Offer Him the jubilancy of psalms

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CHAPTER IX. How many Psalms are to be said at the Night Hours

11 Feb. 12 June. 12 Oct.
In winter time, after beginning with the verse, "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me," with the Gloria, let the words, "O Lord, Thou wilt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise," be next repeated thrice; then the third Psalm, with a Gloria, after which the ninety-fourth Psalm is to be said or sung, with an antiphon. Next let a hymn follow, and then six Psalms with antiphons. These being said, and also a versicle, let the Abbot give the blessing and, all being seated, let three lessons be read by the brethren in turns, from the book on the lectern. Between the lessons let three responsories be sung - two of them without a Gloria, but after the third let the reader say the Gloria: and as soon as he begins it, let all rise from their seats out of honour and reverence to the Holy Trinity. Let the divinely inspired books, both of the Old and New Testaments, be read at the Night-Office, and also the commentaries upon them written by the most renowned, orthodox and Catholic Fathers. After these three lessons with their responsories, let six more Psalms follow, to be sung with an Alleluia. Then let a lesson from the Apostle be said by heart, with a verse and the petition of the Litany, that is, Kyrie eleison. And so let the Night-Office come to an end.

Prepare Thy Soul

Psalm 3, repeated every day, corresponds to the porch of the vast temple that is the Night Office (also called, Matins, Vigils, and Nocturns); it is an act of preparation. Does not the wise Sirach say, "Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God? (Sir 18:23)?

Why, O Lord, are they multiplied that afflict me?
many are they who rise up against me.

Many say to my soul:
There is no salvation for him in his God.

But thou, O Lord art my protector,
my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

I have cried to the Lord with my voice:
and he hath heard me from his holy hill.

I have slept and taken my rest:
and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me.

I will not fear thousands of the people, surrounding me:
arise, O Lord; save me, O my God.

For thou hast struck all them who are my adversaries without cause:
thou hast broken the teeth of sinners.

Salvation is of the Lord:
and thy blessing is upon thy people.

Sleep and Rising, Death and Resurrection

Saint Benedict begins the Night Office with Psalm 3 because of its striking Christological content: "I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me" (Psalm 3:6). The holy patriarch would have his monks enter into the grace of identification -- and real union-- with Christ in the mystery of His death and resurrection. Sleep is an image of death, and rising in the morning is an image of the resurrection. All that the monk does, from lying down upon his head to standing again on his feet in the morning, is subsumed into the mysteries of Christ. "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

The New Adam in the Sleep of Death

And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself. . . . Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. (Genesis 2:18; 21-23)

Jesus, the New Adam, slept the sleep of death upon the marriage bed of the cross; it was during this sleep that His Bride, the Church, the New Eve was born of His sacred side. The monk knows that the Lord gives to His beloved in sleep. It is when the soul sleeps, dead to all things around it, that God makes her most fruitful.

Call to Adoration

Immediately after Psalm 3 comes the Invitatory Antiphon; it is, as its designation suggests, a pressing invitation to adoration. Venite, adoremus. It constitutes the narthex or vestibule of the Night Office; from the narthex the soul peers into the temple and sees, in the distance, the altar and the tabernacle of the Divine Presence, the object of all her desires.

The Invitatory Antiphon (by way of example I give one for Doctors of the Church) is sung twice before Psalm 94, and then repeated in whole or in part between the strophes of the psalm and after the doxology (Glory be to the Father).

Psalm 94

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.
In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

Come, let us raise gladsome voices unto the Lord
sing we heartily unto God, our Saviour
let us come before his face with thanksgiving,
and offer him the jubilancy of psalms!

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all the gods,
and his people the Lord wilt not cast aside:
For in His hand are the very bounds of the earth,
and the highnesses of the mountains He beholdeth.

O come, let us adore.

Yea, the sea is his, for he himself made it,
and his hands laid in place the dry land.
Come in, then, fall we down before God in adoration,
let us weep before the Lord who made us,
for he himself is the Lord our God,
and we are his people, the sheep of his pastureland.

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

Today, if ye have heard his voice, harden not your hearts,
as when aggrieved on the day of temptation in the wilderness,
where your fathers tempted me,
probed me, and beheld my works.

O come, let us adore.

For forty years did I stand by that generation;
saying, 'These are ever wayward hearts'.
Truly these men knew nothing of my ways,
and so I swore an oath in my anger,
that they shall never enter into my rest.

In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

O come , let us adore.
In Christ Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; * O come , let us adore.


It is customary to have two cantors sing the Invitatory Antiphon once; then the whole choir takes it up. The cantors sing the psalm by strophes; the choir repeat the Invitatory Antiphon in whole or in part after each strophe. The Church's tradition of psalmody admits strophic psalmody (i.e. four, five, or six lines) only for the Invitatory Psalm and now, in the novus Ordo Missae, for the Responsorial Psalm when, in place of the Gradual, it is sung at Mass. The usual psalmody at the Divine Office is sung by verses of two lines (mediant and ending) with an occasional verse of three lines requiring a flexus for the first line.

Lectio and Meditatio

This interplay of voices is significant; the sacred liturgy obliges us to listen (lectio) and to give voice to what we have heard. The repetition of the Antiphon is a meditatio, in the ancient sense of the word, that is, a repetition in view of the appropriation of the text by the heart.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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