Editors Note: this post is part of a series if posts titled Praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
In the previous post we reflected on how we learn to pray by copying the movement of the Spirit and how the same Spirit that guided the prayers of the psalmists is the same Spirit that guides our prayer today. As we rely on this Spirit to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in a way that relates to our own life experiences, how do we identify the movements the Spirit offers us? In The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office, John Brook identifies two types of psalms that we find in the Psalter: Psalms of Praise and Psalms of Lament (Brook, 43-53). I posit we can gain a sense of the movement of the Spirit as we pray by understanding these two types of psalms.
Psalms of Praise
The Psalms of Praise usually follow a similar pattern. First, there is a call to praise God for some characteristic that God possesses. Following that is a specific reason for the praise (such as overcoming a hardship). This is then followed by another invitation for the audience to praise God for that very reason.
Within the Psalms of Praise we can find two groups. The first group are Descriptive, or Psalms that offer praise to God by describing who God is and what He has done (Brook, 43-48). For example, consider Psalm 113 (found in Week III Sunday Evening Prayer 1) in which the psalmist describes God as high above the heavens and all nations, yet lifts up the lowly.
How might this Psalm invite us to reflect on all the God that God has done in our life, the Church and all the ups and downs of Church history, or deliverance for someone we know?
For example, using the pattern identified above, we can pray a descriptive prayer of thanksgiving to God for a day with beautiful weather in the middle of winter: God is great, He has arranged the seasons -> He gave us this beautiful day, a break from the dark cold days of winter -> Praise God for his Goodness.
The second group within the Psalms of Praise is Declarative. These Psalms declare God’s greatness in response to a unique action (Brook, 48-53). Consider Psalm 124 (found in Week III Monday Evening Prayer) which speaks of a time when a group felt overwhelmed yet came through. How might this Psalm relate to a concrete way we have seen God work in our own lives, the life of the Church, or someone we know?
Using the pattern identified above, we we can pray a declarative prayer of praise to God for deliverance from COVID19: God is above the heavens and so is above all that threatens us -> praise God for getting us through the worst days of COVID19 -> Rely on God always, for He always delivers us.
Psalms of Lament
The second type of psalm found within the Psalter are the Psalms of Lament. The pattern varies more widely than in the Psalms of Praise, yet we can typically find the following elements. The first is the lament or complaint followed by some form of trust. Then there is a specific intention followed by a vow to praise God when God answers that intention.
Consider Psalm 22 (found in Week II Friday Day Prayer). Stanza 1 begins with a lament followed by a confession of trust in stanza 2. Then the psalmist moves to another lament in stanza 3. Stanza 4 (the center of the Psalm) offers an act of trust followed by what the psalmist is hoping God will do. There follows another long lament (stanzas 5-9) followed by another petition for deliverance. The psalmist ends the psalm with a vow to praise God upon their deliverance.
As with the Psalms of Praise, we can also find two groupings within the Psalms of Lament.
The first group are the Psalms of National Lament. Consider Psalm 77 (found in Week II Wednesday Morning Prayer). This psalm reflects on the cry of the people in a time of national disaster. How might this Psalm invite us to reflect on events going on in the world and how they impact us as individuals, the Church, or other people we know?
Using the pattern above, we might construct a prayer for our nation as follows: Our nation is suffering greatly from division and conflict -> Yet God has brought us through various trials in the past, so God will deliver us now -> Lord unite us once again -> When you do, we will tell how you saved us and declare your greatness to everyone we know.
The second group are the Psalms with Lament of an Individual. Consider Psalm 51 (found in Week I Friday Morning Prayer). This psalm reflects on an individual suffering some private grief (could be a sickness, the attack of an enemy, or the consequence of a personal sin).
Using the pattern above, we could construct a prayer for a personal need as follows: Lord, I’m suffering with this illness -> You healed me last time I was sick, so I trust you will bring healing now -> Please be with me as I suffer and be with all those working to bring a cure -> When I regain my health I will tell how you saved me.
Next Post: Praying the Psalms in Everyday Life