Praying with the Scriptures
Christians have prayed with the scriptures for centuries. Recently, Catholics were encouraged to scriptural prayer by the Second Vatican Council which increased the scriptural readings at Mass and the liturgy of the hours, the church’s daily prayers.
Praying with the scriptures is not always easy, though. They’re old and we live in a modern world. They’re the Word of God, but they come from another time and place. Scholars today unlock their meaning, but they also introduce us to their complex history.
The 4 weeks of morning and evening prayer we follow in this website is from the Liturgy of the Hours used in the Catholic Church, slightly adapted.
Praying Morning and Evening Prayers
To help you appreciate Morning and Evening prayers, here’s a short commentary on the prayers and readings. The prayers are arranged to be read over a four week cycle. Each hour has three prayers from the psalms and canticles, followed by a reading, a gospel canticle, intercessory prayers, concluding with the Our Father.
Listen to What the Prayers Say
One general suggestion: listen to the prayers you say. For example, morning and evening prayers begin with a simple prayer asking God to help us pray. “God, come to my assistance…” God gives the gift of prayer and God gives it freely, welcoming us into the mystery of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Notice the variety of psalms, canticles, and readings for beginning and concluding the day. They’re taken from various parts of the Bible. Some are prayers of praise, some look for forgiveness, healing or guidance, some thank God for what will come or what has been done.
Praying morning and evening prayers helps you become gradually acquainted with all the scriptures. They introduce you to the Word of God and the mystery of Jesus Christ.
Prayer begins and ends the day
Why pray at the beginning and end of the day?
They are key times for prayer. Listen to the psalmist:
It is you whom I invoke, O Lord.
In the morning you hear me;
in the morning I offer you my prayer,
watching and waiting (Psalm 5. Monday Morning 1).
“We pray in the morning,” says St. Basil, “to give the first stirrings of our mind and heart to God and before anything to be gladdened by the thought of God.” Morning prayer recognizes a simple truth: How we begin a day is important. God wishes to be there with us.
The end of the day is also a time for prayer. Evening prayers, like Psalm 27 (Wednesday Evening, week 1), encourage trust in God as light, a stronghold, a home that shelters us, a rock where we are safe. Evening prayers heal the scars of the day and take away the fears of the night. God will be there with us.
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink?
God, the Creator
God, the Creator
We meet God the Creator, revealed in creation, in the prayers.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love.
By his word the heavens were made,
by the breath of his mouth all the stars.
He collects the waves of the ocean;
he stores up the depths of the sea.
Psalm 33 (Tuesday morning, week 1).
The psalms see God as all–powerful, One who brings all into being and guides all, a God who “loves justice and right and fills the earth with love.” God, the creator, appears throughout the psalms.
Love and respect for creation found in the psalms make them important prayers today when our “common home”, our environment, is endangered by human beings. Pope Francis warns of today’s dangerous forgetfulness of God as an all-powerful Creator in his letter Laudato Sī:
“ The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.” (75)
Praying the psalms strengthens our connection with creation. (72) Morning and evening prayers remind us of our place in our common home.
The Cry of the Poor
Some psalms in morning and evening prayers are desperate cries for help by individuals. The Creator cares for all creation, but especially the poor. In psalms like Psalm 143 (Thursday morning, week 4) someone in darkness, failing in spirit, numbed by life gone bad, pleads with God: “do not hide your face.”
“To you I stretch out my hands.
Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.
Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave…
Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.”
This desperate cry from the past is still heard today in those who look for justice and wonder why it can’t be found. They may not use the language of the psalmist, but their experience is the same. In psalms like these we join those crying for help. Psalms of lament are frequent in our daily prayers.
We also hear in them the voice of Jesus Christ who stretches out his hands with suffering humanity in prayer. Jesus embraced suffering humanity in his passion, St. Augustine says, “The whole Christ is speaking here; here is your voice too.” The psalms of lament foster a spirit of compassion in us.
Prayers of Thanksgiving
“I love the Lord for he has heard
the cry of my appeal;
for he turned his ear to me
in the day when I called him.”
