Every Western Christian familiar with the Divine Office knows the verse “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Ps. 51:17) at the beginning of the office each morning (Matins or Lauds).

The verse “Lord, open my lips” obviously fits its liturgical place. You might find or create other verses that also make sense at the beginning of a morning prayer service, but this one clearly is a good choice. It does not need much reflection to be understood, there is nothing enigmatic or mysterious about it.

I think this is the reason why we do not realize that something is missing when we use “Lord, open my lips” at the beginning of any morning prayer.

But there used to be a sibling – or more than that: a twin – to this verse at the very end of the daily liturgical cycle. The Rule of the Master (probably written around the early 6th century somewhere in Italy), one of the most important sources for the Rule of St. Benedict, prescribed Ps. 141:3 as the closing verse of the Compline: “Set a guard, Lord, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Between these two verses at the end of the day and at the beginning of the following day there was nothing but silence and sleep in the monastery – the Rule of the Master is very strict on that point.

So we have “Lord, open my lips” at the beginning of the day, and we also have “Lord, close my lips” at the end of the day. But we should think of it in reverse order: “Lord, close my lips” before the hours of rest and sleep, and “Lord, open my lips” after awakening the next morning.

It should be quite clear that this is a metaphor for death and resurrection: The human being commits her or his life to God and gracefully gets renewed and refreshed life from God. It is not any human power that gives new life, it is nothing but God’s gift. We can ask for it and pray for it, but we cannot make it ourselves. Or to make it short: Every morning (and every morning prayer) is a commemoration of Easter.

As far as I know, the Rule of the Master is the only document for “Lord, close my lips” at the end of the day. The Rule of St. Benedict does not have it and it was not reintroduced at any time in the history of liturgy – while “Lord, open my lips” remained the opening verse every morning in all Western traditions.

1,500 years of liturgy do not have “Lord, close my lips” in mind whenever “Lord, open my lips” is sung in the morning. But after having read this article, I am sure that you will!

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