As a daily parish community, we pray all 150 psalms each month. Ritual Notes, the inspiration of this website, reminds us that the psalms are “the very core of divine office (and) should never be curtailed in number.” The monastic office would pray all 150 psalms each week and we read of some desert fathers reading all 150 psalms each day. With that in mind, 150 per month are a generous concession. Yet the women and men who pray with me are not nuns or monks. They are teachers, business owners, medical professionals, and those we call homeless.
Praying the psalms is a microcosm of the Christian life in community and is, therefore, the most difficult part of the office. The psalms are often long (especially Psalm 78 on the 15th of every month). Some of the psalms are hard to say (see Psalm 137). Sometimes not everyone is (literally) on the same page. Someone usually wants to speed things up and says the verses faster and someone usually wants to slow things down. There is usually a person or persons who say the psalms with volume and dominate with their voices and there is a person or persons who are so quiet as they are silent. There are those times when a person will forget the asterisk and speak through the pause. I’m always amused when, more times than not, the person will cough as if to cover the mistake. Sometimes a person is hard of hearing and is a step or two ahead of the rest or a step or two behind, or both during the recitation of the same psalm. And sometimes there are folks who clearly don’t want to be there or there are folks who have absolutely no idea what is going on. This is Christian community.
All of the above are metaphors to living in community and they are all realities for a parish priest, not to manage, but to pray through. I have learned that the best thing for me, as the officiant, to is to focus on my own voice and my own prayer. If I start focusing on the volume or the speed or the engagement, I will lose my place, speak over the words, and stop praying. No one is intentionally trying to sabotage the office and no one wants to make it harder for others to pray. Quite the contrary, they are trying to cling to the words of the office themselves and they need this for the stability of their day and sanity in the chaos. My job – our job – is to focus on our prayers so we can help others say theirs.
O Lord, open thou our lips.