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BCP praying Psalms

Book of Common Prayer 1662How often do you pray the psalms? How often would you pray through the entire psalter? All the psalms? Or do you leave out some psalms; some psalm verses? Do you find a psalm version that’s more helpful for prayer (individually, together) than your regular Bible translation that’s designed more for accuracy than for prayer? Do you have a way of taking up the psalm and deepening it as Christian prayer?

We are celebrating 350 years of the Book of Common Prayer 1662. Many of its principles and rationales are deeply sound. There is much we can learn from it, embodying its principles into our different time and context. Each of the above questions is dealt with at the start of the BCP. Hence, let us pause a moment and pick up The Order how the Psalter is appointed to be read

Here is the core of it:

THE Psalter shall be read through once every Month, as it is there appointed, both for Morning and Evening Prayer….

And at the end of every Psalm, and of every such part of the 119th Psalm, shall be repeated this Hymn,
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.

Note, that the Psalter followeth the division of the Hebrews, and the translation of the great English Bible, set forth and used in the time of King Henry the Eighth, and Edward the Sixth.

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34 Responses to BCP praying Psalms

  1. Morning and Evening at the office. Also as a source for my private prayer. I currently use the St. Helena Psalter, and I use the distribution of the whole Psalter over four weeks used by the sisters of Mount St. Scholastica.

    • The St Helena Psalter is a wonderful resource, thanks for mentioning it, Paul, accurate, standing in the BCP (Coverdale) tradition, and designed for praying – alone and together. Blessings.

  2. Can you say something about the rationale for the trinitarian doxology at the end of each psalm? Please understand, I’m not opposed to it! But I do wonder why the addition is made. If the psalms are hymns to God as they are in Scripture, why do we need (or do we need – perhaps the intent is something else) to add on the doxology at the end? Thanks!

    • Very quickly and briefly, Mike – it connects with my question at the start, how people use the psalms in their own Christian praying. There is an old tradition of silence after the psalm, a moment to interiorise it further – that concluded with a prayer, connecting the psalm into the contemporary Christian context. Some Prayer Books and other places provide such a prayer after each psalm. The doxology functions in that tradition – rather than having individual prayers, it is a general one used for any psalm. I would not use such a doxology, say, when using the psalm in the Eucharist. I hope that’s a starter – others may like to add more? Thanks for the question. Blessings.

      • The great 4 volume 19th c work of Neale and Littledale is available through Google books – a fascinating history of the liturgical use of the Psalms. Links here

        An example of a Gloria from Psalm 110

        Glory be to the Father, who hath said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand;
        Glory be to the Son, My Lord, Who is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; glory be to the Holy Ghost, the heavenly dew of our youth…

    • This is not the only criticism of the NZPB psalter, Ian. The inconsistent paraphrasing of “Israel” and “Zion” is another. What are we saying if anger is an unacceptable emotion? Since 9/11 (and the Canterbury earthquakes) there is a growing realisation that there is an inadequate breadth in our Christian prayer/hymn resources – lament is a great lack… The BCP psalter is not the only alternative to NZPB… Blessings.

  3. And what good advice it is. A Lutheran, I ignore my own tradition on this point and follow the BCP monthly schedule for singing the Psalter—and have been richly blessed by doing so.

      • Let me quote from “The Treasury of Daily Prayer” (Concordia Publishing House, 2008)—which is a very good resource, by the way.

        “The Anglicans and the Lutherans ultimately took different approaches to the reform of the Daily Office. Under the Anglican reforms, the offices retained an essentially monastic character: all 150 psalms are appointed to be read during the course of a month, nearly the entire Bible is read throughout each year, and the priests in the Church of England are required to read Morning and Evening Prayer daily, in their parish churches if possible.
        Martin Luther took Matins and Vespers out of the monastery and formulated these two prayer services for congregational use. While both services focus on praise and reflection on Scripture, Luther’s modifications made Matins and Vespers ideal ‘preaching services’. Lutherans have seldom felt compelled to use all 150 psalms within a prescribed period of time nor do they read the whole Bible each year in the course of these services. As a result, though the rhythm of ‘daily’ prayer (sunrise to sunset) is present, Matins and Vespers as preaching serices tend to offer a stronger emphasis on the progress of the Church Year as the propers of Sundays and the seasons of the Church Year are used in the services and in the sermon.” (p. 18)

        The ‘Treasury’ itself has two distinct seasons of daily readings: the readings of the festival half (Times of Christmas and Easter) are arranged such that the NT lectionary is roughly seasonal and arranged by the Sundays; whereas in ordinary time the lectionary is given by calendar date.

