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

ding 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.