February 22, June 23, October 23
Chapter 18: In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said
At Terce, Sext and None on Monday
let the nine remaining sections of Psalm 118 be said,
three at each of these Hours.
Psalm 118 having been completed, therefore,
on two days, Sunday and Monday,
let the nine Psalms from Psalm 119 to Psalm 127
be said at Terce, Sext and None,
three at each Hour,
beginning with Tuesday.
And let these same Psalms be repeated every day until Sunday
at the same Hours,
while the arrangement of hymns, lessons and verses
is kept the same on all days;
and thus Prime on Sunday will always begin with Psalm 118.
Running psalmody, that is, reciting the Psalms in numerical order, no
matter what came next, was a very common ancient monastic practice.
Since one of the principles behind the Psalter was to "get it all in"
in the space of a week, that running psalmody was a natural
consequence. St. Benedict obviously had some of that on his mind: he
goes from detailed directions about the spacing of the longest Psalm,
118, right into assigning the next 9 to the minor hours which are
repeated throughout the week from Tuesday to Saturday.
As a result, one could safely say that there is nothing specific to
the time of day as such about these Psalms, but that it not entirely
correct. These nine Psalms from 119-127 are gradual Psalms,
pilgrimage songs. They were sung by the Jews as they were going up to
Jerusalem. They are filled with the tension of anticipation and
possession of God's Temple and His blessings, they are songs
of "already" and "not yet".
The gradual Psalms are short, compact units, easily memorized. Since
memory is one thing the Holy Rule no doubt was providing for- these
Offices frequently had to be said on the spot, in the fields, it is
very likely that this group were quite deliberately chosen. No one in
their right mind would suggest some of the longer Psalms from Matins
for easy memorization!!
Regardless of what St. Benedict may or may not have had in mind, the
Holy Spirit can use all of us, even St. Benedict, in ways we do not
realize. Read through these Psalms and picture yourself saying them
in a distant field, with the Abbey in view, but far away. Get the
idea? The pilgrim songs that speak of already AND not yet were the
perfect thing for monastics to say in such circumstances. Jerusalem,
the House of God, was both a distant view and a complete possession,
since ALL of the monastery is the House of God.
It is easy, terribly easy, to forget that we live "in the House of
God." We do, all monastics do, Oblates do, everyone does. It IS God's
world. Being reminded of this by those Psalms of journeying is a
great idea. Our feet really are "standing within your gates, O
Jerusalem!" We look from afar and see that Jerusalem is a city
compact, a unity of peace and order. Who has seen a monastery on a
hill and not had similar thoughts? Even the accidental end of the
sequence (which continues in Vespers,) has a wonderful
application. "Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who walk in His
ways!" It recounts the joys and protections of a life lived for God
and ends with the plea: "On Israel, peace!" Just picture yourself
saying that at the end of a hard day's work in the field, looking at
the Abbey Church. Not shabby!
Love and prayers,
St. Mary's Monastery