Terce, or Third Hour, was the time of the mid-morning break for prayer in the medieval monasteries. It consisted then, and still does, mainly of psalms and is said at 9 a.m. Its name comes from Latin and refers to the third hour of the day after dawn. According to an ancient custom of the Romans and Greeks, the day and night respectively were divided into four parts of about three hours each. In Roman cities, the bell in the forum rang the beginning of the business day at about six o’clock in the morning (Prime, the “first hour”), noted the day’s progress by striking again at about nine o’clock in the morning (Terce, the “third hour”), tolled for the lunch break at noon (Sext, the “sixth hour”), called the people back to work again at about three o’clock in the afternoon (Nones, the “ninth hour”), and rang the close of the business day at about six o’clock in the evening (the time for evening prayer).
The second division of the day contained the hours from about the modern nine o’clock until about midday. Using the Roman numbering the hour just preceding this division was called hora tertia (the third hour) from which the word terce is derived. These divisions of the day were also in vogue among the Jews at the time of Christ. In the New Testament we find mention of the sixth hour inMatthew 29:5 and the ninth hour in Matthew 27:16. Most famously, the holy spirit descended on the Apostles on Pentecost at the third hour, Acts 21:15.
Due to that significant moment, the theme of Terce has always traditionally been linked with the manifestation of the holy spirit. In modern times, by nine in the morning, most people have risen, gotten children off to school, finished their commute, and are now in morning meetings, or on business calls or otherwise hard at work. Reflect on that for a moment; these people have been up since four, five or six, racing to meet the externally imposed demands of work and school times. Now they are locked in for the day and if they are commited to the job it is demanding total focus. Doing this day in day out can lead to the famous burnout. What is burnout but a loss of inspiration, energy, enjoyment and fulfillment?
So a pause at the third hour is probably even more important to us in the modern era than it was to monks sheltered in a medieval monastery. Yet it will be more complicated to accomplish. Most office hours only begin at eight or nine, so management might not see the need for a break an hour after starting or upon arrival. No one gets any credit for what it takes to get to work, neither do they pay you for that hour plus commute in bumper to bumper traffic. The monks only commute might have been to walk to the village or out to the fields and pastures. They didn’t arrive stressed out and distracted and got healthy exercise to boot. But you will be at work at least seven or eight more hours, and for many much longer. Both you and your work will be better for that little break to refocus and prioritize the day before getting entrained in all the work activities. Even just a few minutes pause to reflect and and start the day calm will do the trick. If you must go right into a meeting you can do it afterward, saying you want to organize your notes and thoughts for follow up. Or emulate the smokers who “need a cigarette” and use getting a cup of tea or coffe to front your pause. The rest of your day will be more productive.