ex libris — Psalms bookshelf

In the following books a variety of authors discuss material related to the Psalms and different approaches to praying with the Psalms.

FHL-PFaith Hope Love
by Josef Pieper
Ignatius Press, San Francisco, California
ISBN 978-0-89870-623-9

How would you define the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love? Are you interested in how the roots of these word have an impact on our understanding of these important Christian virtues? If so, we strongly recommend the book Faith Hope Love by the philosophical writer Josef Pieper. His small volume consists of three sections. Pieper uses etymology to examine linguistic clues that shed light on the underlying meaning of the theological virtues. The result is surprisingly helpful information that has many practical applications for Christians.

“If now we were to ask one who truly believes: ‘What do you really believe?’ he would not need to name individual items of his creed; but if he wished to be perfectly precise, he would have to point to his authority and reply: ‘I believe what that person has said.’ In replying thus he would have named the essential common feature of all the individual items of his creed. He would be stating the reason for his accepting them as true. For that reason is merely the fact that someone said so. ‘In all believe, the decisive factor (principale) is who it is whose statement is assented to; by comparison the subject matter assented to is in a certain sense secondary.’ Thus Thomas Aquinas in his ‘Tract on Belief’.”

the lord reigns

The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms
by James L. Mays
Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky
ISBN 0-644-25558-2

The author rather daringly and also convincingly makes the claim that all of the Psalms are united by a single theme, which is reflected in the title of his book. Mays traces the reign of God through the entire Book of the Psalms, providing readers with an interpretive framework that holds up equally well whether the Psalms are being used in liturgy, for personal prayer, or in Bible study. Although this book was written with academics in mind, the author’s straightforward writing style makes his ideas accessible to a larger audience.

“The Psalms were a primary context in the scriptures for the titles used to identify the role played by Jesus in God’s way with the world: King, Messiah, Son of God, Lord. But more important, the prayers in the Psalms furnish the signifying narrative motifs for the story of his Passion. In the story Jesus speaks their words, experiences their feelings, undergoes their sufferings. Given this relation between the self of Jesus and the text of the Psalms, it is no surprise that the Church saw reason in the Gospels to use the Psalms as its primal language of prayer and praise.”

music of silenceMusic of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day
by David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B., and Sharon Lebell
Seastone, Berkeley, California
ISBN 1-56975-297-4

Are you looking for a way to add tranquility to your life without abdicating your responsibilities? The age-old monastic method of achieving serenity involves praying the Psalms at regular intervals throughout the day. While this isn’t practical for most of us, it is possible to incorporate a few minutes of silence and prayer into each day. This little book makes readers aware of the particular blessings associated with the traditional times for praying Liturgy of the Hours—Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

“The monastic venture is commonly misunderstood as an effort to be super-pious, to be more holy than other people. But he rationale for monasticism could be most succinctly described as an effort to live in the now. The monastery is a place in which everything is arranged so the it it made easy to be here now. And one way of achieving that is to follow the natural rhythm of the hours of the day. As a monk, ideally speaking, you always know what you are supposed to do at a given time. The moment when the bell rings for an activity, you drop whatever you have in your hands and turn to this new activity in readiness and responsiveness: because that hour is like an angel who calls you and challenges you and wants your response at that moment. Even though this is made easier in the monastery, the attitude behind it is something that people in any walk of life can attempt to realize. And, to the extent to which they realize it, it will make them happy.”

out of the depthsOut of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today
by Bernhard W. Anderson with Steven Bishop
Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky
ISBN 0-664-25832-8

With a title taken from the opening of Psalm 130 (which also is known in Latin as De Profundis), Anderson’s book focuses on the poetic forms of the Psalms as well as on their use in worship. The author includes in-depth commentary on several themes that reappear in the Psalms, addressing trials of faith, broken and contrite hearts, singing a new song, Creation, and the city of Zion. The author’s writing style is heavily academic with references that many lay people may find distracting.