(Psalm 116, Friday evening, week 2)
Prayers of thanksgiving from individuals and communities, recognizing the goodness of God who heals and has mercy, recur in our daily prayers. God, the creator, reaches down to the humblest of his creatures with care and concern. Prayers of thanksgiving remind us of God’s continual providence as well as our duty to give thanks as individuals and as communities for the gifts we’ve received.
Prayers for Forgiveness
“Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51, Friday mornings)
Psalm 51, asking God’s forgiveness, is the first psalm in the church’s prayer every Friday morning. Its weekly repetition indicates its importance. “Even if we live good lives, we’re never without sin,” Augustine says in commenting on this psalm.
“We’re hopeless creatures, more interested in the sins of others than our own.” This psalm calls us to acknowledge our sins, like King David: “My offenses truly I know them; my sin is always before me.”
“‘Create a clean heart in me, O God.’ Search within your heart for what is not pleasing to God. For a clean heart to be created, the unclean one must be removed.” We need God’s forgiveness.
Songs & Canticles
A number of our morning and evening psalms are songs prayed by pilgrims to Jerusalem long ago. More than songs for the road, pilgrim songs describe the journey into the mystery of God we’re all called to make.
For example, in the longing and yearning for God’s temple found in Psalm 84 (Monday Morning 3), we hear our own longing for God and a promise of strength for our spiritual journey.
They are happy, whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the roads to Sion.
As they go through the Bitter Valley
they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Sion.
A number of psalms, like Psalm 125 (Tuesday evening, week 3), celebrate Jerusalem, Sion, God’s holy city. As the Jewish people found strength in Jerusalem, Christians find strength in the new Jerusalem, the church founded on Jesus Christ. We’re also called to build a city, here and now, in the place where we live. The pilgrim psalms urge us ever onward.
Those who put their trust in the Lord
are like Mount Sion, that cannot be shaken,
that stands for ever.
Jerusalem! The mountains surround her,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and for ever.
God is King
God is king. The ancient Jewish prayers praise God as a king who mounts his throne each day. Christians see Jesus Christ as a king. “You are a king?” Pilate asks Jesus. “You say I am a king, for this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37)
The Lord is king, let earth rejoice,
let all the coastlands be glad.
Cloud and darkness are his raiment;
his throne, justice and right.
Psalm 97 (Wednesday morning, week 3)
Why the psalms?
Why do the psalms have a big place in our prayers? “Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms,” St Ambrose writes, “History instructs us, the law teaches us, prophecy foretells, correction punishes, morality persuades; but the book of psalms goes further than all these. It is medicine for our spiritual health. Whoever reads it finds a medicine to cure the wounds caused by our own particular passions. Whoever studies it deeply finds a school open for all souls to use.”
The psalms reveal the mystery of Jesus Christ, the saint says: “ In the book of psalms Jesus is not only born for us: he also accepts his saving passion, he dies, he rises from the dead, he ascends into heaven, he sits at the Father’s right hand. The Psalmist announced what no other prophet had dared to say, that which was later preached by the Lord himself in the Gospel.”
The psalms are a school of prayer.
Along with the psalms, canticles from the Jewish and Christian scriptures are found in our morning and evening prayers. They offer examples of key figures in sacred history who met the challenge of their time and gave thanks for the blessing they received. The canticles are taken from a number of books and literary forms in the Bible.
The Canticles of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, are Christian canticles from Luke’s gospel prayed daily—Mary’s canticle after the reading in evening prayer, Zechariah’s canticle after the reading in morning prayer.
Mary invites us in the evening to join in praising God, who “ has done great things for me.” Zechariah, who slowly came to believe, calls us in the morning with the same words he spoke to his son, John the Baptist: “go before the Lord to prepare his way.”
St. Paul’s letters to the Colossians, Philippians and Ephesians offer a number of canticles, probably ancient Christians hymns, that praise Jesus Christ and the mystery of redemption. He came “in the fullness of time” to carry out God’s plan, “to bring all things into one in him in the heavens and on earth.”
Canticles from Revelation frequently end the weekly evening prayers, reminding us as night approaches of our heavenly destiny. We have been redeemed by Christ, “from every people and nation” and called into his kingdom. In the evening prayers we join those in heaven who praise him.
