March 26, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Psalms of confidence and thanksgiving

John F. Fink(Seventh in a series of columns)

Many of the psalms of lament that I wrote about the past two weeks include sentiments of gratitude to, and confidence in, God. Psalm 25 is an example of that, mixing fervent pleas with phrases of confidence in God.

Some psalms, though, express only those sentiments without cries of lament. Psalm 23 is an example of that. It’s probably the psalm most Christians know best because it is often prayed at funerals and other occasions when people are looking for consolation.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” it begins, “there is nothing I lack.” The image of God as a good shepherd tending his sheep is common in both the Old and New Testaments.

The prophet Ezekiel said, “Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep” (Ez 34:11-12). The passage continues for four more verses.

Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd: “I am the good shepherd, A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). That passage continues for seven more verses.

Sentiments expressed in the psalm include, “You guide me along the right path,” “Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side,” and, “Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life.”

Psalm 91 is another great psalm of confidence in God. In the first column in this series, I noted that St. Thomas More wrote an extended commentary on it. The Church assigns that psalm for night prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours for Sundays and the octaves of both Christmas and Easter, and recommends that it be prayed by anyone who wants to pray night prayer from memory.

This psalm includes the verses, “God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” These were the words the devil used when he tempted Jesus in the desert (see Mt 4:6 and Lk 4:10-11).

Other psalms of confidence include 11, 16, 62, 121 and 131.

Individual psalms of thanksgiving include 9-10 (a single psalm in two parts), 30, 32, 34, 41, 92, 116 and 138. They express gratitude to God for his protection and favors granted. The favors are usually spelled out, but sometimes they anticipate the blessing the psalmist is sure to come.

The Church assigns Psalm 118 to daytime prayer on the first and third Sundays in the four-week cycle. Psalm 23 replaces it on the second and fourth Sundays. Psalm 118 is a thanksgiving psalm that was used in a victory procession of the king and people into the Temple.

During a battle, the psalmist was surrounded by enemies, he says, but “in the Lord’s name I crushed them.” Then a dialogue follows between the priests and the psalmist before the priests impart their blessing and the psalmist sings in gratitude. †

Local site Links: