Recently, I completed a study of Psalms: The School of Prayer, by Jeff Cavins, Sarah Christmyer, and Tim Gray. Another great resource that comes to mind as I write this article before Holy Week is entitled The Jewish Roots of Holy Week CD by Dr. Brant Pitre. The most important takeaway from both of these resources is that the Psalms were vital in all Jew’s lives including Jesus’ life — and even in our own lives!
Imagine Jesus singing the Psalms while celebrating the Passover Meal with his apostles. All faithful Jews would have sung Psalms 113 - 118 during this meal of commemoration! And if we actually knew the Psalms by heart as the faithful Jews did, we would recognize that Jesus was praying Psalm 22 when crying out “My God, My God why have you forsaken me" — from the cross? He was not despairing as some of us may assume; but, he was praying and giving ultimate praise to God by surrendering his circumstances, pains, rejection, and wounds to His Heavenly Father for the greatest good. He was redeeming all of us in and through this prayer. He also was giving notice to anyone daring to listen to him that he was invoking Psalm 22 so they could pray along with him.
Jeff Cavins reminded us that the ancient Jews had not yet numbered the Psalms; but the first line told them instantly which psalm they were praying. Verse 4 of Psalms 22 pointedly declares, “yet, you are enthroned in the holy place O glory of Israel! In you, our fathers trusted, they trusted and you delivered them! Obviously Jesus is invoking total faith in God the Father even as he laments and proves his status as the Son of God, even though others regarded Jesus in the following way: “But I am a worm, not a man! The scorn of men, despised by the people … They scoff at me, they mock me… Let the coming generations be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown!” Certainly, Psalm 22 is not one of despair but of Hope and Faith in God, his Father.
Wow and wow! Psalm 22 can become our own words of refuge in difficult times. All of the Psalms give us the words that we can pray with when we no longer have the words. They give us the words to give right praise to God! St Athanasius of Alexandria [died 373 AD] said that all of scriptures speak to us but the Psalms speak for us!” So let’s use them — in good times and in bad.
Recently, a woman called me for advice about a family conflict involving her son. Her call proved to be of great timing because I was able to give her sound advice--precisely because of the Study of the Psalms that I was enrolled in!
The Psalmists understood grief, fear, sorrow, rejection and all of the same emotions we experience today. But, they knew how to take these concerns and fears to prayer while also giving praise to God! That’s often where we fall short, and so the psalmists teaches us how to give praise to God for everything and in all times! They knew how to take their concerns to prayer because they fully believed that all help comes from the Name of the Lord.
The Psalms are divided into six collections or sections. The Introduction to the Psalms consists of Psalms 1 and 2. They teach us how to meditate on God authentically! And to take refuge in God!
Book 1 includes Psalms 3 - 41. These Psalms teach us how to bring forth our complaints to God with all the right words; they show us how to cry out usefully and without giving up on God or Faith, Hope and Love. These psalms may be especially pertinent for us living in this modern era!
Book 2 contains Psalms 42 - 72. These Psalms include prayers of gratitude for God’s help; lamentations about injustices and false riches; that existed then and now; prayers for when we are fearful of enemies and or ‘disloyal companions’; and prayers of repentance. The titles and subtitles of each Psalm can help you figure out which Psalm to pray on any given day.
Book 3 contains Psalms 73 - 89 which include a variety of prayers for good times and bad also! Several of the Psalms seem especially blood thirsty and difficult to understand; however, the authors of the study helped us to understand their meaning. Despite the difficulty of some of the text, it isn’t necessary to take a class before using the Psalms to give praise to God!Book 4 contains Psalms 90 - 106. These collections were mostly written during the ancient Babylonian exile of the Jewish People. While you may assume that these psalms are mostly woe and lamentation; you will be surprised by their positive attitude and faith in God for deliverance! The Psalms express gratitude for God’s just Judgements! And for His deliverance and victory from sin and death!
Book 5 includes Psalms 107-145. Many of the psalms in this collection are beautiful expressions of the psalmist’s faith and love for God, His Goodness and Mercy and Kindness! These prayers should be the model for how we give praise and gratitude to God for his many blessings also!
The last collection of Psalms is called the Conclusion. This section contains Psalms 146 - 150! If you are ever at a loss for words that praise God in all the right ways, pray Psalms 145 - 150! They get the words right! May we also praise God rightly — for our sake and for the sake of those under our influence!
Try praying with the Psalms during Holy Week and for the rest of Lent. Also, pay close attention to the Psalms and the responses that are read during Mass. May this habit enrich your prayer life greatly.
Blessings to you during the rest of Lent and especially during Holy Week. Hope you have a very blessed Easter Season.