The Psalter of Christ

( Paternoster / Prayer Rope / Celtic Rosary )

From the Apostolic Age of the early Church, the 150 Psalms of the Holy Bible were important in the liturgical prayers of the clergy and monastics. Literacy was not then common, so many of the faithful were unable to read the Psalms. Consequently, there arose alternatives for those who could not read substitutes for reading the 150 Psalms. One practice which became very prevalent was that of praying 150 Pater Noster's (Our Fathers) instead of the Psalms, using a string of bones, or knots, or, later, beads, to count them. Usually, the 150 were divided into 3 groups of 50 each. The prayer rope came to be known as a "Psalter" and, later, as "Paternoster bedes." The Western Orthodox Churches had a great devotion to the Psalter of David. They divided the Psalter into three sections of 50 Psalms each. The "3 fifties" were recited for the dead, and for many other intentions, by both monastics and laity. When a layman died, immediately the Psalter was said over the body of the faithful departed. People took turns reciting the Psalter four more times, all through the night. The Celtic Orthodox Saints, including St. Patrick, sometimes would recite the first "fifty" and then stand in cold water to recite the next "fifty" in order to stay awake and watchful.

In Ireland in the 7th century, monks kept track of the Psalter (150 Psalms) on knotted cords and the laity said the Divine Office using a 150-knot cord to pray the Pater Noster's, which was also known as the "poor man's breviary." In the same century, the Byzantine Church began using a knotted woolen prayer cord called a "Chotki" which had varying numbers of knots (33, 50, 100, 300), some with a larger knot at the beginning of each group of ten knots. The prayer said on each knot usually was the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner") or "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." [See Luke 18:9-14 for the basis of the Jesus Prayer.]

By 1040 A.D., wooden and clay beads were replacing knotted cords among some people. By the 1100's, people are more commonly carrying a "Paternoster cord" with 50 knots to be repeated three times instead of the traditional longer 150-knot cord. In the 13th century, the Marian Rosary, 150 Ave Maria's (Hail Mary's) with a reduced number of Pater Noster's, came into existence and was eventually popularized into a standard devotion, to which the name "Rosary" is increasingly applied. It was also called the "Marian Psalter," but the name Rosary has triumphed today.

The Western Orthodox Church keeps alive today the ancient Orthodox Catholic devotion of the "Paternoster," called the "Psalter of Christ." Like the ancient people's Psalter, the present day Psalter of Christ is based first and foremost on praying 150 Pater Noster's. The Sign of the Cross, the Apostles' Creed, and the Gloria Patri's, of course, have their part also. Added to the western devotion are the 150 Jesus Prayers, absorbing thereby a tremendously important devotional of Eastern Orthodoxy, and the 150 Adoramus Te's. By this simple schema, the Psalter of Christ teaches us thanksgiving, penitence, and adoration - three essential modes of approaching our Triune God.

Prayer for Blessing the Psalter of Christ

Vest in a white stole.

PRIEST: In the name of God the Father Almighty , Who made heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, I exorcise this Psalter of Christ against the power and attacks of the evil one. O Almighty and merciful God, by Whose Word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this Psalter of Christ and grant that whosoever shall use it with thanksgiving, penitence, and adoration, according to Thy law and will, may find it to be powerful, with Thy power, as a swordwith which to combat Satan and the other evil spirits, and as a ladder by which to climb up to Heaven, and may receive from Thee, through the invocation of Thine Holy Name, health of body and peace of soul. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who, together with Thee and with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, One God, world without end. Amen.

The Priest may then sprinkle the Psalter(s) with holy water.

How to Make the Psalter of Christ

The Psalter of Christ, also called the Celtic Rosary, Paternoster, or Prayer Rope, is a cord or string with either 50 small knots or 150 small knots tied in it, with one large knot at each end of the length of the small knots, with a tied Cross at one end, and with a tassel at the other end. The Psalter generally has 50 knots and the three main prayers are counted, 50 each, on the same knots. However, a Psalter may have 150 knots so that each prayer has its own knot. Even so, if the Marian Rosary is also prayed, more than one prayer would be prayed on each knot, even on the 150-knot Psalter. (On a 150-knot Psalter, add a large knot between the 1st & 2nd fifties and another between the 2nd & 3rd fifties - that is, 2 additional large knots in total.) Here are directions for making the 50-knot Psalter of Christ.

