The same psalms – 4, 91, and 134 – are said each day at Compline.
The remaining psalms not accounted for in this arrangement for the day hours are distributed evenly at Vigils over the seven nights of the week. Longer psalms are to be divided so that twelve psalms are said each night.
Above all else we urge that if people find this distribution of the psalms unsatisfactory, they should arrange whatever they judge better, provided that the full complement of one hundred and fifty psalms is by all means carefully maintained every week, and that the series begins anew each Sunday at Vigils. For members who in a week’s time say less than the full psalter with the customary canticles betray extreme indolence and lack of devotion in their service. We read, after all, that our holy ancestors, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week.
The psalms are special in that they simultaneously grow us in the life of God whilst also placing us in the midst of a written account of the human struggle to know God. This can give a prayer life inclusive of the psalms, at its best, a grounding in our earthly and human reality. The psalms can then be an antidote to the ego’s tendency to see things in unrealistic and perfect ways.
When a meditation practice is placed at the centre of a prayer life inclusive of the psalms, each supports the other on their mutual and contemplative paths. In self-forgetfulness and deepening silence these paths are the same.
In our comments on chapter 17 it was suggested that Benedict’s full complement of psalms for the week is an unrealistic goal for those of us ‘outside the cloister’. Does this mean that we are, by implication, extremely indolent and lacking in devotion?
Here, again, we remember that the spirit of the Rule is about compassion and the maintenance of commitment within circumstance; it is about the inclusion of all, regardless of where we are at on the journey, regardless of temperament and personality. The Rule is not a rulebook used to measure success and failure. It points to a fullness to be lived in the midst of human life while asking that we not limit what grace can do as we grow, ever gently, into this fullness.
The Rule and the psalms ask us to be realistic about our circumstances whilst, at the same time, asking that we not give up on the possibilities they promise. Life is about including possibility while also being realistic and creative with our growth into the possible within circumstance. This is what it is to be human and faithful. If we are doing this then we do not lack devotion.
What is important is that the Benedictine and Christian community hold the psalms in our hearts. If psalms during prayer do not number 150 per week, then it is good that the psalms that are used across the week represent the full life of the psalms. How many psalms are necessary each week for them to engage the psyche and spirit of a meditating community?
Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the shade of the Almighty say to the Lord: “My refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust”. (Ps. 90(91): 1-2, Grail).