Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


The Davidic Psalter

Tehillim

The Prophet David, by Camillo Boccaccino, 1530

 

(Note that this page uses the Greek -- LXX, Vulgate, Douay-Rheims -- Psalm numbering system, as does the entire "Being Catholic" section of this site)

 
 
 
The Book of Psalms -- otherwise known as Psalterium Davidicum ("The Davidic Psalter"), Liber Psalmorum (Vulgate), Tehillim (Hebrew, "The Book of Praises"), Psalterion (Greek), Mazmore (Syriac Bible), etc. -- is a Book of poems -- lyrics, really -- of set structure meant to be chanted (the word "psalterion" implies that they may once have been accompanied by a stringed instrument). As music is designed to appeal to the heart, so are the Psalms, and their words are full of emotional content and sensitive imagery. From wrenching contrition to unshakable trust in His mercy, from sorrow to elation, the Davidic Psalter leaves no heartstring unplucked. St. Athanasius (A.D. 296-373), writing to Marcellinus, described them like this:

And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given. Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour's coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.

What did these soulful songs sound like when they were sung at Temple and in synagogues -- even by Jesus and His Apostles? Like the mother to Gregorian and Byzantine chant, which spring from Old Testament chant that is at least 3,000 years old. Consider: when our Lord recounted the Hallel as He instituted the Eucharist, He most likely would have sounded much like our priests do today. Our Hebrew forebears chanted the Psalms, even as we do now, both responsively (groups chanting alternating verses) and antiphonally (with repetition of the first verse).


Organizing the Psalms

The 150 Psalms that make up the Psalter are often grouped into 5 Books, like and related to the 5 Books of Torah, each of which may be described as having an historical relevance:

Book I

1-40. Doxology: Psalm 40:14

Genesis
David's conflict with Saul

Book II

41-71. Doxology Psalm 71:18-20

Exodus
David's Kingship

Book III

72-88. Doxology: Psalm 88:53

Leviticus
The Assyrian Crisis

Book IV

89-105. Doxology: Psalm 105:48

Numbers
Destruction of the Temple and Exile

Book V

106-150. No doxology

Deuteronomy
Praise and the New Era

Aquinas rejected the idea of their being grouped into 5 Books, mentioning in his "Commentary on the Psalms" that others see the Psalms grouped into perfect thirds:

The third distinction is that the Psalms are distinguished into three groups of fifty: and this distinction takes in the three fold state of the faithful people: namely the state of penitence; and to this the first fifty are ordered, which conclude in Have mercy on me, O God, which is the Psalm of penitence. The second concerns justice, and this consists in judgement, and concludes in Psalm 100, "Mercy, and justice." The third concludes the praise of eternal glory, and so it ends with "Let every spirit praise the Lord."

The point is that they can be grouped in many different ways, by theme or poetic style. For example:

Wisdom Psalms

35, 36, 48, 72, 111, 126, 127, 132

Royal Psalms

2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 101, 110, 144

Laments

Individual: 3, 21, 30, 38, 41, 56, 70, 119, 138, 141
Corporate: 2, 44, 80, 94, 137 2, 43, 79, 93, 136

Thanksgiving

Individual: 17, 29, 31, 33, 39, 65, 91, 114, 115, 117, 137
Corporate: 64, 66, 74, 106, 123, 135

Enthronement

23, 28, 46, 92, 94-98

Praise

8, 18, 32, 66, 99, 102, 103 , 110, 113, 116, 144-148

Acrostics

9, 24, 33, 36, 110, 111, 118, 144

 
Grouping by Liturgical Use

The Psalms are grouped by their liturgical use, too. The ancient Hebrews chanted Psalms 119 to 133 (known as the "Gradual Psalms," "Songs of Ascent," "Songs of Degrees," or "Pilgrim Songs") when travelling to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the Spring; Pentecost in Summer; and the Atonement and Tabernacles in Fall. Psalms 112 to 117 are known as "Hallel" (also the "Common Hallel" or "Egyptian Hallel") and are chanted on Passover night, Pentecost, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Booths.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia's view, the Talmud states that:

