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The "Whole Christ"

Saint Augustine, building upon such Pauline insights as "you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it ... If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1Cor 12:27,26), articulated his key insight into the "totus Christus," the whole Christ.

Strikingly, Augustine applied this insight to the Church's praying the psalms. They are the prayer of the whole Christ: Head and members, though prayed diversely by each according to the content of the psalm, whether penitential, petitionary, or praising.

When praying the liturgy of the hours, I try to be mindful of the fact that I am praying in union with the whole body of believers, united with Christ our Head. I try to do so, not only at the time of the specific petitions, but throughout the praying of the psalm. When praying alone, I modify the invocation: "O God, come to our assistance; o Lord, make haste to help us!"

Friday Lauds always begin with the great penitential psalm 51, in which we cry: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me."

The whole Christ prays today for and with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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I was happy to see that he received a Catholic funeral 

slide show:

I was struck by the faces of many people at the funeral -- so many of them seemed caught in deep. even existential grief.  Meryl Streep in particular seemed devastated.  What a remarkable man.  May he rest in peace, and peace to his family and friends. 

If you have not prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, this site provides all that you need. For the nourishment that we all need throughout the day.

When I pray Vespers with my students, they use their i-phones, while I pull out my battered breviary. So I'm grateful for the "universalis" link.

Two quick observations on a first-time exploration:

1. the intercessions and concluding prayer seem better than the ones in the American breviary. Are they from the edition of the breviary used in England?

2. it's a pleasure to have the Latin hymns for the different hours available as well.

May he rest in peace, and peace to his family and friends. 

Ann, yes. I was happy to see this photo of Fr. jim Martin standing with Mimi O'Donell and her (and Hoffman's) three children as the coffin left the church.

the photo is about half-way through the article.

Seemed to me that it was a good example of "accompanying people on their way," as we've been discussing in the other thread, in connection with the quote from Pope Francis. i believe I've read in another article that Fr. Martin went to visit them at their apartment after Hoffman was found in his apartment. 

Here is another site for the Divine Office. Universalis is British, I am told, and follows the British scheme, which has some differences from American practice. Personally, I also find it easier to use:

Now that I'm here: Can anyone suggest a good book on using the psalms? Not a translation; I have three of those. And not the kind of explanation of odd points I can find in the footnotes of the NAB. What I am looking for, I guess, is a book by someone with long experience with the psalms who can talk about what he puts into praying them and what he gets out. It would be sort of a book-length version of Fr. Inbelli's post here.

Apparently the liturgical publication which distributes the Breviary and other texts has a patent on the translations. So Univrsalis did its own translation. Which , though it is good, makes for some startling comparisons with the Latin. 

The history of the translation into English of the post-Vatican II breviary is rather complex. I won't rehearse it here, except to say that there are two official versions -- The Divine Office (prepared in the early 1970s by the Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Australia) and The Liturgy of the Hours (prepared, also in the 1970s, by The International Commission on English in the Liturgy [ICEL]). The ICEL text is used principally in the US, Canada, and The Philippines. It is now being revised, though I think I am correct in saying that the non-bibllical readings, close to 600 in all, from The Office of Readings will be kept as is. (That would be an enormous task. I was there the first time round.) In the current revision of the ICEL LH, the hymns are being translated from the Latin. Whether the Latin originals will also be provided as in the Italian Liturgia delle Ore, I don't know.

The link that Tom Blackburn provides, Divine, is actually the text as it appears in The Liturgy of the Hours, not The Divine Office. (How's that for further confusion!) Looking at Morning Prayer, I spotted only one difference. Divine Office. org gives a different hymn than the one found in LH. But surely the hymn for Morning Prayer on the Divine site is for Evening Prayer not Morning Prayer.

I was not familiar with the  Divine site, and know nothing about Universalis. Whatever version, it is heartening to know that the Church's daily prayer is being prayed individually and in common. I have known both the pre-reform Latin version (five ribbons, three holy cards, and a finger or two) as well as the post-conciliar revision. I couldn't live without  it.


many thanks for the information. Do you know if there is an announced publication date for the revised ICEL LH?

