A Review of
|The Paraclete Psalter
Paraclete Press, 2010
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Recognizing that the biblical book of Psalms has historically been the primary prayerbook of the people of God — for the Church as well as for the people of Israel in whom the Psalms had their origins — I have been trying for several years to develop a discipline of regularly praying the Psalms that fits the rhythms of our church community’s life together. I have a deep appreciation for the Benedictine “Liturgy of the Hours,” a tradition that goes back in history at least as far as Benedict himself (see RB18) and in which the entire Psalter is prayed over the course of a week. Given that our church community has made no commitments to cloistering or celibacy, I quickly realized that we would have to make our way through the Psalter at a slower pace, so I began the process of adapting the Benedictine Liturgy of the Hours to a longer cycle that would fit our church. I hadn’t made much progress when I found that Paraclete Press was releasing their version of the Psalter adapted to a four week cycle. The number of daily prayer services has been reduced from the traditional Benedictine seven to four by eliminating the three that are collectively known as “The Little Hours.” The book’s introduction describes the four remaining services:
Lauds begins the day, causing our first utterances to be those that are offered to the praise of God. At Midday, we briefly break from our work in order to remember that God, not our work, gives meaning to our day and that whatever good we do will have prayer at its source. In the evening, we celebrate Vespers, looking back upon the day with thanksgiving, while acknowledging that not all we have done has been to the glory of God. Finally, at Compline, we commend ourselves and the whole church to God’s care for the night ahead, and we pray for God’s blessing (viii).
The Paraclete Psalter, in sabbath sort of manner, also reduces the number of services on Saturday and Sunday to one and two, respectively. In addition to the arrangement of the Psalter over this four week cycle, The Paraclete Psalter also includes brief prayers for the day (or collects) that are included at the beginning of Lauds for each day. A brief meditiation on one of that day’s Psalms is also included at the end of each day’s Vespers. My only disappointment is that the Psalms here are presented in the NIV translation which seems an inferior choice when contrasted with other English translations, in conveying both the poetry and the meaning of the original Hebrew Psalms.
A slim volume with a sturdy black imitation leather cover, The Paraclete Psalter is not only an elegant book, it also offers us an entryway into the rich tradition of praying the Psalms that is not only deeply rooted in history, but also sensitive to the life complexities of contemporary non-monastics. And in so doing, it just might provide what I have been in search of for our church community.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com