The Monastic Distribution of the Psalms
On the Monastic Cursus
One may ask why St. Benedict ordered the hours for monks in a way that differs from the custom of the Church, and why the eminent pope Gregory approved this order with his authority. In my opinion, what is intended in this most wise distribution of the Psalms made by that man “full of the spirit of all the saints,” is that the contemplative life should be distinguished from the active life by office just as by habit, and by this privilege the observance of monastic discipline is to be commended. So St. Gregory, endowed with all wisdom, seeing that that “man full of God” had ordered all these things by this principle, duly confirmed them by his own authority. Though he altered the psalms, he ordered the office with the same meaning in mind. For because we work for six days in this life, just as mankind has worked for six ages in the vineyard, and just as we rest on the Lord’s day, so in the seventh age we will receive the denarius of eternal life. For this reason he is thought to have instituted the psalms of Prime for the six days of the week which tell of the just men], who worked in the Lord’s vineyard throughout six ages of the world, as if for various hours of the day (Matthew 20).
CAP. LXV. – De cursu monachorum.
Quaeritur cur sanctus Benedictus aliter monachis horas ordinaverit quam mos Ecclesiae habuerit, vel cur praecipuus apostolicorum Gregorius hoc sua auctoritate probaverit. Sed sciendum est hoc sapientissima dispositione provisum, ut puto, a viro pleno spiritu omnium iustorum, scilicet ut contemplativa vita, sicut habitu, ita etiam officio ab activa discerneretur, et monasticae disciplinae religio hoc privilegio commendaretur. Unde beatus Gregorius omni sapientia praeditus, perpendens virum Deo plenum cuncta sub praedicta significatione ordinasse, iure legitur ea sua auctoritate roborasse. Licet enim psalmos permutaverit, cuncta tamen sub eadem significatione posuit. Nempe quia sex diebus in hac vita, quasi sex aetatibus in vinea laboratur, ut sicut in Dominica requies, ita in septima aetate denarius vitae recipiatur. Ideo sex diebus psalmos de illis iustis ad primam instituisse consideratur, qui sex aetatibus quasi diversis horis in vinea Domini laborasse memorantur (Matth. XX).
For instance, on the first day he assigned Beatus vir (Psalm 1) along with the others, because it signifies Abel and the other just men who entered the Lord’s vineyard in the first age, as if in the morning.
On the second day, he chose Domine, Deus meus (Psalm 7) to be sung along with the others, because it tells of Noah and the other saints who worked in the Lord’s vineyard in the second age, as if at the third hour of the day.
On the third day, Exsurge, Domine, non confortetur homo (Psalm 9 II) is sung, in which Nimrod, who was the first to introduce idolatry, is understood. He also expresses the Antichrist who is praised above all the false gods. In Domino confido (Psalm 10) is also sung, which portrays Terah, and Salvum me fac (Psalm 11), which portrays Abraham, who toiled in the vineyard in the third age.
He assigned Usquequo, Domine (Psalm 12) along with the rest to Wednesday, for they signify Joseph and the sons of Israel wayfaring in Egypt, who bore the weight of the day and heat in the fourth age, as if at the sixth hour.
He wanted Conserva me, Domine (Psalm 15) and the others to be sung on Thursday, because they express the priests, judges, and kings who in the fifth age, as at the ninth hour, began to work in this vineyard under the Law.
On the sixth day, Cum sancto sanctus eris (Psalm 17) is sung, in which John the Baptist is understood, and Coeli ennarant (Psalm 18), which signifies the apostles, and Exaudiat (Psalm 19), which signifies the martyrs, who in the sixth age, as at the ninth hour, cultivated this vineyard.
On the Hours
The same St. Benedict decided to have some of the fifteen gradual psalms sung at three hours, namely Terce, Sext, and None, because he wanted to teach that we approach the Trinity through the fifteen grades of charity. He wanted Vespers to be celebrated with four psalms, teaching to obtain the denarius through the four Gospels. He gave Compline three psalms because all things reach their consummation in faith, hope, and charity. He is said to have received this order of psalms from St. Ambrose. Moreover, on Sunday he designed the hours based on the psalm that signifies God’s Law, i.e. charity, because in the resurrection God, who is charity, will be the rest and reward to all those who labor in this world, being obedient to his law through charity.
CAP. LXVI. – Prima Dominica.
Prima quippe die Beatus vir (Psal. I) cum reliquis instituit, quia Abel et alios iustos designant, qui prima aetate quasi mane vineam Domini intrabant.
Secunda die Domine, Deus meus (Psal. VII) cum aliis censuit cantari, qui Noe et illos sanctos praeferunt, qui secunda aetate in vinea Domini laboraverunt.
Tertia die Exsurge, Domine, non confortetur homo (Psal. IX) canitur, in quo Nemrod, qui primus idololatriam instituit, intelligitur: per quem Antichristus exprimitur, qui supra omne, quod dicitur Deus, extollitur. Canitur etiam In Domino confido (Psal. X), qui Thare, et Salvum me fac (Psal. XI), qui Abraham demonstrat, quia tertia aetate in hac vinea desudabant.
Quarta die, Usquequo, Domine (Psal. XII), cum reliquis instituit, qui Ioseph et filios Israel in Aegypto peregrinantes insinuat, qui quarta aetate velut sexta hora pondus diei et aestus portabant.
Quinta die Conserva me, Domine (Psal. XV), cum aliis decantari voluit, qui sacerdotes, iudices, reges exprimunt, qui quinta aetate, quasi nona hora, sub lege huius vineae operari instituerunt.
