The Psalms contain 150 prayers, poems, and hymns that give praise and adoration of God and sum up the major aspects of our relationship with Him. They are the foremost public prayers of the Church for they were given to us by God through the Holy Spirit. By praying the Psalms, God puts into our mouths the words He wishes to hear.
The psalms have been treasured by all Christians throughout history. Perhaps St. Ambrose, in his Explanation of the Psalms (Office of the Readings, Saturday of the tenth week of Ordinary time, ICEL) put it best when he wrote:
What is more pleasing than a psalm? David expresses it well: Praise the Lord, for a song of praise is good: let there be praise of our God with gladness and grace. Yes, a psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, a hymn of praise of God, the assembly's homage, a general acclamation, a word that speaks for all, the voice of the Church, a confession of faith in song. It is the voice of complete assent, the joy of freedom, a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness. It soothes the temper, distracts from care, lightens the burden of sorrow. It is a source of security at night, a lesson in wisdom by day. It is a shield when we are afraid, a celebration of holiness, a vision of serenity, a promise of peace and harmony. It is like a lyre, evoking harmony from a blend of notes. Day begins to the music of a psalm. Day close to the echo of a psalm.
In a psalm instruction vies with beauty. We sing for pleasure. We learn for profit. What experience is not covered by a reading of the psalms? I come across the words: A song for the beloved, and I am aflame with the desire for God's love. I go through God's revelation in all its beauty, the intimations of resurrection, the gifts of his promise. I learn to avoid sin. I see my mistake in feeling ashamed of repentance for my sins.
What is a psalm but a musical instrument to give expression to all the virtues? The psalmist of old used it, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to make the earth reecho the music of heaven, He used the dead gut of strings to create a harmony from a variety of notes, in order to send up to heaven the song of God's praise. In doing so he taught us that we must first die to sin, and then create in our lives on earth a harmony through virtuous deeds, if the grace of our devotion is to reach up to the Lord.
The choice of which set of Latin psalms to place on line is problematical for many different versions have been used over the centuries. The most well know set of psalms in Latin comes from Jerome's Vulgate and is know as the Gallican Psalter. The Gallican Psalter is not a work of Jerome himself, but an edition of the Old Latin that he put together before he did his Vulgate translation. The Bible had been translated into Latin long before Jerome started his famous translation in the 4th century. There were numerous Old Latin editions of the Scripture and Jerome attempted to edit them and bring them into conformity with one another and with the Greek Scriptures. Given the wide divergences amongst the texts, this proved not to be an easy task. Jerome felt that a fresh translation was in order, so he abandoned this work and began his work on the Vulgate. After the Vulgate came out, people objected to Jerome's Hebrew based Psalter, which was the original set of psalms in the Vulgate, and preferred to retain the Old Latin version of the psalms. Copyists obliged and simply replaced Jerome's original Vulgate Psalms with the Old Latin Gallican edition that Jerome has edited some years before.
While the Vulgate became the standard Latin Bible in the fourth century, it was not adopted universally until the 8th century. Rome, in particular, was slow to adopt the Vulgate. The Scriptural extracts in oldest parts of the Roman Liturgy are not from the Vulgate, but from the Old Latin. A cursory comparison between the texts of the Liturgy and the Vulgate will expose the differences. To complicate the situation even further, there are also multiple editions of the Vulgate that appeared down through the centuries. While each of these editions resemble each other reasonably well, still there are divergences amongst different texts. The Sixto-Clementine edition of Jerome's Vulgate, which came out in 1592, is perhaps the one most familiar to most people today. It had been the standard text until recently when the Nova Vulgata was published in 1979.
Another psalter in recent use that bears mention is the Psalter of Pius XII. Pope Pius XII ordered a fresh translation of the psalms from the Hebrew. It never really caught on. In this author's opinion, that was a good thing. While the Psalter of Pius XII has value as an aid to Scripture Study, its prayability and singability are low. It is more like reading Cicero than Scripture.
So as can be seen from the above, there is no lack of different Latin texts to choose from for the Psalms. I have chosen to put two sets of Latin Psalms on-line. First, I have selected the psalter from the old Roman Breviary. This is the form of the Psalms from the Sixto-Clementine edition of the Vulgate and was the standard Latin text of the Roman Rite until recently. It is the form of the psalms used in classical music. The second set is the text as found in the Nova Vulgata, which is used in the Liturgia Horarum (post Second Vatican Council). For those interested, you can get the Nova Vulgata from the Vatican web site at www.vatican.va. Both the Vulgata and the Nova Vulgata can be purchased from the Vatican Bookstore.
It should be noted that there are several web sites that have a set of psalms in Latin, and some of them have the rest of the Bible as well. They all claim to be the Vulgate, which is more or less correct, but two things should be noted. First, as best I can tell, and others have confirmed my impressions, all of these share a common source, namely an early edition of the Benedictine Vulgate published in Stuttgart in 1969 and 1975. This edition is the result of an effort to purge the various copyist errors that accumulated over the centuries and recover as nearly as possible the actual text set down by Jerome himself. This Benedictine edition was the starting point for the Nova Vulgata, which incorporates the results of modern Biblical scholarship. It should be emphasized that this Benedictine edition is not identical to the Sixto-Clementine edition. So if it is the Sixto-Clementine edition that you are looking for, these on-line Vulgates are not the ones for you. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, none of the public domain sites that claim to have the Vulgate online in fact have a complete version. All of them share a common source that was generated by someone who left out all of the Deuterocanonical passages. This means the seven Deuterocanonical books are missing as well as sections of Daniel and Esther. Some sites have supplied the missing books, but I have yet to find any that have supplied the missing parts of Daniel and Esther. So again, if completeness is important, you will not find it in these editions.
Lastly, a word about the numbering of the Psalms. There are two basic schemes, the Greek numbering and the Hebrew numbering. Until the Protestant Reformation, the Greek numbering of the psalms from the Septuagint was the universal scheme. Protestants, for various reasons, adopted the Hebrew numbering scheme, and, again for various reasons, most modern English Bibles these days use the Hebrew numbering scheme. The Vulgate uses this Greek numbering scheme and this is the scheme that I have used throughout this web site. However, due to the prevalence of the two numbering schemes, I have listed the psalm numbers in both schemes below as an aid to the confused. The Vulgate (Greek) numbering is first and the Hebrew numbering follows.
Sixto-Clementine Nova Vulgata
Psalmus VI Psalmus 6 (6)
Psalmus XXXI Psalmus 31 (32)
Psalmus XXXVII Psalmus 37 (38) Psalmus L Psalmus 50 (51) Psalm LXXXIII
Psalmus 84 (85)
Psalmus LXXXV Psalmus 85 (86) Psalmus CI Psalmus 101 (102) Psalmus CXV
Psalmus CXXIX Psalmus 129 (130) Psalmus CXLII Psalmus 142 (143) Psalmus CL
This section is under construction. Until I can bring all the Psalms on-line, which won't be any time soon, here is a useful external web site that has the early Benedictine edition of the Vulgate psalms.
©copyrighted by Michael Martin