Canticles from the Jewish scriptures in the prayers represent important moments of sacred history. Moses sings a victory song from Exodus 13 after crossing the Red Sea ( Saturday Morning, week 1). In his prayer from Deuteronomy 32 (Saturday Morning, week 2) he prepares his people for entering the promised land.
King David in his canticle from 1 Chronicles 29 (Monday Morning, week 1) recognizes God as king and father of his people, and promises to serve the. One who is the source of all power and dominion.
Many of the canticles, from the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habbakkuk, the Book of Tobit and the Book of Daniel, come from times the Jewish people faced exile or were in exile, yet they still maintained their faith and trust in God.
Jeremiah weeps over a desolate land after Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians (Friday Morning, 3) (Jer. 3 10-14. 14 17-21). The same prophet proclaims a return to the “garden land” God promised his people. (Thursday Morning, 1)
“In the land of my exile, I praise him, and show his power and majesty to a sinful nation,” blind Tobit says ( Tuesday Morning, 1). In the fiery furnace of Babylon, the three young men still find God in creation and praise him (Sunday Morning 1, Sunday Morning 2, Tuesday Morning, 4).
Exile is more than an historical reality; it’s found in human life in many forms– alienation, loss, shattered expectations among them.
The Canticles from Isaiah
Canticles from Isaiah appear 10 mornings in the 4 week cycle, 5 from Isaiah 1-40, 5 from Pseudo-Isaiah from the time of exile in Babylon (Isaiah 41-66).
God is Savior, present even in a land of exile, Isaiah proclaims. He promises his people, all people, a future kingdom, a homecoming.
Isaiah’s universal call to salvation, found especially in its later chapters, made it the most frequently quoted book in the New Testament after the book of psalms. It’s often called “the 5th Gospel.”
Isaiah announces the mission of John the Baptist (Matthew 3,3). Jesus read a passage of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth to introduce his mission. (Luke 4: 17-19) It was an important source for preachers like Paul. It still invites us to hope in a promised future.
Canticles of Judith & Hannah
The canticles of Judith and Hannah are prayers of women from an earlier time who resemble Mary, the mother of Jesus. Judith was victorious over an army. Nothing is impossible for God, she tells us. Repeatedly the Book of Judith says that God accomplished great things, “at the hand of a woman.” (Monday Morning, 1).
Childless, looked down on, Hannah trusted God would give her a child. She became the mother of Samuel, who began the period of judges and kings that changed the course of Jewish history. “God raises the needy from the dust, from the ash heap he lifts up the poor. To seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage.” (Wednesday Morning, 2)
Drawn from the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the psalms, canticles, readings and prayers for beginning and end of the day are a basic school of biblical prayer pointing to the plan God revealed in the mystery of Christ. They offer a steady way to study the scriptures and the many literary forms found in them. They lead us into a world bigger than ourselves and a vision beyond what our minds can create.
Prayed day by day—the ordinary way we learn—morning and evening prayer can attune our minds and hearts to appreciate the treasures of wisdom and knowledge found in the Word of God.
Insight on our Common Prayers
The Our Father
The Our Father is the final prayer morning and evening.
When his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus taught them the Our Father, a short prayer that sums us his teaching and mission.The prayer was not intended to replace the psalms and scriptures. On the contrary, it finds its origin in them.
The gospels offer two versions of the Our Father. In the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 6:9-13), it’s the centerpiece of the Sermon on the Mount. We know Matthew’s form of the Our Father by heart from our earliest years. We say it together at Mass and in our public prayers.
Commentators say that perhaps Matthew is reminding Jewish Christians attracted to the “long prayers of the synagogue” that prayer to the Father “who sees in secret” does not have to be wordy prayer, but prayer from the heart.
The shorter version of the Our Father found in the Gospel of Luke ( Luke 11:2-4) is probably closer to the original version Jesus taught. It’s found in part of his gospel called the “travel narrative”–the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will die and rise again.
Luke’s Gospel sees the Our Father as a pilgrim prayer for our journey through life. He wished his gentile converts learn it and pray it with confidence each day.
Both evangelists say this is how Jesus prayed; he taught his disciples to pray as he did.
