When I was a young man I asked a friend who had been a Carthusian monk, “What is the prayer book of the Church?” For I was seeking a good collection of Catholic-Christian prayers. His ready reply was: “The Psalms.” I immediately felt disappointed, because I had often prayed the psalms of the Bible, but thought that Christians could have better prayers than this collection of Israelite and Jewish (Old Testament) songs, hymns, laments. Over time I came to learn that the Psalms do indeed form the skeleton of prayer life in the Church, especially for Catholic religious and clergy, and as a Benedictine, I have prayed most of the psalms literally thousands of times, using different translations. On the other hand, there are also magnificent prayers composed by devout Christians over the centuries, and some collections may be available. A few of these Christian prayers are known by many, such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Memorare. One project I have long desired to accomplish is to make readily available to our faithful in parishes a very good collection of Christian prayers. That work awaits me.
Still, however, the Psalms are indeed the Prayer Book of the Church, used and approved by two thousand years of praying by the faithful. I encourage our faithful to pray the psalms often. One can usefully begin with Psalm 1, and read up to Psalm 150. I have found it beneficial to read the psalms in the order in which we find them in our bibles, an order developed centuries before Christ by Jewish priests and scholars. Over time, one should discover favorite psalms which you “read, mark, and inwardly digest,” using Luther’s apt phrase. In the past, I have listed psalms I especially recommend, and I hope that some parishioners have prayed them. Remember: Jesus prayed the Psalms, and so has the Church over centuries.
There are truly psalms for all sorts of spiritual needs, feelings, problems of life, occasions of thanksgiving. Some of these prayers express joy in God, some are cries from hurting hearts. Many are mixed, often moving from desperate need to thankfulness for the LORD’s tender mercies. The point is: Pray. “Pray as you can, do not try to pray as you can’t.” Spiritual laziness leads to emptiness of spirit and a troubled mind. Pray. If any of you asks me, “Can you recommend a psalm or two for me?” I should be glad to do so. It would be one way to give you a little practical help in your spiritual life, your desire to grow closer to the God in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.”
Click here for a collection of previously recommended psalms by Fr. Paul. For easy reference, click here for the Book of Psalms.