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The Psalms


A recent online discussion was asking which of the psalms people suggested memorising. One thing led to another (that’s how the internet works!) and I was soon reading about the 20 kathismata of the Psalter. Orthodox break the 150 psalms into 20 nearly-equal-in-length groups of psalms.

Each grouping of psalms, called “kathisma” (κάθισμα – meaning “seat” or “sitting”), is a collection of approximately equal length.

Orthodox (and Roman Catholics) tend to follow the Greek numbering of the psalms, as per this table:


Following the Greek numbering, these are the kathismata:

Kathisma 1Psalms 1-8
Kathisma 2Psalms 9-16
Kathisma 3Psalms 17-23
Kathisma 4Psalms 24-31
Kathisma 5Psalms 32-36
Kathisma 6Psalms 37-45
Kathisma 7Psalms 46-54
Kathisma 8Psalms 55-63
Kathisma 9Psalms 64-69
Kathisma 10Psalms 70-76
Kathisma 11Psalms 77-84
Kathisma 12Psalms 85-90
Kathisma 13Psalms 91-100
Kathisma 14Psalms 101-104
Kathisma 15Psalms 105-108
Kathisma 16Psalms 109-117
Kathisma 17Psalm 118
Kathisma 18Psalms 119-133
Kathisma 19Psalms 134-142
Kathisma 20Psalms 143-150

Most of the church year, all psalms are prayed through once a week. Here [the numbers are of the kathismata for Matins (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evening Prayer)] is a format for a significant part of the year:

Matins2, 34, 57, 810, 1113, 1419, 2016, 17
Vespers 691215181

You could follow this sequence, say, on a week of private retreat.

During Lent, the psalms are prayed two times each week. You can find more about all this here. Here, each kathisma is divided into three stases. Here, you can click through from the number of the kathisma to the psalm. Here the Hebrew (NRSV) numbering is used – the author also points out the value of systematically praying the psalms. I see the psalms as being a vocabulary for our inner life.

Which brings me full circle – which psalms do you know by heart? Which psalms do you recommend are learnt by heart?

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