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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter XI. Of the system according to which the Psalms are said among the Egyptians.

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Chapter XI.

Of the system according to which the Psalms are said among the Egyptians.

And, therefore, they do not even attempt to finish the Psalms, which they sing in the service, by an unbroken and continuous recitation. But they repeat them separately and bit by bit, divided into two or three sections, according to the number of verses, with prayers in between. 700 For they do not care about the quantity of verses, but about the intelligence of the mind; aiming with all their might at this: “I will sing with the spirit: I will sing also with the understanding.” 701 And so they consider it better for ten verses to be sung with understanding and thought 702 than for a whole Psalm to be poured forth with a bewildered mind. And this is sometimes caused by the hurry of the speaker, when, thinking of the character and number of the remaining Psalms to be sung, he takes no pains to make the meaning clear to his hearers, but hastens on to get to the end of the service. Lastly, if any of the younger monks, either through fervour of spirit or because he has not yet been properly p. 210 taught, goes beyond the proper limit of what is to be sung, the one who is singing the Psalm is stopped by the senior clapping his hands where he sits in his stall, and making them all rise for prayer. Thus they take every possible care that no weariness may creep in among them as they sit through the length of the Psalms, as thereby not only would the singer himself lose the fruits of understanding, but also loss would be incurred by those whom he made to feel the service a weariness by going on so long. They also observe this with the greatest care; viz., that no Psalm should be said with the response of Alleluia except those which are marked with the inscription of Alleluia in their title. 703 But the aforesaid number of twelve Psalms they divide in such a way that, if there are two brethren they each sing six; if there are three, then four; and if four, three each. A smaller number than this they never sing in the congregation, and accordingly, however large a congregation is assembled, not more than four brethren sing in the service. 704



This plan of dividing some of the longer Psalms (as is still done with the 119th in the English Psalter) was adopted sometimes in the West also. Cf. the Rule of S. Benedict, c. xviii., and the Third Council of Narbonne (a.d. 589), Canon 2: “Ut in psallendis ordinibus per quemque Psalmum Gloria dicatur Omnipotenti Deo, per majores vero Psalmos, prout fuerint prolixius, pausationes fiant, et per quamque pausationem Gloria Trinitatis Domino decantetur.” Further, the rule that prayers should be intermingled with Psalms which was perhaps introduced into the West by Cassian, was widely adopted both in Gaul and in Spain.


1 Cor. xiv. 15.


Cum rationabili assignatione.


Viz.: Ps. civ., cv., cvi., cx., cxi., cxii., cxiii., cxiv., cxv., cxvi., cxvii., cxviii., cxxxiv., cxxxv., cxlv., cxlvi., cxlvii., cxlviii., cxlix., cl., in the LXX. and the Latin.


This arrangement by which the Psalm was sung by a single voice, while the rest of the congregation listened, is that which was afterwards known by the name of Tractus.

Next: Chapter XII. Of the reason why while one sings the Psalms the rest sit down during the service; and of the zeal with which they afterwards prolong their vigils in their cells till daybreak.

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