        In recent times, there has been a recovery of ancient patterns of prayer, including the publication of daily prayer books (such as “The Brotherhood Prayer Book” from Emmanuel Press), although I personally haven’t seen particularly wide or deep penetration of these outside select dedicated circles. In these circles, though, the above characterisation of the Daily Office as either ‘monastic’ or ‘congregational’ is probably not found to be particularly helpful. At any rate, it isn’t in my little circle of one.

  4. I only pray what’s in the Liturgy of the Hours (Christian Prayer)and I’m guessing that I don’t get through all of the psalter. I’ll have to ask my parish priest (Catholic), it’s an excellent question. Now I’m interested in the BCP, perhaps I can find an online version. My greatest joy in praying the psalms and all of the liturgy of hours is in community when we alternate between verses. It bring about a feeling that I just can’t explain, perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit. @northwestscott

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeff. It’s great you are praying the Liturgy of the Hours. There’s lots of versions of the BCP and similar resources online. I regularly pray the psalms they way you describe – and other ways as well. Many of those who gather around this site as a virtual community will identify with what you are saying. Blessings.

  5. Bosco
    As I am a musician I love to sing the psalms responsively. All Saints’ Dunedin uses wonderful settings which are a joy to learn and accompany, So when it comes to the Psalm during my private devotions often feel it is a bit lacking with out the music. I think the music adds a depth of expression to the text that saying the Psalms doesn’t have.

    • Yes, Richard, I agree the psalms are intended to be sung. I wonder what settings you are using – do let us know. I think singing is better than saying – but saying is better than not saying 🙂 Blessings.

    • Why not sing in your private devotion? I do. I use Gregorian chant, according to the Sarum tones given in Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter (although I use the ESV text, which I have pointed for the purpose). If I’m alone, I tend to sing them aloud. If that’s not a good idea for some reason, I sing them in my head.

      Singing transforms the praying of Psalms from a private thought in my head or my lips into a liturgical act in which I am participating, even in the solitude of my study.

      That’s why I am increasingly eager also to sing other prayers: the Lord’s Prayer, the collects. Why, I frequently attempt to formulate extemporaneous prayer in the collect form—and sing them that way. It’s a blessing, even when I don’t do it very well, for reasons outlined in the post linked.

  6. We pray the offices morning and evening, using the (inclusive language) Grail psalter. We pray the psalms arranged according to the Cistercian schema (in use for example at Tarrawarra Abbey, and formerly at Kopua), though there are many psalter arrangements available. We use a few of the simple chants from Kopua, as well as for the Benedictus and Magnificat. Over the years this makes for a very sustaining participation in the Prayer of the Church, whether prayed alone, as a couple, or in a larger group. I sometimes think of this prayer as a ‘place’, in the sense of the quotation from Thomas Merton, “It is essential to experience all the times and moods of one good place.” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

    • I like your description, Martin, of a translation as one good place one experiences in all its moods. For me that would also be the inclusive Grail. And the Bible would be NRSV. I visit other places. But those are home. Blessings.

  7. I follow the “straight through in a month” division of the BCP, singing them at Morning and Evening Prayer. When doing the Office at church (which is about half the time), I use the American 1979 BCP text, singing them from the “Plainsong Psalter” edited by James Litton, published by Church Publishing. When I pray the Office at home, I read the psalms in Hebrew. I wish I knew how to sing them in that language, but reading them is sufficient challenge (and reward) for now.

  8. This topic really resonated with me! You’ve all inspired me to delve into the Psalms as a focused prayer exercise – & you’ve got me eager to explore the BCP. Wonder if there’s a Kindle version..

