29 March 2017

The Jesus Psalter


I first heard of the Jesus Psalter reading Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's wonderful Come Rack, Come Rope, a love story set in the time of the Elizabethan Pogroms. It was also my first introduction to how those Pogroms were conducted - hunters, star courts, betrayals, simony, etc. Reading such a story can drive one to despair, or conversion. The Jesus Psalter is mentioned a couple of times in the opening portion of the book, both rather offhandedly.
...in Marjorie at least, as will be seen more plainly later, there was a strong love of Jesus Christ and His Mother, whom she knew, from her hidden crucifix and her (rosary) beads, and her Jesus Psalter--which she used every day..
And:
Her advice, besides that which has been described, was, principally, to say his Jesus Psalter more punctually, to hear mass whenever that were possible, to trust in God, and to be patient and submissive with his father in all things that did not touch divine love and faith. 
As it turns out, despite Benson's passing mention of it, it was a very important text in the Bad Old Times. It became a focus of piety for the beleaguered Catholic Church which historical context adds levels of meaning to the devotion.  As a side note: this is why I think it's important today. It fell out of use over the last 500 years, but today we may need it again. There are Christians in name who will not fail to turn over the Faithful, I think, if things get much rockier.

So, being the religious geek I am, I had to go looking for it. And it's out there, in a tiny few places.  The first place I found it was in on a website devoted to Latin prayers. I liked it, printed it out, and used it at the Monastery. Fr T even wants to reprint it. Then I found another text last summer, much more ancient, via Google Play. It is from a prayerbook published in 1599. (It's here in the Google Play Store.)The Full Title (as such were, in those days) is:
A Manuall of Praiers, gathered out of many famous and good authors, as well auncient as of the time present. Distributed according to the daies of the Weeke. Whereunto is added a newe Calendar, with the order to helpe at masse. (Certaine deuout and Godly petitions, commonly called: Jesus Psalter.)
More recently (this month, in fact) I was handed a copy of the text printed by the Catholic Truth Society in the 1940s.

The Jesus Psalter is a set of 15 invocations of the name of Jesus, recited in "decades" as on the traditional Dominican Rosary, but each invocation is different. Each one includes a threefold recitation of the Divine Name and each decade ends with a a set of the same prayers, including the Pater Noster and the Ave. Each set of five decades ends with the Credo as well. Later editions of the text have a longer prayer said at the end of each five.   Each decade, between the invocations, there is a series of meditations. Although they have a common theme, they vary between each edition I have. The oldest one from 1599, doesn't have meditations for all the decades and some are limited to only one or two sentences. This leads me to the conclusion that the meditations were intended to be personalized. This is as in, again, the Dominican Rosary, which is meant to be prayed (perhaps with a guidebook) until it comes "into one's soul" and forms its own set of meditations in the heart.

Another difference in various online editions is a confusion about how the decades are said. Here I will go with the one that is most logical - and also included in the 1599 text: each invocation is intended to be said 10 times with 3 repetitions of the name of Jesus in each invocation. Thus the Holy Name gets said 150 times in each set of 5 decades and thence we get the name Psalter: for "Jesus" is said once for each of the 150 Psalms. Add that to the daily practice of the Rosary, 150 Aves said in sequence (through the 15 traditional mysteries), and the laity would get 9 sets of "Psalter Equivalences" each week.

When read as a sequence, you can see the progression of thought through the 15 invocations:

  1. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me.
  2. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me.
  3. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, strengthen me.
  4. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, comfort me.
  5. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, make me constant.
  6. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, enlighten me.
  7. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fear Thee.
  8. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to love Thee.
  9. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to remember my death.
  10. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, send me here my purgatory.
  11. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to flee evil company.
  12. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to call to Thee for help.
  13. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to persevere in virtue.
  14. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fix my mind on Thee.
  15. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to Thee.

I'll do more posts on this. Look for the label "Jesus Psalter".  Peace.