Posts filed under: liturgy of the hours

Father, I have a question about the psalms. I've heard they're considered prayers par excellance for the whole Church, but how is it still valid to pray for certain things, like bloody vengeance? Eg, there's a line about hoping an oppressor's children are "dashed against the rocks." Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness and mercy; how is this reconciled? Are we allowed to pray for the death of enemies? But we're not supposed to rejoice when even evildoers (even terrorists) die... I'm confused! - Anonymous

Good question! Here’s my take on how to interpret them in this case. No, we’re never allowed to pray for the deaths of our enemies. In fact, the very polar opposite: Matthew 5:44!

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Hello father! Today as I was praying morning prayer, part of Psalm 5 (verses 5-6) confused me a bit. It says "You hate all who do evil: you destroy all who lie. The deceitful and bloodthirsty man the Lord detests." How is this so? The Lord loves all His people, correct? I've noticed a lot of themes like this is the Psalms, and I'm sure I'm missing the meaning behind it, because I know the bible is certainly not self-contradictory. Thank you so much, you are such a light in this world! - whydoikeepcounting

Yes, the Psalms are complicated! The whole Old Testament is sometimes, but it helps to keep in mind something the Catechism says:

"The economy of the Old Testament was deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men." "Even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional," the books of the Old Testament bear witness to the whole divine pedagogy of God’s saving love: these writings "are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way." (#122)

(You may also get a lot out of #2585-2589 on how the Psalms are a form of prayer.)

Essentially in this case it’s the imperfect understanding that the psalmist has of God that is shining through. It’s reinforced in an odd way in psalms in which we read the psalmist’s bewilderment that wicked men are prospering. Only in Christ’s teaching would the Chosen People finally find the full key to understanding this: That full justice isn’t carried out in this life, and that this life is what God uses to draw us closer to himself and to invite us to repentance.

So yes, the Lord loves all his people. And yet, at the same time, at the Final Judgment he will have to condemn those who have freely chosen to follow paths of destruction rather than the paths of righteousness he offered to them. God hates the sin and loves the sinner, but sin when freely chosen leads the sinner to true destruction. So it’s a case of the psalmist just not having the whole story in front of him.

Personally when I’m praying the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours, it helps me a lot to read things in a spiritual light. The psalmist’s “enemies” are, for us, not the people we share this life with, but the true enemies of our soul: the devil, sin, etc. The psalmist’s agony in times of distress or joy in moments of triumph may not be what I’m experiencing right now, but undoubtedly many Christians are, and I’m praying for the whole Church when I pray her liturgy. The psalmist’s praise of the king is my praise of my King.

There is a very rich tradition of interpretation of the Psalms in the light of the Gospel, as well as a number of books dedicated to helping us pray the Psalms better.

And thank you… you too are a light in this world! God bless you.

- Father Shane

Hi Father, I am a lay catechist who helps run a team of lay catechists at my parish who are in charge of Confirmation Prep Classes on Monday evenings. Before classes, we pray Vespers. I was wondering if it was alright for us to have mini-sermons/reflections concerning the Readings in Vespers given by the lay members of our group (men and women) or is that a prerogative of clergy only? - Anonymous

Good question! I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only ever seen preaching done by priests and bishops during Vespers.

The General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours says this:

47. In a celebration with a congregation a short homily may follow the reading to explain its meaning, as circumstances suggest.

I was expecting to see “reflection” or “sermon,” but it’s the word “homily”… So I believe that triggers this, from the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 767 §1 The most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy, and is reserved to a priest or deacon. In the course of the liturgical year, the mysteries of faith and the rules of christian living are to be expounded in the homily from the sacred text.

Since that number comes from the section on the Church’s ministry of the Word (preaching, evangelization) in general and not from the section on the celebration of Mass, I assume that it’s meant to apply broadly.

On the other hand, a communal celebration of Vespers is normally led by a priest or deacon, but in their absence can also be led by a layperson. So I’m not sure if the word “homily” automatically excludes that, in the event of a layperson leading the celebration, there be preaching.

For what it’s worth, Redemptionis Sacramentum has this:

161. The homily on account of its importance and its nature is reserved to the Priest or Deacon during Mass. As regards other forms of preaching, if necessity demands it in particular circumstances, or if usefulness suggests it in special cases, lay members of Christ’s faithful may be allowed to preach in a church or in an oratory outside Mass in accordance with the norm of law. This may be done only on account of a scarcity of sacred ministers in certain places, in order to meet the need, and it may not be transformed from an exceptional measure into an ordinary practice, nor may it be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of the laity. All must remember besides that the faculty for giving such permission belongs to the local Ordinary, and this as regards individual instances; this permission is not the competence of anyone else, even if they are Priests or Deacons.

So I’m really not sure, but I’m guessing that the texts should incline us to, on the safe side, have talks by laypersons given before or after the liturgical celebration rather than during.

By the way, I’m really impressed… praying Vespers with the kids is a really excellent idea. Definitely anything that you can do to help them understand the depth of what they’re praying is going to be necessary, obviously… otherwise the Word of God can become just words that flow right past us.

If you really want a definitive answer, try the real expert: Zenit’s Fr Edward McNamara.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

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