Sexto die, Cum sancto sanctus eris (Psal. XVII), canitur, in quo Ioannes Baptista intelligitur, et Coeli enarrant (Psal. XVIII) , qui apostolos, atque Exaudiat (Psal. XIX) , qui martyres designant, qui sexta aetate quasi hora nona hanc vineam excolebant.
Ad tres horas, scilicet Tertia, Sexta, Nona, psalmos de quindecim gradibus cantari statuit, quia per quidecim gradus charitatis Trinitatem adiri docuit. Vesperas quaternis psalmis celebrari decrevit, quia per quatuor Evangelia denarium adipisci monuit. Completorium tribus psalmis terminari censuit, quia cuncta in fide, spe, charitate compleri voluit. Hunc autem ordinem psalmorum traditur a beato Ambrosio accepisse. Porro in Dominica die de illo psalmo horas instituit, qui legem Dei, scilicet charitatem innuit, quia in resurrectione Deus, qui est charitas, omnibus hic pie in lege per charitatem laborantibus praemium et requies erit. Ad Primam autem quaterna, ad reliquas vero horas novena capitula psalluntur, quia per quatuor virtutes ad novena angelorum agmina hic in Christo laborantes perducuntur.
The Benedictine Office
We find the same in the office of St. Benedict. On Sunday we commemorate the Conception, where we say “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and the King of Glory shall enter in” (Psalm 23); at Vespers: “who maketh a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children” (Psalm 112).
Monday is the baptism, and we say “By the word of the Lord the heavens were established” (Psalm 32), and “the waters of the sea as in a vessel”; at Vespers: “the Jordan was turned back” (Psalm 113).
On Tuesday it is the Nativity, and we say “the Lord of armies is with us” (Psalm 45), and “As we have heard, so have we seen, in the city of the Lord of hosts” (Psalm 46), and “We have received thy mercy, O God” (Psalm 47); at Vespers: “of the fruit of thy womb” (Psalm 131).
On Wednesday is the betrayal: “They have thought to cast away my price” (Psalm 61), and “They that sat in the gate spoke against me” (Psalm 68); at Vespers: “O daughter of Babylon, miserable: blessed shall he be who shall repay thee” (Psalm 136), and “the Lord will repay for me” (Psalm 137).
On Thursday, we recall the eating of his body, as in: “He gave them the bread of heaven” (Psalm 77); at Vespers, as in: “Let my prayer be directed as incense” (Psalm 140).
Friday is his Passion, as in: “O God, the wicked are risen up against me, and they have not set thee before their eyes” (Psalm 85) and “thou hast not assisted him in battle” (Psalm 85); at Vespers, as in: “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, and there was no one that would know me” (Psalm 141).
Saturday is his burial, as in: “The sun knoweth his going down” (Psalm 103); at Vespers, as in: “His spirit shall go forth” (Psalm 145).
Sunday is the day of his resurrection, as in: “To him my soul shall live” (Psalm 21); at Vespers, as in: “A light is risen up” (Psalm 111). The fact that he interposed a Gloria Patri in certain psalms comes from the Hebrews, who put a diapsalma in certain psalms where they perceive a deeper meaning.
CAP. LXVIII. – Dominica.
Eadem in officio sancti Benedicti notantur. In Dominica Conceptio, ut ibi: Tollite portas, principes, et introibit rex gloriae (Psal. XXIII). In Vespera: Habitare facit sterilem in domo matrem filiorum laetantem (Psal. CXII).
In feria secunda baptismus, ut ibi: Verbo Domini coeli firmati (Psal. XXXII), et sicut in utre aquas maris (ibid.). In Vesperis, ut ibi: Iordanis conversus est retrorsum (Psal. CXIII).
In feria tertia Nativitas, ut ibi: Dominus virtutum nobiscum (Psal. XLV) ; et ibi: Sicut audivimus, sic vidimus in civitate Domini (Psal. XLVII). Et iterum Suscepimus, Deus, misericordiam tuam (ibid.). In Vespera, ut ibi: De fructu ventris tui (Psal. CXXXI).
In feria quarta traditio ibi: Pretium meum cogitaverunt repellere (Psal. LXI). Et ibi: Adversum me loquebantur qui sedebant in porta (Psal. LXVIII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Filia Babylonis misera, beatus qui retribuet (Psal. CXXXVI) ; et ibi: Dominus retribuet pro me (Psal. CXXXVII).
In feria quinta, corporis eius comestio, ut ibi: Panem coeli dedit eis (Psal. LXXVII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Dirigatur oratio mea sicut incensum (Psal. CXL).
In feria sexta Passio, ut ibi: Deus iniqui insurrexerunt super me, et non proposuerunt te in conspectu suo (Psal. LXXXV); et ibi Non ei auxiliatus es in bello (Psal. LXXXVIII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Considerabam ad dexteram, et videbam, et non erat qui cognosceret me (Psal. CXLI).
In Sabbato sepultura, ut ibi: Sol cognovit occasum suum (Psal. CIII). In Vespera, ut ibi: Exibit spiritus eius (Psal. CXLV).
In Dominica resurrectio, ut ibi: Anima mea illi vivet (Psal. XXI). In Vespera, ut ibi: Exortum est lumen (Psal. CXI). Quod quibusdam psalmis Gloria Patri interposuit, hoc secundum Hebraeos fecit, qui quibusdam Psalmis diapsalma interponunt, ubi altiorem sensum intelligunt.