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

By William L. Holladay | Go to book overview

16
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For centuries, in great sections of the Christian church, every verse of the full Psalter has been recited. This has been the case with the weekly recitation of the Divine Office in the Eastern Orthodox Church (see chapter 10) and was the case in the Roman Catholic Church until 1970 (see chapter 12). The Calvinist churches, too, drew up metrical versions of all 150 Psalms (see chapter 11), though one cannot be sure of the extent to which a given congregation would use each of the 150 systematically.

Yet though the Psalms may nurture and even stretch the sensibility of Christians, as we affirmed in chapter 15, nevertheless Christians have had the tendency to exclude specific psalms, or specific verses of psalms, from their worship, and it is these exclusions that I discuss in this chapter. It is important to discern why these omissions are made and, above all, to ask whether it is appropriate to omit psalms, or portions of psalms, from our worship.


The Omissions in the Liturgy
of the Hours

Central to this question is the current Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. As we learned in chapter 14, the intention of the Liturgy of the Hours, along with the complementary four-week Psalter, is to offer a vehicle by which those who use it may recite the full Psalter in the course of four weeks. Yet three psalms are omitted altogether—Psalms 58, 83, and 109—and there are nineteen other psalms from which one or more verses are omitted. In this regard the Apostolic Constitution issued by the pope in 1970 on the Divine Office explains somewhat ingenuously, “in this new arrangement of the psalms some few of the psalms and verses which are somewhat harsh in tone have been omitted, especially because of the difficulties that were foreseen from their use in vernacular celebration.”1 In other words, parts of the Psalms that did not seem offensive to reciters who only half understood them

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