Start with at least 10 yards of 3/16" cord, 13 yards of 1/4" cord, or 7 yards of smaller cord. Depending on how you tie and space knots, you may use more or less yardage. (Triple these yardage amounts for 150-knot Psalters.) Start about 2 yards from one end, and start tying small knots, working towards the other end. This allows some adjustments for miscalculations, coming up either short or long after 50 knots. In general, keep the fifty small knots very close to each other; they generally will tighten under use and will stretch out somewhat. When using the Infinity Knot, you particularly need to take care to snug the knots up close to each other.

Use either the Trinity (triple-wrap) Bead Knot or the Infinity (Flemish Eight) Knot for the small knots. [The Trinity Bead Knot takes more effort and more yards of cord than the Infinity Knot, but it also makes a superior knot which is much like a real bead.] Use 1 seven-wrap Bead Knot or 2 four-wrap Bead Knots, tied right against each other, for each large knot. Use 9 Trinity Bead Knots, tied right against each other, for the vertical part of the Cross, and use 6 Trinity Bead Knots, also tied right against each other, for the horizontal part of the Cross; or use four-wrap or seven-wrap Bead Knots, according to your own skill. There is no special knot for tying the tassel to the other end of the Psalter from the Cross.

So, to make a 50-knot Psalter, first, tie 50 Trinity Bead Knots or Infinity Knots. Then, if a lot of cord remains at the end, tie the large knot (using 1 seven-wrap or 2 four-wrap Bead Knots) and then tie the Cross (tie 3 Trinities; cut off one yard of cord and tie it to the main cord immediately below the 3 Trinities; tie 6 more Trinities on the main cord, tight against each other, to complete the vertical bar; tie the separate piece which you just tied on, with 3 Trinities on one side and 3 on the other side, tight against the main cord; this completes the Cross). Go to the other end of the Psalter and tie the large knot (using 1 seven-wrap or 2 four-wrap Bead Knots) and then tie the tassel on the end and trim that knot closely. Finish off the terminal knots at the ends (at the tassel and at the three ends of the Cross) depending on the material (some nylon cords, you can burn and flatten with the side of a knife blade to finish [be careful!]; cotton and other fabrics, you may wish to dip in a clear-drying white glue, rubber cement, epoxy, or acrylic to seal off) this is to prevent unraveling. Do not tie the whole rope into a circle; it is a straight rope.

Tying the Infinity (Flemish Eight) Knot: This is an extremely simple knot to tie, once you know it. While still loose, it forms a figure eight. The "main cord" is the straight line of the cord you are working on. Hold the main cord with the last knot in your palm and the loose end pointing up. Form a loop with the loose end in which the cord comes down from left to right behind the main cord; now pass the cord over the main cord from right to left; you should see a figure eight formed at this point. Pass the loose end of the cord through the top loop, from the back, and pull it through - this completes the knot. You cannot push Infinity Knots back down the main cord to the previous knot; rather, you need to pull the knot tight while working it back down to the previous knot. Tie Infinity Knots as close as possible together, since they stretch right out when you tighten them.

Tying the Trinity Bead Knot: This is a little more difficult, but worth the effort. Use just one yard of cord while you are learning this knot; it will be easier, while learning. Also, this knot cannot easily be tied in string, twine, nor other very thin materials - it works best with at least 3/16" thick cord. Once you know the three-wrap Trinity Bead Knot, you can simply add wraps to make four-wrap and seven-wrap bead knots also. Hold the main cord with the last knot in your left palm and the loose end laying along your palm and following the length of your index finger, right to the end of your finger. Wrap the loose end of the cord, away from you, around your index finger. Wrap it in the same direction, working back down your finger towards your hand, three complete wraps covering the main cord, until you see three wraps on your finger facing you and the loose end is behind your finger, pointed down. Slip the unfinished knot carefully off your finger, holding it in shape, and when it is off, take the loose end of the cord and pull it through from the back, that is, from left to right. You will have to pull the entire length of remaining cord through the knot before beginning to tighten it. The three wraps may want to cross over themselves while you are tightening them; if that happens, either correct them or start over, because the resulting knot will look irregular. You can tighten the loose knot by slowly pulling on the loose end while also rolling the knot with your fingers, away from you, and while doing this, you can also push the knot back along the main cord to the last knot, so that your knots are close to one another. Once you have it just right, pull more tightly on it to set it permanently. (It is because the Trinity Bead Knot can be readily pushed back on the main cord for positioning that we use it for the large end knots and for the Cross, where several knots tied very tightly against one another form the Cross bars.)

