Skip to main content

The Order of the Psalmody

Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Chapter 18

The same psalms--4,91 and 134--are said each day at Compline.

The remaining psalms not accounted for in this arrangement for the day hours are distributed evenly at Vigils over the seven nights of the week. Longer psalms are to be divided so that twelve psalms are said each night.
Compline, the night prayer of the community was built around three psalms designed to do what we all need to do at night: recognize that what we did that day was not perfect, hope that the next day will be better, praise the God whose love and grace brought us through another day and go to bed trusting that the God who sees our every action is more concerned with our motives than with our failures.

Above all else we urge that if people find this distribution of the psalms unsatisfactory, they should arrange whatever they judge better, provided that the full complement of one hundred and fifty psalms is by all means carefully maintained every week, and that the series begins anew each Sunday at Vigils. For members who in a week's time say less than the full psalter with the customary canticles betray extreme indolence and lack of devotion in their service. We read, after all, that our holy ancestors, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week.

Finally, Benedict implies very clearly in this chapter on the order of the psalms that a full prayer life must be based on a total immersion in all the life experiences to which the psalms are a response. The order of the psalms is not nearly so important to Benedict as the fact that the entire 150 psalms are to be said each and every week. The Benedictine is not to pick and choose at random the psalms that will be said. The Benedictine is not to pick some psalms but not others. The Benedictine is to pray the entire psalter in an orderly way, regardless of mood, irrespective of impulses, despite personal preferences. Anything other than regular recitation and total immersion in the psalms is, to Benedict's way of thinking, spiritual sloth. Ours is to be a full spiritual palate. Readings may be shortened if situations warrant but the psalms never. We are to tap into every human situation that the psalms describe and learn to respond to them with an open soul, an unfettered heart and out of the mind of God.