Introduction

Praise in a Little Space
Since our Lord's coming to earth, the psalms have formed an integral part of Christian spirituality and prayer. In explaining the significance of the Incarnation, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes from a psalm: Then I said, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book, "I come to do Your will, my God!" (Heb. 10:7, ef. Psalm 40:7) Our Lady's canticle of praise, the Magnificat, contains a number of references from the psalms. As Jesus died on the Cross, He prayed a psalm. After His Resurrection, He told the Apostles that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.
 (Luke 24:44)

That psalmodic fulfillment was proclaimed by St. Peter in his first sermon on Pentecost. St. Stephen prayed part of a psalm as he was being stoned. St. Paul admonished the first Christians to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16) Believers down the centuries have continued to follow his directive. The ancient Desert Fathers often memorized the entire Psalter. As the first communities of monks and nuns were formed, the psalms provided the foundation for their prayer, Mass by Mass, hour by liturgical hour.

St. Francis of Assisi was a thirteenth century heir to this rich tradition of praying the psalms. While not a "man of letters," he had a deeply sensitive, poetic nature, which praying the inspired Word of God purified and elevated. Francis came to love the psalms because he found Jesus in them. They became, quickly and deeply, his prayer simply because they were first Christ's prayer . And-because they were Christ's prayer, they were also, preeminently, the prayer of Christ's bride, the Church.

The Little Poor Man's writings are filled with references from and allusions to the psalms. In what could be called the first Franciscan study project, he gathered verses from various psalms that spoke to him of our Lord's Passion and arranged them in a devotional form that we know today as the Office of the Passion or the Office of the Cross.

The Seraphic Father was not so much interested in owning a written copy of the Psalter as he was in "owning" the spirit which animated each of the 150 psalms. The prayers attributed to St. Francis witness to how successfully he attained to this spiritual ownership. There is the same strong faith, deep emotion, singing poetry and universal appeal in the prayers of the Poor Man as is found in the psalms.

While not a scholar in the formal sense, the Seraphic Patriarch has much to teach us about plumbing the depths of the psalms. And perhaps the first lesson he would wish us to learn is that the psalms help us to focus on the essential. There is no need for complexity or subtlety or subterfuge when one prays the psalms. As Psalm 117 (the shortest psalm in the Psalter) proves, you do not even need many words to offer God a perfect hymn of praise. You simply enter into the psalm, allow the psalm to enter into you... and the Holy Spirit will do the rest!

O praise the Lord; all you nations.
Acclaim Him, all you peoples.
Strong is His love for us;
He is faithful forever.
                                    -Psalm 117

The Poor Clare Nuns Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy 300 North 60th Street Belleville. Illinois 62223-3927 U.S.A.



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