On Reading the Psalms

Praying the Psalms

Reflecting on thousands of years of Jewish and Christian practice, Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to the book of Psalms as “the prayer book of the Bible.”  The Psalms, as both the Word of God to us as well as the prayers of man to God, encompass a breadth of prayer that extends beyond what we could individually express.  “If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  But God wants it otherwise.  The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”  And so, the Church has received and developed various methods and approaches to praying the Psalms on a regular basis.  Below I will share several orders by which different people and groups have gone about this discipline of prayer, including a few of my own.

Numbering the Psalms

            All sources agree that there are 150 Psalms, but two major manuscript traditions exist as to how they are divided: the Hebrew tradition and the Greek tradition.  The Hebrew tradition comes from the Masoretic Text, a book containing the Old Testament dating to roughly 1000AD.  The Greek tradition comes from the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into Greek made roughly 200 years before Christ, and the surviving manuscripts of which date to roughly 200AD.  The New Testament never cites Psalms by their number when quoting them, so we do not know for certain how people in Jesus’ day numbered them, but we do know that from early on the Greek tradition’s Psalm numbering was the one used in the Church.  This did not change until the Bible was translated into English by 16th century Reformers, at which point the Hebrew (Masoretic Text) numbering was used for the Psalms instead.  Virtually all Protestant traditions followed suit thereafter.  The Roman Catholic Church continued using the Greek numbering until the late 1900’s, leaving only the Eastern Church using the Greek numbering.  Following standard contemporary Western practice, therefore, the following Psalm reading charts use the Hebrew numbering.  But for reading older Christian writings, the following table shows the conversion from the Hebrew numbers to the Greek:

Hebrew
(Masoretic)
numbering

Greek
(Septuagint
or Vulgate)
numbering

1–8

1–8

9–10

9

11–113

10–112

114–115

113

116

114–115

117–146

116–145

147

146–147

148–150

148–150


 

All the Psalms in a week:
according to the Rule of St. Benedict as best I can tell

Lauds
(2am)

Prime

(sunup)

Tierce

(9am)

Sext
(11am)

None
(2pm)

Evensong
(6pm)

Compline
(sundown)

Nocturn

/ Matins
(1am)

Sun.

67, 51, 118, 63

119

(1-32)

119 (33-56)

119 (57-80)

119 (81-104)

110, 111, 112, 113

4, 91, 134

3, 95,21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32

Mon.

67, 51, 5, 36

1, 2, 3

119 (105-128)

119 (129-152)

119 (153-176)

114, 115, 116, 117

4, 91, 134

3, 95,33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46

Tues.

67, 51, 43, 57

4, 5, 6

120, 121, 122

123, 124, 125

126, 127, 128

129, 130, 131, 132

4, 91, 134

3, 95,47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 60

Wed.

67, 51, 64, 65

7, 8, 9, 10

120, 121, 122

123, 124, 125

126, 127, 128

133, 135, 136, 137

4, 91, 134

3, 95,61, 62, 63, 66, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73

Thur.

67, 51, 88, 90

11, 12, 13

120, 121, 122

123, 124, 125

126, 127, 128

138, 139, 140, 141

4, 91, 134

3, 95,74, 75, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85

Fri.

67, 51, 76, 92

14, 15, 16

120, 121, 122

123, 124, 125

126, 127, 128

142, 144, 145

4, 91, 134

3, 95,86, 87, 90, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101

Sat.

67, 51, 143, D

17, 18, 19, 20

120, 121, 122

123, 124, 125

126, 127, 128

146, 147

4, 91, 134

3, 95,102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109, 148, 149, 150

‘119 (1-32)’ indicates that verses 1 through 32 of Psalm 119 are to be read (and so on).

‘D’ is short for Deuteronomy 32:1-43, known as the Canticle of Moses.


 All the Psalms in a week (for the Daily Office):
organized by genre & content by Matthew Brench

Morning

Evening

Night

Sun.

15, 46, 48, 50, 76, 81, 84, 87, 122, 134, 47

26, 63, 24, 93, 96, 97, 98, 99, 41, 65, 107

42, 43, 45, 72, 132, 115

Mon.

