Psalms The Temple Songbook

Psalter, the Temple Songbook

It is a rich anthology of poems collected over a period of several hundred years arranged in five books like the five part “Torah.” There is internal evidence that once there were many smaller collections which were eventually combined into its present form. It also can be called the songbook of the Church’s liturgy which uses parts or all of 126 different Psalms in its three year reading cycle.  The greatly loved Shepherd Psalm 23 is presented with four different lyrics, on the Sundays of the year. The Psalms are generally tied in to the theme of the Old Testament and Gospel readings. The 150 Psalms are arranged in five books, each ending with a doxology.

The Five Books of Psalms

Book I (Psalms 1-41) has the heading of the “Psalms of David” with the exception of Psalm 1, Psalm 2, Psalm10 and Psalm 33Psalm 1, a wisdom poem describing the joy in the study of the Torah, serves as a preface to the entire Psalter followed by a royal Psalm announcing a Messianic theme. The Hebrew “Yahweh” is the dominant divine name in these Psalms translated as LORD.

Book II (Psalms 42-72): These Psalms of Korah (Psalms 42-49) and Asaph (Psalm 50) date back to the second temple period after the reforms of Ezra recorded in Ezra 7-10, Nehemiah 8-9, and the composition of the two books of Chronicles, where Korah and Asaph were noted among the Levitical singers attached to the temple (1 Chronicles 6).

Book III (Psalms 73-89) is a continuation of Pss. attributed to Korah and Asaph. Books II and III constitute the Elohistic Psalter, thus called because the divine name used was Elohim (God). Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 are almost identical except for the divine name (LORD/Yahweh vs. God/Elohim).  Book IV (Psalms 90-106): The Psalms are almost all untitled. Psalms 96-99 were intended for temple worship and were added during the later part of Ezra’s reform.

Book V (Psalms 107-150), the most liturgical of all, pays special attention to the Jews of the diaspora who made pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Psalms 120-134, “Songs of Ascent”). Psalms 113-118 were used at the three major pilgrimage festivals.

Psalms 146-150 all begin with praise the LORD in a concerted paean with the last words: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Alleluia.”

Superscriptions or Headings

There are three types of headings throughout the Psalms: 1) technical musical terms and instructions for performance; 2) personal names or authorship; and 3) historical settings. Of the persons most common is David. Psalms 72 and Psalm 127 are accredited to Solomon. Moses is associated with Psalm 90.

It is held that the superscriptions were written long after the original Psalm was composed by rabbinic teachers. Of the seventy-three containing David’s name, Psalm 27and Psalm 28 refer to the temple which was not built until the reign of Solomon, long after David was dead. David was portrayed as a poet and musician. Thus the growth of a royal ideology. The historical headings are later rabbinic traditions.  The 34 Psalms without titles were called “orphans” by the rabbis.

The Literary Forms

Hymns begin and frequently end with a call to praise. Psalms 8; 19; 29; 33; 65-66 (1-12); 100; 104-5; 111; 113-14; 117, 136; 145-46; 148-50. Some would add the “songs of Zion” (Psalms 246; 48; 76; 84; 87; 122) and the “Enthronement Psalms” (47; 93; 95-99). Many in the body of the Psalms gives reason for praising god (Psalms 33; 100; 117; 135-36; 147-49).

Laments which includes the largest number of which there are individual laments (Psalms 3-7; 9-10; 13; 14; 17; 22; 25-28; 31; 35; 38-43; 51-57; 59; 61-64; 69-71; 77; 86; 88; 89; 102; 109; 120; 130; 139; 141-143) and at least twelve are national or communal in nature (Psalms 12; 14; 58; 60; 74; 79; 80; 83; 85; 90; 94; 123; 126; 129; 137).

The speaker of the individual lament has two concerns. First, he asks God to reveal the reason for his suffering. Second, he wants him to bring deliverance.

There are two types of communal laments. One is where the people confessed their sins and begged God for forgiveness. The second is where the people felt they were innocent and their motive was to convince God that this was true.

Royal Psalms affirm the king’s close relationship with the LORD. Psalm 2 refers to the king’s coronation. Psalm 20 shows the king praying before waging war. Psalm 21 is a celebration after the kings return victorious. Psalm 45 depicts a royal wedding. Other examples of royal Psalms are 18, 72, 78, 89, 101, 110, 132, 144.

Wisdom Psalms by their form and content show a connection with Old Testament wisdom literature (Psalms 1; 19; 36; 37; 49; 73; 78; 112; 119; 127; 128).

Liturgical Psalms - most all of the Psalms had a connection with the religious life of Israel. However some were clearly part of public worship. Psalms 15; 24; 50; 68; 81; 82; 115; 132 were probably used in actual ceremonies and festivals.

Historical Psalms contain accounts of great events in Israel’s history. Psalms 78, 105-6, 135-36 present what is called salvation history.

Thanksgiving Psalms were public testimony to the goodness of God who had brought about deliverance (18; 30; 32; 345; 40; 65-67; 75; 92; 107; 116; 118; 124; 136; 138).

Songs of Confidence were offered during times of deep distress with the faith that God would bring deliverance to the person or community (Psalms 11; 16; 23; 27; 62; 63; 91; 121; 125; 131).

The acrostic poems of relatively late composition begin each unit with a letter of the alphabet in sequence (Psalms 9-10; 25; 34; 37; 111; 112; 119; 145). Psalm 119 is the most complete having each stanza beginning with a letter of the entire Hebrew alphabet in sequence.

The editors of the New American Bible in a footnote have classified each Psalm by type and form.

Psalms in Gospels and Letters

Jesus used the Psalms at his temptation (Psalm 91:11 at Mathew 04:06); Last words on the cross (Psalm 22:01 at Mathew 26:46; Psalm 36:01 at Luke 23:46) refers to the Psalm (Luke 20:42; Luke 24:44). The Book of Acts quotes the Psalm 110:01The early Church used the Psalms in worship (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 05:19; Collations 03:16; James 05:13).

The Psalms and Your Prayer

While the Psalms were part of the temple liturgy, they are very adaptable for personal prayer and meditation. The various forms are appropriate for occasions of stress, praise, thanksgiving, and other life experiences. A few examples follow:  when worries oppress you, read Psalm 46; to strengthen your faith, Psalm 141; at times of death, Psalms 23 or Psalm 116; at times of temptation, Psalm 140; at times of persecution, Psalm 54 or Psalm 56; if you need reassurance, Psalm 27 or Psalm 91; if you have sinned, Psalm 130; at times of great crisis, Psalm 16 or Psalm 121; when ill or in pain; Psalm 41; to praise God for his goodness, Psalm 95 or Psalm 100; for the self-righteous person, Psalm 143; at times of national distress, read Psalm 60 or Psalm 74.

The Psalter ends with five Psalms enjoining us to “Praise the LORD.” “Alleluia.” Psalms, the Temple Songbook.

"Psalms The Temple Songbook" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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