The greatest prayer book ever written is contained within the pages of the Old Testament. The Book of Psalms, a collection of 150 prayers, has been esteemed and used as a means and model of prayer by Jewish believers and Christians throughout the ages.

The psalms are prayers that contain eternal truths, recall events in salvation history, and express the longing of the human heart for fulfillment and fellowship with God. In this way, the psalms helped pave the way for the Messiah, the long-awaited Anointed Savior. Along with the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, the psalms molded and shaped the hearts of God’s people to recognize and welcome the Messiah when he came.

Without question, therefore, the psalms were essential in furthering and deepening the messianic hope of God’s people. In the psalms, they could discern glimpses and portraits of the coming Savior.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Their prayer [the psalms] recalls the saving events of the past, yet extends into the future, even to the end of history; it commemorates the promises God has already kept, and awaits the Messiah who will fulfill them definitively.”

The Book of Psalms is the most quoted book in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. As a man of prayer, the Lord regularly prayed and cited the psalms in his teachings. He also used the psalms to reveal who he was, as his life reflected the teachings, aspirations, and aspects of holiness contained throughout the Book of Psalms.

The Catechism teaches us: “Prayed by Christ and fulfilled in him, the Psalms remain essential to the prayer of the Church.”

As the Lord prayed the psalms before God the Father throughout his earthly life, so his disciples are summoned to pick up the revered collection of prayers, pray them, and so allow themselves to be united with the Lord in his prayer to the Father.

In the psalms, the disciples of the Lord can find the best of divine wisdom, supplication, and spiritual direction. When they are prayed regularly, the psalms can lead us through different and multi-tiered spiritual transformations. They can teach us about regulating our emotions, pursuing goodness, seeking God in all things, and cooperating with his grace in every situation.

The psalms can be prayed at any time and in any fashion. The Church, however, continues the practice of our Jewish forebears and has formally organized the psalms in what is called the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Liturgy of the Hours is the proper prayer of all God’s people. As the rhythmic praying of the psalms at various times throughout the day, the Liturgy of the Hours prolongs the effects of the Eucharistic Sacrifice throughout the day and prepares for its celebration the next day. The psalms are the means by which the graces of the Paschal Mystery pepper the day with God’s presence and transform all the daily experiences of God’s people into opportunities to encounter him and receive his love and mercy.

While the Liturgy of the Hours was once falsely believed to be the reserved prayers of the ordained and Religious, the Second Vatican Council called the Church back to its original understanding and directed that all the baptized should be taught and instructed on how to pray the ancient and beloved Liturgy of the Hours.

In this way, the psalms are being restored to their place of prominence in the spiritual life of the entire Church.

As the psalms played a decisive role in helping humanity to recognize the Messiah when he came for our redemption, so they also play a role now in guiding the People of God through the ups and downs of history as we await his glorious return. The Second Coming is a reality of our faith and a promise of our Savior. The delay in his return can cause restlessness and confusion. It can pose questions about our hope in him. In such moments, the psalms are there to lift us up, strengthen us, and direct us back to an eager longing for his return and the consummation of all things in him.

The psalms are a gift to us. They console us and challenge us. They are the fuel of our spiritual lives as we make our way through life, seeking to be with God, and accepting the gracious accompaniment he offers us.

Join Father Kirby every morning for his free daily reflections, Morning Offering with Father Kirby.