...psalms were sung by the Levites immediately after the daily libation of wine; and every liturgical psalm was sung in three parts (Suk. iv. 5). During the intervals between the parts the sons of Aaron blew three different blasts on the trumpet (Tamid vii. 3). The daily psalms are named in the order in which they were recited: on Sunday, xxiv.; Monday, xlviii.; Tuesday, lxxxii.; Wednesday, xciv.; Thursday, lxxxi.; Friday, xciii.; and Sabbath, xcii. (Tamid l.c.).

This is precisely how the Church groups Psalms for the Divine Office (see table below) -- based on the day of the week, but with the Psalms spread out throughout the week such that, in a week's time, the entire Psalter is prayed (Psalm 94 -- the Invitatorium -- is prayed each day as the opening prayer of the Office).

Another Christian grouping of Psalms are those seven called "Penitential" -- Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142. These Psalms -- among them are the "Miserére" (Ps. 50) and the "De Profundis" (Ps. 129) -- are recited during Lent by order of Innocent III (A.D. 1198-1216). St. Augustine (d. A.D. 430) was so taken by these beautiful Psalms that he asked that a monk write them in large letters near his bed so he could read them as he lay dying.

And, of course, the Psalms fill the Mass, both in its Ordinary and Propers. The Júdica Me (Ps. 42) opens the Mass, the Aspérges consists of parts of Ps. 50, at the Lavabo we hear Psalm 25:6-12, the Introit and Gradual (and sometimes the Offertory and Communion prayers) are Psalms, etc.


For a plan to read the entire Psalter, you can read them according to the schedule used in the Divine Office, starting each day's readings with Psalm 94. For inspiration, read the rest of St. Athanasius's letter here, in which he tells his friend, Marcellinus, of the beauty and usefulness of the Davidic Psalter.


 

Greek
Septuagint

Masoretic
Text

Human
Author 1

OT Liturgy

Church Groupings

When to read,
according to St. Athansius

Mass and Paraliturgical

Divine Office

B
O
O
K

I

1

1

?

   

Sun

Matins

to declare someone blessed

2

2

David (Acts 4:25)

   

Sun

Matins

to rebuke the conspiracy of the Jews against the Savior

3

3

David

   

Sun

Matins

to help bear one's afflictions, when you are persecuted by your family and opposed by many; to sing especially about the Savior, particularly His betrayal by Judas and the malice of the Jews

4

4

David

   

Sun

Compline

to thank God for ending your affliction

5

5

David

   

Mon

Lauds

when the wicked want to ensnare you; for prayer and supplication

6

6

David

 

Penitential

Mon

Compline

when you feel beneath the cloud of His displeasure

7

7

David

   

Mon

Compline

when you hear of a plot against you

8

8

David

   

Sun

Matins

to contemplate redemption and grace; to thank Him for the vintage

9

9 & 10

David

   

Sun

Matins

for victory over the enemy

10

11

David

   

Sun

Matins

to express faith and prayer; when someone wishes to alarm you

11

12

David

   

Tue

Compline

to express faith and prayer; when you see the boundless pride of many, and evil passing great, so that it seems that among men no holy thing remains

12

13

David

   

Tue

Compline

 

13

14

David

   

Mon

Matins

when someone blasphemes the providence of God

14

15

David

   

Mon

Matins

to learn what sort of person is citizen of heaven's kingdom

15

16

David

   

Tue

Compline

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Resurrection

16

17

David

   

Mon

Matins

to pray against your enemies

17

18

David

   

Mon

Matins

when you've been delivered from enemies

18

19

David

   

Mon

Prime

to thank Him for the vintage; when you marvel at creation

19

20

David

   

Mon

Matins

to comfort and pray with others in distress

20

21

David

   

