A Brief History of the Psalms in the Daily Office

For three millennia psalmody has been at the heart of godly worship.  King David is honored as the great psalmist in the Hebrew tradition, but many of the 150 Psalms are products of later centuries, and at least one is purported to be much older – a product of the hand of Moses.  Synagogue worship perhaps codified the chanting of psalms in a standard liturgy, inherited by the Early Church and preserved in both cathedral and monastic traditions.

In the Rule of Saint Benedict, after a rough outline of how all 150 Psalms are to be ordered throughout the week, Benedict observes “our holy forefathers promptly fulfilled in one day what we lukewarm monks should, please God, perform at least in a week.”  The rigors of the Desert Fathers, praying all the psalms daily, and of Benedictine Monasticism, praying all the psalms weekly, were simplified by Archbishop Cranmer into a 30-day cycle, which endures in the Prayer Book tradition to this day, although most 20th century Prayer Books have offered even lighter orders for daily Psalmody.

The text of the Prayer Book Psalter is the translation of Miles Coverdale’s 16th century English Bible, remaining in Prayer Book use despite the several revisions of the Bible leading to the Authorized Version under King James I.  With minor changes to spelling and vocabulary, the Coverdale Psalter endured until a new translation was provided for the 1979 Prayer Book.  Some elements of the 1979 Psalter have been retained in the 2019 Book, most notably in the Suffrages of Morning and Evening Prayer, but the text of our Psalter itself has been rolled back to a modernized version of Coverdale’s translation rather than an entirely new version.

In Benedictine and Roman tradition, the psalms were said with antiphons, but the Prayer Book tradition has not retained them.  It has, however, retained the tradition of reciting the Gloria Patri after each Psalm.  This helps the worshiper “Christianize” the Psalms, recognizing that we are praising the triune God revealed in all of Scripture, not simply repeating the songs of ancient Israel.  The first American Prayer Book in 1790 rendered the Gloria Patri optional, provided it was said at least at the end of the Psalms Appointed.  In the 1979 Book the rubrics indicated the Gloria Patri was to be said once only at the end of the Psalms, which remains the default in the 2019 Book, although a rubric on page 734 permits the Gloria Patri to be said at the end of each Psalm if desired.

On Psalmody in the Daily Office

The first and foremost distinction of the role of the Psalms, not only in the Daily Office, nor even in the Prayer Book generally, but in the entire history of Christian worship, is that the Psalms are to be sung or prayed.  They are distinct from the rest of the Bible in this regard; they are not provided for in the lectionaries; the Psalms are prayers, not lessons.  Indeed, just like the rest of the Scriptures the Psalms are useful for edification and instruction, but the manner in which they do so is not through proclamatory reading but through prayer.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously put it, the Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Bible.  They are, therefore, naturally, the heart of the Prayer Book.  Those who are new to the liturgical tradition often find this one of the most fundamental shifts in their understanding both of the Psalms and of worship.

The Prayer Book pattern of praying the Psalms set out by Archbishop Cranmer since 1549 is a methodical advance, cover to cover, through all 150 Psalms in thirty days.  They are divided about as evenly as possible into Morning and Evening groupings for each of those thirty days, though every Psalm except the inordinately long 119th is kept intact.  Thus the monthly sequential praying of the Psalms mirrors the annual sequential reading of the Bible, in the course of the Lessons that follow.

Just as different readings of Scripture teach the hearer different things at different times, so too do the various Psalms lead the worshiper through different tones and moods and subjects – and all this regardless of the individual’s condition or circumstance.  This is one of the greatest roles of liturgy, calling individuals out of themselves and into a common worship and a common prayer.  And if only one portion of the Daily Office could be considered absolutely essential, it would be the praying of the Psalms.  From these 150, and the Lord’s Prayer, all Christian worship is extrapolated.

