Read the Psalms. They are pure poetry, but easier to understand than William Shakespeare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or E.E. Cummings! The Psalms have been called a school of prayer, providing readers with historical information, plus the human connection of people’s emotional and spiritual responses to themselves, their world, and their Lord, making the words timeless and touching.
The Hebrew name for the collection is Praises and the Greek translation of that word is psalmos, referring to the twang of a stringed instrument. These verses were meant to be sung by God’s children, together raising their voices in praise, sorrow, wonder, weeping, repentance, and love. The ancient Israelites prayed and sang the Psalms; the earliest Christians prayed and sang the Psalms; and Catholics today still pray and sing the Psalms at every single Mass, every single day, all over the world. Not only is a responsorial song or chant of a Psalm part of the liturgical order, many hymns and choruses are penned directly from a Psalm.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Psalms both nourished and expressed the prayer of the people of God . . . their prayer is inseparably personal and communal; it concerns both those who are praying and all men (#2586).”
“The Psalter is the book in which the word of God becomes man’s prayer. The same Spirit inspires both God’s work and man’s response. Christ will unite the two. In him, the Psalms continue to teach us how to pray (#2587).”
“Prayed and fulfilled in Christ, the Psalms are an essential and permanent element of the prayer of the Church. They are suitable for men of every condition and time (#2597).”
I am an Irish girl who grew up in Southeastern New England, so poets dear to me include Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, William Wordsworth, and Katharine Tynan. Their words about our earth, our families, humanity’s beauty and trouble, and the yearnings of the heart calm and inspire me. But the Psalms do that, too, along with the knowledge that the words passed down are definitely from God.
How many times is Psalm 23 murmured as a prayer for peace? “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures you let me rest; to safe waters you lead me . . . I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage . . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
How many times have I recited for strength my favorite Psalm 27? “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom am I afraid? One thing I ask of the Lord, this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord, to visit his temple . . . wait for the Lord, take courage, be stouthearted and wait for the Lord!”
We have yelled with King David. “Answer when I call, my saving God. In my troubles, clear a way. Show me favor; hear my prayer.” (4:2) And, “Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me Lord for my bones are trembling.” (6:3)
We have shouted with joy. “O Lord our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! You have set your majesty above the heavens!” (8:1) And, “All you people clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries!” (47:1)
We have wept. “How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul?” (13:1-3) And, “Listen to my cry for help for I am brought very low. Rescue me from my pursuers for they are too strong for me.” (142:7)
We have taken a deep breath. “I trust in your faithfulness. Grant my heart joy in your help so that I may sing of the Lord; how good our God has been to me!” (13:6) And, “I wait for you, O Lord. I lift up my soul to my God. In you I trust; do not let me be disgraced.” (25:1-2)
We have repented. “I know my offense; my sin is always before me. Against you alone have I sinned; I have done evil in your sight that you are just when you condemn. Cleanse me with hyssop that I may be pure; wash me that I may be whiter than snow.” (52:5; 6,9)
We have exulted in the earth- “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let the trees of the forest rejoice before the Lord who comes to govern the earth.” (96:11-13)
And we have sung praises. “How good to celebrate our God in song; how sweet to sing fitting praise. We sing to the Lord with thanksgiving and celebrate our God with the lyre!” (147:1,7)
May we read the Psalms again and be closer to our brothers and sisters in the Faith, those here and those in heaven. May we read the Psalms again and be closer to God, our loving creator.
Allison is a 40-something mother of seven, living in Alaska, accepted into the Church (together with her husband, thank God) in 2004. She spends her days homeschooling and packaging meat that her menfolk hunt and bring home. She cannot garden to save her life but picks wild blueberries like a champ. She has been published in an edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul and keeps a blog at www.northerncffamily.blogspot.com, writing about living out the Faith with children with cystic fibrosis.