119(4), 1, 73, 127, 128, 150, 30, 67, 124

53, 55, 56, 58, 59, 71, 83, 109

5, 123, 140, 21, 110, 144, 125

Tues.

119(4), 8, 104, 148, 68

22, 69, 78

36, 54, 86, 18, 21, 11, 129

Wed.

119(4), 33, 103, 105

3, 12, 17, 28, 77, 90, 106, 142

6, 61, 80, 88, 16, 23, 62, 131

Thur.

119(4), 145, 146, 147, 118

26, 60, 85, 120, 126, 137, 10, 34, 66, 92

4, 57, 70, 141, 2, 20, 101, 91

Fri.

119(4), 100, 111, 114, 136, 149, 9, 75

37, 13, 14, 25, 40, 89, 137

52, 64, 94, 139, 82, 121

Sat.

119(3), 29, 95, 108, 113, 117, 135, 116, 133, 138

32, 7, 38, 39, 51, 79, 102, 130, 143

31, 35, 44, 74

For a twice-a-day variant, simply add the Night Psalms to the Evening Psalms.

‘119(4)’ indicates that four 8-verse sections of Psalm 119 are to be read.

All the Psalms in a week (more monastic style):
organized by genre & content by Matthew Brench

Morning (6am)

Mid-Morning (9am)

Noon (12pm)

Evening (4pm)

Compline (8pm)

Nocturne (12am)

Sun.

95, 46, 48, 50, 76, 84, 87, 122

24, 98, 99

96, 97

27, 40, 42, 43, 63, 107

18

55, 56, 115

Mon.

8, 29, 104, 148, 74, 34

93, 127, 128

47, 112

22, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32

142, 20, 21, 45

3, 79, 80, 11, 16

Tues.

108, 134, 135, 150, 58, 60, 68

1, 49

73

17, 78, 92

2, 132, 144

64, 83, 85, 23, 82

Wed.

33, 103, 105, 65, 67

19, 119(1)

119(3)

52, 86, 88, 106, 41

141, 72, 101, 110

44, 53, 57, 62

Thur.

136, 145, 146, 147, 75

119(3)

119(3)

69, 70, 71, 77, 9

4, 5, 6, 7

12, 13, 14, 90, 91

Fri.

15, 100, 111, 149, 89, 66

119(3)

119(3)

38, 51, 102, 143, 10

35, 36, 39

31, 59, 121, 125

Sat.

81, 113, 114, 116, 117, 94, 123, 124, 133, 138

119(3)

119(3)

109, 120, 130, 137, 139, 118

37

54, 61, 126, 140, 129, 131

‘119(2)’ indicates that two 8-verse sections of Psalm 119 are to be read.

All of the Psalms in 4 weeks:
organized by genre & content by Matthew Brench

Morning

Evening

Night

Sunday

Week 1

15, 46, 48, 47

63, 24, 65

115

Week 2

76, 134, 97, 98

27, 93, 41

72

Week 3

81, 84, 87

42, 99, 107:1-22

132

Week 4

50, 122

43, 96, 107:23-43

45

Monday

Week 1

119:Aleph, 1, 67

55, 56

18:1-19

Week 2

119:Zayin, 73

53, 109

140, 125

Week 3

119:Mem, 127, 68:1-18

59, 83

123, 144

Week 4

119:Qoph, 128, 150

58, 71

5, 110

Tuesday

Week 1

119:Beth, 104

22

18:20-50

Week 2

119:Heth, 148, 124

69

54, 21

Week 3

119:Nun, 8, 68:19-35

78:1-39

36, 129

Week 4

119:Resh, 108

77, 106:1-18

86, 11

Wed.

Week 1

119:Gimel, 33

12, 17, 28

6, 16

Week 2

119:Teth, 103

3, 90, 142

88, 23

Week 3

119:Samekh, 135

78:40-72

61, 62

Week 4

119:Shin, 105

106:19-48

80, 131

Thurs.