Our Prayer Book offers a sixty-day Psalter as an alternative to the Cranmerian pattern.  This is not new; the 1979 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary provides a roughly-seven-week pattern of Psalmody (though omitting a few), and the 1928 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary throughout the year offers highlights of the Psalter ranging from four to seven weeks in length.  These alternatives are best offered for the young and the beginner to praying the Psalms.

Some history on the Invitatory

The Invitatory

The invitatory dialogue contains four couplets: two verses of Scripture (Psalm 51:15 and Psalm 70:1) the Gloria Patri (glory be to the Father), and third verse (Psalm 135:1a). In the American Prayer Book tradition, the second couplet was omitted, until 1979 when the second couplet returned in place of the first in Evening Prayer. The final couplet was omitted only in the 1979 Book. Our Prayer Book restores the full English dialogue.

The Antiphons

In the American Prayer Book of 1928, nine antiphons were added for use with the Venite on particular occasions. In 1979 that collection was expanded to thirteen antiphons. Our Prayer Book preserves those thirteen antiphons but moves the ten appointed for specific seasons or holy days to an appendix after the Morning Prayer liturgy to keep the primary text less cluttered. Only the three for general use appear here on BCP 14. Furthermore, these antiphons remain optional.

Historically, in Anglican practice, antiphons have not been a feature. They are extremely common in historic Western liturgy, however – the Roman Rite at its height of complexity having multiple antiphons for every Psalm and Canticle according to season and occasion. At their best, they provide unique “book-ends” that color the worshiper’s experience of the Psalm or Canticle according to the occasion, and enrich the Church’s life of worship. The obvious challenge, of course, is the burdensome complexity that ensues which the Preface to the 1549 Prayer Book explicitly endeavors to remedy.

By providing some antiphons on page 14 and collecting the other 10 on pages 29-30, our Prayer Book endeavors to strike a healthier balance between historical Western complexity and Anglican simplicity.

 

The Venite

The use of Psalm 95 as the “invitatory”, the invitation or call to worship, dates back at least to the Rule of Saint Benedict: it was to be prayed every morning at Matins. This was preserved in Archbishop Cranmer’s Prayer Book of 1549 and thereafter: it was called to be said or sung at Morning Prayer daily except for the 19th day of the month when it would be read as part of the Psalms Appointed, and on Easter Day when the Easter Anthem, Pascha Nostrum, was appointed instead. Furthermore, in the English Prayer Books the Venite included the “Glory be” at the end.

The American Prayer Book tradition diverged from this pattern. The Venite was now Psalm 95:1-7 followed by Psalm 96 verses 9 and 13. Furthermore, the Gloria Patri was rendered optional here. Again, it wasn’t until 1979 that the entirety of Psalm 95 was authorized for the invitatory psalm, and until 2019 that the entirety of Psalm 95 was printed in this place in the liturgy, albeit with verses 8-11 still labelled as optional outside of the season of Lent.

 

The Jubilate

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, the Jubilate Deo, or Psalm 100, was a canticle offered in place of the Benedictus, until the 1979 Prayer Book when instead it was included as an alternative to the Venite as the invitatory psalm. It was offered without rubrical directions, though one already accustomed to the Prayer Book tradition might most naturally consider the Jubilate to be a substitute for the Venite on the 19th day of the month when the Venite was formerly appointed to be omitted from the invitatory. Our Prayer Book also provides no rubrical guidance on the matter, so the same historically-minded intention may still be assumed.

 

Pascha Nostrum

The Pascha Nostrum, as indicated in its Scripture reference text, is an amalgamation of three New Testament texts strung together. Although this is an example from early Church history, Anglican liturgical practice has yielded several examples of collating multiple biblical texts into an eclectic but coherent whole for the purpose of worship.

This Easter Anthem has always been a part of the Prayer Book tradition, but its location has changed in modern practice. Traditionally, it was placed among the Propers (the Collects and Lessons), for Easter Day; since the 1979 Book it has been placed here within the Morning Prayer liturgy.

