30 PM.  The Canon from Matins of Holy Saturday is solemnly sung while the Burial Shroud (plaščanitsa) is removed from the tomb and taken in processsion to the Holy Table.  This service marks the end of the time of the Lenten Triodion, and the beginning of Pascha.  (In parishes where the Midnight Office is not celebrated, this procession takes place during Paschal Matins.)

Since Matins also begins with a noctural vigil (the fixed psalmody before the readings), it is possible that the Midnight Office is a later addition to the Byzantine cycle of prayer, to fill the "space" between Compline and Matins.  The Midnight Office is omitted if there is an all-night vigil. 

Outline of the service

The following table shows the parts of the Midnight Office for SundayMonday through Friday, and Saturday.

Sunday Monday through Friday Saturday
Blessing by priest: "Blessed is our God..."
"Heavenly King"
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Psalm 50
Canon and troparia
to the Holy Trinity
Psalm 118 Psalms 64-69
  Nicene Creed
  Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Hypakoe Troparia
Prayer of the Hours
other prayers
Lord, have mercy (40)
"More honorable than the cherubim"
prayer to the Holy Trinity
Psalms 120, 133
Trisagion, etc., and the Lord's Prayer
Dismissal by priest
Mutual forgiveness
Final Litany, "Let us pray for the peace of the world"

The Midnight Office is not normally combined with other services.  

Texts and sources

The official Church Slavonic texts for the Midnight Office Vespers can be found in the Ruthenian Služébnik (for the priest and deacon;  their parts in this service are fairly brief ) and the Ruthenian Časoslóv (for the cantor, choir and people).  In the Časoslóv,  there are separate sections for the daily Midnight Office (Polúnoščnitsa vsednyévnaya), Saturday Midnight Office  (Polúnoščnitsa subbótnaya), and Sunday Midnight Office (Polúnoščnitsa voskrésnaya). These texts are fairly complete, requiring supplementation from the Octoechos (on Sundays) for the Canon to the Holy Trinity, and the Hypakoe.

There is no official English text for the Midnight Office.

The Midnight Office in the Parish and Home

The Midnight Office is commonly celebrated in monasteries as a nocturnal vigil, but is hardly if ever held in parish settings. However, a parish holding an all-night prayer vigil (on Good Friday, perhaps, not the liturgical All-night Vigil) might wish to provide materials for the Midnight Office.   

On the other hand, the Midnight Office makes an excellent nighttime prayer service for those of the faithful who wish to "watch and pray" during the night.  

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