ASK FATHER: Should we pray for or against the success of the Synod?

I’ve had a few questions in email about the upcoming Synod.   People are worried that it is rigged.   Imagine such a thing!  “Surely NOT!”, you might gasp.

Questions have ranged from the new constitution for the Synod’s operation to whether we can, given the changes and given those whom Francis invited personally to participate, we can support it.

This afternoon Peter Kwasniewski has a piece that is as earnest as it is mordant.   He writes about the upcoming Synod.

A sample:

What this suggests to me is that, at this time in history, the higher one’s position in the institutional hierarchy, the more likely one is to be corrupted and compromised, while simple lay believers are far more likely to be outspokenly committed to traditional faith, morals, and liturgy. This is where future Catholic laity, priests, and religious will come from—not from the Synod machinery of the new German-Italian Axis.

Instead of praying for the success of another rigged Synod, perhaps we need to pray for a real chastisement from God to wake up the Church in its heady echelons. We might consider using the so-called cursing Psalms that were excised from the new Liturgy of the Hours.

What are the “cursing psalms” (aka “maledictory psalms”)?

A standard list of the maledictory psalms will include – and alert that Psalms are numbered differently in various editions of Scripture and in newer and older books you might consult – 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143.  Many of these psalms were “edited” or even wholly excluded from the revised Psalter used in the Liturgy of the Hours.   However, there are lots of maledictions, curses and imprecations throughout the Psalter: 5:10; 6:10; 7:9-16; 10:15; 17:13; 18:40-42; 18:47; 26:4-5; 28:4; 31:17, 18; 35:3-8; 40:14; 54:5; 55:9, 19; 56:7; 58:6-10; 59:ll-15; 68:2; 69 (most of the psalm); 70:2-3; 71:13; 79:6, 12; 83:9-17; 104:35; 109:6-20; 129:5; 137:7-9; 140:8-11; 141: 10; 143:12; 149:6-9.

Of special note are Ps 55, 108, and 136 which give libs a serious case of the collywobbles (except perhaps if they use it against defenders of doctrine and law).

So, what to make of these psalms?

First, since they are the inspired word of Almighty God, we can safely say that they are not bad and they can be used for prayer.   

St. Augustine believed that every word of the Psalms was Christ speaking to the Father, but in different voices, as the Head, the Body and both together, Christus Totus.  I’ll go with Augustine.

That said, it might make the Christian scratch her head when we pray “Blessed be he that shall take and dash thy little ones against the rock” (Ps 137:9).

How to use these psalms in prayer in a way that is pleasing to God and that does not imperil our own salvation by spurring us to soul killing hatred?

Isn’t this a serious consideration in these times of political circuses and ecclesial misadventure?

Christ the Lord commanded us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).  And yet a couple dozen or so psalms – which all Christians can use for prayer – seem to wish some pretty dire things on our enemies.  And, yes, we have enemies.

Love for “enemy” can be expressed different ways.

Love for our enemies does not mean that we must hope that they prosper or succeed in their wicked ways.  Love, charity, means that we will their true good. We pray for their salvation.  We ask God to use the necessary corrections, chastisements, whatever, to punch through their pride and turn their minds and hearts, even if that means suffering unto loss of limb and life.


One of the best explanations of the maledictory psalms – and therefore how to pray for our enemies – I’ve run across came in a comment made on this very blog under another entry  Namely, …

In the Introduction (by Pius Parsch) to the Baronius edition of the 1962 Roman Breviary [UK HERE], we read that:

As Christians we may never wish evil upon a sinner directly and personally, but [NB] these [curse] psalms 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 expressions of absolute protest against evil, sin and hellTry changing the curses into an expression of divine justice and you pronounce them no longer with your own mouth, but with the mouth of Christ and the Church. The curse thus resembles the woes that our Lord addressed against the Pharisees. There is something quite stirring and grand about these curses. The all-just God steps before us as we pray and warns us of the punishments of hell.  [NB: warns us!]