Mon

Matins

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Second Coming and Christ as Judge

21

22

David

   

Fri

Prime

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Holy Cross

22

23

David

   

Thu

Prime

when you are fed and guided by the Lord

23

24

David

   

Mon

Prime

when you marvel at creation; to give thanks on a Sunday; to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Ascension

24

25

David

   

Tue

Prime

when enemies surround you

25

26

David

 

v. 6-12  Mass: Lavabo

Wed

Prime

to pray that God judges according to right

26

27

David

   

Mon

Terce

when evil seems to have no end, and your foes press harder and scorn you

27

28

David

   

Mon

Terce

to rely on God instead of your own weakness or the brazenness of enemies' attacks

28

29

David

   

Mon

Lauds

when you want the right way of approach to God in thankfulness, with spiritual understanding

29

30

David

   

Mon

Matins

when you dedicate your body and soul

30

31

David

   

Mon

Sext

when you find yourself hated and persecuted by all your friends and kinsfolk because of your faith in Christ

31

32

David

 

Penitential

Mon

None

to declare someone blessed; in thanskgiving when you see people baptized and ransomed from this evil world

32

33

David

   

Mon

None

when you want to sing together with "good and upright men"

33

34

David

   

Wed

Compline

when you have fallen among enemies but have escaped by wise refusal of their evil counsel

34

35

David

   

Tue

Matins

to pray that God judges according to right

35

36

David

   

Thu

Lauds

when you see how zealous are the lawless in their evil-doing

36

37

David

   

Tue

Matins

to warn victims of evil and remind yourself that the wicked will be brought to nought

37

38

David

 

Penitential

Tue

Matins

when you feel beneath the cloud of His displeasure

38

39

David

   

Tue

Matins

to bestir yourself against the enemy

39

40

David

   

Tue

Terce

to learn the value of endurance when attacked

40

41

David

   

Tue

Sext

to declare someone blessed; to incite others to works of mercy

B
O
O
K

II

41

42

Sons of Korah

   

Tue

Sext

to ease your pain with hope in God

42

43

David

 

Mass: "Judica Me"

Tue

Lauds

to pray that God judges according to right

43

44

Sons of Korah

   

Tue

None

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are

44

45

Sons of Korah

   

Wed

Matins

to sing especially about the Savior, particularly His divine begetting from the Father and His Coming in the Flesh

45

46

Sons of Korah

   

Wed

Matins

to supply your need when after deliverance from afflictions you flee to God, and want to give Him thanks and tell of all His loving mercy

46

47

Sons of Korah

   

Mon

Lauds

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Ascension

47

48

Sons of Korah

   

Wed

Matins

 

48

49

Sons of Korah

   

Wed

Matins

 

49

50

Asaph

    

Wed

Matins

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Second Coming and Christ as Judge

50

51

David

 

Penitential. Mass: Aspérges.

Wed

Matins

to stir one's conscience; to repent and beg forgiveness

51

52

David

   

Wed

Prime

when you've been slandered, and the slanderer boasts

52

53

David

   

Wed

Prime

when someone blasphemes the providence of God

53

54

David

   

Wed

Terce

in times of persecution; when you've been slandered

54

55

David

   

Wed

Terce

when not only your enemies cast you in the teeth but those also whom you thought to be your friends reproach and slander you and hurt you sorely for a time

55

56

David

   

Wed

Sext

in times of persecution; when you've been slandered

56

57

David

   

Wed

Sext

in times of persecution; when one who persecutes you enters, knowingly or not, into the cave in which you hide

57

58

David

   

Wed

Sext

against hypocrites and those who glory in appearance

58

59

David

   

Wed

None

when you escape a plotter's plan

59

60

David

   

Wed

None

 

60

61

David

   

Wed

Compline

 

61

62

David

   

Thu

Matins

against those whose enmity is such that they would even take away your life

62

63

David

   

Sun

Lauds

should persecution drive you to the desert

63

64

David

   

Sat

Lauds

 

64

65

David

   

Wed

Lauds

whenever you desire to sing praise to God

65

66

?