As I mention above, an attraction of the Universalis site is that at the bottom of the particular hour there is a link to a page that features both Latin and English versions – though the English hymn provided is not a translation of the Latin..

I also see that the version used on the Universalis site incorporates the practice I have adopted of beginning with the invocation in the plural: "make haste to help us!"

Father Imbelli:

The work on the revision of the ICEL LH is definitely under way. I haven't seen a target date for publication, but, knowing the various steps and stages, I would say that at least three years would be realistic.

John, Thanks. I am now a whole lot smarter than I was.

For you Greek language lovers. The gospel is in Greek today as well as english on the Universalis site.

I wish the Church would produce a Liturgy of the Hours that is more relevant to life in the 21st century, one with a form that doesn't require, as has been said, five ribbon place-holders and three holy cards in the hand.  The other big deficiency is hat the content doesn't reflect many different, specific concerns.  For instance, there's too much about dealing with "enemies".  Most people don't really have enemies, we just have opponents of one sort and another and of more or less grave statuare.  I suspect the current emphasis on dealing with enemies is due to the emphasis on the Psalms -- David did pray a lot about enemies because he had many.  The rest of us don't.  Prayers about the various kinds of virtues and sins would be helpful replacements.  Even just a bigger variety of the Psalms would be helpful.

And the English of the Hymns is abominable.  Those jingly-jangly verses might have been just the thing for the 17th century, but they're not for us.  The word order in them is so excruciatingly forced that they're a distraction.  I just skip them.  So good poetry would be much, much more valuable.

It would be a huge undertaking, but you gotta start sometime.


others may be able to share some reflections from their own prayer experience, but regarding the presence of "enemies" in the Psalms, I find two ways of attending to them helpful for me personally:

1. praying the liturgy "in the whole Christ" helps me remember those members of the body who are attacked for their faith, for whom "enemies" are a concrete and pressing reality;

2. like Paul, I can consider the various "thorns" in the flesh that impede full surrender to God, those aspects and habits of character that are obstacles to union with the God of love and service of others.

 Apparently, you have two choices from Universalis: 1) read it free online using your browser, or 2) pay for their app for your iPhone (or whatever), which allows you to chose either their translation or the Grail version of the psalms

Translations: The readings are from the Jerusalem Bible. For the psalms, you have a choice of our own translation (as seen on the Web) and the Grail version, which is used in most of the English-speaking world.

They don't mention whether "most of the English-speaking world" includes the USA. 

The app also has the advantage that onceyou have installed it, you no longer need an internet connection to use the LOH, so you could use it in an airplane or other places where no internet connection is avAilable. 



Fr. Imbelli --

Yes, those applications of the "enemies" texts are quite useful, but there are other kinds of prayers that are equally or more important.  Plus, so much emphasis on God's vanquishing enemies is likely to reinforce some people's anger at their enemies (some do have enemies), even if their anger is just anger..  We need less about revenge and annihilation and more about making peace and about overcoming our own anger which isn't jusstified.

Ann - regarding enemies: I agree it can be spiritually challenging.  The prayers for protection from enemies are the sorts of prayers that are made by poor, weak people surrounded by hostile, malicious, powerful foes.   We Americans aren't accustomed to thinking of ourselves this way.  But I've seen the suggestion that we do have such powerful enemies - cancer, natural disasters, corrosive and exploitative business practices, the sex trades - ravaging dragons that we've not been able to vanquish on our own.  I suspect that Francis would put the devil at the top of that list.


Ann, I was going to make a quip about how maybe you don't have enemies... but then others said such edifying things, I won't go there. ;) 

Tom Blackburn, do you have access to a seminary library where you might get some theological books or periodicals? I was just reading a beautiful "introduction to the psalms" by Andre Chouraqui. It first appeared in 1979 and was reprinted in 1995 in the periodical Liturgy O.C.S.O (Volume 29, Number 1). Chouraqui was an Algerian-born, French-educated, scholar and writer whose translation into French of the psalms in 1956 was widely acclaimed.

