Monthly Psalms Cycle on Festivals

I’m a big fan of the monthly psalm cycle in the BCP. Those would be the headings that mention a day and “morning” or “evening” in the BCP Psalms. I  see it as a nice expansion of the point Benedict makes in RB 18.24-5 (paraphrasing here): If our holy Fathers could say all the psalms every day, at least we lazy monks can do it every week. By extension if the monks can do it every week, we distracted laity can certainly manage it once a month…

But what to do when we hit major festivals? Read the Psalms in course as usual or read something special—like switching to the psalms identified in the Daily Office lectionary? This question was brought to my mind again yesterday when I prayed the Morning Office for the Conception of the BVM from the breviary. It seemed rather ironic on the feast of a conception to read Ps 38 with the following lines:

For my loins are filled with a sore disease, *
and there is no whole part in my body.

Now, I’m the first to argue that we just need to let the cycles take their courses and to see what passages the Holy Spirit brings together through no deliberate will of our own—but, c’mon…

I’ve been reconsidering the answer suggested by the Order of the Holy Cross’s A Monastic Diurnal which uses a set festal psalter arrangement for first class feasts which it defines (pre-’79 remember) as the Feasts of Our Lord in sections 1 through 3 and a few major saints (though not all apostles). Their scheme looks like this:

First Vespers: Pss 96, 97, 98, 99, 148 [largely the YHWH MLK psalms]

Matins: Pss 24, 29, 72, 93, 100

Second Vespers: Pss 110, 111, 112, 113, 150

This has the additional bonus of giving a set number of 5 psalms for these offices, nicely matching up with the traditional number of psalm antiphons so all of them can be appreciated (when utilized).

What do you think?

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10 Responses to Monthly Psalms Cycle on Festivals

  1. BillyD says:

    Funny, I just asked my rector about this same issue of how to use the monthly cycle on Major Feasts; he said that his practice is to use the monthly cycle except for those feasts, when he uses the BCP lectionary-directed psalm(s). So I do that, and in addition use the lectionary designated psalms on Sundays, since I don’t want to be talking about how “my loins are filled with a sore disease” just because the weekly festival of the Resurrection falls on the 8th of the month.

  2. I actually don’t have a problem with “sore loins” on Sundays (heh—too good to pass up!) as I don’t want to introduce *too* much variability into the system.

    To be a Devil’s Advocate, though, it’d create a nice consistent rule to say: use the monthly cycle on all ferial and optional days with the lectionary-appointed psalms for sections 1-3.

  3. Scott says:

    I notice that the Order of Julian of Norwich, which uses the monthly psalm cycle, deviates from this only for a 31st day of the month, when their ordo specifies which psalms are to be used on that day (rather than repeat those of the 30th day). I rather like that approach. No deviation (or hesitation, or repetition…sorry, bad joke) for holy days. This points to the dailiness of the Daily Office: even a holy day with its strong focus finds us praying the day-of-the-month portion of the psalter.

    That said, my frequent struggle is to decide whether my personal practice will be to pray the monthly cycle or to tune into our parish practice of the seven-week cycle.

  4. Yes, I typically use the 30-day straight through. It makes things so much simpler. That’s also what’s coded in the breviary from Amplified on up.

    I will note the OJN practice of reversing the morning and evening psalms on the 19th so as to retain the Venite (Ps 95) as the invitatory at Morning Prayer.

  5. John-Julian, OJN says:

    Believe me, after dealing with the Psalter intimately for over 50 years, I can tell you that Cranmer’s division simply works best. It does mean some occasional hidden smiles or silent gasps, but in 99% of the cases, even a Psalm which seems to play AGAINST the commemoration of the day more often than not can provide a quiet and deeper insight. And the moment one begins to make exceptions for this feast or that commemoration, the plain simplicity of the thing is lost.

    ALSO, we really do the Psalms more as a “mantra” than as an meaningful intellectual proposition.

  6. T. Viola says:

    What are your thoughts about “evening” psalms coming up in the morning in the traditional BCP division (e.g. Psalm 4), or vice-versa?

    Is there a monthly cycle that gets you through the whole psalter, but takes account of psalms that are more intentionally “morning” or “evening”?

  7. Derek Olsen says:

    Personally, I think it’s best just to pray through them as they appear. Yes, Ps 4 is especially appropriate at night—which is why we get it in Compline as well as in the monthly cycle. :-)

    What occasionally surfaces for me as I go through the cycle is I start to see connections or links between psalms—that the order itself often has an intentionality to it. Taking out psalms based on other factors obscures this and I do believe that there is a value to meditating on the psalms in their canonical placement as well seeing them as individual and discrete compositions.

  8. T. Viola says:

    Derek, you wrote:

    “What occasionally surfaces for me as I go through the cycle is I start to see connections or links between psalms—that the order itself often has an intentionality to it. Taking out psalms based on other factors obscures this and I do believe that there is a value to meditating on the psalms in their canonical placement as well seeing them as individual and discrete compositions.”

    I think that’s a great thought, thanks.

  9. Pingback: The Psalms in the Daily Office | father christopher

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