Happy people praying sad Psalms &vice versa.

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.

Daria Sockey


Daria Sockey is a freelance writer from western Pennsylvania. Her articles have appeared in many Catholic publications. She authored several of the original Ignatius Press Faith and Life catechisms in the 1980s, and more recently wrote five study guides for saints' lives DVDs distributed by Ignatius Press. She now writes regularly for the newly revamped Catholic Digest. Her newest book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, will be published by Servant Books this spring. Feel Free to email her at thesockeys@gmail.com

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  • chaco

    I chuckled as I read in your bio; “…one grandchild, and one husband.” That’s a unique change of pace from “She’s married with…”.  [More than 1 husband would be “Trickey” to say the least. – Oh! ;  Speaking of unique, do you know how to catch a unique bird ?… U -nique (sneak) up on them.]   Thanks for the prayer insights. It rang true for me in that I cling to Jn. 16: 33; “You will have trouble…but TAKE COURAGE, I have overcome the world.”  I see this as Jesus urging us to use our faith as a VERB.  I have seen some Catholics offerring up trials as seemingly AN END IN THEMSELVES. Whereas, I think your insights here, along with Jn. 16: 33, indicate that we should fix our gaze on THE VICTORY OVER THE TRIAL.  [ I heard recently of a saint who credited Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary with;  1) Instilling in us a greater love for God’s will than for our own  &  2) Being able to transform pain into Joy       I wish I could have retained which saint it was.]  Somewhat related to “Bending our Spirits” with prayers contrary to our current feelings;  I recall learning what Mother Theresa’s spiritual director told her in regard to “Spiritually Dry” moments; He said; “Perhaps such times are to instill compassion in us for those who don’t know God.”  Perhaps the “Secret Recipe” for eliviating “Dryness” is to reach out to those experiencing the same.