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A part of the traditional night office of matins, which was said at midnight or at the end of the night before dawn. The term is from the Latin for "nocturnal" or "happening at night." The nocturn included sets of antiphons and psalms, a versicle, the Lord's Prayer, a short prayer known as the "Absolutio," and three lessons, each preceded by a benediction. There were three nocturns at matins on Sundays, feasts above the rank of simple feast, and in the Office of the Dead. At these times, the lessons for the first nocturn were from scripture, the lessons for the second nocturn were from patristic or historical sources, and the lessons for the third nocturn were from a homily on the day's gospel. In the Roman Catholic Church, the number of sets of antiphons and psalms for these nocturns was set at three in 1912. There was only one nocturn at matins on simple feasts and ferial days. It had 12 psalms (later reduced to nine by Pius X), and three lessons (one from scripture, one from patristic or historical sources, and a homily). During the octaves of Easter and Pentecost, the one nocturn at matins had three psalms and three lessons.

The medieval service of matins was one of the sources for the Prayer Book service of Morning Prayer. There are no nocturns in the Prayer Book. However, three nocturns are the first part of the service of Tenebrae in the BOS. Each of the three nocturns includes three sets of antiphons and psalms; a versicle and response; a time for silent prayer; and three lessons, each followed by a responsory. See Matins; see Tenebrae. 


Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.
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