Focus on the Psalms|
as Inspiration for Prayer
Wednesday General Papal Audience in Paul VI Hall from March 28th
1. In the Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," I express the hope that the Church will increasingly be distinguished in the art of prayer, always learning it again from the lips of the divine Master (see No. 32). Such a commitment must be lived especially in the Liturgy, source and summit of ecclesial life. In this connection, it is important to dedicate greater pastoral attention to promoting the Liturgy of the Hours, as the prayer of the whole People of God (see Ibid., 34). If, in fact, the priests and religious have a specific mandate to recite it, it is, nevertheless, also warmly recommended to the laity. This was pointed out, just over 30 years ago or so, by my venerable predecessor Paul VI, in the constitution "Laudis Canticum," in which he outlined the existing model of this prayer, hoping that the Psalms and Canticles, underlying the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, would be included "with renewed love by the People of God" (AAS , 532).
It is an encouraging fact that, both in parishes and in ecclesial gatherings, many lay people have learned to appreciate it. It is a prayer that implies catechetical and biblical formation, if it is to be profoundly appreciated.
For this reason, we begin a series of catecheses today on the Psalms and Canticles used in the morning prayer of Lauds. In this way, I wish to encourage and help all to pray with the same words used by Jesus, which have been present for thousands of years in the prayer of Israel and of the Church.
2. We can begin to understand the Psalms through various ways. The first is to present the literary structure, authors, formation and context in which they came into being. Hence, a thought-provoking reading that would put in evidence the poetic character, which at times reaches very high levels of lyrical intuition and symbolic expression. No less interesting would be to read the Psalms by keeping in mind the various feelings of the human spirit, which they manifest: joy, recognition, thanksgiving, love, tenderness, enthusiasm, but also intense suffering, recrimination, appeals for help and justice, which at times end in anger and curses. The human being discovers himself entirely in the Psalms.
Our reading will be geared, above all, to distill the religious meaning of the Psalms, showing how these, although written so many centuries ago by Hebrew believers, can be assumed in the prayer of Christ's disciples. We will allow ourselves to be helped by the results of exegesis, but also place ourselves in the school of Tradition, and above all we will listen to the Fathers of the Church.
3. With profound spiritual penetration the latter, in fact, knew how to discern and point out the great "key" to the reading of the Psalms in Christ himself, in the fullness of his mystery. The Fathers were thoroughly convinced: The Psalms speak of Christ. In fact, the risen Jesus applied the Psalms to Himself when He said to the disciples that it is necessary "that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44). The Fathers add that in the Psalms there is either reference to Christ, or Christ speaks directly. In saying this, they were not only thinking of the individual person of Jesus, but the "Christus totus," the total Christ, made up of Christ, the Head and His members.
In this way, the possibility arises for the Christian to read the Psalter in light of the whole mystery of Christ. From this view, precisely, the ecclesial dimension also emerges, which is seen especially in the choral singing of the Psalms. Thus we understand, how from the first centuries the Psalms were able to be assumed as a prayer of the People of God. If, in some historical periods, the tendency arose to prefer other prayers, it was the great merit of the monks to hold the torch of the Psalter high in the Church. At the dawn of the second Christian millennium, one of them, St. Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese, went so far as to maintain -- as his biographer Bruno di Querfurt states -- that the Psalms are the only way to experience truly profound prayer: "Una via in psalmis" (Passio Sanctorum Benedicti et Johannes ac sociorum eorundem: MPH VI, 1893, 427).
4. With this statement, which initially might appear exaggerated, he, in fact, remained anchored to the best tradition of the first Christian centuries, when the Psalter had become the book of ecclesial prayer par excellence. This was the victorious choice in the confrontations with heretical tendencies that continually undermined the unity of faith and communion. In this respect, it is interesting to note a wonderful letter that St. Athanasius wrote to Marcellino in the first half of the fourth century, when the Arian heresy raged, which attacked the faith in the divinity of Christ. In face of the heretics, who attracted people to themselves with songs and prayers that pleased their religious feelings, this great Father of the Church dedicated himself with all his energy to teach the Psalter transmitted by Scripture (see PG 27, 12 ss.). It was thus that the psalmodic prayer, which soon became a universal practice among the baptized, was added to the "Our Father," the Lord's prayer par excellence.
5. Thanks also to the communal prayer of the Psalms, Christian conscience is reminded and understands that it is impossible to turn to the Father who lives in heaven without an authentic communion of life with brothers and sisters who live on earth. Not only this, but vitally inserting themselves in the praying tradition of the Hebrews, Christians learn to pray recounting the "magnalia Dei," namely, the great wonders accomplished by God, be it in the creation of the world and humanity, or in the history of Israel and the Church. This form of prayer, drawn from Scripture, does not exclude certain freer expressions, and these will continue not only to characterize personal prayer, but also to enrich liturgical prayer itself, for example with hymns and tropes. Therefore, the Book of Psalms remains the ideal source of Christian prayer, and the Church of the new millennium will continue to be inspired in it.
[Translation by ZENIT]
For past Papal Pronouncements, see THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS Archives
April 1, 2001
volume 12, no. 91
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS