Thursday, August 23, 2007

How to Pray the Psalms(4)

II. Review of Liturgical Elements in the Psalms
Before we look more closely at the reasons we tend to opt for personal, poetic interpretations over communal, liturgical interpretations, let’s remind ourselves why it is clear that most, if not all, of the Psalms were indeed liturgical in origin, or at least were understood that way by the earliest compilers of the Bible.
The Psalms have come down to us in groups. There are five books of Psalms within the Psalter, and within these books there are further subdivisions. Many of the Psalms, in addition, are prefaced by superscriptions. Psalms 73-83, for example, each contain the superscription ‘of Asaph’. Now according to First Chronicles, Asaph was one of the cantors assigned to temple duty by King David. Similarly, we have Psalms attributed to the ‘Sons of Korah’. The Sons of Korah were apparently something of a singer’s guild, appearing first in the book of Numbers, but also mentioned in Chronicles.
Let us not forget, too, that the entire first two books, Psalms 1 through 72, as well as many others later in the Psalter, are ascribed to the pen of David himself. Now there can be no doubt that David was of real artistic temperament, a real poet. But he was also an impressive, even brilliant, politician, who united the tribes, who secured the national capital of Jerusalem and brought the ark there. It is no wonder that the Chronicler makes David the force behind the temple liturgy, even though the temple wasn’t built until after David’s death, by his son Solomon. In any case, David is remembered as a community man, the founder of liturgy, and the writer of what are presumably many of the texts to be used at the liturgy.
Many of the superscriptions seem to contain technical liturgical language. Many Psalms are called "a mizmor of David." Presumably a mizmor is a type of song, perhaps signifying its accompaniment or tune, or—liturgical function. There are other such terms much as we today would use words like 'hymn', 'antiphon', 'responsory', or 'canticle'. Some other superscriptions appear to be reminders of the tune name: Hind of the Dawn for Psalm 42, for example. Again, we have modern parallels such as 'Old Hundredth' or 'Salzburg', which many of you may have sung this past weekend. In a few cases, we have the words "Do not destroy." It was suggested to me by the Benedictine Sr. Irene Nowell, herself a choir mistress, that this is the impassioned plea of a choir librarian to the temple custodian!

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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