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Praying with the Penitential Psalms

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the core practices of Lent; and while it can be easy to place the focus on fasting because of meatless Fridays and the practice of giving up something for Lent, prayer and almsgiving are equally important. Reading Sacred Scripture regularly, praying the rosary, or adding in extra prayer time in the morning are all wonderful (and popular) ways to incorporate more prayer into Lent, but today I want to talk about incorporating a special set of psalms known as the Penitential Psalms.


Dating back to the 6th century AD, seven of the 150 Psalms have been designated "penitential Psalms": 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. Psalm 51 is perhaps the best known of these psalms, with it being more commonly known as the Miserere. Each of these psalms places a special emphasis on acknowledging our sins, recognizing the painful consequences of sin, and returning to God for restoration.


In Sacred Scripture, we pray Psalms instead of reading them, and these psalms in particular are well suited to praying in Lent. Here are a few ideas for incorporating them into your Lenten prayer:


Idea #1: pick a week during Lent in which you pray each penitential psalm on a consecutive day. Holy Week (starting with Palm Sunday) would make a great week to do this, but any week during Lent could easily work.

Idea #2: prayerfully listen to a musical setting of each psalm. To start with, check out Gregorio Allegri's Miserere (Psalm 51), Andrea Gabrieli's Beata quorum remissae sunt iniquitates (Psalm 32), or Isaac Albeniz's Salmo 6 del Oficio de defuntos (Psalm 6). They are all wonderful choral settings of each of these psalms and create a prayerful, reflective atmosphere.


Idea #3: invite a friend or two to pray each of these psalms with you. Try alternating stanzas, or rotate psalms instead. After each psalm, spend some time prayerfully meditating on the words and then discuss with each other what the Holy Spirit is drawing out of the text for you.


The Penitential Psalms are a wonderful addition to Lenten prayer, and I hope you take the time to pray with them this Lent!






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