The Book of Psalms can teach people how to pray and is the “prayer book ‘par excellence,’” Pope Benedict XVI said in his June 22 audience with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
“These inspired songs teach us how to speak to God, expressing ourselves and the whole range of our human experience with words that God himself has given us.”
The book of psalms consists of 150 prayers traditionally ascribed to the authorship of King David.
The Pope explained that a whole range of human emotions are found in the Pslams, ranging from “joy and suffering” to the “fullness of life to fear of dying.”
“In these prayers, the Psalms are manifestations of the soul and faith, in which everyone can recognize and communicate the experience of a special closeness to God to which every man is called,” observed the Pope.
The Pope said it was significant that Jewish tradition refers to the Psalter as “Tehillim,” which means “praise” in Hebrew. This makes the Psalms “ultimately a book of praise.”
“Despite the diversity of their literary forms, the Psalms are generally marked by the two interconnected dimensions of humble petition and of praise addressed to a loving God who understands our human frailty,” he said.
But the Psalms are also quite different from the other books of the Old Testament, Pope Benedict noted. Instead of being narratives with a specific meaning or purpose, he explained, they “are given to the believer just as text for prayer.”
In fact, the Pope urged pilgrims to pray using the Psalms, suggesting that in “praying the Psalms we learn to pray. They are a school of prayer.” He explained himself by drawing an analogy with how children learn to express themselves.
A child initially “learns to express their feelings, emotions and needs with words that do not belong to him,” but instead “he learns innately from his parents and those who live around him.” Very quickly “the words become his words” and those feelings, emotions and needs of his are then duly expressed, said the Pope.
He concluded by suggesting that the Psalms ultimately point people towards Jesus.
“Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, the great King of Israel who, as the Lord’s Anointed, prefigured the Messiah. In Jesus Christ and in his paschal mystery the Psalms find their deepest meaning and prophetic fulfillment.”
“Christ himself prayed in their words. As we take up these inspired songs of praise, let us ask the Lord to teach us to pray, with him and in him, to our heavenly Father.”
This was the seventh Wednesday audience delivered by Pope Benedict on the topic of prayer. His previous theme – the lives of the saints – took two years to complete.