On the Vital Necessity of Reading Scripture

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from "The Spirituality of the Psalms" Roland E. Murphy
in Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

As recently as 1970 a Roman liturgical directive recommended that Psalms 58, 83, and 109, along with certain parts of several psalms be omitted. This unconscionable censorship has led to their disappearance in "prayer" books. A very limited hermeneutic, to say the least, lies behind this move. It fails to recognize the human need to see divine justice at work, a need found in both testaments. Although the censorship is well meant, it betrays a superior and moralistic attitude, as if violence and vengeance were not part of Christian existence. Is prayer supposed to consist of pious thoughts, with no relationship to reality? The sad fact is that Christians can fail to confront the vicious reality in their lives, and remain blind to the vengeance and violence that lurk in their own hearts. These psalms should be turned against whoever prays them, challenging them concerning the violence and vengeance that mark their existence. It is ironic that such a directive could be given in the most violent of Christian centuries.

Sometime things are done "for my own good" by very well-meaning people. Often these result in no good whatsoever. I am not improved by them, and, in fact, I am significantly diminished by these actions. Fr. Murphy makes a case for that here. Sacred scripture is inspired and completely and wholly without error. Every word of it is worth our attention and reading. Some may be confusing and difficult, but every word is God's fullest revelation of Himself to His people. Too often we take scripture for granted. Those of us who run blogs and who read a great deal often do not spend much of a day reading scripture. Many are, at best, erratic and irregular in their approach to scripture. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours and daily attendance at Mass are the first line of defense and the premier remedy for our lack of connection with scripture.

But it is important to remember that scripture isn't something one occasionally refers to or partakes of. The Christian life, properly lived, should be a living, breathing reification of scriptural truth. Through the word of God each Christian is granted an "insider's" knowledge of the mind of God, insofar as it is possible for a human being to understand it. Scripture strengthens one's knowledge of God and hence gives more reason to love--it strengthens charity and it reading it bestows countless graces. This is perhaps one reason why regular prolonged reading of scripture is an indulgenced activity. According to the most recent Enchiridion of Indulgences:

While a partial indulgence is granted to those who read from
Sacred Scripture with the veneration which the divine word is
due, a PLENARY INDULGENCE is granted to those who read for at
least one half an hour.

Now, the motive in reading scripture should be something more than obtaining an indulgence, but it is interesting to note that the Church specifically indulgences prolonged reading of scripture. A indulgence is granted to encourage the faithful, and the Church evidently thinks that reading of Scripture is an important formative influence. One might assume from the nature of the indulgence that the Church sees prolonged reading of scripture as prophylactic, and perhaps even transformative.

So from Fr. Murphy's little tirade to a larger sense of scripture reading--God is gracious to us and grants us a great many ways to talk to Him. In reading scripture, if it is done in the proper spirit, with a short prayer for understanding to the Holy Spirit, the reader can be renewed, refreshed, revived, and brought closer to the Spirit of Love whose action inspired each word and whose continued action makes each word comprehensible.

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Dear Mr. Riddle,

Beside your final point, but here's JP2's rationale for the dropping of the imprecatory bits of the Psalter from the LOTH:


Cheers -


Dear Mr. White,

While I can agree with the reasoning, I find equally persuasive the notion that we should recognize ourselves in the psalms and they should act as a just rebuke. Would we or would we not find ourselves in the position of saying the elided verse? If so, should we not be brought to a full standstill in reflection on that? Is it not part of the New Testament revelation that we are fallen creatures and as such subject to such "ugly" emotions?

I find reason in both arguments, but the suggestion that portions of the Bible don't seem "appropriate" for liturgical worship does not sit well with me. If it is revealed of God, how does it fail in worthiness?

I think such motions are well intended, but ultimately wrong-headed--rather like chopping out the parts of the Old Testament that refer to the slaughters of other peoples as the Chosen People take possession of the chosen land. Or perhaps leaving out the portions of Paul's letters that refer to women keeping their heads covered, etc. Perhaps it isn't something for group worship, I don't know. But those verse had been included int he breviaries of countless relgious through the millenia and seemed not to do them significant harm or to suggest the Church was out of step with New Testament revelation.

I very much like the idea of a focus on God's mercy, but I think what is behind that is the truth of the fullness of revelation. If those are no longer part of the liturgy of the hours to reflect upon, are we not in some ways lessened by not being directed to reflect upon these hard sayings?





I have no particular preference. I pray what's in the prayerbook, and if the revision that removed the imprecatory psalms from the liturgy had never happened, I'd probably be content with the Little Office of the BVM.

I think in the end it comes down to the question of what liturgy is.

Dear Tom,

If it is any consolation, I suspect it is the residual Baptist in me that rankles at the suggestion that Scripture is somehow unfit for the Church or unfit for prayer. It isn't a huge issue, but I think I'm with Father Murphy on this particular issue as a matter of principle. It doesn't strike me as good policy to pick and choose through Scripture. (Though in actuality it is done all the time. I suspect that I would fall into either deep sleep or a coma if we were to take too long a section of Leviticus or Numbers as our daily reading.)

I don't know, it seems odd for the Church to say that Scripture (approved by the Fathers) somehow doesn't fit in with our understanding of the Mercy of God. I would beg to differ, even in the imprecatory psalms.

But as you said and I couldn't agree more, much comes down to the question of what the Liturgy is or should be. I guess I just like the notion of being in line with the tradition in which all 150 psalms were recited and meditated upon in a regular daily or weekly cycle. I guess I feel about this the way some felt about the Holy Father "tampering" with the Rosary.



Interesting discussion. I was reading something over the weekend that explained how God condescended to us in the OT (in fact, the NT is also a condescension because God cannot be truly known in our finiteness). Some of the Psalms are perhaps condescensions to the weaknesses of those who expressed thoughts that lacked the advantages of the fullness of the revelation to come. I have C.S. Lewis' book concerning some of the "difficult" Psalms and perhaps I should read it first before commenting. But you're right Steven, it's a dangerous path to write off any part of Scripture.

Also, I forgot to mention that when the Psalmist rails against his enemies I just imagine that he is not talking about human enemies but demonic & the devil.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 3, 2005 8:10 AM.

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