Omitting Psalms and Bible passages from the lectionary

There’s a discussion I came across on Facebook on the Liturgy of the Hours and how Psalms 58 and 137 had been removed from some recent lectionary.

To tell you the truth, I did not even notice until this year that Psalm 58 was missing from the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer.   When I first noticed the numbering skipped from 57 to 59, I thought, well, maybe it has something to do with how Psalms are numbered.   This is why I am a terrible proofreader, in case you haven’t noticed.

Oh, and I just looked up Psalm 137 and see the Canadian Prayer Book only includes vs. 1-6.

I personally do not like having an Bowdlerized Psalter.  I really, really do not like it.  I even less like a Bowdlerized Bible.  I do not like removing passages merely because people find them offensive, or because the people of today think they are so superior in having the benefit of today’s insight to judge the past. I am sure there were many powers that be throughout Jewish history that wanted parts of the Jewish Scripture left out and thankfully there was a stronger desire to preserve sacred writings intact.

Yes, these Psalms, which I paste below, seem bloodthirsty, even genocidal, as do many passages in Scripture.  Rather than cut holes in Scripture—imagine what we would have left if every generation decided to cut out the bits they found offensive—be a pretty small, book—how about we make more effort to see how the Early Church Fathers interpreted these difficult passages, how they describe our inward spiritual battles.

So, what do you think of Bowdlerized Psalters, or of the habit of lectionaries to skip the problematic parts of the Bible.  I always find I tend to read them anyway, wondering, why is the story of Tamar omitted, and so on.   Your thoughts? 

Okay, so let’s take a look at the “offending” Psalms (from the 1928 US Prayer Book):

Psalm 58. Si vere utique.

ARE your minds set upon righteousness, O ye congregation? * and do ye judge the thing that is right, O ye sons of men?
2 Yea, ye imagine mischief in your heart upon the earth, * and your hands deal with wickedness.
3 The ungodly are froward, even from their mother’s womb; * as soon as they are born, they go astray, and speak lies.
4 They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent, * even like the deaf adder, that stoppeth her ears;
5 Which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, * charm he never so wisely.

1 people until 1928
    6 Break their teeth, O God, in their mouths; * smite the jaw-bones of the lions, O LORD.
7 Let them fall away like water that runneth apace; * when they shoot their arrows, let them be rooted out.
8 Let them consume away like a snail, and be like the untimely fruit of a woman; * and let them not see the sun.
9 Or ever your pots be made hot with thorns, * he shall take them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; * he shall wash his footsteps in the blood of the ungodly.
11 So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; * doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth.

Psalm 137. Super flumina.

BY the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, * when we remembered thee, O Sion.
2 As for our harps, we hanged them up * upon the trees that are therein.
3 For they that led us away captive, required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness: * Sing us one of the songs of Sion.
4 How shall we sing the LORD’S song * in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, * let my right hand forget her cunning.

1 Sehon until 1928

2 Basan until 1928

    6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; * yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.    7 Remember the children of Edom, O LORD, in the day of Jerusalem; * how they said, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.
8 O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery; * yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children, * and throweth them against the stones.

3 thoughts on “Omitting Psalms and Bible passages from the lectionary

  1. To bowdlerize the bible itself would be a sacrilege, and quite possibly also heretical. But, indeed, that’s exactly what Luther and Calvin did when they decided to exclude the texts that Jerome labelled as “apocrypha” because he could not obtain Hebrew manuscripts and thus had to translate them from Greek (the “Septuagint” version) instead.

    That said, pastors of souls must consider the pastoral situation of the current day when selecting texts from scripture for use in the liturgy. It’s very reasonable to omit texts that are redundant or that are likely to give rise to grave misunderstanding in a particular situation. As difficult as it may seem, I think that we who are Catholic need to trust the discernment of the magisterium in this regard.

    Incidentally, some of this has to do with the fact that many pastors at the time of the liturgical reform suffered from egregious deficiencies of pastoral and spiritual formation in seminaries of that time, as identified in the sacred constitution Sacrosanctum concillium on divine worship. A pastor whose training in sacred scripture is lacking, for example, won’t be up to the task of explaining a difficult passage to his congregation. It’s not difficult to see how the inclusion of such texts in the liturgy in that situation could cause problems.

    In the case of the psalter, we need to remember that the Liturgy of the Hours is intended for prayer by laity in the absence of clergy, many of whom clearly lack the training in scripture to understand the deprecatory psalm texts correctly. Thus, their omission from the Liturgy of the Hours does make sense.



  2. The abridged Psalter and the omission of what they called “psychologically difficult” psalms and Psalm verses, is one of the biggest drawbacks of the reformed Roman Liturgy of the Hours. Fathers like Evagrius Ponticus point out that the imprecatory verses are like spiritual spears against demonic forces. Excising them from the Psalter of the Divine Office is tantamount to a form of unilateral spiritual disarmament against Satan.

    I wouldn’t even mind the omission of the couple of psalms all that much if they didn’t mutilate many others in completely arbitrary ways. It’s historically unprecedented. For all the postconciliar self-congratulation about having a “more mature faith,” the bowdlerization of the Psalter has been one of the most infantile fruits of the last fifty years of reforms.


  3. A complete Psalter is essential – warts and all. I found Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis very helpful in dealing with the bits that might make one squirm.


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