Week 1

119:Daleth, 145

89:1-18, 92

4, 2

Week 2

119:Yodh, 146, 118:1-16

85, 34

57, 101

Week 3

119:Ayin, 147

60, 120, 10

70, 91

Week 4

119:Tau, 136

26, 126, 66

141, 20

Friday

Week 1

119:He, 111, 75

89:19-52

64, 121

Week 2

119:Kaph, 114, 118:17-27

13, 14, 25

94

Week 3

119:Pe, 149, 30

40, 137

52, 82

Week 4

19, 100, 9

37

139

Saturday

Week 1

119:Waw, 29, 138

7, 51

31

Week 2

119:Lamedh, 95, 133

102, 130

35

Week 3

119:Tsadhe, 113, 116

38, 39

44

Week 4

49, 112, 117

32, 79, 143

74

For a twice-a-day variant, simply add the Night Psalms to the Evening Psalms.

 Most of the Psalms in 4 weeks:
according to the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours

Morning

Evening

Night

Sunday

Week 1

63, 149

110, 114

91

Week 2

118, 150

110, 115

Week 3

93, 148

110, 111

Week 4

118, 150

110, 112

Monday

Week 1

5, 29

11, 15

86

Week 2

42, 19A

45

Week 3

84, 96

123, 124

Week 4

90, 135:1-12

136

Tuesday

Week 1

24, 33

20, 21

143:1-11

Week 2

43, 65

49

Week 3

85, 67

125, 131

Week 4

101, 144:1-10

137, 138

Wed.

Week 1

36, 47

27

31:1-6, 130

Week 2

77, 97

62, 67

Week 3

86, 98

126, 127

Week 4

108, 146

139

Thurs.

Week 1

57, 48

30, 32

16

Week 2

80, 81

72

Week 3

87, 99

132

Week 4

143:1-11, 147:1-11

144

Friday

Week 1

51, 100

41, 46

88

Week 2

51, 147:12-20

116:1-9, 121

Week 3

51, 100

135

Week 4

51, 147:12-20

145

Saturday

Week 1

119:Koph, 117

119:Nun, 16

4, 131

Week 2

92, 8

113, 116:10-19

Week 3

119:Koph, 117

122, 130

Week 4

92, 8

141, 142

Psalm 95 (or occasionally instead 100, 67, or 24) is read at the beginning of every Morning Office

 All the Psalms in a month:
organized sequentially according to Anglican tradition

Morning

Evening

1

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

6, 7, 8

2

9, 10, 11

12, 13, 14

3

15, 16, 17

18

4

19, 20, 21

22, 23

5

24, 25, 26

27, 28, 29

6

30, 31

32, 33, 34

7

35, 36

37

8

38, 39, 40

41, 42, 43

9

44, 45, 46

47, 48, 49

10

50, 51, 52

53, 54, 55

11

56, 57, 58

59, 60, 61

12

62, 63, 64

65, 66, 67

13

68

69, 70

14

71, 72

73, 74

15

75, 76, 77

78

16

79, 80, 81

82, 83, 84, 85

17

86, 87, 88

89

18

90, 91, 92

93, 94

19

95, 96, 97

98, 99, 100, 101

20

102, 103

104

21

105

106

22

107

108, 109

23

110, 111, 112, 113

114, 115

24

116, 117, 118

119:1-32

25

119:33-72

119:73-104

26

119:105-144

119:145-176

27

120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125

126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131

28

132, 133, 134, 135

136, 137, 138

29

139, 140

141, 142, 143

30

144, 145, 146

147, 148, 149, 150

On months with a 31st day, the 30th day is repeated.

Psalm 95 is read at the beginning of every Morning Office, except on the 19th day, when it is substituted for 100.

 Other Canticles beyond the Book of Psalms:
prayer-songs from the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament

Canticle of Moses – Hymn of victory after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-4a,8-13,17-18)

Canticle of Deuteronomy – God’s kindness to his people (Deuteronomy 32:1-12)

Canticle of Anna – The humble find joy in God (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

Glory and honor are due to God alone (1 Chronicles 29:10-13)

Canticle of Penitence – The prayer of King Manasseh (Prayer of Manasseh)

God afflicts but only to heal (Tobit 13:1-8)

Thanksgiving for the people’s deliverance (Tobit 13:8-11, 13-15)

Canticle of Judith – God who created the world takes care of his people (Judith 16:2-3a, 13-15)

Lord, give me wisdom (Wisdom 9:1-6,9-11)

Prayer of entreaty for the holy city, Jerusalem (Sirach 36:1-5, 10-13)

