#prayinglent: the Penitential Psalms – Introduction

Penitential Psalms (PDF) Common Worship text with psalm prayers.

During the course of Lent 2019 I will add notes on the Penitential Psalms on a subsequent post starting on Ash Wednesday.


Christian tradition provides rich resources for devotion. Recovering these resources will be a key part of the renewal of the church in our time.

For Anglicans the seven Penitential Psalms are an important part of our inheritance. Not only were they a key element in medieval Prymers of prayer they also appear in the nineteenth and twentieth century Office Books. Often prayed on days when the Litany was mandated to be said and sometimes prayed in choir by our Religious Communities. A good historical overview of the influence of the Penitential psalms on lay piety may be sound in this thesis here.

Learning psalms by heart provides us with a deep vein of the Word of God within us. Repeating these seven psalms frequently during Lent would be a good way to begin to learn them.

Two possible ways might be to pray them one at a time either before each of the canonical Hours, or when the Hours are normally prayed if they are not part of your pattern. Alternatively one could be chosen for each day of the week:

The document linked at the top of the article includes all the penitential psalms in the Common Worship translation together with the, excellent, psalm prayers.

The best resource for studying the devotional use of the Penitential Psalms is Clare Costley King’oo’s Miserere Mei (Notre Dame 2012). It is especially interesting to see how she traces the use of this set of psalms by both Reformers and others through the Reformation period. She also shows the origin of this particular list of psalms in tradition. It is fascinating to see how she shows the continuity of these psalms in devotion from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. To pray these psalms is an ecumenical gesture. The neglect of these psalms is part of our nervousness of sin and the need for repentance and, above all, salvation.

The usual commentaries (some suggestions here and here) provide a good basis for studying and praying these psalms but here are some thoughts on each.

The usual method of lectio divina could be used with the psalms. Traditionally each of the psalms has been associated with one of the ‘seven deadly sins‘. It has to be said that the link between the text and the assigned sin is somewhat tenuous but to pray each of the penitential psalms for an intention related to one of the seven deadly sins you could say the following antiphons before teach psalm:


Psalm 6 From the sin of pride, O Lord, deliver me.

Psalm 32 [31] From the sin of avarice, O Lord, deliver me.

Psalm 38 [37] From the sin of envy, O Lord, deliver me.

Psalm 51 [50] From the sin of wrath, O Lord, deliver me.

Psalm 102 [101] From the sin of lust, O Lord, deliver me.

Psalm 130 [129] From the sin of gluttony, O Lord, deliver me.

Psalm 143 [142] From the sin of sloth (acedia), O Lord, deliver me.

There is a very good paper here on using these psalms, and more scholarly material on three of them here.

This paper on John Donne’s preaching on the penitential psalms is excellent.


This Lent I will be praying and commenting and reproducing the comments of others on these psalms in place of the #todaysgospeltweet which I have been posting recently. There will be updates daily.


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