On December 8th, the Church will begin the Year of Mercy. In the Pope’s letter to the Church, Misericordiae Vultus, he reminds us that Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s Mercy and through Jesus Christ Mercy is living and visible in Jesus. Today we continue the weekly series on Mercy by looking at the Book of Psalms as not only a School of Prayer but a School of Mercy.
“In a special way the Psalms bring to the fore the grandeur of his merciful action”– Pope Francis in Misericordiae Vulutus, §6
Many Catholics only experience with liturgical prayer is the Holy Mass, however throughout the world at multiple hours of the days another liturgical prayer occurs, The Liturgy of the Hours. This Tradition is gained from our Jewish roots. The Jewish people would gather at the temple, or if not able to make it to the temple face towards the temple, to offer praise to God using the Book of Psalms throughout the day. Jesus, being a good Jew, also prayed the Psalms throughout the day. Throughout the Gospels you can see Jesus referencing the Psalms as he prayed and as he instructed. Through his, and the other Jews, daily prayer of the Psalms they had become items that were easily referenced and used in daily discussions.
The Liturgy of the Hours, like the Mass, is shared by the entire Catholic Church and ensures that the Church answers St Paul’s command to pray without ceasing. The Prayer has a rhythm of repetition to it (if all the hours are prayed then all 150 psalms will be prayed in 4 weeks) which allows us to see the Psalms in a different light throughout the year. When we are depressed we may resonate with the Psalmist who is looking for happiness in the Lord. On the other hand when we are joyful we may also be reminded of those less fortunate then us. By using the same words that Jesus prayed with also learn how to pray in our own words. Forcing us to not only remember ourselves but to remember others, to slow down and mediate on God’s words, but more importantly see that we can pray to God not only on Sundays, but throughout our everyday lives.
The Liturgy of the Hours, based off of the Book of Psalms, can also assist us in understanding our Merciful God. While many times we get hung up on the concept of Mercy, sticking to a “head” knowledge of it, the Psalms allows us to understand Mercy with our hearts. Just as each of us can describe what falling in love is like to someone it does not compare to how a musician talks about love in their music. In the music it becomes universal and we are able to apply to our personal lives easier. In the same way the Psalmist takes the hard to explain concept of our Lord’s mercy and makes it personal and evokes our memories of the mercy of God. As Archbishop Rino Fisichella tells us, “The Psalms are able to reflect everyone’s life … their lives are reflected in these ancient poems that have become an inheritance of prayer for generations of people.”
In the following year of Mercy, the United States Bishops suggest that we meditate on ten specific Psalms;
Psalm 25, 41, 42, 43, 51, 57, 92, 103, 119:81-88, and finally 136. Slowly reading and praying over each of these Psalms assist us in seeing more clearly the Mercy of God and how he has provided mercy to each of us. Take time once a week and focus on one Psalm to pray over. Allow the words to guide you in prayer and become a stepping stone with your discussion with God. If you are having difficulties it may benefit you to pick up a copy of The Psalms of Mercy, which was released by the US Pastoral Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. The Psalms of Mercy provides commentary on each of the Psalms so that if you are stuck on a Psalm or need more clarity it can assist you. We must always remember that through the Psalms, “God speaks a language that can be understood by everyone, and he speaks to everyone as a friend. (Fr Sebastiano Pinto, The Psalms of Mercy)”