Originally this anthem was appointed only for Easter Day. The American 1892 Prayer Book uniquely added the Gloria Patri to it. The 1928 Prayer Book authorized the option of using this anthem throughout the Easter Octave (that is, from Easter Day through the First Sunday after Easter). The 1979 Book expanded this further still, appointing it for every day in Easter Week and making it optional every day until the Day of Pentecost. This has not changed in the 2019 Prayer Book, though the wording of the rubric has been altered.

There is also a custom in some places of using the Pascha Nostrum in place of the Gloria in excelsis Deo near the beginning of the Communion service, under the modern rubrics that allow other hymns of praise to take its place. Especially in church cultures where the Daily Office is not publicly offered, this can be an effective way of introducing elements of the Office liturgies to the congregation. Such points of contact and familiarity will prove helpful when teaching people to pray the Office.

An Exegesis of the Invitatory

The Venite, Psalm 95, is the historic standard “invitatory”, or call to worship, and even a cursory glance through its text reveals its aptness for the role.  The opening words “O come,” are followed by three “let us” statements, each giving different angles toward defining worship: singing, rejoicing, thankfulness and gladness, approaching God, and particularly using psalms.  The next verses provide reasons for worshiping God: his greatness and kingship, his ownership of all creation by virtue of being its Creator.  The result is a return to the opening verse: “O come, let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.”  The emphasis on physical posture and gesture is not only symbolic of the disposition of the true worshiper’s heart but also instructive for the postures of right worship; indeed, one of the biblical terms for worship literally means “fall down before” or “prostrate.”

The tone of the second half of Psalm 95 turns suddenly to a dire warning against ignoring God’s voice and hardening against him.  The Exodus generation is invoked as an example of those who so spurned the Lord and received punishment for their rebellion.  These verses point back specifically to Exodus 17, and are in turn picked up for further explication in Hebrews 4 & 5.  The worshiper is reminded of the obligations of worship: praise is empty when not accompanied with (or followed by) obedience to the One who is praised.  Many Old Testament Prophets had strong condemnations for those who participated in divine worship but practiced unrighteousness, and Psalm 95 is our most prominent reminder within the liturgy of the Church that we, too, must practice in our lives the same faith we profess in the congregation.

 The Jubilate, Psalm 100, is a functional substitute for Psalm 95 but does not contain all the same elements.  A few similar phrases are found – 100:2 and 95:7 are almost identical – and the same invitation to worship the Lord is extended, but Psalm 100 lacks the “warning” verses, providing instead only the briefest hint in the words “it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves.”

The Pascha Nostrum, as indicated in its Scripture reference text, is an amalgamation of three New Testament texts strung together, the word Alleluia (or “praise the Lord”) interspersed as an antiphon (a repeated word or phrase) between each section of the canticle.  Like the invitatory psalms the Pascha Nostrum invites people to worship – “let us keep the feast” – but instead of grounding the reason for this invitation in God’s kingship or ownership of the world as its Creator, it instead points to the new creation inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  The “warning” text of Psalm 95 is similarly transposed here: rather than dwelling on the danger of apostasy this canticle draws the Gospel connection between Christ’s death and the Christian’s death to sin.  This warning is not the cold hammer of the Law, but the healing embrace of the Gospel.

A Psalm & A Hymn

Psalm 90 begins with the simple but heartfelt words

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

This is captured and paraphrased in a famous and beloved hymn:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home;

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Yes, O God our help in ages past is a hymn that was written to paraphrase and reflect upon Psalm 90.  It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, and many of his hymns are re-workings of biblical psalms.  Let’s see how more of this hymn teases out layers of meaning from Psalm 90.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

This approximates verse 2 of the psalm:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were made,
you are God from everlasting, and world without end.