   

Thu

Matins

when you want to teach any one about the Resurrection

66

67

David

   

Tue

Lauds

when asking mercy from the Lord

67

68

David

   

Thu

Matins

 

68

69

David

   

Thu

Matins

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Holy Cross

69

70

David

   

Thu

Compline

 

70

71

David

   

Thu

Compline

when you have occasion to testify concerning God

71

72

Solomon

   

Thu

Prime

to sing especially of the Savior, particularly His Second Coming and Christ as Judge

B
O
O
K

III

72

73

Asaph

   

Thu

Terce

when you see wicked men enjoying prosperity and peace and good men in sore trouble

73

74

Asaph

   

Thu

Sext

when God is angry with His people

74

75

Asaph

   

Thu

None

to thank God for ending your affliction; when you have occasion to testify concerning God

75

76

Asaph

   

Thu

None

when you need an answer for the heathen and the heretics, showing that the knowledge of God is not with them at all, but only in the Church

76

77

Asaph

   

Fri

Compline

 

77

78

Asaph

   

Fri

Matins

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are

78

79

Asaph

   

Fri

Matins

when they have profaned the house of God and slain the saints

79

80

Asaph

   

Fri

Terce

 

80

81

Asaph

   

Fri

Matins

when you want to sing on a festival, together with other servants of the Lord

81

82

Asaph

   

Fri

Terce

 

82

83

Asaph

   

Fri

Matins

when the enemy muster around you

83

84

Sons of Korah

   

Fri

Sext

when you behold the House of God and His eternal dwelling, and have a longing for them

84

85

Sons of Korah

   

Fri

Lauds

when the anger of the enemy is abated and you are free to voice your thanksgiving

85

86

David

   

Fri

Compline

to pray against your enemies

86

87

Sons of Korah

   

Fri

Sext

to see the difference between the Church and schism and to confound schismatics

87

88

Heman
the Ezrahite, Sons of Korah

   

Sat

Compline

to pray against your enemies

88

89

Ethan

   

Fri

None

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are

B
O
O
K

IV

89

90

Moses

   

Thu

Lauds

to learn how Moses prayed

90

91

David

   

Sun

Compline

to encourage yourself and others in the fear of God and to show how fearless is the soul that hopes in Him

91

92

?

   

Sat

Lauds

when you have occasion to testify concerning God

92

93

David

    

Sun

Lauds

to praise God on a Friday; to sing of the benefits deriving to us from the Saviour's Passion

93

94

David

   

Sat

Prime

to sing on a Wednesday, because it is a memorial of the beginning of the betrayal that began His Passion

94

95

David

   

Invitatorium (Matins)

when you want to sing on a festival, together with other servants of the Lord; to give thanks on a Monday

95

96

David

   

Tue

Lauds

when God's House has been captured and destroyed and then re-built; to sing to God; to sing of the benefits deriving to us from the Saviour's Passion

96

97

David

   

Wed

Lauds

when the land has rest from war and peace returns

97

98

David

   

Thu

Lauds

to sing to God; to sing of the benefits deriving to us from the Saviour's Passion

98

99

David

   

Fri

Lauds

to sing of the benefits deriving to us from the Saviour's Passion

99

100

?

   

Sun

Lauds

when you see the providence and power of God in all things and want to instruct others in His faith

100

101

David

   

Wed

Lauds

when experienced His power in judgement (for always His justice is tempered by His mercy

101

102

?

 

Penitential

Sat

Terce

when you are downcast and poor and need consolation

102

103

David

   

Sat

Compline

to lift your heart in thankful praise

103

104

David

   

Sat

Sext

to lift your heart in thankful praise

104

105

?

   

Sat

Matins

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are; when you have occasion to testify concerning God; to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

105

106

?