    My prayer methods have always been more akin to tossing a jar of glitter in the air. Some Bible here, some Peale there, yesterday’s Girlfriends in God devotional, today’s Charles Spurgeon, a good dose of “Abba, HELP!” 😉

    Reverend, you’ve made me realize I pray the Psalms more than I thought. Of the dozens of verses that run through my brain every day, I’ve been able to identify two as Psalms so far:

    18:33 “He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights.” [I pray this one whenever my steps feel uncertain, literally or figuratively–on an ocean cliff hike, or at the start of a business experiment.]

    1:3 “..like a tree planted by streams of water..” [Sometimes with my damaged brain I can only remember snippets of things; but sometimes it’s all I need. When I pray this mini-Psalm, it takes my heart to a grassy green bank under a shady tree next to a cool, bubbling stream. I don’t remember all the verses, but I remember the feeling that by staying close to God’s guidance, whatever I do will prosper. It keeps me on track.]

    I know there must be a bunch more, either in verse form or via songs I play in my mind. I’m looking forward to reading through the Psalms & identifying them all. 🙂 Thank you for the idea!

    • Thanks, Christine, for sharing so honestly from your experience. As the psalms have entered so deeply into many Christian hymns and songs, reworked and re-imaged, I’m sure you’ll find lots and lots of resonances as you do this exploration. Blessings.

  9. Tapani I’d love to sing them at home but I haven’t settings that work for me yet, has anyone got some suggestions for sung settings that I can use at home?
    Bosco we mainly New Psalms for Common Worship

    • It’s a great question, Richard. I hope we get some further responses (there are some above). It may be a whole area worth exploring further on this site in the future. Blessings.

  10. I find it restrictive to follow a set scheme for a prolonged period (such as the BCP Psalter in 30 days). I might try it for a month or so a year but then I get frustrated when Sundays and Feast Days are not allocated ‘proper’ psalms.
    And Psalm 78, 105 and 106 always seem to get longer with each recitation!

    Currently I’m following the Church of England’s Common Worship cycle which moves more or less sequentially but helpfully allows for one indicated psalm to be used, if more than one is offered. During the ‘seasons’, Common Worship offers two Psalter tracks: the sequential scheme or a seasonal scheme. Given the role of psalms in the Daily Office as tone- and mood-setters, I choose the seasonal scheme.

    I find a single psalm prayed slowly is better than the 150 recited in a rush. If Morning/ Evening Prayer is to be ‘enjoyed’ in under 15 minutes, then the BCP scheme sadly has to be abandoned.

    I use The Liturgical Psalter in its inclusive language version from the APBA 1995, except for Psalm 8 which, in its inclusively translated version, is drained of all Christological significance.

    The Liturgical Psalter is a Coverdalesque translation and has a certain rhythm. I sense the translation is closer to the Hebrew than the Grail which reads to me like an ICEL paraphrase.

    The Liturgical Psalter does have a few howlers aka infelicities:

    When with rebukes you chastise us for sin:
    you cause our fair looks to dissolve in putrefaction – surely everyone is but breath.
    (Ps 39:12)

    While following a 1 to 150 scheme is an extremely worthwhile discipline (as the positioning in the 150 of these Hebrew poetic masterpieces is far from random), the practicalities of life make it hard to maintain, especially if daily or a regular celebration of the Holy Eucharist is part of one’s spirituality.

    • Thanks, Steve, for all these important points you make. The improvements possible on the BCP scheme with more emphasis on the liturgical celebration I think is very pertinent. The NZ Lectionary follows the sequence you use. It is only just, half way through the liturgical year, getting into the systematic BCP-like stride. It will now read the psalter in 7 weeks. Using always the same one, instead of say the 2-3 offered, can result in missing those psalms… There is a lot to commend praying a single psalm slowly – much like lectio divina. That is different to praying the office in some ways. I would think there is value in both/and rather than either/or. There are now three Grail versions. I think find a version, as Martin suggests above, which is “home” – my temptation is to constantly seek to improve… I resist this by staying mostly home with the Inclusive Grail. Blessings.

