Accordingly, Boccaccio's re-arrangement of the days of rest and some form of labor, of religious and non-religious activities, of storytelling and non-storytelling, transforms and subverts in many ways the typical Christian manner of employing properly the time, divided according to the sacred temporal rhythm of the week, patterned after God's six days of creation, just as each day is organized according to the seven canonical hours. By transforming and subverting the week, as well as each day of the week, the Decameron transforms and subverts also the notion of time, which Boccaccio does not situate completely outside the sphere of the sacred, but rather beyond or adjacent to the sacred, certainly with equal value and dignity.
Further expanding the parody of medieval Christian life in general and of monastic life in particular, the Narrator marks the brigata's time according to traditional medieval time designators, namely, the seven canonical hours. Prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers, compline, matins and lauds--the latter two being often considered as one canonical hour--were traditionally announced by church bells, were sanctified by the prayers of all believers, especially monks, nuns, and priests, and were also constant reminders to all people of the sacredness of time.
In monasteries and convents, the first canonical hour ushers in all the following canonical hours, the liturgy of the mass, and all other daily activities, according to a schedule organized purposefully to ensure that the monks avoid all forms of idleness and their lives are totally oriented toward God.
Benedict's rule meticulously indicates which psalms should be recited during each of the seven canonical hours. Gradually this practice spread also among the clergy outside the monastery and even lay people.
(12) In his De vita solitaria, Petrarch describes his life as a scholar and as a Christian dividing the time according to the seven canonical hours. On Petrarch's treatise, see Cherchi's insightful analysis of the work, with many pertinent considerations on the concepts of occupatio and otiositas, and on the seven canonical hours.
(33) To explain the canonical hours and related terms, I will refer to the online Catholic Encyclopedia.
The sequence of the poems is guided by the Canonical Hours beginning with prime (6:00 a.m.), which prepares us for the coming day, and ending with lauds the next day (3:00 a.m.), a jubilant resurrection prayer which celebrates redemption and the wonders of creation.
The sacramental character and temporal rhythm of the Canonical Hours depend on a philosophy of history in which the tasks of time, the cross of the moment, bear the signature of the infinite.
In 1947 he was studying the origin and history of the canonical hours and by then he had read (and admired) Niebuhr's The Nature and Destiny of Man, Tillich's The Interpretation of History and mimeographed copies of the systematic theology (Ursula Niebuhr 106).
The ringing of the bells for these services told the laity what time it was, so the fact that the canonical hours had shifted is important.
The canonical hours provided a useful way to divide the time from sunrise to sunset, and, with rare exceptions, the Genoese notaries used them to fix the times of business contracts.