The annual spiritual exercises for priests of the Diocese of Meath took place on 24 – 28 May 2015, conducted by Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto.

The theme of the retreat, attended by 58 priests, was “Praying the Psalms”.  The Cardinal examined several aspects of the priests’ daily prayer exercises, commonly known as the Liturgy of the Hours, which are prayed at several moments during the day, including Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer.

A renowned Scripture scholar, Cardinal Collins was a lecturer in English literature in King’s College and Professor of Scripture at St Peter’s Seminary in his native Canada, where he also served at different times as spiritual director and rector.  He was Bishop of St Paul’s, Alberta and Archbishop of Edmonton prior to his appointment as Archbishop of Toronto.  He was created a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Here is an excerpt from one of his retreat presentations to the Meath clergy:

Although the psalms have always been a valued resource for private prayer, they arose out of a context of communal worship: they are the hymns of the Old Testament temple. In the centuries since their composition, they have been a liturgical treasure of both the Jewish and the Christian communities.

When we think of the scriptural texts which we hear at Mass, we tend to think of those which are proclaimed from the Lectionary. But the psalms have also been sung and recited by Christians at the Eucharist since the days of the early Church. They express with poetic intensity the raw experience of life, and like the intentions mentioned at the Prayer of the Faithful, they remind us that the Eucharist does not stand isolated from the world of our daily struggle.

The psalms also lead us to Christ. As Christians we read the psalms, like the rest of the Old Testament, with an awareness of the coming of the Messiah. In the psalms, whenever we hear of the king, we think of the fulfillment of Old Testament kingship in Christ. When we hear of the people of Israel journeying across the desert on their way to the promised land, we recognize that we are part of the new Israel, journeying through life, on our way to the promised land. Where the psalms speak of the manna and the water from the rock, we recognize God’s present care for his people through the sacraments, the Scriptures, and the whole faith of the Church.

Outside of the Eucharist, a further occasion for a Christian encounter with the psalms is in the Liturgy of the Hours.  Christians have always celebrated private times of daily prayer, but in the early Church they would also gather as a community for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. The pattern of worship varied widely, but often there would be hymns, psalms, readings from scripture, and a homily. The celebration would sometimes be accompanied by processions and the use of incense. This tradition was rooted in the local parishes, and was celebrated most fully in the cathedrals, where the laity along with the priests and deacons would gather for worship with the bishop.

One way to encourage participation in the Liturgy of the Hours is for parishes to arrange communal celebration of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Parishioners can be given the chance to pray the Liturgy of the Hours before weekday Masses. Wherever possible, parishes should also consider a fuller celebration of the Office on Sundays, with music, and ceremonies, and chanting of the psalms. One musical approach is to train the whole congregation to chant the psalms, antiphonating back and forth between two sections. Another approach, which may be more effective with people who are not adept at chant, is to alternate verses between a trained cantor and the whole congregation.

In the Eucharist and in the Liturgy of the Hours the psalms help modern Christians, like those who have gone before them, to grow closer to God.