Tom, you also should know that some of Bob's comments echo sentiments voiced by Pius Parsch in Der Wochenpsalter des Romischen Breviers which were reprinted as an introduction to The Hours of the Divine Office in English and Latin. I can't recommend this essay by Parsch highly enough. Sixteen pages. If you can get a hold of it, you will find it rewarding I think. The set of books I am talking about came out in 1963, from Liturgical Press, and are hard to find today, because they almost immediately became obsolete. But that introduction is pure gold. If someone has translated the original book from which they were taken, that would be worth looking at too. Yes, it's the pre-reformed texts that are in view, but a lot of the insights still apply, I think, and you can make the adaptations in your mind as you go along.


thank you for these references. Would it be too much to ask if you could share an insight or two from these readings that you find particularly rich? I'm sure we would profit from them.

Jim P. ==

Yes, the enemies texts can be used as a metaphor for all those things.  But the image of a powerful king fighting to maintain his power over powerful external enemies reeks with the theme of power.  One has to fight the image to make it relevant to one's own situation.  

I love the Psalms, but there's more to the Bible than that.  You'd think that images of Jesus' own life would be the central visualizations in the Book of Hours, but they're not.  That amazes and disappoins me. 

Further, individuals vary greatly.  Surely the Church could find more varied poetry to help a greater variety of people. There could be poetry bringing wisdom from believers all over the world, which I think would be a  very unifying practice.

But I wouldn't leave it up to a committee of Curia bureaucrats to do the job.  This is a job for the best of liturgists, theologians, psychologists,  the saints who have left us prayers, and, most of all, poets.

Reform, reform, reform :-) 

Oops, I left out the playwrights!  They are too are experts in articulating deep concerns.  So on with Shakespeare, and maybe even Ibsen too.  Why not?  Just think of some of the poetry of George Herbert, John Donne and, closer to us,  Eliot, not to mention Dante. 

Rita, Bless you and thank you. I don't have access to the seminary library (I've been told I do, but I wouldn't push it), but I have access to people who do. So I'll get after the Chouraqui. The Parsch, too, if the seminary isn't too young. (In the back of my head there is a copy of some book by Parsch -- Pius Parsch is a name you don't forget) in the Cardijn Center in Milwaukee  back many years ago. It looked daunting, and it was in English. In German even the title is a doorstop.)

And let me second Fr. Imbelli's encouragement for you to provide more insight.

Tom and all - you might also check out "Israel's Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology" by Walter Brueggemann.  Among its virtues, it takes very seriously Ann's concerns about enemies and power.

For a shorter read, the introduction to the commentary on the Psalms in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary is something I've found helpful.  Naturally, now that I want to refer to it, I can't lay my hands on the book (it's around here somewhere).  That chapter might be by Bruce Vawter, but don't quote me on it.


Thank you, too, Jim. ( I almost had the NJBC once, but when I had the money, they raised the price.)

Thanks, Bob and Tom, for the invitation to share some of the insights which have been rich for me. Perhaps a few quotations would not be amiss either, for both of these works are beautifully written.

First, a little background on Parsch for those who don't know about him. Pius Parsch was an Augustinian canon at Klausterneuberg Abbey in Austria. He was an important figure in the Liturgical Movement of the first half of the twentieth century. His work is remembered for its pastoral sense, not only its scholarship. (Tom, I am guessing that the book(s) you saw were The Church's Year of Grace which is probably the best known of his works in English.) 

I already mentioned that the main idea of Bob's post was reminiscent of Parsch's exposition of the Hours. Here is an excerpt:

The breviary is above all the prayer of the Church, the prayer said in the name of the Church. It is helpful to understand the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. In private prayer I pray, mostly, for myself and my own affairs. It is the isolated person who stands in the center of the action, and the prayer is more or less individualized. But in liturgical prayer, and therefore in the breviary, it is not primarily I who am praying, but the Church... In liturgical prayer, I feel more like a member of a great community, like a little leaf on the great living tree of the Church. I share her life and her problems. The Church is praying through my mouth, I offer her my tongue to pray with her for all the great objectives of redemption, and for God's honor and glory.

