Praying the Psalms

This is a new column for our local theologians and biblical scholars to share their thoughts.

May 28, 2021

By Msgr James  Gnanapiragasam SSL, STL
On Easter day Jesus said to his disciples, “This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, was destined to be fulfilled.” There was no fixed word for the Wisdom books. It was only later that the third section of the Hebrew bible came to be called “the Writings”. However, the word ‘psalms’ seems to be appropriate as they sum up the faith of the people of Israel in lyric form.

The psalms had a long history. While the bibles give titles like ‘Psalm of David’ or of the musician guilds connected with the sons of Asaph and Korah, today we can no longer be sure of the author and date of each psalm, since many were composed during the time of the monarchy and some even after the Babylonian exile. The early Christians began to reflect on the psalms and see the fulfilment in the life of the Saviour. Their reflections centred on the death and resurrection of Christ as already foretold in the Old Testament.

The Church helps us to pray the psalms with this perspective and has given us some aids to help us to pray in the name of the Church. The General Instructions on the Liturgy of the Hours (GILH 109-113) cite 1) the headings or title, 2) a saying from the NT or the Fathers of the Church and 3) the antiphons, all of which are given in the Divine Office to help us in understanding the Christological meaning of the psalms. Let us study the following psalm.

Ps 17 (16) Divine Office: Prayer during the Day, Wed Wk 1 (pg 1261-1262).

The following already gives us an idea how to pray this psalm. The heading: Lord, save me from evil men; The saying: During his life on earth, he offered up prayer, which was heard (Heb 5:7); Antiphon 2: Maintain my steps firm in your ways, Lord; and Antiphon 3: Lord, arise, rescue my soul.

An innocent person’s life is in danger, he is falsely accused and attacked. He protests his innocence and even demands that his enemies be punished! Man cannot keep silent and do nothing when the enemy, the adversary, the accuser (in Hebrew: Satan) are in control, provoking injustice. He shouts out, “Lord, hear my cause that is just, pay heed to my cry.” He has come to the temple, “I am here and I call, you will hear me, O God.” At the end, he still displays hope and says, “I shall see your face.”

The early Christians saw the just and innocent Christ in this psalm. Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies, but condemn the sins of injustice. They saw the resurrection in the final verse of the psalm when Jesus prays, “…in my justice, I shall see your face, and be filled when I awake with the sight of your glory.” As we pray this psalm today, let us be mindful of those innocent victims of injustice and violence who are hoping for deliverance. In solidarity with them, we pray. Thus, the psalm becomes meaningful for us.

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