Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Psalm Prayers, again, and weekly Q&A

Here's an old post about psalm prayers. Next to questions about options for saint's offices, I probably get asked about psalm prayers more than anything else. So I thought the newcomers might appreciate this.

Other than that--any other questions or comments about the Liturgy of the Hours are welcome in the comments box below. I'm here to help.


Psalm prayers are those short prayers that follow each of the psalms in your breviary. They are meant to be aids to understanding the preceding psalm. Beginners often find them very helpful in explaining how the Church interprets or uses a particular theme or image from the psalm. More experienced people, who have gotten pretty good at applying the psalms to Christ or to the Church, find the psalm prayers at times to be a bit  redundant.

It gets more disconcerting when one has the opportunity to pray the hours in community while visiting, say, a monastery or a seminary, and see that this group might not even  use the psalm prayers. A layman, praying the hours privately, has no obligation to do everything Exactly Right. But aren't these religious and clergy, who are bound to pray the hours, committing some sort of liturgical abuse by skipping the psalm prayers. Isn't this kind of like a priest deciding to skip some part of the mass?

Or, on the other hand, you get a look at a the breviary that is used in England.  No Psalm Prayers in sight.  Or you meet a priest from a foreign country and ask what's in his breviary. Chances are, he won't  have any psalm prayers either.

What's going on here?

I've been looking for ages for someone who knows the historical details on this issue of how only the American breviary seems to have these psalm prayers. Lacking that, here is what I do know:
--a careful reading of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH)  indicates that psalm prayers were  apparently were not even meant to appear in the main body of the psalter. Here's what it says:

112. Psalm-prayers for each psalm are given in the supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours, to help in understanding them in a predominantly Christian way. They may  be used in the ancient traditional way: after the psalm a period of silence is observed, then the prayer gathers up and rounds off the thoughts and inspirations of those taking part. 

This indicates to me that psalm prayers are not an obligatory part of the breviary. My feeling is further bolstered by this from another section on how to sing/recite the psalms:

123. The antiphon for each psalm should always be recited at the beginning...At the end of the psalm the custom in maintained of concluding with the Glory to the Father and As it was in the beginning...the antiphon may be repeated at the end of the psalm. 

Since nothing is mentioned here about the psalm-prayers, one can only conclude that these are not essential elements of the psalter.

The question then remains, why do the psalm prayers in American breviaries  appear in the body of the psalter, and right after the psalm, with the antiphon (apparently) not being repeated until after the psalm prayer.Was this a decision of the American bishops, or of some English translation committee, or of American publishers?  Also--do the breviaries of other language groups have some sort of "supplement" with psalm prayers in a separate volume, or an appendix to the breviary?  I have no idea. If anyone out there has some light to throw on these subjects, let me know.

But I think we can safely conclude that the  psalm-prayers are clearly optional. Use them if you like them, skip them if they do nothing for you. Or if you are pressed for time. And when you participate in a religious community's liturgical hours, be aware that there are several valid options on this, and assent to the custom of that community, even if it is not your personal custom.








Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why Do Some Memorials get Their Own Antiphons?


Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. 

Even though this is not a feast, you will notice that it has it's own antiphons, readings, and responsories.

Well, good for her. But why do you suppose that is?

The answer lies in the changes in the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours that occurred following Vatican II. In the older form of the breviary, there were many more saints' days that were ranked as feasts. Many of these feasts were "downgraded" into memorials or even optional memorials (also called commemorations). The was due to the desire of the Church that we focus more on 1. the repeating cycle of the monthly psalter and 2. the cycle of the liturgical seasons.

There are ongoing arguments on the part of liturgy geeks over whether this change was a good thing or not. Since people who prefer the older Divine Office are free to use it, I see no reason for either "side" to criticize the other about how/why the newer version came about and it's relative worthiness. And happily, we don't get into those kinds of polemics here, except in occasional, friendly, and charitable comments.

But back to St. Mary Magdalene.   She is one of those whose feast was placed in "memorial" status. However, a number of saints who are both ancient and beloved, have kept elements from  their formerly "feastday" offices in their current "memorial" offices.   Other examples we have coming up shortly include Sts. Anne and Joachim*  on July 26th and St. Lawrence on August 10th. There are others, but right now I"m at McDonald's and don't have my breviary with me.

So now you know why St. Mary Magdalene has such a fancy--and lovely--memorial office.