The Psalms come from the collections of songs used in the Temple of Jerusalem. Although tradition has it that David regulated the liturgy just as he composed all the psalms, it is more likely that the Levites – the “Sons of Asaph and Yedutun” – who were in charge of the sacred music of the Temple, had a greater role in the writing and selection of the psalms. With the passage of time, the psalms took on an overlay of personal piety, collective lamentations and the expressions of another era.
As the prayer book of ancient Israel, the psalms fed Jewish piety as they did the prayer of Jesus. To this day, they form the foundation of Christian liturgical prayer used by countless religious, priests and deacons as well as an increasing number of laity.
Not all Christians may find in the psalms the fulfillment of their own aspirations, but adapting them for prayer, or better still, allowing them to educate and form one’s spiritual life may prove to be more valuable. If we are to enter into a conversation with God, we would benefit more by listening to Him and meditating his inspired words than by speaking of our own worries.
The Psalms have come through the ages as a powerful means of prayer. If they do not always satisfy our own sense of prayer, it is not necessarily a bad thing. If they manage to unbalance even slightly our ingrained habits of piety, that is not a small gift. These psalms may be capable of renewing our language and symbolism in a world where God is often a stranger and people would prefer to be left alone, to pursue their own interests.
The Psalms have been collected into five books as one can see from the endings of each book (cf Ps 41, 72, 106). Within different collections one sometimes finds nearly identical Psalms and we can consider them as pairs.
The numbering of the psalms is slightly different in the Hebrew and Greek editions. We have used the Hebrew numbering and placed the Greek number in parenthesis – the one most often used in our Latin Liturgy.
The Songs in the Bible
Together with the psalms we should also indicate other prayers which we find in most parts of the Bible and which we usually call “canticles”: