Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rediscovering the Imprecatory Psalms

After much debate among some members of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, Pope Paul VI decreed that the so-called imprecatory psalms be omitted from the new Liturgy of the Hours. Consequently, 120 verses of the Psalter, comprising three whole psalms and additional verses from nineteen others, were edited out of the official prayer of the Church. As far as I know, the question whether the (supposed) “psychological difficulty”1 and “spiritual discomfort”2 caused by these passages justifies their removal has not been widely explored in studies of the liturgical reform following Vatican II.

Father Gabriel Torretta, O.P., addresses that lacuna in a recent edition of The Thomist. In his essay “Rediscovering the Imprecatory Psalms,” Torretta first covers the history of the removal of these imprecatory verses from the liturgical hours. He then examines the state of scholarship on the nature and meaning of these passages, and extensively analyzes St Thomas Aquinas’s “subtle and fruitful” approach to the phenomenon of biblical imprecation. Thomas’s interpretive framework, Torretta argues, can bolster a broader rationale for reintroducing these sacred verses into the liturgical prayer of the Church.3 With the caveat that “any reintroduction must proceed carefully and with much education,” the author makes a useful contribution to the question of the necessity of reforming the reform, however narrowly or broadly one may conceive that project.

1 General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, no. 131.
2 Annibale Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy (1948–1975), trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 503.
3 Within the Catholic Church, the question concerns only the ordinary form of the Roman Rite.

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