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Going deeper into the Psalms

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This past semester at seminary I took an elective on the Book of Psalms. Instead of going through the book from beginning to end, we have been going through the psalms as they appear in the four-week cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours.

This class has been fruitful in so many ways, both as an academic study and for my own spiritual life, and it has given me new insights into this beautiful prayer of the church that is prayed five times a day by priests, deacons, religious, consecrated men and women, and many lay faithful.

There are many kinds of psalms: lament, royal, thanksgiving, praise, wisdom. The church has purposefully ordered the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours so that the day might be sanctified. We are taught how to pray. Morning and evening prayer are the hinge prayers upon which the rest of the day relies. For the Jewish people, it was at these two times that the most important sacrifices were made in the Temple. The day was to begin and end with a total surrender to God and a pure gift. Now with the Liturgy of the Hours, the person praying offers themselves in total surrender and as a pure gift.

Typically, morning prayer begins with a lament psalm and then is followed by a praise psalm. The church teaches the one praying that our prayer moves from lament to praise, from our struggles here on earth to the joys our heavenly Father promises. This is the way we should begin our day: remembering that there are indeed challenges ahead, but we must root ourselves in remaining faithful to God who is worthy of all praise. Evening prayer is a time to offer thanksgiving for the day. The types of psalms in the evening vary between psalms of thanksgiving, royal and ascent. One is to offer a memorial sacrifice, one that recalls all that God has done. We are invited to give thanks to God who is king, who reigns on his holy throne. We ascend Mount Zion where we worship the Lord. We end the day in full communion with God.

Praying with the psalms can be a powerful way to commune with God. These are the prayers that Jesus himself would have prayed, as they are foundational for the Hebrew people. So too for us. We are to cry out to God in our need pray with lament psalms. We are to give thanks to God for the blessings he bestows on us. We are to praise God for he is great and mighty is his power.

Clem, who is from All Saints Church in Manassas, is in his second year of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019