Thursday, 10 November 2011
"This prayer of the Body of Christ" - on the liturgical praying of the Psalms
In his exposition of Psalm 119, Augustine reminds us that the Church's reading of this Psalm is the "prayer of the body of Christ". Laurence Kriegshauser's commentary reflects this this Augustinian approach:
For the Christian it is not difficult to see in the this Law, of which one of the synonyms is the "word" of God, the Incarnate Word himself, mediator between God and man, the revelation of God and simultaneously the way that leads to God. Jesus is the Word made flesh and the Son of the Father, who by his obedience to the Father's will won eternal life for all mankind. The Christian gives all his attention to Christ, the Incarnation of God's will, knowing that in him he shares in eternal life.
The speaker of the psalm is the whole Christ, head and members. The Son speaks to the Father of his total commitment to the divine will. The members speak to the Father and to the Son about the Incarnate Word who mediates life to them. In praying the psalm we allow ourselves to be inserted into the obedience of the Son, permitting the Father to give us the life he has intended us to have.
It is the Church's liturgical praying of the Psalms which gives them a meaning beyond - and richer than - an ancient Israelite meditation on the Torah. Historical-critical readings, whether liberal or conservative, focused as they are on authorial identity, intent and context, have little or nothing to offer the Church. Praying the Psalms as the Body of Christ ensures that they become a means of entering into the mind of the Christ, a means of entering his into the mystery of his Cross and Resurrection.
Such catholic praying of the Psalter was attacked by the Disciplinarian critics of the Elizabethan Settlement. Hooker's defence of the practices of daily and antiphonal praying of the Psalms ended with a robust invocation of patristic authority:
But the end of our speech is to show that because the fathers of the Church with whom the self same custom was so many ages ago in use, have uttered all these things concerning the fruit which the Church of God did then reap observing that and no other form, it may be justly avouched that we our selves retaining it ... do neither want that good which later invention can afford, nor loose any thing of that for which the ancient so oft and so highly commend the former. Let novelty therefore in this give over endless contradictions, and let ancient custom prevail (LEP V, 39.5).
Here is one of Anglicanism's riches - shared, yes, with other Christian traditions, but central to Anglicanism's experience of "common prayer". We do not read the Psalms according to historical-critical approaches. We pray the Psalms in the daily office as the Body of Christ, united to our Head. Thus Psalm 119 becomes, in Augustine's words, "this prayer of the Body of Christ".
Posted by BC at 13:38