Reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus walking among the people, who gather closely around Him, I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to have been there in those moments. To have been close to Him as the Disciples asked Him to “teach us to pray”, and as He responded with the Our Father. To have been there with His followers at all the moments in His life when He prayed.
For the most part, Jesus prayed with the ancient prayer of the Psalms, with which He was very well acquainted, referring to them often throughout his ministry. And so, when we pray the Psalms, we are praying the same prayers known and loved by the Lord. In a sense, then, we are indeed ‘praying with Christ’.
Throughout the history of the Church, the Psalms have been greatly honoured and have maintained a very special place in the liturgy and the prayer life of the Church. The Psalter – the Book of the Psalms – has been the bedrock of the prayer life of many saints. In the earlier centuries of the Church, the Psalter was the divine food of prayer for monasteries, desert fathers, cloistered sisters and others. Individual Christians incorporated various Psalms into their prayer lives.
Those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are very much accustomed to the praying of the Psalms, as they are the heart of this public prayer of the Church. The particular Psalms prayed at any point tend to reflect the Liturgy of the Church and the season in which we find ourselves.
Today, we all have easy access to the Book of Psalms, whether in our public worship in the Lectionary used at Mass, or at home in our Bibles or in specific volumes dedicated exclusively to these extraordinary prayers. A recent and very beautiful edition, for example is the new translation of the ‘Abbey Psalms’, which will soon find much greater prominence in the official liturgical books of the Church.
Sitting amongst the community at Mass, we listen as a Psalm is read – and it is often hard not to be touched in some way by the words we listen to. Who has not heard the praying of a Psalm at Mass and felt it’s words reflecting something within our own lives? Who has not encountered a resonance with the words written so long ago?
This is one of the great qualities of the Psalms – they cover every aspect of the human condition, of the lives we all lead. There is something within them for every person, for every moment, for every experience and emotion.
Pope Francis, teaching on the Psalms, reminds us of a truth – “In the Psalms, the believer finds an answer. He knows that even if all human doors were barred, God’s door is open. Even if the whole world had issued a verdict of condemnation, there is salvation in God. ‘The Lord listens’: sometimes in prayer it is enough to know this.”
If we go no further with the Psalms than simply listening to one at each Mass at which we participate, we risk losing something very ancient, incredibly beautiful and immensely powerful. The Psalms are there for us, and they are intended to be prayed. They are perfect for those moments in which the words of prayer elude us and we do not know what to say.
The Psalms give us the words, no matter the occasion nor the reason for our prayer.