In regard to Psalm 108 (109)—perhaps the most maledictory of all the so-called curse psalms and omitted entirely from the LOH psalter—he says that

Psalm 108 is a curse formula and very difficult to reconcile with the Christian idea of prayer. Let us suppose that the Church or Christ Himself is praying this psalm. Then the curses become no longer wishes, but rather the solemn sentence of divine justice upon unwillingness to repent. With tears in her eyes the Church prays these terrible words–just as Jesus once declaimed his eightfold “Woe is you . . .” against the Pharisees. At the opening of the psalm, the Church laments. In the following two sections, where curses and punishments are asked for, a picture of the everlasting hell is painted for us. The petition which comprises the fourth part of the psalm can be a prayer of the individual soul; I stand terrified before the picture I have seen: “Have mercy on me, a poor weak mortal!”.

While there is a great deal more to be said about the maledictory psalms, that seems a good place to pause so that I can do my job and admonish you.

We members of the Church Militant have enemies.  Right now, many of them are inside the gates.

There are the relentless, ineluctable foes which are the world, the flesh and the Devil.  There are also the agents of the Devil among us, outside the Church and, verily, inside.

We must strive not to hate enemies, to love enemies with the love that is charity, the love that desires what is truly good for them.  If they are doing great harm to our persons, families, nation and Church, yes, we can pray for their conversion or for their ruin lest they continue to do harm and lest they go to Hell.  For example, HERE. And while we pray for and against our enemies (and bear wrongs patiently), we must see to it that we don’t go to Hell, either.

As we soldier on through this vale of tears, we must constantly field strip our consciences while asking God for all the graces we need to do His will and to conform ourselves to His will and ways.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. excalibur says:

    OT Heads up, Father Z, you may want to read this. Cardinal Cupich goes after a priest, a man who is a survivor of sexual abuse, including by a priest. Prayers for Father Kalchik.

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    The next question Father Z will confront:

    Is it morally licit to play the numbers of the previously-somewhat-obscure-since 1962 maledictory psalms in my state’s lottery?

  3. Unwilling says:

    Defend the Holy Synod from the machinations of the Evil One.

  4. AveMariaGratiaPlena says:

    Is there a good explanation somewhere of what exactly “soul-killing hatred” or gravely sinful hatred is? I do have a temper and regularly get angry (which I confess), but I want to make sure I understand the various gradations of anger/hatred — when it becomes a truly grave matter — so I can identify it in myself & pray for the graces to stop it. Goodness knows I’ve felt intense anger these past few months and I don’t want to indulge in hatred.

  5. irishromancatholic says:

    The Rosary, The Rosary, The Rosary is the constant exhortation by the Mother of God and recent holy men such as Padre Pio. The great Pope Leo XIII who could be dubbed “The Rosary Pope” since he published twelve encyclicals and several letters on the rosary over the course of his pontificate ushered in this era and saw the fervent recital of the Rosary as the primary solution.
    Read Our Lady of Tre Fontane on the purification of the church from all the filth and worldliness of the clergy: considered by Pius XII and John Paul II as a continuation of the message of Fatima: pray the Rosary and do Penance. If even three percent of Catholics would devoutly say their Rosary every day and offer up their trails in life to God, the Church would quickly be reformed and enjoy an authentic springtime.

  6. teomatteo says:

    I will pray that PF cancels it. That the participants find that they cant attend and if those things are not God’s will then that Archbsp Chaput attends -kicks some preverbial gluteos maximus and solidifies his position as the next papal candidate. Hey, we should always make God known to what we want.

  7. Ave Maria says:

    I noted the numbers of the Psalms and will take a close look at them. I doubt the sin-nods will be cancelled as they are part of the current agenda to change/destroy the Church. It goes forward until the wrath of God or the civil authorities come for all those who have been involved in certain crimes and cover-ups. (not to mention mortal sins?)

  8. cwillia1 says:

    Re: Psalm 137(136) daughter Babylon is a dusty ruin and there are no babies to dash against the rock. In the pre-Lent period the Byzantine rite uses this psalm as a preparation for the Great Fast. And this suggests an obvious allegorical interpretation. The psalm suggests that we adopt a ferocious determination to overcome the spiritual complacency that stands between us, trapped in Babylon, and our true home, Jerusalem and resist the demonic forces that stand in our way.