The ancient helping power of God traced through the generation of his saints in the first verse of the psalm and first two stanzas of the hymn is here found all the in the very Days of Creation.  God has always been God, “world without end” or “from ages of ages”.  Before the aeon of time itself, God was the same God we now know and love.

The next stanza in our hymnal reads thus:

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

This matches verses 4 & 5 of the Psalm:

For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday,
even as a day that is past.

You scatter them them as a night-watch that comes quickly to an end;
they are even as a dream and fade away.

Verses 6 & 7 also provides more context and application of this concept of God’s timelessness:

They are like the grass, which in the morning is green,
but in the evening is dried up and withered.

For we consume away in your displeasure
and are afraid at your wrathful indignation.

The eternity of God causes us to reflect upon our mortality, and our insignificance in comparison with Him.  The days of our lives compared to his eternity is like comparing our long lives with the brief life of grass in the desert climes – just one hot day can dry and wither it away.

This leads to the next stanza in the hymn.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Verse 7 of Psalm 90, above, and also verse 10, here, both play into that stanza.

The days of our life are seventy years, and though some be so strong that they come to eighty years,
yet is their span but labor and sorrow; so soon it passes away, and we are gone.

The following verses of the Psalm continue on that meditation: we must learn to “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” which, we know from the scriptures, is the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord has also been described in the psalm, especially in verses 7, 8, 9, and 11.  It doesn’t feed into Isaac Watts’ hymn too directly, but it’s an important piece of context to keep in mind as we sing.

The hymn ends with a partial repetition of the beginning, but a slightly different petition.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

This matches the tone of Psalm 90 in its final few verses, which step back from the language of fear and the shortness of life, and settle upon prayers for comfort.  The Psalm does not overtly return to the language and imagery of God as our refuge or help in ages past, nor of being our home or shelter, but it the hymn and the psalm do wrap up with the same tone or mood.  Thus the hymn is an encapsulation of Psalm 90 in miniature, pulling out some major themes and leaving only hints of others.  It’s no substitute for praying the psalm, of course, but it is a wonderful point of entry.

 

This reflection was originally written for Grace Anglican Church and published on leorningcnihtes boc.

Psalms for the Daily Office on the 31st of the month are not clearly defined.

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One of the more curious features of the 2019 Prayer Book’s handling of the Psalter in the Daily Office is this rubric on page 735:

If there is a 31st day of the month, psalms are chosen from among the Songs of Ascents (120 to 134).

If you want to know more about the Songs of Ascents, I wrote about them a couple weeks ago here.

But today we’re looking at this Weird Rubric.

The 31st day of the month has always been a monkey wrench in Thomas Cranmer’s arrangement of the Psalms, which is a 30-day rotation.  The solution in Prayer Books before ours was that the 31st day of the month would simply repeat the Psalms from the 30th day.  There was at first a more complicated exception to this rule to account for the shortened month of February, but that faded from the Prayer Book tradition.  But in the 2019 Book we now have this murky instruction to choose the Psalms from a particular range.  What this, in effect, does is make the 31st day a repeat of the 27th day or 28th morning.

Now there are two “outs” if you (like me) find this rubric a little too weird.  Your first alternative is to use the 60-day cycle of Psalms, which is printed along with the Daily Office Lectionary.  This has the advantage of begin easy to look up, and perhaps the shorter psalmody will be a welcome “break” if you struggle to keep up with the 30-day standard.  The other solution is to take advantage of this text on page 734:

For any day, the psalms appointed may be reduced in number according to local circumstance, provided that the entire Psalter is read regularly.

This could be interpreted as a “Lazy Clause”, authorizing practically anything.  For example, you could literally read one Psalm, or half a long Psalm, each Office, and take a quarter of a year to get through the whole psalter!  If you do that “regularly” then you’re obeying the rubric here.  And, hey, if you’re new to liturgical prayer and new to the psalms, or you’re helping a child learn to pray, that may be a good idea.  But a seasoned Christian should not use this rubric as license for simply being lazy.  However, the license afforded here does mean that on “any day”, such as the 31st day of the month, you can deviate from the chart on page 735, provided you are covering the entire Psalter regularly.  In short, this is your “out” for praying the Psalms the traditional way, repeating Day 30’s psalms on Day 31.

