If you are looking for a way to strengthen and enhance your prayer life this Lent, I wholly recommend praying from the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the psalms as “the school of prayer.” “In praying the psalms,” Pope Benedict instructs us, “we learn to pray.”
You might know that priests and religious take a solemn vow to pray the psalms every day – and many times a day. The psalms are usually what you hear monks chanting – that is, whenever you hear monks chanting.
One of the more common questions that I get from school children is, “Father, why do you always carry that book around?” That book that I carry around is called the “Liturgy of the Hours” or the “Divine Office.” It is a four-volume, four-week cycle of prayers which, together with the Mass, constitutes the official prayer of the universal Church.
It is a form of prayer consisting primarily of psalms complemented by hymns and other Scripture passages and prayers. I pray the psalms and the other prayers at all of the “canonical hours” of the day – i.e. morning, midday, evening, night, and other “floating” hours.
After you have been praying them for a while, the psalms become part of your living and breathing. You enter into a divine rhythm. You consecrate all of the hours of the day and you are given the prayers to express all of the varied emotions and deep stirrings of your spirit throughout the day – the praise, thanksgiving, laments, fears, longings, passions, joys, sorrows, and penitence.
The psalms keep me spiritually balanced. Just as there might be a spiritual disorder if you eat too little or to eat too much – or sleep too little or to sleep too much, so too it can be spiritually disordered to cry too much or to cry too little – or to laugh too much or to laugh too little. The psalms feed my spirit with a proper mix of petition and thanksgiving, praise and penitence, and all of the other movements of the spiritual life.
It’s edifying too to know that as I pray the Liturgy of the Hours I am praying the same psalms as are being prayed at that hour by Christians all over the world. So even if I don’t particularly need or feel like praising or lamenting at that moment, I unite my prayers with others who do.
We bow down and rise up with the psalms and with the whole Church – ancient and new. Blessed praying throughout your spiritual journey of Lent!