    Re: Psalm 109(108) We need to read this one carefully, paying attention to the “he’s” and the “they’s”. Verses 6-20, the bulk of the imprecation, is directed at the psalmist by those who hate him and wish to destroy him and his family in the most vicious way. Taken as a whole the psalm is an appeal to God by a faithful servant for protection from terrible persecution and for justice.

    But it is not just the imprecatory psalms that raise issues for people. There are psalms which express nothing but despair. There are psalms that condemn God for being unfaithful to his covenant. What does it mean that the Holy Spirit inspires these psalms and we are to pray them? I think the answer is that these are authentic expressions of the experience of the believer – both the generic believer and the believer par excellence the God-Man, Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

  9. Henry Edwards says:

    Although Amazon lists the expensive–but invaluable, if not priceless, though only about a dollar per day for the first year of use (and free thereafter)–Baronius Press edition of the Roman Breviary as “currently unavailable”, we see from the publisher’s listing (here) that it has been reprinted and will be in stock shortly.

  10. TonyO says:

    Importantly, I think: we do indeed have true enemies. Satan and all of his fallen angels have great malice for us and work for our downfall. In addition, there are truly malevolent men who have knowingly and willingly allied themselves with Satan and are eager for evils to befall us. Thirdly, there are the enormous numbers of willful sinners committed to their particular vices and who no longer even wish to overcome sin, who are more or less complacently willing to have us destroyed if it doesn’t get in the way of their vices. The last are effectively enemies because they so often carry out the work of the devil even when they do not do so directly out of malice for us. These among are the “useful idiots” of Stalin’s coinage.

    AveMaria, as I understand it: first of all, anger itself is a passion, not a sin. It usually represents an occasion of sin, in that we ought to act primarily out of love for the good and not primarily out of anger. But anger is the operation of the irascible faculty, placed in man by God as part of our nature, and its GOOD operation is to be praised: the upright man properly gets angry at evils about which he can act, and employs that anger to better act against them. As Christ did with the money-changers. Anger is a dangerous passion, but not per se a sinful one. It becomes a sin if we let it guide us to act out of spite or a desire that another human suffer evil merely for the sake of evil. (It is also a sin if we willfully encourage the passion by dwelling on hateful evils that thus roil us even more, without good reason.) So the sin is not in wishing that evil happen to men who do evil, it is in wishing evil on them merely for the sake of evil, rather than for the sake of good. A judge who justly sentences a criminal wills that the criminal suffer evil for the sake of justice, a good. A schoolboy who hits his neighbor because “he hit me first” is not desiring the good but simply the evil.

    There is an opposite vice to that of being too angry, that is being not angry enough. It can be observed in priests who DO NOT act against priest abusers known to them in specific detail, but who rather “smooth things over” so as to not allow the Church to be saddled with a bad reputation. Or in legislators and judges who refuse to allow just punishments to be employed against criminals, out of a sentiment of “niceness”, in that they don’t like being “mean”.

  11. TonyO says:

    No good can come out of a synod while Francis is uncorrected. In his current state is seems that he is incapable of even permitting, much less causing, a good synod to achieve good results. And this synod has every sign of being no good at all. We should pray for it to not take place, or that the Holy Spirit simply overcome the spirit that currently guides its leaders.

  12. Adelle Cecilia says:

    “Should we pray for or against the success of _____?”

    This is something that, in recent years, I’ve changed my mind about.
    Similar to, “please let me/him get this job,” or other TOO specific demands/prayers, I’ve decided it best to pray for what will be best – because, maybe this job isn’t actually what will be best for our family in the long run… perhaps not getting this job would actually open the possibility to another, even-better-for-us-all job.

    Sure, I pray specifically for the physical and spiritual health, safety, and well-being of my family, and even for a good sale of our previous home, etc., but I am more inclined to pray for the best possible outcome – that God’s will be done – of something absolutely outside of my control, than to pray for or against specific people or groups.

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