But if you want to turn Day 31 into a grab-bag of Psalmody, replicating Day 27 and the morning of 28 in some fashion or another, go for it!

A Cry for Justice: Psalm 58

Anger and vengeance are difficult things.  Sometimes Christians talk about “righteous anger”, and how it can be appropriate, even right, to be angry and loud and “out for justice.”  But sometimes Christianity is also propped up as a quiet and peaceful religion where we turn the other cheek, suffer for righteousness’ sake, and keep our earthly tempers and passions at bay.  For sure, it is a difficult call to make – how much anger can we have until it becomes the sin of wrath?  How much dispassion can we have until it becomes the sin of sloth?

Psalm 58 is a curious insight into this subject.  It is by no means a complete explanation or answer, it is a prayer after all, not a theological treatise.  Nonetheless, what it shows us is a godly example of prayer that deals with the angry cry for justice.

Do you indeed decree righteousness, O you rulers,
and do you judge uprightly, O children of men?
No, you devise evil in your heart,
and on the earth your hands deal out violence.
The ungodly err even from their mother’s womb;
as soon as they are born, they go astray and speak lies.
They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent,
even like the deaf adder that stops its ears,
Which refuses to hear the voice of the charmer,
no matter how skillful his charming.

An interesting feature of the opening verse is that the Hebrew word here rendered “rulers” is actually more literally “gods.”  “Do you indeed decree righteousness O you gods?”  The use of the word gods here is meant to be understood as earthly princes and rulers who are essentially like gods to their respective realms, so the Prayer Book rendition I’ve typed above is legitimate.  But it is interesting to think about the ramifications of calling earthly leaders “gods”.  How often do kings, princes, governors, and presidents think of themselves as gods?  Or how often do their followers treat them as gods?  It can be very easy to fall into this mentality.  Some of the absolute monarchies of Europe and Asia approached deification of their monarchs.  Some of the major despots of the 20th century presented themselves in god-like roles, explicitly or implicitly.  Even Presidents of Western democracies, including our own, have had cult-like followings who speak as if their favored candidate or elected official can do no wrong, or is ultimately just despite his or her flaws.  This is not a Left or Right phenomenon, nor is it a matter of a free society versus a caste-based, slaved-based, feudalistic, or any other social model.  It is a human thing.

You see, these first 5 verses paint a picture of what Calvinists call total depravity, or in Anglican terms the effects of original sin or birth-sin. People simply do not judge uprightly; we devise evil in our hearts and we deal in violence.  And this is a condition that we are born with, even conceived in (as Psalm 51 observes).  No matter how skillful the charms of God’s blessings are offered, we shut our ears to God’s Word and continue in our sinful and unjust ways.  That is the way of the world.

In Christ, we have redemption, and we have forgiveness, and the beginning of healing – sanctification – that transforms us into the likeness of Christ.  We are becoming “gods” who will rule with Christ righteously – Jesus even speaks of his Apostles sitting on twelve thrones (Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30)!  And from that perspective of recovery, we can see the evil that we are (all too slowly) leaving behind, and cry out:

Break their teeth, O God, in their mouths;
smite the jawbones of the ungodly.
Let them fall away like water that runs off;
let them whither like the grass that is trodden underfoot.
Let them melt away like a snail,
and be like a stillborn child that does not see the sun.
Before they bear fruit, let them, be cut off like a briar;
let them be like thorns and weeds that are swept away.

Verses 6 through 9 there are pretty hefty.  You almost need a content warning on that… I mean, I wouldn’t want to read this with my 5-year-old.  And yet there is a poetry to this.