   

Sat

Matins

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are; when you have occasion to testify concerning God

B
O
O
K

V

106

107

?

   

Sat

Matins

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are; when you have occasion to testify concerning God; to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

107

108

David

   

Sat

Prime

when you have occasion to testify concerning God

108

109

David

   

Sat

None

to sing especially about the Savior, particularly His betrayal by Judas and the malice of the Jews

109

110

David

   

Sun

Vespers

to sing especially about the Savior, particularly His divine begetting from the Father and His Coming in the Flesh

110

111

?

   

Sun

Vespers

when you have occasion to testify concerning God; to praise God

111

112

?

   

Sun

Vespers

to declare someone blessed; to praise God

112

113

?

H
A
L
L
E
L

 

Sun

Vespers

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it; to praise God

113

114 & 115

?

 

Sun

Vespers

to reflect how good God is and how ungrateful men are; to praise God

114

116:1-9

?

 

Mon

Vespers

to thank God for ending your affliction; when the anger of the enemy is abated and you are free to voice your thanksgiving; to praise God

115

116:10-19

?

 

Mon

Vespers

to thank God for ending your affliction; when the anger of the enemy is abated and you are free to voice your thanksgiving; to praise God

116

117

?

 

Mon

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

117

118

?

 

Sun

Prime

to praise God

118

119

?

Great
Alphabet

 

Sun

Prime, Terce, Sext, None

to declare someone blessed

119

120

?

G
R
A
D
U
A
L

 

Mon

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

120

121

?

 

Mon

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

121

122

?

 

Mon

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

122

123

?

 

Tue

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

123

124

?

 

Tue

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

124

125

?

 

Tue

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

125

126

?

 

Tue

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind; when you have occasion to testify concerning God

126

127

Solomon

 

Tue

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind; when you dedicate your body and soul

127

128

?

 

Wed

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind; to declare someone blessed

128

129

?

 

Wed

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

129

130

?

Penitential

Wed

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

130

131

David

 

Wed

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

131

132

?

 

Wed

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

132

133

David

 

Thu

Vespers

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

133

134

?

 

Sun

Compline

when pressing forward, forgetting the things you've left behind

134

135

?

   

Tue

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

135

136

?

Great
Hallel

 

Thu

Vespers

when you have occasion to testify concerning God; to praise God

136

137

David

   

Thu

Vespers

when you've been led astray be others' arguments

137

138

David

   

Thu

Vespers

when you have occasion to testify concerning God

138

139

David

   

Fri

Vespers

to thank God for help in passing the test of temptations

139

140

David

   

Fri

Vespers

to pray against your enemies

140

141

David

   

Fri

Vespers

to be free of the enemy; for prayer and supplication

141

142

David

   

Fri

Vespers

in times of persecution; for prayer and supplication

142

143

David

 

Penitential

Fri

Lauds

when one who persecutes you enters, knowingly or not, into the cave in which you hide; for prayer and supplication

143

144

David

   

Sat

Vespers

when up against a Goliath

144

145

?

   

Sat

Vespers

 

145

146

Aggeus
& Zacharias

   

Wed

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it; for prayer and supplication

146

147:1-11

?

   

Thu

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

147

147:12-20

?

   

Fri

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

148

148

?

   

Sun

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

149

149

?

   

Sat

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it

150

150

?

   

Sat

Lauds

to learn the reasons to praise God and how to do it; when chosen for a position of authority

 
1 According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a Decree of the Biblical Commission of 1 May, 1910 "affirms that aside from those Psalms explicitly attributed to David elsewhere in the Bible, the authorship [of unattributed Psalms] by David cannot be magisterially affirmed or denied." Note that the old Biblical Commission was considered magisterial; the present Commission is not, as is admitted to by Cardinal Ratzinger, who clearly states in a preface to the 1994 document "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" that the "Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its new form after the Second Vatican Council, is not an organ of the teaching office..."

Back to Being Catholic
Index

Quantcast