Books that help me Pray the Psalms





img_0311On the little book case next to the place I pray, there are a number of books, many of these are texts to enrich the Office, companions to the calendar of saints or texts to study the readings at Mass. There are, as well, six books about the psalms. I have been using these books for many years and, despite having read almost every word in them several times, continue to find them helpful in praying the psalms meaningfully. I recommend them, but most of all recommend the practice of studying the texts we pray so that mind and heart can work in harmony.

For almost all of my adult life I have prayed The Divine Office, the Roman Rite of the daily Office so the books reflect that. I recommend this form of the Office which is available as an app (Universalis) and is used by many Christians not just Roman Catholics. For me it says something about my commitment to and desire for unity, but also is a more doxological and less didactic office. With the daily Mass readings I find any more longer readings from Scripture too much. It provides enough psalmody each day, getting through the psalms in a month like the Book of Common Prayer.

I try and prepare for the Office by reading some commentary beforehand, often on just one of the psalms or canticles used and sometimes use a commentary in the silence after each psalm.

img_0312The Book of Psalms

Robert Alter

This is a fresh translation of the psalms following closely the Hebrew text. I like it a lot. The notes are very helpful in understanding complexities in the Hebrew text. I was very fond of the ICEL text of the psalms produced in the 1980s and 1990s which was eventually banned from liturgical use. This text from Alter has something of the crispness of the ICEL psalms, using the fewest possible words and attempting to reproduce a likely stanza structure in the Hebrew text. It constantly enriches my prayer.


fullsizerenderThe Psalms

John Eaton

Again, a scholarly text, here very much in the Anglican tradition. The translation is closer to the Hebrew than Common Worship (which sought to be close to Coverdale). Many of the psalm prayers were adopted by Common Worship: Daily Prayer, and are, I think one of the richest sets of texts in it. Where these prayers differ they offer fresh insight on a Christ-centred use of the psalter.



img_0314New Light

Now titled: Praying the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours

Richard Atherton

This is a much more devotional text than either of the first two. It has the advantage in commenting not only on the psalms but also on the Canticles used in The Divine Office. It is arranged in the order of that Office. It combines scholarly insight with pastoral reflections. Very good and helpful indeed.



img_0313Morning and Evening Prayer: Meditations and Catechesis

Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI

These are lovely meditations by these two popes which follow a repeated structure ending with patristic insight into the psalm or canticle. They are available online here. Powerful meditation son the psalms and canticles of the Office, a life time of material here.





cttpocCompanion to the Prayer of Christians

A brief introduction is given for each psalm, just a few lines, with a simple psalm prayer. A helpful, slim addition to the Office. Just enough to stimulate thought and prayer.



The Grail Psalms: Singing Version

This is my constant companion. The reflections preceding each psalm are small but perfectly formed. Short enough to be read in a pause between the psalms of the Office. They are scholarly and deeply devotional, intensely human. The best thing. I have been using them for 30 years and they are still helpful. Old friends, gently written and deeply profound.

Please note that only the original, ‘Singing Version’ editions contain the meditations. Stanbrook Abbey and Belmont Abbey bookshops still have copies of these, and they are easily available second-hand.

Le Guide du Psautier de la Bible de Jérusalem

Didier Rimaud SJ and Joseph Gelineau ST

Du Cerf 1962

This is a little book in French which I still find helpful, combining for each psalm:

The genre

Les mots-clés, key words for the psalm


Subjects for Christian prayer on each psalm

A companion volume isLe Psautier de la bible de Jérusalem, also by Gelineau and published in 1961 (du Cerf), it has a wonderful set of psalm prayers which sadly, I can’t find translated into English but don’t need much French to be understood.


1 Comment

  1. This is helpful. I guess that most of us who are constantly going through the Psalter need and seek such resources. I have also found Alter helpful. On a larger scale, it’s interesting to compare J.M. Neale’s three-volume Commentary on the Psalms (reprinted by Nashotah House in the USA), bringing together a wealth of patristic comment and time-tested psalm prayers.


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