    • Here is a touch of the close reading approach I am using – Psalm 39:10-12
      I was dumb
      I was not opening my mouth
      because you yourself had made it so
      put aside from me your touch
      from the stroke of your hand
      I
      I am finished
      with corrections of iniquity
      you chasten a person
      and its attractiveness dissolves like a moth
      surely every earthling is futility
      Selah

      I am sure I have some howlers left in my translation – but my wife is editing my words… She is up to Psalm 47 and usually I follow her lead – within the scope of my own somewhat strict concordance patterns.

  11. Very nice to see this discussion. Lament and anger are things we have to deal with in the right way. Not to act them out but to pray them out as the poets of the psalms have illustrated for us with such a collection of encapsulated reality. I am in the last stages of producing a book on the psalms – a diglot in Hebrew and English in prosodic form showing the internal structures in each poem and across poems in their patterns as defined by the objective measure of word recurrence (as opposed to the useful but more subjective measure of parallel thoughts).

    This is not yet an ‘ad’ since the book is not scheduled for printing till 1Q2013, but I would welcome pre-publication readers. The table of contents is here. Leave a comment with an email or send me a note at stenagmois / a gmail address (dot com of course).

    My suggestion for reading psalms is from Rabbi Magonet – read with a set of coloured pencils. I have made this instruction possible to follow with some accuracy. Reading the psalms is the first priority – speculating about genre and sitz im leben and reading about them will be much more fun when the raw data is known.

    And seeing how you are in NZ, please greet my former choirmaster Brian Law, and my online friend Tim Bulkeley of the 5-minute-bible – (if any of you know them).

    Blessings from Canada where our prayer book is also missing Psalm 58 and the last verses of 137. Why they left 109 in is beyond me – it has the best stream of invective of them all.

    • Thanks, Bob, for your comments. I look forward to your book.

      Brian Law is Director of Music in the cathedral community which, of course, meets in my Chapel.

      For readers unaware of the Canadian situation, Bob is referring to a 1959 Canadian revision. The current Canadian prayer book has the full psalter, including Psalm 58.

      Blessings.

  12. BCP still has great rhythm, but we just don’t speak like that anymore! The NIV psalms are clear and uptodate, but sometimes seem a bit prosaic – the NRSV often seems to have more flow (but I have verses memorised in NIV). Good News Bible was great when I was a teenager for identifying with the feelings expressed. I keep coming back to NZPB which seems to be written to pray rather than to study, but struggle with the cycle thing – like Andrew I find the long ones get longer each time! What does work for me is to read a portion of the set psalm and use that as a stepping off point for my own praying. I find this allows me to connect to God and to my own heart more readily than if I try to launch into prayer on my own. I am experimenting with using the NZPB Daily Services in a (sometimes intermittent) fortnightly pattern, and generally find the opening responses and the canticles easier to relate to than the psalms.

  13. FYI, Bosco, The Nashotah House Plainsong Psalter (using the 1979 US BCP psalm version) is available from the Mission Bookstore at Nashota House (seminary). (I’m not sure if any psalms are left out.) Each psalm is printed in relatively large type with the accents to words in bold and asterisk for the pause between lines. Above each psalm is the plainsong chant in musical notation. The first few pages have explanations for how to use the psalter. And I assume your music director would be able to figure all of this out.

    Having read the comments of people who sing the psalter, I am tempted (but cannot promise) to try some form of this.

    By the way, I especially appreciated your words about translations for worship versus for spiritual reading (I guess it would be). For me the translation that comes to mind “out of the blue” would be the original Gelineau singing version – which goes back to my college years (mid 60’s) and to when we lived near a Benedictine monastery.

    What I love most about the psalms is the sense of solidarity with thousands of years of people praying them – including the cursing etc. It is comforting to know that “the psalmist” felt as I do. I am moved deeply by that at times. At other times, knowing that so little seems to have changed in all these thousands of years gets pretty depressing…

    At times I have even urged patients of mine (who are religious) to turn to the psalms when deeply afflicted. For there is no emotional state that the psalmist has not known and passed down to us. (Thanks be to God!)

    Peace be with you. And may all of Christ Church be strengthened as you try to cope with the earthquake aftermaths.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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