Praying the Psalms

St. Gregory's Abbey Church, Three Rivers MI

St. Gregory’s Abbey Church, Three Rivers MI

From Fr. Steve Rice’s post yesterday, entitled “Who cares about the Kings of Tarshish and Saba?”:

You can’t really explain praying the psalter, you just have to do it. You have to listen to it, observe it, it needs to wash over you as the antiphonal recitation crashes again and again like waves on the beach. And you have to know it will be hard.

Whether you follow Thomas Cranmer’s 30-day outline for praying the Psalms (as Fr. Steve’s parish does), the Daily Office lectionary’s seven-week cycle, the Bible Challenge’s daily passages, or whether you use the Daily Prayer app from Forward Movement on your iPhone, the Psalms form the heart of the Church’s daily prayer.

The seeming randomness by which Psalms are assigned to any given day, no matter what method you use, can cause newcomers to the Office no little confusion.

Br. Abraham of St. Gregory’s Abbey, the Benedictine order in Three Rivers, Michigan, writes this about praying the Psalms in the Easter 2007 Abbey Letter:

This schedule causes us to recite seemingly inappropriate psalms sometimes: happy ones on solemn fasts, and sad ones on happy feasts. It also means that at any time of day, a particular monk might be reciting a psalm that does not match his mood at the time. While that can be distressing for someone not used to it, it has become a great comfort for many people throughout history. It reminds us that our situations and feelings are not permanent; the psalms sung at Friday Sext might not fit a particular monk’s concerns this week, but they might perfectly meet the needs of the monk next to him or of one of the guests in the church, and they might coincide with his own next week. It also reminds us that the prayer is not all about the individual. Corporate prayer is corporate prayer – not private prayer (there are times of day set aside for private prayer).

Psalm 102, appointed for this morning, highlights one of my favorites reasons for praying the Psalms — they give voice to our human concerns, especially our complaints. The psalms are not “pious”:

I lie awake and groan;
I am like a sparrow, lonely on a house-top.
My enemies revile me all day long,
and those who scoff at me have taken an oath against me. (Psalm 102:7-8)

So give yourself permission to plunge into the psalms and take them as they come. Let them speak to you and give voice to your concerns — or to the concerns of those around you if their mood does not match yours. And let the psalms, day by day, week by week, lift you from your concerns to contemplate God’s goodness.

In the beginning, O LORD, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
They shall perish, but you will endure; they all shall wear out like a garment;
as clothing you will change them,  and they shall be changed;
But you are always the same,
and your years will never end.
The children of your servants shall continue,
and their offspring shall stand fast in your sight. (Psalm 102:25-28)

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