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The Number of Psalms to Be Sung at these Hours

Friday, June 21, 2024
Chapter 17

We have already established the order for psalmody at Vigils and Lauds. Now let us arrange the remaining hours.

Three psalms are to be said at Prime, each followed by "Glory be." The hymn for this hour is sung after the opening versicle, "God, come to my assistance" (Ps 70:2), before the psalmody begins. One reading follows the three psalms, and the hour is concluded with a versicle, "Lord, have mercy" and the dismissal.

Prayer is celebrated in the same way at Terce, Sext and None: that is, the opening verse, the hymn appropriate to each hour, three psalms, a reading with a versicle, "Lord, have mercy" and the dismissal. If the community is rather large, refrains are used with the psalms; if it is smaller, the psalms are said without refrain.

At Vespers the number of psalms should be limited to four, with refrain. After these psalms there follow: a reading and responsory, an Ambrosian hymn, a versicle, the Gospel Canticle, the litany, and, immediately before the dismissal, the Lord's Prayer.

Compline is limited to three psalms without refrain. After the psalmody comes the hymn for this hour, followed by a reading a versicle, "Lord, have mercy," a blessing and the dismissal.

Perhaps the most important point to be made about the structure of prayer during the day hours, during the periods of distraction and the times of work is simply this. Even then, prayer is to be prayer, not a glancing thought, not a shrug or a gesture or a mindless moment of empty daydreaming. It is to be brief, yes. It is not, however, to be superficial. Benedict wants us to pray the psalms. His own monks, many of them illiterate and all of them without manuscripts, memorized the psalms of the day hours so that they could be prayed in the fields as well as in the prayer place.

This chapter, consequently, of all the chapters in the Rule on prayer is a real challenge to a modern society. What psalm prayers can we say without reading? What prayers ring in our hearts? What do we think about when we're not thinking about anything special? Do we ever simply stop the work we are doing during the day, look straight ahead and pray? What memorized material does run through our minds and why do we memorize what we do but not our prayers?