Community Prayer

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Historiated initial depicting St. Francis

Psalters played a significant role in creating a sense of community in medieval Europe. Psalms made up one of the largest portions of the liturgy and provided the songs and chants that would be sung during the Mass, which was not only a religious ritual but also an intensely communal gathering. For those Christians who did not possess their own psalter or were unable to read, the liturgy provided a means to access these psalms and join the rest of the community in communal worship. Hearing the psalms during Mass also enabled the lay population to develop a fuller understanding of the Bible, the most integral text to the Christian community.
During Mass, the preacher would have selected specific psalms to supplement his homily and teach the crowd about a given moral lesson; he would also inform them of the impending events in the liturgical calendar. Psalms from the psalter were also sung as part of the Divine Office, the official set of prayers that marked the hours of each day and sanctified the day with prayer. Once again, these prayers were often performed in groups and gave structure to many Christians' daily lives
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Individuals would wake up at two a.m. to begin their prayers and would continue throughout the day with minimal breaks. It was not until right before they went to sleep that they would conclude, only to wake up in the middle of the night to start praying once more. It would take someone a week of praying like this to recite all the psalms, after which they would begin the cycle anew for the next week. This made the psalter an extremely important text since they kept the psalms in a convenient and easily transportable place. 

Many Biblical stories and figures are depicted in the historiated initials of the Psalter, such as the image of St. Francis on f. 17. These historiated initials served as complementary illustrations to the text and even occasionally contained satires of the psalms. Since psalms were a crucial part of any Mass, the laity would pick up on the Latin words spoken. If they were wealthy enough to own a personal psalter, they would read them in anticipation of the day’s service, or reflect upon the ones they heard at Mass. Some psalters were also divided into seven sections, which would have made it easy for parishioners to incorporate worship into their daily lives, both inside and outside of official services. In short, the psalters and the psalms contained within them that were sung as part of various Chrisitan rituals provided a sense of belonging and religious cohesion to medieval Christians.

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