  1. The first image here is of violence: may God punch them in the face.
  2. Nature images follow, with runoff and stomped grass.
  3. Then it goes up to death: a snail “melted” by salt and a child that dies in the womb.

The last verse of this section is partly a culmination and partly a yet higher step in the chain.  Not only is death wished upon the ungodly rulers, but a death swift enough to prevent their posterity from coming into being.  This is evocative of a first strike scenario: may God destroy the wicked before they have a chance to multiply further!

I do not know very many people who would under normal conditions consider this a viable Christian prayer.  And yet here it is, near the middle of the Bible (and near the middle of the 2019 Prayer Book too, as it happens).

There are two things, I think, that make this prayer pray-able.

  1. We must remember that all we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.  The death sentence is deservedly upon the head of every man, woman, and child.  From birth we are steeped in sin and unstoppably wicked.  By the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, are people rescued from this condition, redeemed, and brought to eternal life.
  2. The best way that the wicked can die, as this Psalm unflinchingly asks God to kill, is to die to sin.  In baptism we are buried with Christ, we die to sin.  Our greatest hope for wicked rulers is that they turn to God, die to the world, and finally truly live.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the American President, the North Korean Dictator, the Prime Ministers of Europe, and everywhere in between, learned to confess their sins to Jesus, take up their cross, and follow Him?

But the Psalm ends with equal ferocity as before.

The righteous shall rejoice when they see the vengeance;
they shall wash their feet in the blood of the ungodly.
So that people shall say, “Truly, there is a reward for the righteous;
surely, there is a God who judges the earth.”

Judgment is a very negative concept in popular perception.  “Don’t judge me!” is one of the most frequent outs in hard conversation.  Many Christians too, not just non-believers, tout this line as soon as they feel like their life choices are being questioned or threatened.  And yet we all still know the positive meaning of justice; one needs only look to the political figures that one dislikes to realize that there is a positive desire for justice to be served.  Whether it was “Lock her up” or “Never Trump” or “Black lives matter” or “Blue lives matter”, we all have a desire to see justice prevail.

And so that is where we need to reflect as we pray a hard Psalm like this one.  The final verse is, I think, the most helpful clarifying line for us in the course of understanding how to pray Psalm 58.  Ultimately, we want God to act such that everyone will be able to say “Truly, there is a reward for the righteous; surely, there is a God who judges the earth.”  As we said above, the best way for someone to die is to die to sin, because that death is the entrance to eternal life in Christ.

Let our desire for justice, our anger and our vengeance, never overshadow the hope for the salvation of our enemies.

Lectionary Convergence: Psalm 23

This week we have some nice lectionary convergences in the 2019 Prayer Book.  Psalm 23 was heard yesterday at the Communion service, and now we hear it again at Evening Prayer the next day.  This week we’re also reading from 1 Peter, which is the source of the Sunday Communion Epistle lessons throughout Eastertide this year.

If you want to read a reflection on Psalm 23 for today, click here.

If you want to read about 1 Peter during Eastertide, click here.

Last of all, by way of a reminder, yesterday was the 4th Sunday of Easter, nicknamed Good Shepherd Sunday.  In the traditional lectionary, however, Good Shepherd Sunday was last Sunday.  So if you’re poking around different Anglican ministry sites and pages and noticed a Good Shepherd themed article a week off from what you would have expected, that’s why.

The Psalms of Ascent

If you’re praying the Psalms in the Prayer Book, there is one little detail that you’re missing: the superscriptions, usually printed in italics, above verse 1.  Sometimes they are titles; sometimes they note the author or a situation relevant to the psalm’s origin; sometimes they say something about the music or the instruments.  Some Bible translations even make the superscription “verse 1” and start the text of the psalm on “verse 2”.