How to Pray the 50-Knot Psalter of Christ

All the Prayers are given in full, following the directions.

Part One:
Bless yourself with the knotted Cross, praying The Sign of the Cross.
Recite The Apostles' Creed.
Then, on the big knot by the Cross, pray Gloria Patri, making the Sign of the Cross.
Then, on the 50 small knots, pray 50 Pater Nosters (Our Fathers / Lord's Prayers, but do not include the doxology "For Thine is the kingdom...").
End with the big knot by the tassel: pray Gloria Patri, making the Sign of the Cross.
MEDITATION: While praying your Pater Nosters, meditate with all thanksgiving on all the reasons that you have to be grateful to God.

Part Two:
Going back down the Psalter on the 50 small knots, pray 50 Jesus Prayers.
End with the big knot by the Cross: pray Gloria Patri, making the Sign of the Cross.
MEDITATION: While praying your Jesus Prayers, meditate with all penitence on all the reasons that you have to be sorrowful for your sins, and on your need for true repentance.

Part Three:
Going back up the Psalter on the 50 small knots, pray 50 Adoramus Te Prayers.
End with the big knot by the tassel: pray Gloria Patri, making the Sign of the Cross.
This is the end of the Psalter of Christ.
MEDITATION: While praying your Adoramus Te's, meditate with all adoration on all the reasons that you have to glorify, magnify, worship and adore our All-Loving God.

This is a total of 156 prayers (Sign of the Cross, Apostles' Creed, 4 Gloria Patri's, 50 Pater Nosters, 50 Jesus Prayers, 50 Adoramus Te's). Pray the Psalter of Christ thrice daily: once in the morning, once midday, and once at night (generally speaking, dependent upon your daily routine).

If one is using an 150-knot Psalter, the prayers are the same, but each knot is used only once.

If one wishes, one may pray the Marian Rosary on the Psalter also, following after the Adoramus Te's, by praying 150 Ave Maria's (Hail Marys) on the small knots and end with the Salve Reginaon the large knot. The Marian Rosary devotion was only developed several centuries after the Paternoster (Psalter of Christ) and, therefore, it is not a part of the Psalter of Christ.

THE PRAYERS OF THE PSALTER

In Nomine Patris (Sign of the Cross) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Symbolum Apostolorum (The Apostles' Creed) I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy catholic Church; the communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting. Amen.
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae. Et in Iesum Christum, Filium eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos. Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem, remissionem peccatorum, carnis resurrectionem, vitam aeternam. Amen.

Gloria Patri (Glory Be...) Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, and is now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Pater Noster (Lord's Prayer) Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from Evil. Amen.
Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

Domine Iesu Christe (The Jesus Prayer) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Domine Iesu Christe, Filius Dei, misereatur me, peccato.

Adoramus Te (We Adore Thee) We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee. Because, by Thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world.
Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi; quia per sanctam Crucem tuam redemisti mundi.

THE PRAYERS OF THE MARIAN ROSARY

Ave Maria (The Hail Mary) Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, O Most Gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae. Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae.Ad te Suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia ergo, Advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte. Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria. V. Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genetrix. R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi. Amen.

Return to the Psalter of Christ page.

This website is the property of the Roman Orthodox Church.
This page and all contents of the Roman Orthodox Church websites are
Copyright 2000 by Roman Orthodox Church.
All Rights Reserved under International Copyright Conventions.