Sunday, August 19, 2007

Praying the Psalms: Introduction

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be travelling the northeast and Quebec. Preparation for this trip has slowed my posting, but in my absence, Fr. Romualdo has graciously agreed to post installments of a talk I gave some five years ago to the North American Cathedral Musicians' Association. They met here in Chicago and were looking for a presentation on the Psalms. So many musicians sing Psalms and accompany Psalms. We all have our favorite passages, and at the same time, they seem often disembodied, lacking context. Sometimes, as C.S. Lewis pointed out in his brief commentary, they disappointed with their apparently barbaric prejudices, curses and protestations of innocence.

My argument in the talk that will follow over the next ten days is this: we often stumble in praying the Psalms because we have come to think of them as 'poetry', a nineteenth-century concept connected to a cult of subjectivity, inner authenticity and artistry. In their original contexts, and in the context even today of the Church's recitation of them, the Psalms are liturgical, communal, even objective in a sense. To understand the Psalms properly, we must undergo a conversion to community and tradition.

This talk was for a wholly Catholic audience. I apologize in advance for some overgeneralizations about Protestant appropriation of the Psalms. By and large, I think Protestants often have done a better job because of their broader knowledge of Scripture. So please keep the audience in mind, as well as the centrality of liturgy in Catholicism in mind as you read.

Peace to you! God willing, I will be with you 'live' in ten days.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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