The usefulness of these superscriptions is… honestly rather poor.  When you compare the Greek and Hebrew Old Testaments, many of them are different.  When you compare different manuscript groups even within the same language, they still vary.  In short, it’s very difficult to tell how old a given superscription is, when they were added, by whom, and for what purpose.  Even if some of them are authentic they can still be misleading; to say a Psalm is “Of David” could mean both written by him or written in the tradition of David.  To say a Psalm is from “Asaph and his sons” could mean both written by him and his biological children or written by the school of Temple musicians that was first run by Asaph.

And so, quite rightly, liturgical texts such as the Prayer Book do not include the superscriptions for any psalm.  After all, when it’s time to pray, we don’t read titles and labels, we pray the prayers.

But there are some superscriptions that can be useful.  Psalms 120 through 134 are all labeled “A Song of Ascents.”  It is said that this label refers to their liturgical use among the faithful Judeans, who would sing or chant these psalms during their approach (or “ascent”) to Jerusalem for a high feast like Passover, or Pentecost.  This tells us nothing about their origin, but that doesn’t really matter; these are prayers to be prayed.  That they were especially used in a particular context can give us insight into how we might use them too.

And, lo and behold, there are two places in the 2019 Prayer Book where this group of Psalms shows up.  One is on page 735, where they are commended as appropriate psalms to be prayed on the 31st day of the month, when the 30-day cycle has ended but the next month has not yet begun.  This is kind of an “ascent”, approaching the beginning of a new month.  The other place they are mentioned is on page 39 where Psalms 120 through 133 are offered as suitable additional psalms for Midday Prayer.  (Psalm 134 is omitted in this reference because it’s already on the list for Compline.)  So there again, at midday, we have a sort of “ascent”, not quite at one of the major Offices of prayer for the day, but simply stopping along the way of the day’s journey to offer some brief prayers before continuing on in our labor.

In the Daily Office, the Psalms of Ascents are normally read on the 27th and 28th days of the month (today and tomorrow).  They are mostly pretty short, and they touch on all sorts of topics.  (This may be something of a relief after the epic-length Psalm 119 occupying three days of prayer!)  Most of them are pretty happy and cheerful, celebrating God’s deliverance and protection.  Several of them are sober, expressing trust in the Lord in the face of evil.  Though among them is also Psalm 130, “Out of the deep…” which is traditionally associated with death and grief.

One could say that they inspire and model for us the traditional practice of “keeping the hours”, or offering regular but very brief prayers at certain times of day.  They do this by being short, concise, and memorable.  On the ascent to Jerusalem, stop and offer these prayers, one by one, along the way.  On the way through your day, stop and pray these psalms, or other prayers, bit by bit, along the way.

A Psalm and a Plan

Welcome to Holy Week, everyone!

First of all I want to remind you that I made a handy-dandy all-in-one chart of the Scripture readings for the various liturgies throughout Holy Week, according to the 2019 Prayer Book.  You can read about it here: Holy Week Readings all-in-one explanation article, and download it here: Holy Week all-in-one 2020.

Also, I wanted to offer some reflections on one of the morning Psalms for today.

When I first being introduced to the liturgical tradition of prayer (while serving as pianist at Roman Catholic Masses during college), something that struck me as strange was how much time the prayers spent telling God what He had already done.  “Why are you telling God what he already did?  Why don’t you just get on with making the petitions you want to ask Him?”  What I eventually learned is that this is not only healthy for the people praying to rehearse God’s deeds in prayer, but it’s also a very biblical pattern of prayer to preface requests with remembrances.  We highlight some aspect of God’s being, character, or works, and on that basis we make our request(s).

Psalm 32:1-5, The Remembrance (or Memorial)

Psalm 32 is an excellent example of this pattern played out.  The first five verses are all about the past….

Psalm 32:6, The Sermon (or Homily)

Psalm 32:7-11, Responsive Reading (or Dialogue)

The End (or Goal or Telos) of Penitence

Read the whole thing here: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/praying-psalm-32-in-lent/