The Seven Penitential Psalms

All sorts of things are shut down right now, and many of us are left trying to fill the time. One excellent thing to do during this time is to regularize our prayer lives. If we aren’t happy with our current practices of prayer, change them! That doesn’t mean we should be fickle and change our way of praying every single day; however, it can be good to have a little variety from season to season.

One good practice we can take up during Lent is the ancient practice of praying the Seven Penitential Psalms. For many centuries, they were a part of priests’ daily prayers during Lent. These were prayed kneeling and with an antiphon at the beginning and end.

I’ve begun praying these psalms recently, partially because I have a bit more free time due to the Coronavirus cancelling many of my meetings, but also because it is also helpful to remember where we stand before God. The penitential psalms help us to recognize that we all struggle to follow God in our daily life.

I have included links to the Penitential Psalms in English. I am unable to include them directly due to copyright concerns. I have also put together a page for both the English and the Latin version of these psalms. Click here to visit that page.

The Penitential Psalms

Note: the words in italics are instructions to assist in praying these psalms.

Begin with the first antiphon: Do not remember, O Lord, our offenses, or those of our parents. Do not take vengeance for our sins.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 6
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be: Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 32
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 38
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 51
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 102
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 130
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Pray the psalm: Psalm 143
End the psalm by praying the Glory Be.

Repeat the initial antiphon: Do not remember, O Lord, our offenses, or those of our parents. Do not take vengeance for our sins.

Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving lead to Joy!

During Lent, we intensify our efforts to grow closer to God. We fast, pray and give alms, just as Jesus taught us in today’s Gospel. These are things we must do. Humanity has turned away from God. We all have sinned and turned from God—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Psalm 51 speaks to all of these types of sin. It uses three different Hebrew words: פשׁע (pesha), חטאה (chatta’ah), עוון (‘ă·wōn). Each of these expresses a different type of sin. I wasn’t able to find my notes from 4 years ago, but if I remember correctly: עוון refers to a general condition of sin within humanity, חטאה refers to sin committed unintentionally—sort of a side effect of human nature, and פשׁע refers to sin committed intentionally. (I’m fairly sure the words and the definitions are right, and I’m pretty sure that’s how they line up, but I’m not 100% sure!) These are all different ways we get turned around and separated from God. We need help turning back to God. The prophet Joel tells us all—the children, the elderly, those literally just married, even infants—to cry out, “Spare, O Lord, your people!” If the Lord does not forget the cry of the poor, neither will he forget the cry of his children who, poor in spirit, turn back to him.

Jesus today tells us how to make that turn back to him prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. And he tells us how to do each of these things. We are supposed to do all of these things in private, so that others cannot see them. In fact, Jesus takes it one step further: when we fast, we are supposed to anoint our head, wash our face, and no appear to be fasting. It’s as if he wants us to undertake these penances joyfully.

It may seem odd, but there is, actually, a logic to it. Let me explain. Prayer, fasting, and alms-giving clear space out of hearts, getting rid of all the cruft that has been building up: attachments to material things, over-concern about our bodies (see Matthew 6:25-34), or things we have allowed to take God’s place. We clear out all those things that get in between us and God. When we empty out that space, though, we need to fill it up with something. If we fill it up with the praise and adulation of those around us, what good would any penance do? What good would all this work do? We’d be no better off than the hypocrites Jesus talks about in the Gospel today. Instead, we do these things in secret, and offer them to God, so that He can fill up our heart. In addition to the great practice of giving things up, we should add additional time for prayer and the Sacraments during Lent, so that we are filling that space we spent all that energy to clear with God. God is the source of all our joy, and if we are full of him, how can we help but be joyful? Fasting, prayer, alms-giving—these things are not easy, but they clean out our hearts and open them to God, they give us more room for God to work in our lives: of course we’ll be more joyful, because God lives within us!

This is, in fact, what we must do to fulfill what God has asked us to do. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that we are to be ambassadors for Christ. We must allow God to appeal to others through us. We must be lights, shining brightly with God’s love and his joy and his mercy. What better way is there to do that then to clear out all the junk from our hearts and let God fill it?

Now is an acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. This Lent, let’s do something a bit hard, to truly open up our hearts to God. The collect today was so excellent, it said “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” (Emphasis is mine.) This is our campaign of Christian service, by which Christ sends us to do battle with evil. We pray, fast, and give alms, so we get everything between us and God out of the way and go forth as joyful witnesses and ambassadors for God.

Today’s Readings
February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 & 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

hardcore Lent 2.0

This year, I’m doing “hardcore” Lent again. One of the best things about it is that I have to get out of my comfort zone of veggies and protein for meals.

So far this year, I have plans to try several new things, including:
• Tabbouleh
• Tomato & Lentil Soup
• Shrimp Pho

I’ve already made the Tabbouleh, and later this week I’ll be making the pho. Stay tuned for recipes!

“hardcore” Lent

I decided that I wanted to take Lent seriously this year and do something that I would notice and might do me some good. A good friend of mine said that last year he did the Orthodox Lenten fast. He told me a little about it, so I decided I should investigate it a little bit.

It basically boils down: no meat, no fish with backbones (shellfish and squid is ok), no olive oil, no dairy/eggs and no wine/hard liquor. According to one source, this actually includes all oils and all alcohols! So, I did some more research on the topic, and I found that before the 20th century, the Catholic Lenten fast was much closer to the current Orthodox Lenten fast. It essentially bars eating meat and dairy products. Both traditions (the current Orthodox and former Catholic) make exceptions for the ill, pregnant, young, etc.

So I decided I would use older Orthodox food restrictions (i.e. beer and non-olive oil are acceptable) with the common fasting tradition. The Orthodox Lenten tradition also calls for totals fasts on several days, but recognizes that it is very difficult for most working people to complete these. The Orthodox tradition also does not completely relax their restrictions on Sundays and Holy Days during Lent, which I think is partially due to the different method of counting the days of Lent used by the Orthodox churches.

So, my Lenten sacrifice, which I like to call “hardcore” Lent (because it sounds cool) and many people I know like to call “you’re crazy” Lent boils down to the following:

  • No meat
  • No fish (excepting shellfish)
  • No olive-oil
  • No dairy or eggs
  • No alcohol (excepting beer)
  • No eating between meals
  • One full meal a day and two smaller meals that do not add up to the larger.

So far, it’s been rough for me. I haven’t quite gotten my meal sizes figured out yet, but I’m carefully monitoring and adjusting them. I’ve also cut down my workouts a bit due to the decrease in calorie intake. My current workout schedule is:

  • Monday: run 2 miles
  • Tuesday: Leg weights
  • Wednesday: Arm weights
  • Thursday: Leg weights
  • Friday: Arm weights / run .5 miles

So far I’ve already lost more weight than normal with this Lenten diet. I also look forward to Sundays and obligatory feast days a lot more than I used to. (The two feast days during Lent that we are taking off are St. Joseph’s feast day on March 18 and the Annunciation on March 25.)

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