The Grace of Psalmody
There is a particular grace attached to psalmody. Psalmody softens the heart, making it penetrable to Divine Love. It opens the eyes of the soul to the deifying light, by which one begins to see and judge things as God sees them. It establishes the soul in communion with the prayer of Christ to the Father. It is a bulwark against the assaults of demonic powers; a sweetness to the palate of the soul when all else is bitter; a substantial daily bread to sustain the soul when she has lost the taste for all else.
Vatican II and the Loss of Psalmody
I cannot help but wonder, however, if today, this particular grace is less common than it once might have been. The “daily debt” of psalmody, the pensum once paid to God by all monks, has, in many places, become markedly reduced. Saint Benedict’s injunction, that monks are bound to say in one week the 150 psalms that our first fathers were accustomed to say in a single day, was in many places swept away in the confusion following the Second Vatican Council, and this in direct violation of the Conciliar mandate that monks and religious were to return to their original charism.
Semper in Ore Psalmus
Here at Silverstream Priory we do, insofar as human weakness allows, pray the entire Psalter over one week. I would not renounce this privilege, this gift, this inestimable grace for anything in the world. The old monastic aphorism is true: Semper in ore psalmus; semper in corde Christus. With a psalm always in one’s mouth, Christ is always in one’s heart.
The Liturgy of the Hours, a Success?
The drastic reduction of psalmody in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours has not had the effect that certain of the reformers of the 60s (and earlier) thought it would. Psalmody, as such, has become a form of prayer that, increasingly, is foreign even to the clergy. It is perhaps time for a return to the ideal of the 150 psalms prayed over a single week. Even if all clergy cannot fulfill the ideal, it should not, for that reason alone, be abrogated. One cannot say that the reformed Liturgia Horarum has been a success. I propose that it be critically revisited in the light of the historical ideal (and sometimes, practice) of the Psalter distributed over one week.
Return to the Weekly Psalter
The weekly Psalter might better be envisaged as a work of the whole Church. What one cannot say, another will take up, and this without any legalistic attempt at orchestration of the whole. Even if, for example, a busy parish priest can say no more than Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, he would find comfort in knowing that others are completing the weekly Psalter on his behalf. Thus would the parish priest begin to look to monastic communities, not as entities distant and detached from his personal experience, but as the organic completion of his own prayer, and the assurance that what he cannot do will, in effect, be brought to completion elsewhere.
This morning at Matins, the lesson of the Second Nocturn was taken from Saint Peter Damian’s life of Saint Romuald. It was, Saint Peter Damian relates, while psalmodizing in his cell that Saint Romuald received the grace of compunction that he had long desired.
He ardently desired to pour forth tears, but no effort of his succeeded in bringing him to the compunction of a contrite heart. It happened however one day whilst he was psalmodizing in his cell that he came upon this verse of the psalm: “I shall give thee understanding and instruct in the way that thou shalt go; I shall set my eyes upon thee.” All of a sudden, so great an abundance of tears began to pour forth from his eyes, and his spirit was so illumined to understand the Scriptures, that from this day forward and for as long as he lived and whensoever he wished, he easily shed copious tears, and many mysteries of the Scriptures were uncovered to him. Frequently, the contemplation of the Divinity ravished him.
The Treasure Buried in the Field
Seek the intercession of Saint Romuald today for the grace of perseverance in psalmody. Not everyone has the grace of prolonged silent prayer, but there are very few who cannot open the Psalter, and read it, plodding, as it were, from verse to verse, and waiting upon the visitation of Divine Grace. When it comes, it comes swiftly and unexpectedly. It uncovers the treasure that lay hidden in the vast field of the Psalter — Jesus Christ — and in that moment, one knows that not a word of the psalms pronounced in dryness and obscurity was uttered in vain or lost to God.