THe PSALMS follow, which the Church appoints to be read over every Month, oftner than any other part of holy Scripture: So was it of old ordained saith S. Chrys. Hom. 6. de poenit.
All Christians exercise themselves in Davids Psalms oftner than in any other part of the Old or New Testament. Moses the great Lawgiver that saw God face to face, and wrote a Book of the Creation of the World, is scarce read over once a year. The holy Gospels, where the Miracles of Christ are preached, where God converses with Man, where Death is destroyed, the Devils cast out, the Lepers cleansed, the blind restored to sight; where the Thief is placed in Paradise, and the Harlot made purer than the Stars, where the waters of Iordan to the sanctification of Souls, where is the food of immortality, the holy Eucharist, and the words of life, holy precepts and precious promises, those we read over once or twice a Week. What shall I say of blessed Paul, Christs Oratour, the Fisher of World, who by his 14. Epistles, those spiritual Nets, hath caught Men to salvation, who was wrapt into the third Heaven, and heard and saw such Mysteries as are not to be uttered? him we read twice in the week. We get not his Epistles by heart, but only attend to them while they are reading. But for holy Davids Psalms, the grace of the holy Spirit hath so ordered it, that they should be said or sung night and day. In the Churches Vigils, the first, the midst and the last, are Davids Psalms: in the Morning Davids Psalms are sought for, and the first, the midst and the last is David. And Funeral Solemnities the first, the midst and the last is David. In private houses where the Virgins spin, the first, the midst and the last is David: Many that know not a letter, can say Davids Psalms by heart: In the Monasteries, the quires of Heavenly Hosts, the first, the midst and the last is David: In the Deserts, where Men that have crucified the world to themselves converse with God, the first, the midst and the last is David, In the Night when Men are asleep, David awakes them up to sing; and gathering the Servants of God into Angelical troops, turns Earth into Heaven, and makes Angels of Men singing Davids Psalms.
The holy Gospels and Epistles contain indeed the words of eternal life, words by which we must be saved: and therefore should be sweeter to us than Honey or the Honey-comb, more precious than Gold, yea than much fine Gold; but they are not of so continual use as Davids Psalms, which are digested forms of Prayers, Thanksgivings, Praises, Confessions and Adorations, fit for every temper and every time. Here the penitent hath a form of confession; he that hath received a benefit, hath a Thanksgiving; he that is in any kind of need, bodily or ghostly hath a prayer; all have Lauds, and all may adore the several excellencies of Almighty God in Davids forms: and these a Man may safely use, being compos'd by the Spirit of God, which cannot erre: whereas other Books of Prayers and Devotions are, for the most part, compos'd by private men, subject to error and mistake, whose fancies, sometimes wild ones, are commended to us for matter of devotion, and we may be taught to blaspheme, while we intend to adore; or at least, to abuse our devotion when we approach to the throne of grace, and offer up an unclean Beast instead of an holy Sacrifice. May we not think that this amongst others hath been a cause of the decay of right and true devotion in these latter dayes, namely, the neglect of this excellent Book, and preferring Mens fancies before it? I deny not but that Collects and other parts of Devotion which the consentient Testimony and constant practice of the Church have commended to us may, and especially the most divine Prayer of our LORD ought to be used by us in our private devotion, but I would not have Davids Psalms disused, but used frequently and made as they were by Athanasius and S. Ierome, a great, if not the greatest part of our private devotions, which we may offer up to God as with more safety, so with more confidence of acceptation being the inspiration of that holy Spirit of God, who, when we know not what to say, helps our infirmities both with words and affections? Rom. 8. 26. If any man thinks these Psalms too hard for him to understand, and apply to his several needs, let him make trial awhile, and spend that time in them, which he spends in humane compositions, let him study them as earnestly, as he does books of less concernment; let him pray the holy Spirit that made them, to open his eyes, to see the admirable use of them; let him intreat holy and learned guides of Souls to direct him in the use of them, and by the grace of God, in the frequent use of them he may attain to the Primitive fervour, and come to be a Man, as holy David was, after Gods own heart.
S. HIER. in Epitaph. Paulae. [In the Morning, at the third, sixth and ninth hour; in the Evening at midnight Davids Psalms are sung over in order, and no Man is suffered to be ignorant of Davids Psalms.]
These PSALMS we sing or say by course,
The Priest one verse, and the People another; or else one side of the Quire one verse, and the other side another, according to the ancient practice of the Greek and Latin Church. Socrat. Hist. l. 6. c. 8. Theodoret. l. 2. c. 24. Basil. Ep. 63. And according to the pattern set us by the Angels, Esay 6. 3. who sing one to another, Holy, Holy, Holy. These reasons may be given for this manner of Singing by course.
First, that we may thus in a holy emulation contend, who shall serve God most affectionately, which our LORD seeing and hearing, is not a little pleas'd. Ter. l. 2. ad ux.
Secondly, that one relieving another we may not grow weary of our service. S. Aug. l. Conf. 9. C. 7.
When we say or sing these Psalms, we are wont to stand, by the erection of our bodies, expressing the elevation or lifting up of our souls to God, while we are serving him in these holy employments.
At the end of every Psalm, and of all the Hymns, (except TE DEUM, which because it is nothing else almost, but this, Glory be to the Father, &c. enlarg'd, hath not this Doxology added) we say or sing Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the holy Ghost; which was the use of the ancient Church, never quarrel'd at by any till Arius, who, being prest with this usage as an argument against his Heresie of making the Son inferiour to the Father, laboured to corrupt this Versicle, saying [Glory be to the Father by the Son, in the Holy Ghost. Theodoret, Hist. l. 2. c. 24.] The Church on the contrary was careful to maintain the ancient usage, adding on purpose against Arrius, As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, Conc. Vas. can. 7. Now if this joyful Hymn of Glory, have any use in the Church of God, can we place it more fitly, than where it now serves as a close, and conclusion to Psalms and Hymns, whose proper subject and almost only matter, is a dutiful acknowledgment of Gods excellency and glory by occasion of special effects?
As an Hymn of Glory is fit to conclude the Psalms, so especially this Christian Hymn, wherein as Christians (not as Jews and Pagans) we glorifie God the Father, Son, and holy Ghost; by which Christian conclusion of Davids Psalms, we do, as it were, fit this part of the Old Testament for the Service of God under the Gospel, and make them Evangelical Offices.