Remembering the Saints (10)
The [monastic] family of Ruadan consisted of three fifties continually; and they received their livelihood without any human exertion on their part, save only prayer and intercession of the Creator, and the daily performance of divine psalmody, in praising the Lord continually for the manner in which they received their sustenance.
- Anonymous, Life of Ruadan (16th century, from an earlier ms.)
So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
- Acts 4.24, 25
The Lives of Irish Saints which Charles Plummer translated can give the impression that life in a monastery was wholly given to spiritual activities – praying, teaching, reading, studying, healing, performing miracles, and the like. In one sense, this is true, since prayer, mutual encouragement, meditating on the Word, and reviewing and discussing the latest teaching by the abbot would be part of whatever monks were doing throughout the day. But there was a good deal of “human exertion” attached to being a monk in medieval Ireland.
Ruadan was abbot of Lothra in County Tipperary, one of the leading monasteries in Ireland in the middle of the 6th century. The men who came to him would have participated in monastic life according to a rule of discipline which was designed to help them make the best use of their time. Much of their daily lives would have been given to various kinds of work, including farming, copying manuscripts, husbanding animals, maintaining and repairing the monastic grounds, ministering among the lay people in the surrounding community, washing clothes, and preparing meals. The focus in our excerpt from the Life of Ruadan is on daily sustenance, “their livelihood”. Monks did not exert themselves in making money, or even in trying to raise it – begging was absolutely forbidden. They looked to their Creator to supply their needs as they attended to the daily duties of their callings.
And much of this looking to their Creator took the form of praying and singing the psalms. The anonymous author of our text mentions that Ruadan’s “family consisted of three fifties continually”. That might be taken to mean that the membership at Lothra was limited to 150 monks. But I think the writer intends otherwise. The reference to “three fifties” in literature from this period always refers to the book of Psalms. Life at Ruadan’s monastery “consisted of” – was shaped and sustained by – “the daily performance of divine psalmody.” Life at Lothra, as at most other Irish monasteries, was saturated with, directed and sustained by, and enriched in all its facets by praying and singing the Psalms.
This should not surprise us, as we see it to have been the case among the first believers in the book of Acts. When Peter and John returned from their inquiry before the Sanhedrin and reported the threats against them, the multitude of people who had gathered to hear this news turned immediately to the Psalms for strength, orientation, refreshment, and renewal in their cause. Someone began praying Psalm 146.6, “Lord, You are God…” and then someone else invoked Psalm 2, “Why did the nations rage…?” As each person prayed or sang these lines, the people “raised their voice to God with one accord” and joined in to pray, following the direction of these and doubtless other Psalms.
How could they do that? Imagine yourself in a room with thousands of Christians, and someone says, “We need to praise the Lord” and begins singing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…” What would happen next? Everyone would join their voices together and sing the whole hymn, of course. Because we know it. We love it. It comforts, encourages, and emboldens us to sing it. We rejoice in singing that final stanza, “…we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”
That’s the role the book of Psalms played in the lives of those men who “saved civilization” (Thomas Cahill) by their efforts of mission, evangelism, discipleship, and scholarship during the period of the Celtic Revival. The daily performance of divine psalmody gave these Irish Christians vision, hope, courage, direction, confidence, and practical next steps as they joined together in seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of God.
We have set this discipline aside to our disadvantage. Learn to pray and sing the psalms. Let these prayers and hymns pervade all your daily activities. Remember what happened with those first Christians when they fell back on the psalms in their time of need: “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4.31).
That can be our experience, too. Every day.
1. Do the psalms have any role in your spiritual development?
2. What might you do to bring the psalms more completely into your walk with and work for the Lord?
Sing Psalm 95.1, 2
(Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Your Mission High Fulfilling)
Come, let us sing with joy to God, our Savior!
Let us with joy to Him, our Rock, bow down!
Come now before Him, grateful for His favor;
let joyful psalms break forth from all around.
Refrain v. 6
Come let us worship, kneel to our Lord,
worship our Maker: Father, Holy Spirit, Word.
Put Your words in my soul and mouth, O Lord, and help me to…
Using the Psalms
You can learn to pray and sing the psalms, and we have two books that can help. God’s Prayer Program shows you why and how to let the psalms be the backbone of your prayer, and The Ailbe Psalter can help you learn to sing these songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Each is available free by clicking here and here.
Please prayerfully consider becoming a supporter of The Fellowship of Ailbe. It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate online through Anedot or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Plummer, p. 311.