“The Psalms bring us into God’s world, which often clashes with the marketing, materialistic, militaristic world in which, most of the time, we have our being. Biblical poets use human speech metaphorically to portray a world in which God is related covenantally to a people, Israel, and through them to all peoples. It is a world in which our relation to God, whether in times of divine presence or apparent absence, is expressed creatively in language of great power. It is no wonder, then, that down through the ages people have made the words of the Psalms their own. … The deep within the Psalms calls out to the deep within us. They articulate the human cry of every person ‘out of the depths.’”

the psalms in israel's worshipThe Psalms in Israel’s Worship
by Sigmund Mowinckel
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan
ISBN 0-8028-2816-7

Sigmund Mowinckel is widely regarded as a leading Old Testament scholar, and his book is considered foundational to serious modern study of the Psalms. Translated into English from Norwegian, this rather heavy book is aimed at an academic audience. Because Mowinckel’s influence is pervasive among Scripture scholars, most of his ideas can be found in other author’s works on the Psalms. Readers especially interested in the history of the Psalms as well as the Psalms’ original place in Israel’s liturgical practices may nevertheless want to tackle reading Mowinckel for themselves.

“The ancient Israelites did not shape their thoughts to the pattern of Christian dogmas and morals. Nor can a classification according to the religious ideas represented in the different Psalms be considered satisfacotry: We cannot be sure that the idea which to us seems most prominent was so for the poet. … There is not Psalm which does not accept God’s majesty and his power to intervene everywhere and all the time, or which does not acknowledge him as creator; the question is: Why does, e.g., this special Psalm speak at greater length and in more detail about Creation than is usual in the Psalms. … All this modern grouping only leads us to ask the poets about things which interest us, but to which they often have no answer; instead of trying to see things from their point of view, and asking what is in their mind.”

songs of faith and praiseThe Psalms: Songs of Faith and Praise
by Gregory J. Polan, O.S.B.
Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey / New York
ISBN 978-0-8091-4882-0

The Psalms: Songs of Faith and Praise is a valuable resource for anyone who wishes to learn more about praying with the Psalms. Benedictine Abbot Primate Gregory Polan, who also was the lead translator of The Revised Grail Psalms, has written a book that is less a how-to manual and more a demonstration of lectio divina in action. In addition to The Revised Grail Psalms, which is included in its entirety, Songs of Faith and Praise includes commentary and short prayers relating to each of the 150 Psalms. New Testament connections to the Psalms are emphasized in the commentary..

“We learn from the Psalms the language of prayer that has characterized both synagogue and church for centuries. Sometimes we may be surprised or even shocked at the imagery employed, so different from the way we tend to portray our own experience in today’s world. But by studying the context and meaning of those images and metaphors, we can come to see how even these images of violence and hostility, suffering and sadness, can speak to us as poetry imbued with the beauty of faith and hope. For example, when the Psalmist says that God is aware of our wanderings and collects our tears in a flask (Psalm 56:9), we are touched by this Hebraic image of tenderness; yes, God knows our every footstep; each tear of sadness and disapointment is collected and retained by the One who cares so deeply for us.”

sing a new songSing a New Song: The Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary
by Irene Nowell, O.S.B.
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota
ISBN 0-8146-2043-4

The Responsorial Psalm prayed as part of the Sunday Mass well may be the most neglected part of the Liturgy of the Word. In Sing a New Song: The Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary, Nowell expounds on the meaning and beauty of the individual Psalms, and comments on their relationship to the other readings. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to be more engaged with the Mass readings, and especially for cantors, music directors, and R.C.I.A. catechists.

“[This book] is intended as a ministry to the imagination. It follows what Benedictines call the lectio approach. Images are pursued and linked. Connections are drawn because of the juxtaposition that would not be part of the analysis of any one of the readings. The liturgical sense of feast and season is also used to open further meanings. It is hoped, however, that no violence has been done to either Psalm or readings. The complex interweaving of liturgical readings forms, in the end, its own identity. It is this identity which the book explores..”