Perusing the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours the other day, I came across this helpful passage. It answers two common questions raised by those who are starting out with the Divine Office: First: What use is it for me to pray a happy psalm when I’m grieving or depressed, or a sad psalm when I’m feeling joyful? Second: Isn’t the Liturgy of the Hours only a “devotional” prayer (as opposed to a liturgical act) when prayed by a layperson, without the presence of a priest or religious mandated by the Church to pray the hours? Read this to find the answers:
108. Those who pray the psalms in the liturgy of the hours do so not so much in their own name as in the name of the entire Body of Christ. This consideration does away with the problem of a possible discrepancy between personal feelings and the sentiments a psalm is expressing: for example, when a person feels sad and the psalm is one of joy or when a person feels happy and the psalm is one of mourning. Such a problem is readily solved in private prayer, which allows for the choice of a psalm suited to personal feelings. The divine office, however, is not private; the cycle of psalms is public, in the name of the Church, even for those who may be reciting an hour alone.[emphasis mine.-D.S.] Those who pray the psalms in the name of the Church nevertheless can always find a reason for joy or sadness, for the saying of the Apostle applies in this case also: “Rejoice with the joyful and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). In this way human frailty, wounded by self-love, is healed in proportion to the love that makes the heart match the voice that prays the psalms.
In other words, the Divine Office is liturgical prayer. When you exercise the priesthood of the laity by praying it, your personal mood, sorrow, or joy doesn’t amount to a hill of beans (sorry, I just watched Casablanca again the other night). You are participating in something far greater than personal, devotional prayer. If you want to pray the psalms for personal devotion, grab a bible society bookmark that instructs you, “when God feels far away, read Psalm so-and-so”. If, on the other hand, you wish to follow the Church’s marching orders for the day, stick with the Liturgy of the Hours.
Once you’ve learned to conform yourself to the mood and intentions the daily hours require of you, something wonderful can happen. You will think to apply that woeful psalm (on your happy days) to the woes of your brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution, sickness, or death on this day. You will think to apply the joyous psalms (on your bad days) as praise for Christ’s triumph and God’s goodness even when it is temporarily impossible for you to feel the impact of these. And above all, you will learn to hear the voice of Jesus as he offers his pains, his joys, your pains, your joys, to the Father, eternally.