Catechesis 11: The prayer of the Psalms (part 2)

St. Ambrose says there is something for everyone in the Book of Psalms: “profit for all, healing power for salvation, instruction from history, teaching from the law, prediction from prophecy, chastisement from denunciation, persuasion from moral preaching. All who read it may find the cure for their own individual failings.” The Psalms are a “gym for the soul” where I can exercise and strengthen every virtue (see the Commentary of St. Ambrose.)

Pope Francis continues his catechesis on the psalms as the language of prayer, noting how they point us to the fundamental reality of life: to the absolute and the transcendent — what the spiritual masters call the “holy fear of God.” Without prayer, without this point of reference in God, we cannot be saved.

The Holy Father says, “When one prays, everything acquires ‘depth’… it becomes weighty, as if God takes it in hand and transforms it.” This is the true spirit of sincere prayer which enters the heart, this prayer “lets us contemplate reality with God’s very eyes.”

The Psalms are a tremendous school for learning to make prayer the center of one’s life. They do not always use refined and genteel language (see previous catechesis), but they are most intimate and personal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “The Psalter’s many forms of prayer take shape both in the liturgy of the Temple and in the human heart” (CCC 2588). And thus, personal prayer draws from and is nourished by these prayers, which form part of the prayer of the Church.

Pope Francis instructs how the psalms open up the entire message of the bible, in short: “We love because he loved us first. He always goes before us. He always awaits us because he loves us first, he looks at us first, he understands us first. He always awaits us. “If any one says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his own brother who he can see, cannot love God who he cannot see.” (1 John 4:20)”

Pope Francis invites us to meditate on the psalms to nourish our personal prayer:

  • Psalm 27 – trust with confidence, hope, and joy; even in the midst of dangers: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
  • Psalm 33 – praise of the steadfast love of the Lord: “The counsel of the Lord stands for ever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”
  • Psalm 121 – God’s protection, guidance, and strength are available in every time and place, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.”

May we learn to pray the Psalms more consciously, letting their voice become our own, as we seek to grow in love for God, trust in the fulfilment of his saving plan, and charity towards all our brothers and sisters.

Read Catechesis 11: The prayer of the Psalms (part 2)