Early church traditions like “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” call for the Our Father to be said “three times a day.” It’s a “summary of the gospel,” according to Tertullian, a “key to understanding Jesus.”
The Our Father comes appropriately at the end of morning and evening prayers as a summary of them.
Praying with Mary, the Mother of God
In our evening prayers each day, we pray with Mary, the Mother of God, joining in her Magnificat. The Hail Mary is another prayer honoring her that leads us to God.
The prayer’s earliest form developed in the middle ages as the simple greeting of the angel Gabriel at Nazareth, from St. Luke’s gospel:
full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
You are favored by God, the angel announces to her. Mary brought Jesus Christ into the world. That message to her is reflected in us, for like her we are favored by God and called to bring God’s Son into the world. God’s promise of grace to Mary is also God’s promise to us. God will be with us.
Over time her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, also recorded in St. Luke, was added to the prayer:
Blessed are you among women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Finally by the 15th century, the remainder of the prayer appeared:
Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.
The prayer asks Mary, full of the grace, to intercede for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. She believed and she knows what it means to believe. She who knew her Son so well can teach us to know him.
On Calvary Jesus entrusted her to us as our mother when he said to his disciple “Behold your mother.” Ever since, Mary brings Christ into this world. She witnessed his life, death and resurrection. She helps us to know him in these mysteries.
Mary also knows our needs. Just as she was aware of the needs of the newly married couple at Cana in Galilee, she is aware of our needs and brings them to Jesus, her Son.By the end of the 16th century the practice of saying 150 Hail Marys in series or decades of 10 became popular among many ordinary Christians. Helped by her they remembered the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That practice of prayer is known now as the Rosary. For many it became their morning and evening prayer.
Mary is a model of faith for Christians. When the angel Gabriel came to her, she believed the words he spoke even to the dark test of Calvary. She helps the family of believers make their journey of faith.
The Hail Mary and the Rosary are blessed prayers, simple and profound. They’re not beyond anyone’s reach; their repetition brings peace to the soul, drawing us into the joys, sorrows and glory of Jesus. We ask Mary to help us “imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen”
Little prayers are just that–the small, taken-for-granted prayers we pray all the time. Like “Amen.” How many times do we say that word in prayer? Usually we end all our prayers with it.
What does it mean? I suppose we could say it means “yes” in English. “Si” in Spanish or Italian. “Ya” in German. If you look it up in the dictionary, you find it traced back into the Greek and then to the Hebrew. Amen means “so be it”; a strong “yes,” and it’s been part of the language of our faith for centuries.
Here we are in the 21st century using a word generations before us have used; we draw on the faith of generations before us to say, “Yes, I believe,” “Amen” to God’s word to us and our word to God.
“The Lord be with you,” “And with your spirit.” Another little prayer, wishing that God be with us and bring us together in faith. We can trace that little prayer back generations too.
Little prayers can give us a way to express what we can hardly put into words or understand. Besides words, they can also be simple gestures, like the Sign of the Cross; they can be moments of listening or seeing and waiting in silent attention before God.
Psalm 123 describes a servant waiting and watching before her mistress.
“To you I lift up my eyes,
you who dwell in the heavens.
My eyes like the eyes of slaves
On the hand of their lords.
Like the eyes of a servant
On the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes are on the Lord our God
Till he show us his mercy.”
Little prayers can be a cry or even tears. You often hear that kind of prayer in the psalms:
“I cried to you, Lord, and you heard me,” the psalmist says in Psalm 30.
Remember the simple cry of the Canaanite woman: “Have pity on me, Son of David…Please, Lord” (Matthew 15:21).
Little prayers are important, they’re not little at all.
The New American Bible, text and notes: www.usccb.org
Catholic Study Bible, Oxford U. Press. 1990
On Prayer, The Catechism of the Catholic Faith , Chapter 4
On the Psalms, cf. Catholic Study Bible,. Oxford U. Press 1990 241-255
Shorter Christian Prayer, Morning and Evening Prayers, Catholic Book Publishing, NY 1988
For the Stations of the Cross and Meditations on the Passion of Jesus see
For commentary on the daily lectionary readings from the Bible and the feasts of the saints and the seasons see: www.vhoagland.wordpress.com