Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"I am Poor and Needy"...and "I" would refer to...?

Today both Lauds and Daytime Prayer give us psalms that we just naturally want to pray on our own behalf. Because we are poor and needy. Pathetic, really.  Oh sure, when life is good we trust God and thank him that we have received the graces to be devout, orthodox, committed Catholics.  But then, some garden variety crisis occurs in our lives, or the novena does not produce amazing results. Suddenly, the proud and ruthless voices are right there: See? God doesn't answer prayer...for that matter, do you really think there IS a God? Satan tries to chip away at our faith every chance he gets. And sadly, we are actually shaken at times by the jeering crowd of demons.

So it makes perfect sense to pray these words with ourselves in mind. We are poor and needy.

Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer *
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful: *
save the servant who trusts in you...
...The proud have risen against me; 
ruthless men seek my life: *
to you they pay no heed. (from psalm 86)

However, if we have taken up the privilege/burden of praying the psalter liturgically, we have to moderate that tendency. As Pope Benedict reminded us last week, it's not just  about you. Or at least, its about you only insofar as you are one tiny member of the body of Christ. Because that is really what the "I" here refers to when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours.   

That can be counter intuitive. Most of us, loving the Church, have a mental archetype of her that it anything but "poor and needy". When we think "the Church", our imaginations might supply a grand parade of saints and heroes marching through history. We think of it as a grand edifice filled with beauty, like St. Peter's basilica or Chartres cathedral. We think of our Pope who fearlessly articulates the truth in and out of season.  And since we know, by faith, that the gates of hell won't prevail, well, it's a very natural thing to think "grand and glorious" rather than "poor and needy".

But try. Because the other side of the coin is this. The Church consists largely of all us "poor and needy" individuals. It is under constant assault from the forces of evil on all sides, and although those forces won't win the war, they in fact do win any number of battles.  That is why the lands of the ancient fathers of the church are now mostly under Muslim rule. That's why the lovely cathedrals of Europe are largely empty except for tourists and a tiny remnant of locals. The United States is headed down that same path, but at a slower rate. Persecution and martyrdom are very real in many places: China, India, the middle east. And, it goes without saying, millions of our fellow Catholics are poor and needy in the physical sense as well, even as many of them endure said persecution. 

So try to keep that in mind when you pray the hours. As Pope Benedict reminded us last week, it is "praying in the "we" of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time. "

Welcome to new blog follower Christina, who happens to be my sister,(yay!) and who knows far more about liturgy than I when it comes to the Extraordinary Form side of things.

This is also the weekly Wednesday Q&A post. Any question from new or experienced Divine Office devotees is welcome here. 

O God, make haste to my rescue, *
Lord, come to my aid!
Let there be shame and confusion *
on those who seek my life.
O let them turn back in confusion, *
who delight in my harm,
let them retreat, covered with shame, *
who jeer at my lot.(from psalm 70)


  1. Tell you what, Psalm 86 was JUST what I needed to hear this morning.

  2. Thank you, Daria. I always learn so much from your posts.
    We don't think very often,or meditate very often on the body of Christ as the main subject of the liturgy, but the Pope instructs us to do so.
    Actually I do have a question. Why is psalm 95 the only one I have seen used to open the OOR? Or is it used with each hour and I just haven't looked thoroughly enough.
    If the answer is obvious to everyone but me, please forbear.

    1. Psalm 95 is the "invitatory", not actually part of any one hour, but a prepratory psalm that is said before the first hour one says each day, and that would be either morning prayer of OOR. (If one were to sleep til noon and start the day with midday prayer, I don't think the invitatory would be used.) The invitatory psalm is optional, so one is free to skip it and go straight to "O God Come to my Assistance, etc." There are actually several other choices permitted for the invitatory psalm: Psalms 100, 67, and 24 are permitted, but 95 is the "default" so that is the one you always see in a digital breviary.

  3. Thank you! What decides whether a psalm is considered "invitatory" or not?
    I am so glad to hear from you; you were gone for awhile and I feared you had an unfortunate encounter with a deer.


    1. Ha! No, the deer haven't gotten me yet. I just had company for a few days and that put me behind. Certainly with psalm 95, the point is to Invite, or motivate us to offer the LOTH by listing some of the reasons God is great and deserving of our praise and thanks. You also get this same sense from the alternates 100 and 24. A little less so with 67, but its message is still a call to Praise God because he has blessed us. Once I finally had 95 by heart, I began praying it(minus its antiphon of course) as I got out of bed. It makes a nice, freestanding morning prayer all by itself.

    2. Yes! I had the same chastisement: "Well, if it's in the whole LOTH, why don't you memorize it?" After all, if I can't even memorize one psalm, how much discipline can there be in it?
      Plus, it would be much more convenient.
      Then I won't have to lug my "smart" phone app from room to room...which seems silly.