The mountain of the Lord’s dwelling towers above every mountain (Isaiah 2:2-5)

First Song of Isaiah – Joy of God’s ransomed people (Isaiah 12:1-6)

Prayer of Isaiah – Hymn after the defeat of the enemy (Isaiah 26:1-4,7-9,12)

God’s flawless judgment (Isaiah 33:13-16)

Canticle of Hezekiah – Anguish of a dying man and joy in his restoration (Isaiah 38:10-14,17-20)

Canticle of the Good Shepherd – God most high and most wise (Isaiah 40:10-17)

God victor and savior (Isaiah 42:10-16)

People of all nations will become disciples of the Lord (Isaiah 45:15-25)

Canticle of Compassion – The word of God will accomplish the will of God (Isaiah 55:6-11)

Canticle of Glory – The prosperity of the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:1-3,11a,14c,18-19)

The prophet’s joy in the vision of a new Jerusalem (Isaiah. 61:10-62:5)

Joys of heaven (Isaiah. 66:10-14a)

The happiness of a people who have been redeemed (Jeremiah 31:10-14)

The lament of the people in war and famine (Jeremiah 14:17-21)

The Lord will renew his people (Ezkekiel 36:24-38)

Canticle of Azariah – Azariah’s prayer in the furnace (Daniel 3:26,27,29,34-41)

Canticle of the Three Young Men – Let all creatures praise the Lord (Daniel 3:52-88)

Canticle of Habakkuk – God comes to judge (Habakkuk 3:2-4,13a,15-19)

Canticle of Mary – The soul rejoices in the Lord (Luke 1:46-55)

Canticle of Zechariah – The Messiah and his forerunner (Luke 1:68-79)

Canticle of Simeon – Christ is the light of the nations and the glory of Israel (Luke 2:29-32)

Pascha Nostrum – Christ our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7-8, Romans 6:9-11, I Corinthians 15:20-22)

God our Savior (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Canticle of Humility – Christ, God’s holy servant (Philippians 2:6-11)

Canticle of Supremacy – Christ the first-born of all creation and the first-born from the dead (Colossians 1:12-20)

The willing acceptance of his passion by Christ, the servant of God (1 Peter 2:21-24)

Canticle to the Lamb – Redemption hymn (Revelation 4:11,5:9,10,12)

The judgment of God (Revelation 11:17-18,12:10b-12a)

Canticle of the Redeemed – Hymn of adoration (Revelation 15:3-4)

The wedding of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-7)

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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5 Responses to On Reading the Psalms

  1. Bill Barto says:

    Thanks for this great and useful post, Matthew. I have been teaching on Anglican spirituality in our parish over the last few weeks, and just spent the last two weeks discussing the Psalms in the Daily Office and praying the Psalms. I closed my presentation yesterday with the quote from Bonhoeffer that you used! I have been amazed at how unfamiliar contemporary Anglicans (at least of the evangelical variety) are with the Psalms and yet how hungry they are to learn how to incorporate them into their daily devotions. With your permission I would like to distribute your post to my learners next week. If you’re at all interested in our adult education effort, there are podcasts at http://truroanglican.com/pages/page.asp?page_id=89419.

    • Hi Bill, I’d be delighted! Feel free to point people to this article, print it out, or whatever makes sense. If you like, I can also email you an easier to read color-coded chart for my 4-week psalm-reading plan, explaining more precisely why it’s organized the way it is.
      Chances are you have, or will soon, read “English Spirituality” by Martin Thornton. If you intend to draw upon that resource this summer, you may also be interested in another article I wrote, summarizing one of Thornton’s major arguments: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/three-fold-rule-of-christian-worship-2/
      Thanks for the link to your adult ed podcast; it’s a wonderful thing when disparate parishes can support each other in these unexpected ways!

  2. UPDATE: I’ve replaced the “All the Psalms in a week (more monastic style)” order that I made with a new one. It had a couple errors and after trying it out for a week and a bit, I found that it was somewhat unbalanced. So I’ve replaced it with a re-done version in the original post, and will explain it next week in a new post!

  3. Pingback: Brench’s Weekly Psalter explained | Leorningcnihtes boc

  4. Pingback: Three Tips on Spiritual Health | Leorningcnihtes boc

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