Sunday, July 21, 2019

Liturgical uses of the psalms

In another forum someone raised the potential usefulness of a database of liturgical uses of the psalms, focusing on the way they are used in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

I actually have compiled all that information, so thought I'd start updating my posts on the psalms to include it for those interested.

Why is the use of the psalms in Mass propers of interest?

One of the key contributions of Dom Prosper Gueranger's (1805-1875) magisterial work, The Liturgical Year, - though one largely ignored by modern exegetes - was his extended commentary on the linkages between the Mass propers  (mostly psalm verses) for particular Sundays and seasons, and the readings they accompany.

In particular, Gueranger's commentary makes  it clear, I think, that the liturgy can be a source of instruction for us on how the Church has traditionally interpreted particular psalms, or verses thereof.

As such, consideration of the liturgical uses of the psalm can often be a useful supplement to other sources for the traditional interpretations of psalms such as their Scriptural uses (particularly in the New Testament), the commentaries of the Fathers and Theologians, manuscript illuminations, the chants they are set to and so forth.

For this reason, for my own purposes I've collated a list of  Mass propers by psalm, and will start making them available in my notes on individual psalms.

The place of the psalms in the Office

The placement and uses of psalms in the Office too, can often be revealing.

Much twentieth century liturgical scholarship assumed that the placement of psalms in the Office was largely driven by purely functional considerations.  Pascher, Callaewaert and other liturgists postulated, for example, that reductions in the number of psalms said each day drove progressive reallocations of psalms between the hours, rather than considerations of meaning. St Benedict, it was claimed, wanted a shorter day Office to accommodate the demands of agricultural work, so he used the Gradual psalms at the little hours rather than Psalm 118 and cut the number of Vespers psalms. 

Medieval commentators such as Bede, Amalarius of Metz, Smaragdus, Honorius Augustodunensis and William Durandus, however, took a rather different view.  They provided extended explanations of just why particular psalms were used at particular hours, or on particular days. Bede, for example, pointed out  in his commentary on the book of Nehemiah that St Benedict's use of the Gradual psalms at Terce to None reflected his teaching on  the ascent to heaven by the cultivation of humility in chapter 7 of the Rule, while Smaragdus, in the introduction to his commentary on the Office canticles portrayed the Lauds (ferial) canticles as tracing out the life of Christ over the seven days of the week. 

The medieval commentaries are attracting more attention these days, as scholars appreciate that the uses and placement of the psalms, the texts selected for repetition or use in responsories, the rituals that accompanied their use, and the chants they were set to and more were all often a very deliberate acts of Scriptural interpretation.

For this reason, a database of these uses has potential value for study of both the individual psalms and the Office itself.  And comparison with more modern forms of the Office can perhaps provide some insight into the iconoclasm (or other takes on the psalms) of more modern forms of the Office.

Notes on the psalms

One of the key objectives of this blog is to penetrate the meanings of St Benedict's particular ordering of the psalter, as set out in chapters 8 to 18 of his Rule.

I have though, from time to time, commented on their use in other forms of the Office, such as Tenebrae during the Triduum, the Office of the Dead, the Little Office of Our Lady, and the Mass propers for assorted Sundays.

Along the way I have compiled up a lot of  notes on other uses of the psalms - in particular their placement in some of the older forms of the Roman psalter, and use in the EF Mass.

Accordingly, I plan on going through and updating (or posting) the introductory post on each psalm to include summary information on the liturgical uses of the psalms for those who might find this of interest to anyone.

The amount of information I've collated varies depending on when I did it - for the early psalms it is pretty bare bones, later on I started included the 1970 Liturgy of the Hours and other forms of the Office than the Roman.  My plan therefore is to try to add a bit of information as I go through the posting process, and then go back and add additional references as I have time.

The table below shows my proposed format for this information, and is set out for comment:

RB cursus
Monastic/(Roman) feasts etc

Roman pre 1911

Matins responsories

Other early Offices: eg
Caesarius (RV/RM)
Alexandrine, etc



Thesauris schemas
A:; B ; C:; D:
Roman post 1911
1911-62: . 1970:
Kathisma /stasis
Mass propers (EF)

The key abbreviations are:
Mass propers:

AL Alleluia
CO Communio
GR Gradual
IN Introit
OF Offertory

Office forms:

RB: Psalm cursus as set out in the Benedictine Rule (and still used as the ferial office of 1962).

Monastic: Psalms used in the 1962 (and earlier) monastic Offices for commons or feasts (largely follows he Roman Office).

Matins responsories: Verses used in Matins responsories, referenced to feast or set (eg David (Kings) after Pentecost, Wisdom/August), etc.

Maurist: As used by the Hungarian-Maurist Congregation, taken from the Keller book psalms schema summary

Thesaurus Schemas A  -D: As set out in the 1977 Thesaurus providing guidelines for experimentation for Benedictine monasteries.

Roman pre-1911: Psalm schema used post Trent until reforms of Pius X.

Roman 1962:  Psalm schema used (or 1911-62) reflecting the Pain reforms.

Roman 1970: Liturgy of the Hours four week cursus.

Maurist: As used by the Hungarian-Maurist Congregation, taken from the Keller book psalms schema summary

Brigittine: Also taken from the Keller book psalm schemas.

Byzantine: Kathisma (K) an Stasis (S).

Caesarius: As set out in the Rule for Virgins/monks, first half of the sixth century.

Alexandrine: Codex Alexandrinus psalm list (c5th)

Comments please!

Please do use the comments box on individual psalm listings to note any corrections, suggest any other uses that would be of particular interest, provide data you have at your fingertips, or request data for a particular psalm.