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Psalms In Daily Services

The Preface, "Concerning the Service of the Church," states that "the
ancient Fathers have divided the Psalms into seven portions, whereof
every one was called a Nocturn," and that "the same was . . . ordained
. . . of a good purpose and for a great advancement of godliness"; but
"of late time a few of them have been daily said and the rest utterly
omitted." A writer of the ninth century says that S. Jerome, at the
bidding of the Pope on the request of Theodosius, arranged the Psalms
for the Services of day and night in order to avoid the confusion
arising from variety of uses[2]. S. Ambrose was a contemporary of S.
Jerome but died more than 20 years before him. There are considerable
differences between the plan which S. Ambrose gave to his diocese of
Milan, and the plan which we may believe was generally given at the
same time to the Churches of the rest of Western Europe. But they are
similar in many respects. In both, a division was made between the
first 109 psalms,--which were mainly allotted to the night services,
i.e. to those which were afterwards called Mattins,--and the rest which
were mainly allotted to the Evening Service (Vespers). We suppose that
the division, mentioned in the {43} Preface, "into seven portions"
refers to those 109 Psalms.

Of these 109, 18 were used at other Services, leaving 91 for Mattins,
viz. 19 on Sunday and 12 each for the week days. The Ambrosian
arrangement of them was for a fortnight.

The Greek Church divides the whole Book into 20 portions and takes
them, two portions at Mattins and one at Vespers, beginning on Saturday
night, omitting Sunday Vespers, and taking, on Friday, the 19th, 20th
and 18th portions.

Thus we see that a weekly singing of the Book of Psalms is derived from
a very ancient time, when the division of the Eastern and Western
Churches of Europe had not occurred.

The Sarum order, which we suppose was that which is referred to in the
Preface as having been "corrupted" by omissions, had the 109 Psalms
allotted to Mattins, as above described. For Vespers, there were five
each day from cx.-cxlvii., omitting the 118th and 119th, 134th, 143rd
and, as explained below[3], reckoning the 147th as two. All these were
taken in order as they stand in the Bible. Those which were left out
were allotted to other Services, as, for instance, iv. to Compline,
lxiii. to Lauds, &c., &c. Psalm cxix. was to be said through every
day, 32 verses at Prime, and 48 verses each, at Terce, Sext and None.

Lauds was the great Praise Service of the day, and had a very beautiful
arrangement of its Psalms which always ended with one of the O.T. hymns
followed by Psalms cxlviii.-cl. The O.T. hymns on the seven days of
the week were Benedicite: Isaiah xii.: Isaiah xxxviii. 10-20: 1 Sam.
ii. 1-10: Exodus xv. 1-19: Hab. iii.: Deut. xxxii. 1-43.

The beauty of many of these arrangements is undeniable: but they were
rather intricate; and in practice they broke down.

Our revisers retained the underlying principles. By spreading the
course over 30 days they made it possible to use it all. They retained
the 95th Psalm as the first Psalm of every day; and also the principle
of having two daily Services at which Psalms occupied an important

There are Special Psalms for six days in the year--the four great
Festivals, Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Whitsun Day, and the two
great prayer-days, Ash-Wednesday and Good Friday. The Preface explains
that these Special Psalms are to be sung instead of the ordinary Psalms
on those days; and authorises the use of Special Psalms approved by the
Ordinary on other days.

In using the Book of Psalms as a book of worship we must remember what
was said of the Intention of our minds in respect to parts of the
Services. There are many Psalms which supply us with the best Prayers
in trouble, penitence or any anxiety. But when using them in these
Services our Intention is not Prayer but Praise, and the thought of God
must inspire our devotions.

It will often help us if we remember that God's Righteousness is
infinite, as well as His Mercy. It is impossible for man in his
present state to reconcile perfect Righteousness and perfect Mercy: for
Righteousness will have nothing to do with sin, while Mercy forgives
it. These two characteristics of God are revealed to us through Christ
in Whom Righteousness and Peace are united; cf. Ps. lxxxv.

The Psalms, composed by various people at different times, very
frequently are the utterances of men in trouble: and they often sketch
the thoughts or actions of the Ideal Man, in one or other of the four
characters which answer to God's Righteousness and God's Mercy. For,
in response to God's Righteousness, man must be (1) perfectly
penitent, and (2) in imitation of God, must detest sin: in
imitation of God, (3) he must be perfectly forgiving, and in response
to God's mercy, (4) he must have trust and peace. The Psalmists
exhibit human nature at its best, but it is human nature all the
time--human nature finding God and associating itself with the Ideal

Thus the Psalms often rise to the conception of the Messiah; and, even
when that is not their thought, they proceed from other thoughts to
Rest in God and Praise of His Holy Name.

The most difficult Psalms for worship are those which regard sin with
horror, but express the horror without mercy. Man is unable to hold
the two qualities of Righteousness and Mercy simultaneously. We find
it difficult in these days to detest sin because we are learning the
quality of mercy.

Much of the poetic force of these songs depends on the local incidents
of Israel's history and the scenery of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
While we use the words, we must also use our imaginations to transfer
the great thoughts to our own experience: for those local colours are
the clothing of thoughts which belong to all men in their relation to

Over all these endeavours to use the Psalms properly in the Praise part
of our Services, the ruling idea is that which we have already stated,
viz. that God in these things is to be glorified.

Next: The Lessons

Previous: Versicles And Psalms

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