We weep, too, or rather the Church weeps through our tears, together with those who weep, rejoices through our joys together with those who rejoice, does penance with the repentant. All the sentiments of Holy Mother Church find their echo in our heart. This gives a deeper content to our prayer; we spread out far beyond our own selves.

Incidentally, this second paragraph so closely compares to the first article of Gaudium et spes that I wonder if the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World might not be animated more by a liturgical spirituality than is normally credited. But that's another subject. :) 

Parsch gives a sensitive description of each of the Hours, and a general rationale for the psalms and canticles that are assigned to them. Because the sheer quantity of words in the Hours can be overwhelming in detail, I find this general architecture helpful. Here is an example in his description of Lauds.

Lauds is a jubilant hour, fresh as the morning dew, perhaps the most beautiful of all the Hours. Its symbolism deserves attention. It is night; nature and men are asleep. In the far east, the grey of dawn appears; then the ruddy hue of morning, the harbinger of a new day, spreads across the horizon, and the world of nature begins to stir. But all this natural beauty is only a symbol and reminder of a most wonderful event in the story of salvation. It was at this beautiful hour that the Savior burst the bonds of death. Resurrection -- that is the background theme of Lauds. And the two pictures together, dawn and resurrection, remind us of a third arising from slumber, the spiritual awakening of the human soul.

In another section, he describes the wonder and honest difficulties of praying the psalms ("The psalms are what make the breviary so beautiful and at the same time so difficult), especially the harsh passages. In an attempt to navigate some of these difficulties he discusses the psalms as "prayer figures," which I found helpful.

The key to understanding any figure comes from having grasped the point of comparison employed; that point must be isolated and concretely formulated. When we have found it we will know at once what is to be carried over into our application of the prayer and what is only incidently development of the figure used. Just as in a parable not every feature of the story or detail is capable of application to the point made by the narrative, even so, not every verse or statement in a psalm can be applied to its basic message. The psalms, after all, are poetry.

With regard to "curse psalms" he had this to say:

... [A]s Christians we may never wish evil upon a sinner directly, personally. 

The psalms however have nothing to do with personal enmities. The theme of all our praying is God's kingdom and sin, and the curse passages in the psalms are only the primitive expression of absolute protest against evil, sin and hell. Try changing the optative of the curses to the indicative of fact; this turns the curses into an expression of divine justice... 

Well, this is enough for one comment. Later, perhaps I can come back with something to share from Andre Chouraqui.

Thanks, Rita, and i do hope you will come back with more.

Regarding Parsch's lovely evocation of Lauds, I enjoy praying the Latin hymns (difficult as some are) because of their attunement to the hours of the day. I hope, as John Page indicates, that they will be translated (well!) in the new edition of the breviary.

Rita, Keep going. You may end up with a book. I'll buy it.

I'm going to have to work on what Parsch calls "the point of comparison." For some psalms, like 51, that seems pretty clear. But when they do the big tone shifts (as, e.g., at 89:20) I fall right off the sled.

Again, thanks.


There are many elements that enhance the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours. In so far as it is possible, I think that a personally important image, even if it is a simple holy card, is of great help.

I am blessed to pray often before a large reproduction of the San Clemente mosaic of the Cross of Christ as the Tree of Life.

Gazing on it, the words of one of this evening's psalms take on new meaning and challenge:

Lord, the king will rejoice in your strength,
  he will triumph in your saving power.
You have granted him his heart’s desire,
  you have not denied the wish that he spoke.
For you showered him with blessings
  even before he asked for them.
  You have placed a crown of purest gold upon his head.
As do the words of the "Magnificat" when prayed contemplating Mary at the foot of the cross: "My spirit rejoices in God, my Savior."

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