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It is doubtless, after having passed through a great many transformations, the ancient Night Office, the Office of the Vigil.
The night-office retained its name of Vigils, since, as a rule, Vigils and Matins ( Lauds ) were combined, the latter serving, to a certain extent, as the closing part of Vigils. Benedict (sixth century) in his description of the Divine Office, always refers to Vigils as the Night Office, whilst that of day-break he calls Matins, Lauds being the last three psalms of that office (Regula, cap. The Council of Tours in 567 had already applied the title "Matins" to the Night Office: ad Matutinum sex antiphonae; Laudes Matutinae; Matutini hymni are also found in various ancient authors as synonymous with Lauds. des Conciles", V, III, 188, 189.) The word Vigils, at first applied to the Night Office, also comes from a Latin source, both as to the term and its use, namely the Vigiliae or nocturnal watches or guards of the soldiers.
The word "Matins" ( Latin Matutinum or Matutinae ), comes from Matuta , the Latin name for the Greek goddess Leucothae or Leucothea , white goddess, or goddess of the morning ( Aurora ): Leucothee graius, Matuta vocabere nostris , Ovid, V, 545.
Hence Matutine, Matutinus, Matutinum tempus , or simply Matutinum (i.e.
Notwithstanding this, however, the Vigils, in their strictest sense of Divine Office of the Night, were maintained and developed.
Among writers from the fourth to the sixth century we find several descriptions of them.
It was either on account of the secrecy of their meetings, or because of some mystical idea which made the middle of the night the hour par excellence for prayer, in the words of the psalm : media nocte surgebam ad confitendum tibi , that the Christians chose the night time for their synaxes , and of all other nights, preferably the Sabbath.
There is an allusion to it in the Acts of the Apostles (xx, 4), as also in the letter of Pliny the Younger.The Office of Feasts is similar to that of Sunday, except that there are only three psalms to the first nocturn instead of twelve. Here too are found the three Nocturns, with Antiphon, Psalms, Lessons, and Responses, the ordinary elements of the Roman Matins, and with a few special features quite Ambrosian.The week-day or ferial office and that of simple feasts are composed of one nocturn only, with twelve psalms and three lessons. 8, sq.; Paul Lejay; Ambrosien (rit.) in "Dictionnaire d'Archeol. In the Benedictine Office, Matins, like the text of the Office, follows the Roman Liturgy quite closely. twelve, is always the same, there being three or two Nocturns according to the degree of solemnity of the particular Office celebrated.xciv) called the Invitatory, which is chanted or recited in the form of a response, in accordance with the most ancient custom.The hymns, which have been but tardily admitted into the Roman Liturgy, as well as the hymns of the other hours, form part of a very ancient collection which, so far at least as some of them are concerned, may be said to pertain to the seventh or even to the sixth century.Methodius in his "Banquet of Virgins" ( Symposion sive Convivium decem Virginum ) subdivided the Night Office or pannychis into watches, but it is difficult to determine what he meant by these nocturnes. Basil also gives a very vague description of the Night Office or Vigils, but in terms which permit us to conclude that the psalms were sung, sometimes by two choirs, and sometimes as responses.