The Psalms through Three Thousand Years: Prayerbook of a Cloud of Witnesses

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

12
The Psalms in
the Roman Catholic Church
from the Council of Trent
until the Second Vatican Council

The Roman Catholic Church reacted to the movement of the Protestant Reformation in complicated ways, but its essential stance for four hundred years was established by the Council of Trent in the middle of the sixteenth century.

The printing press was a major factor in the spread of Protestant teachings (see chapter 11), but, obviously, it was available to Roman Catholics as well. Thus Rome could enforce a uniformity in liturgical practice, if it so desired, by the circulation of identical books across the world.

Now, even before Martin Luther’s time there had been various efforts at reform underway in the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in Spain and Italy; and as the Protestant Reformation gained ground there emerged fresh movements for reform from within the Roman church: one may take note, for example, of Ignatius of Loyola (ca. 1491–1556), who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1534; the Jesuits’ rigor in missionary work won back many Protestant areas to the Roman Catholic Church (especially in what is now Czechoslovakia and Poland).1 Nevertheless, it would be fair to say that the papacy was slow to respond to the Reformation and that even popes who were convinced of the need for reform found enormous obstacles to achieving it.2

The Psalms, as we have seen, had a place in the Roman Catholic Mass and formed the backbone of the daily office (see chapter 10). In the 1530s there was an attempt to reform the Divine Office: Pope Clement VII commissioned the Spanish Cardinal Quiñones to prepare a revision, and this revision was promulgated by the succeeding Pope Paul III (first edition, 1535; second edition, 1536). The office, which had been the mode of communal prayer in the early church, was now intended for private recitation by the individual cleric. Quiñones kept to the established principle that the whole of the Psalter should be recited once a week; he made no provision for liturgical seasons or saints’ days.3 Though this breviary was ultimately a failure and would be replaced, it nevertheless had a remarkable currency for thirty years and incidentally had an influence on the compilation of the Book of Common Prayer in England (see chapter 11).4

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