22 Feb. 23 June. 23 Oct.
At Tierce, Sext and None on Monday are to be said the nine remaining parts of the hundred and eighteenth Psalm, three parts at each Hour. This Psalm having thus been said through in two days, that is, Sunday and Monday, let the nine Psalms from the hundred and nineteenth to the hundred and twenty-seventh be said on Tuesday at Tierce, Sext and None – three at each Hour. And these Psalms are to be repeated at the same Hours every day until Sunday; the arrangement, moreover, of hymns, lessons and versicles remaining the same throughout, so as always to begin on Sunday from the hundred and eighteenth Psalm.
Saint Benedict treats here of the great Psalm 118 with its 176 verses divided into 22 sections of 8 verses each. The privileged place of Psalm 118 in Saint Benedict’s distribution of the psalms merits consideration. You will recall that in the ancient Roman Office, in vigour until the reform of Pope Pius X in 1911, Psalm 118 was recited in full every day. In medieval Rome, Psalm 118 accompanied the solemn Good Friday procession with the wood of the Cross that made its way from the Lateran to the Basilica of the Holy–Cross–in–Jerusalem. This liturgical practice suggests that the very psalm that begins with the words Beati immaculati in via (Blessed are the undefiled in the way) accompanies us along the via crucis (the way of the cross) by which, as Saint Benedict says in the Prologue, we follow the Lord Christ, our true king, ad gloriam (to glory).
With his characteristic discretion, Saint Benedict reserves Psalm 118 (Beati immaculati) to Sunday, the Day of the Lord, the day par excellence of lectio divina, assigning the overflow of verses to Monday. Psalm 118 is a long, rapturous litany in praise of the Law. It was by means of the Law that God made known His Heart—the splendour of His truth, the glory of His beauty, the immensity of His goodness—to Israel. It is as if the psalmist finds himself at a loss for words to describe the munificent self-revelation of God to Israel. With the mystical accents of a lover, the psalmist sings of the word of the Lord, of His precepts, His commandments, His ordinances, His statutes, His laws, His will, His righteousness, His justice, His mercy, and His utterances. Having exhausted all that he can say, he fails even to begin to approach the splendour of what God has revealed to Israel!
The rabbis of old referred to the Torah, the Law, as “the way, the truth, and the life”. When the Our Lord applied these three words to Himself, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), He was, in effect, revealing Himself as the true Torah, the fulfillment of the Law and of the Prophets. For us, Psalm 118 becomes a litany of love addressed to the Word, a long contemplation of the Face of Christ, a confession of His holiness, His beauty, His goodness, and His mercy. Blessed Paul Giustiniani writes somewhere of the Body of Jesus as the New Torah Scroll written in blood; rolled open and fixed with nails to the wood of the Cross, the five wounds of Jesus are the new pentateuch in which the love of the Father is revealed. “For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17).
There is a fresh spiritual joy in the weekly return of Psalm 118. It is an integral part of the Day of the Lord, spilling over into the feria secunda, the second day of the week. Of all the psalms, it is the one that I can pray most directly to Christ, offering Him verse after verse in adoration and in love.
Saint Benedict begins the weekly psalter with Psalm 1 on Monday at Prime; he assigns the Gradual Psalms or Psalms of Ascent to the Little Hours of Tuesday through Friday. Thus do we pass from the psalm that begins, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 118:1) to walking all the way to the heavenly Jerusalem. “I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 121:1).