April 23, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Some of the other psalms in the Psalter

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

So far in this series of columns about the psalms, I’ve written about the penitential psalms, hymns of praise, laments, the cursing psalms, psalms of confidence and thanksgiving, the psalms that seem to foretell the passion of Christ, wisdom poems and those written as acrostics. But there are still other types of psalms.

There are the historical psalms—Psalm 78, Psalm 105 and Psalm 106. All three are lengthy recitals of Jewish history, telling how their ancestors at times rejected God and were punished by him.

Psalm 106 cites eight instances of the Israelites’ sins followed by God’s judgment and then forgiveness.

In every case, God remained faithful, repeating the promise that he made of giving the people their land. If you are not completely familiar with Jewish history, you can get a sort of CliffsNotes version from those psalms.

Another group of psalms—Psalm 47, Psalm 93 and Psalms 96-99—are known as “enthronement psalms.” They’re hymns of praise, but specifically to God as the universal king. Some scholars believe that they were composed for an annual celebration of the feast of the Enthronement of the Lord, much as we Catholics celebrate the feast of Christ the King. However, there is no mention in the Bible of such a feast.

There are also royal psalms that pertain specifically to the king. Since there was no separation of Church and state in the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, their kings held important places in religious ceremonies. How much they actually

participated, though, might be another matter because there were both good and bad kings, those who did good deeds and those who, as the Books of Kings said so often, “did evil in the Lord’s sight.”

The royal psalms include coronation hymns (Psalm 2, Psalm 72, Psalm 101 and Psalm 110), an anniversary hymn (Psalm 132), a royal wedding song (Psalm 45), petitions in behalf of the warrior king (Psalm 20 and Psalm 144), and prayers of thanksgiving for the king’s successes (Psalm 18 and Psalm 21).

The Church assigns three of those psalms (Psalm 2, Psalm 110 and Psalm 45) to Christmas in the Liturgy of the Hours. The kings of Judah and Israel were anointed, and the word “messiah” means “the anointed one.” Naturally, when the Church recites them and applies them to Jesus, they take on new meanings.

There are psalms that were obviously sung or used during liturgical processions around Jerusalem and into the Temple. Psalm 100, for example, invites the people to “enter the temple gates with praise, its courts with thanksgiving” (Ps 100:4).

Psalm 15 is a scrutiny. Those wishing to enter the Temple courts had to ask the Temple official what conduct is appropriate there. The official replies, with emphasis on virtues relating to one’s neighbor.

Psalm 24 was also apparently sung during a ceremony of the entry of God into the Temple, followed by his people. And Psalm 95 is a call to the people to praise and worship God: “Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the Lord who made us” (Ps 95:6). †

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