Why Do We Sing the Psalms?
In responding to God's mighty works, the psalms hold pride of place in worship today for Jews and Christians alike. We find verses from the psalms embodied in hymns, antiphons, prayers, and especially the responsorial psalm after the first reading.
The psalms hold our interest at several levels. Psalms are part of our scriptures, with all the authority that carries. The responsorial psalm we sing is the word of God! Moreover, psalms are classic texts with enormous power to express our deepest feelings in prayer. Every human emotion - grief, rage, joy, praise - finds a place in the psalms. Psalms are also songs. They cry out to be sung. We engage their depth of meaning when we sing them. Moreover, the psalms are timeless. They have been sung for thousands of years, transcending their origins in time and circumstance.
The psalms were particularly important to the early Christian church. A large number of psalms came to be understood as prophesy of Christ. The New Testament is replete with citations from more than sixty psalms. Among the sayings of Jesus there are more quotes from the book of Psalms than any other book of Scripture.
The role of the responsorial psalm is to provide all of us an opportunity to participate actively in the Liturgy of the Word. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal offers a range of options to encourage our singing after the first reading. If the musical setting of the psalm of the day is not well known, one of the specified seasonal psalms may be sung instead. The psalm can be sung with a cantor singing verses and the assembly joining in the refrain. Alternatively the entire assembly may sing the psalm straight through. Today there are many settings of the psalms that use simple musical refrains. These can be easily sung by the assembly on first hearing.
Each celebration of the Liturgy of the Word presents us with an opportunity to sing to God. Christ is present to us in a very special way when the assembly sings the psalms.
As the psalm goes:
Sing a new song to the LORD,
Sing praise in the assembly of the faithful!
2. Why do we sing the psalms?
Why We Do the Things We Do © 2005 Paul Mason
Paul Mason is Pastoral Associate at Naremburn and Northbridge parishes. He is a member of the Australian Academy of Liturgy and the Diocesan Liturgical Commission of Broken Bay.
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