Praying the Psalms
Why has the Church always considered the Psalms her most perfect book of prayer? Why do the Psalms go to make up the greater part of the Office recited by her priests and religious? Why, too, should the Christian layman turn to the Psalms and make use of them in his own prayer to God?
Does the Church love the Psalms merely because they are ancient, venerable religious poems? Merely out of conservative refusal to change? Or does she use them because she has been commanded to do so by God? Does she sing them merely because they are the revealed word of God?
The Church indeed likes what is old, not because it is old but rather because it is “young.” In the Psalms, we drink divine praise at its pure and stainless source, in all its primitive sincerity and perfection. We return to the youthful strength and directness with which the ancient psalmists voiced their adoration of the God of Israel. Their adoration was intensified by the ineffable accents of new discovery: for the Psalms are the songs of men who knew who God was. If we are to pray well, we too must discover the Lord to whom we speak, and if we use the Psalms in our prayer we will stand a better chance of sharing in the discovery which lies hidden in their words for all generations. For God has willed to make Himself known to us in the mystery of the Psalms.
The Psalms are not only the revealed word of God, not only the words which God Himself has indicated to be those which He likes to hear from us. The Church does not love the Psalter merely because it is imposed on her from without, by a divine command. The Psalter is too close to the sources of her own life. The Psalms are not only the songs of prophets inspired by God, they are the songs of the whole Church, the very expression of her deepest inner life. The words and thoughts of the Psalms spring not only from the unsearchable depths of God, but also from the inmost heart of the Church, and there are no songs which better express her soul, her desires, her longing, her sorrows and her joys.
The reason why the Church loves the Psalms, then, is not merely that they have been sent to her by God from His far-distant heaven, but because God has given Himself to her in them, as though in a sacrament. The Church loves to sing over and over again the songs of the old psalmists because in them she is singing of her knowledge of God, of her union with Him.