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The Psalms, the prayer of the assembly

February 16, 2009
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Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2585 From the time of David to the coming of the Messiah texts appearing in these sacred books show a deepening in prayer for oneself and in prayer for others.37 Thus the psalms were gradually collected into the five books of the Psalter (or “Praises”), the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament.

2586 The Psalms both nourished and expressed the prayer of the People of God gathered during the great feasts at Jerusalem and each Sabbath in the synagogues. Their prayer is inseparably personal and communal; it concerns both those who are praying and all men. The Psalms arose from the communities of the Holy Land and the Diaspora, but embrace all creation. Their prayer recalls the saving events of the past, yet extends into the future, even to the end of history; it commemorates the promises God has already kept, and awaits the Messiah who will fulfill them definitively. Prayed by Christ and fulfilled in him, the Psalms remain essential to the prayer of the Church.38

2587 The Psalter is the book in which The Word of God becomes man’s prayer. In other books of the Old Testament, “the words proclaim [God’s] works and bring to light the mystery they contain.”39 The words of the Psalmist, sung for God, both express and acclaim the Lord’s saving works; 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.

2588 The Psalter’s many forms of prayer take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart. Whether hymns or prayers of lamentation or thanksgiving, whether individual or communal, whether royal chants, songs of pilgrimage or wisdom meditations, the Psalms are a mirror of God’s marvelous deeds in the history of his people, as well as reflections of the human experiences of the Psalmist. Though a given psalm may reflect an event of the past, it still possesses such direct simplicity that it can be prayed in truth by men of all times and conditions.

2589 Certain constant characteristics appear throughout the Psalms: simplicity and spontaneity of prayer; the desire for God himself through and with all that is good in his creation; the distraught situation of the believer who, in his preferential love for the Lord, is exposed to a host of enemies and temptations, but who waits upon what the faithful God will do, in the certitude of his love and in submission to his will. The prayer of the psalms is always sustained by praise; that is why the title of this collection as handed down to us is so fitting: “The Praises.” Collected for the assembly’s worship, the Psalter both sounds the call to prayer and sings the response to that call: Hallelu-Yah! (“Alleluia”), “Praise the Lord!”

What is more pleasing than a psalm? David expresses it well: “Praise the Lord, for a psalm is good: let there be praise of our God with gladness and grace!” Yes, a psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, praise of God, the assembly’s homage, a general acclamation, a word that speaks for all, the voice of the Church, a confession of faith in song.40

37 Ezra 9:6-15; Neh 1:4-11; Jon 2:3-10; Tob 3:11-16; Jdt 9:2-14.
38 Cf. GILH, nn. 100-109.
39 DV 2.
40 St. Ambrose, In psalmum 1 enarratio, 1,9: PL 14,924; LH, Saturday, wk 10, OR.

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