The Rosary (Marian) Psalter
Stumbled on a set of Rosary beads at the Youth Rally this past weekend (Jan. 6-8) in Ocean City, Maryland. Vicki and I were walking around, checking the tee-shirts and jewelry out, and for some reason, the beads called to me. I’ve never used them, though I’ve certainly heard of them, and have a vague idea of how they’re used in prayer for many practicing Catholics.
I had a hunch that the Rosary was about the Psalms – can’t say why, but I did. And I was right. But first…
The architecture is simple. Besides the Cross and the cool guitar pick, notice the two black beads flanking three silver ones on the “tail” and the ring of five sets of ten silver beads (called decades), separated by four black beads. Catholics pray the Ave, or “Hail Mary” prayer at each of the silver beads (on the set pictured), and, at each of the large, black (in my set) beads, pray the Pater, “Our Father” or Lord’s Prayer – or the Gloria Patri, the Fatima Prayer, or announce the relevant Mystery: Joyful (Birth); Sorrowful (Passion); Glorious (Resurrection); and – sometimes – Luminous (Baptism & Ministry of Christ). As they make three (or four) circuits around the five decades of the ring (praying Ave’s at each decade of smaller beads), Catholics meditate on sets of 50 Joyful, (Luminous – sometimes added), Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries.
Which got me to wondering about those sets of 50. One could make three circuits and cover the 150 Psalms… was that a coincidence? Turns out, the Psalms were the inspiration for the Rosary, originally bags of stones, transferred from one to another as the prayers were recited. Non-religious Catholics liked the way the monks prayed the Psalms, and wanted to emulate the practice in their devotional life, but quickly substituted easily memorizable and repeated prayers for the Psalms they didn’t feel up to memorizing.
And, as it turns out, some folk are trying to revive a sense of what has been called the Marian Psalter. Presentation Ministries and Rosary Bay include a page covering what they call the Scriptural Psalter and Our Lady’s Psalter, respectively. These lists identify a key memorization verse for each Psalm that corresponds with the circuit of the three Mysteries. This practice sounds like a great way to practice the prayer of the Psalms, and to become more and more at home with the practice – especially as you memorize the verses. The two lists I found are consistent with each other (quoting the New American Bible). At first, I wanted to come up with my own key verses, but I think it might work out better to use these, as they correspond to the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries (linking to the Rosary Army website), and therefore tell a kind of unique story of the Psalter in themselves.
I have completed document combining the Marian Psalter verses with the verses of the Mysteries of the Rosary (in the NRSV translation). I am working on memorizing each of the verses, which can serve as a motive, using the concept of a Memory Palace (or method of loci), the details of which I will describe in a later post.
Here’s an example of how this Marian Psalter context can work to open a “third eye” of the heart and spirit. Psalm 68 contains some pretty rough language, including the phrase “you… bathe your feet in blood.” Ouch. In the Psalm, which belongs to the Kingship and Praise genres, this line is part of God’s promise to “shatter the heads of his enemies.” The Marian Psalter lifts up the first part of verse 23 which is part of God’s promise in verse 22b-23:
“I will bring [my enemies – those who walk in their guilty ways] back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.”
This seems such a shame. Why life up this nasty tidbit, when verse 4 would do so nicely:
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
be exultant before him.
Of course, the incipit, or first verse of Psalm 68 is more in line with the bloodbath sentiment of verse 23a:
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
The Marian Psalter links up this bloodbath verse with the 8th bead in the Second Sorrowful Mystery (Jesus is Scourged at the Pillar) cycle. The meditation verse comes from the final of the Four Servant Songs of Isaiah:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
And this juxtaposition puts an entirely different spin on the song of love we sing in Psalm 68. It is Jesus who bathes his feet in blood, but not the blood of his enemies – he bathes his feet in his own blood, for the sake of love for us all. Here is indeed a Sorrowful and miraculous mystery. And the key to its transforming power in our lives is to sit for awhile with the discomfort at first instead of ignoring it – like the Lectionary (Easter 7A) and the United Methodist Hymnal (#792) do. Here in this mysterious place, the Psalms reveal a love that knows no boundaries – a love that never dies – and a love that will find us home.
One of my goals involves having a tune ready to mind for each of the Psalms, and eventually memorizing it (so much the better if it were a scripture (WFW) song. In this way, anyone could avail themselves of the blessings of the Psalter no matter where they were! This Marian Psalter seems like a natural first step in that journey.