GILH 100-102: Praying the Psalms

Chapter III of the GILH looks more closely at the elements which make up the Liturgy of the Hours. In fact, the next 104 sections will address the spiritual side of the various elements of the hours.

Sections 100-109 address the core of the Hours: the psalms themselves. Why are these Jewish prayers significant for Christians? What is the Christian approach to them? How can they be prayed? Stay tuned and we’ll have a discussion about it.

Chapter III: Different Elements in the Liturgy of the Hours
Chapter III-I. Psalms and Their Connection With Christian Prayer

100. In the liturgy of the hours the Church in large measure prays through the magnificent songs that the Old Testament authors composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The origin of these verses gives them great power to raise the mind to God, to inspire devotion, to evoke gratitude in times of favor, and to bring consolation and courage in times of trial.

In other words, the psalms express the full range of the human thought, inspiration, and emotions in our relationship with God.

101. The psalms, however, are only a foreshadowing of the fullness of time that came to pass in Christ the Lord and that is the source of the power of the Church’s prayer. Hence, while the Christian people are all agreed on the supreme value to be placed on the psalms, they can sometimes experience difficulty in making this inspired poetry their own prayer.

102. Yet the Holy Spirit, under whose inspiration the psalms were written, is always present by his grace to those believers who use them with good will. But more is necessary: the faithful must “improve their understanding of the Bible, especially of the psalms,” [SC 90.] according to their individual capacity, so that they may understand how and by what method they can truly pray through the psalms.

THE GILH concedes that the psalms are not always grasped by Christian believers. While acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit to inspire us and provide a grace-filled experience, some human effort might be needed as well. What would be some ways in which we can go deeper with the psalms?

Familiarity with them might begin with a chosen few. Many psalms are brief and provide a focus of thought for the reader at prayer: 131, 134, 121, 23, 67, and 100 among others are easily digestible. Select portions of longer psalms, too: 19:8-11, 63:2-7, for example.

Attention to the musical settings of psalms is also helpful. The Lectionary reprints in missals, missalettes, and hymnals give select verses of the psalms used at Sunday worship. Even if one’s taste doesn’t align with the music sung at Mass, the text of the psalms themselves will be a good preparation for or follow-up from the liturgy.

A good biblical commentary is indispensable, but I counsel caution with it. I advocate going to the psalm text first, reading it and praying with it before turning to see what a Scripture scholar will offer. Keep in mind the role of the Holy Spirit to inspire us through the inspired text. No such guarantee is given to theologians.

Any other suggestions, including perhaps Bible study materials devoted to the psalms?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to GILH 100-102: Praying the Psalms

  1. Dustin says:

    Concerning familiarity and focused devotional reading in the effort to personalize the psalms, I’m of the opinion that the 1-week psalter, rather than the current 4-weeks, may have been more conducive to this. The monks of Solesmes produced a 1-week psalter as an alternative to Pope Paul’s, of which I’m not terribly fond, especially considering what one might call its “censoring” of the imprecatory verses. I don’t know if the weekly is a fully approved alternative, however.

    Partly on-topic but maybe mostly off, Mark Shea had some comments a few weeks ago about the imprecatory psalms in a discussion about some particularly heinous act of indifference to a dying woman somewhere. Your earlier post about offender pathology reminded me of what he said, which was basically that, to such horrendous sins (like the rape of a child), the only permissible Christian response is passionate hatred of the deed. My own preferred term is “a holy rage.” I worry that the decision to overlook, discount or efface the difficult parts of Scripture may contribute to the loss of a sense of public outrage in the face of evil. Perhaps it’s still there, and I just haven’t noticed it. I certainly never hear it related in a pastoral context. (I like your idea about using Reconciliation Rite III as a way of fostering a sense of the social nature of sin. Even though I’m opposed to general absolution in unexceptional circumstances, still, I liked that idea.)

    So, I’ve gone and combined my comments for two different posts. I figured it was better to consolidate them, rather than sprinkle them throughout the site. But, what are your thoughts about the “difficult” psalms? “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock,” and all that.

    My own suggestion for greater familiarity, as stated above, is a return to a 1-week psalter of all 150. With commentary, I prefer it be provided as endnotes rather than footnotes, so as not to force an interpretation on the reader. What specific commentaries do you prefer or recommend?

  2. Dustin says:

    Above, I meant to say that I’m not fond of Pope Paul’s psalter. The Solesmes edition has all 150.

  3. FrMichael says:


    I have to say as a parish priest that praying the full psalter each week along with the other elements of LOH is a daunting task for those outside of the monastery. I think most priests using the 4 week psalter since seminary, have a pretty good familiarity with the psalms.

    That being said, I think the omission of the imprecatory psalms and verses was a mistake.

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