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Psalms of praise and gratitude

Bro Paschal Jordan OSB spoke at the Liturgical Commission’s workshop ‘Composing Responsorial Psalms’ March 30 at the Max Murphy Hall, St Philip and St James RC Church, Chaguanas. This is part three of a series based on his short course for music composers on the Book of Psalms. Part one appeared in the May 7—13 issue, and Part two in the May 14–20 issue.


Which psalms or fragments of psalms do you find helpful in time of trouble/sorrow/difficulty/grief?

Psalms of Praise are songs praising God for Himself, for the wonder of nature, and for ourselves, human beings, wonderfully made by God. Let us consider a Spirituality of Praise:

When we adopt praise as a spiritual attitude or ‘spirituality’, we may discover any one or all of the following:

– Praise helps us to recognise the Lord in nature, persons, events, creation in general, and, especially in the Bible.

– Praise cleanses our heart of anger, passion, melancholy, and a grasping spirit.

– It opens us up to God who is ‘enthroned on the praises of Israel’ (Ps 22:4).

– Praise opens us up to recognising the ups and downs of life as equally God’s gifts.

– Praise takes away our self-centredness and egocentricity.

– It does not take away sorrow – which means that sorrow is a legitimate emotion, no matter what anybody tells you to the contrary – but helps us to accept it graciously.

– Praise is not just glib talk, but demonstrates faith, hope, and confidence in Divine Providence.

– It is not a substitute for hard work but acts as a sort of ‘lubrication’ in the daily grind.

– Praise helps create in us a certain docility of spirit and gentleness of life-style, because it makes us aware of our dependency on God. (And God, as we know, will not let us ‘slip through His fingers’.)

– Praise brings an element of joy into the daily grind; it softens our brusqueness of spirit.


Which psalm, or fragment of a psalm, helps you to praise God in your life?

Psalms of thanksgiving or gratitude:

These psalms are a sort of mixture of Lament and Praise – inasmuch as the psalmists recall the suffering they underwent, their cry to God, His healing response, and now they praise God for what He has done. In other words, thanksgiving, or gratitude.

Let us consider a Spirituality of Gratitude:

What is the heart of gratitude?

  • We can have a superficial politeness or even courtesy which can say ‘thank you’ and think no more of it. Sometimes we give gifts – especially at Christmas – with the expectation that we get gifts in return. And we say: “Oh, thank you, but you shouldn’t have!” And what we don’t say is: “If you did not give me a gift for Christmas, I would never speak to you again!” Sometimes our attitude is: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Can we call this gratitude?
  • All of the foregoing examples are not sufficient for a real sense of gratitude. Perhaps we need to move on to a real response to the giver, a response of love, a second ‘look’, a discovery of the hand of God in this unexpected generosity. This could very well lead us to our stance of gratitude towards God, in the face of His illimitable love! For, just as we sometimes neglect or forget to say, ‘thank you’, or worse, take someone for granted, we could find ourselves taking God for granted and His gifts as well.
  • Here again, our self-centredness shows itself clearly: we say to God, to husband/wife, to family, to our Church community, to our friends and relatives: “I expect you to be there for me.” Now, while it is true that love expects, this may be due rather to the quality of the relationship and to the self-knowledge of the spouses/friends/community etc. than to any demanding, self-centred heart. This sort of expectation is not a command, but a presence born of trust and love. And here, it must be admitted that those of us who are clergy and religious sometimes turn Jesus’ promise to those who leave everything and follow Him, into a self-centred expectation. We say to Jesus something like this: “You promised me a hundredfold even in this life [Mt 19:27–29; Mk 10:28–31; Lk 18:24–27]; so, I’ll not wait for you to give it to me, I’ll take it. After all, it’s my due!”
  • Gratitude has to do with the Latin root gratia which means grace or gift, and gratis, which means free or undeserved (gift). There is no question of merit here; but, unfortunately, in our dealings with God, our ego gets in the way again and prevents us from responding with selfless love. We count up our ‘good deeds’ and reckon that we have some ‘merit’, or some sort of ‘bank account of goodness’ with God! And what should be a loving and generous service of God and God’s People becomes an act of cold calculation in anticipation of reward!
  • Shakespeare, in his tragedy King Lear, echoes this truth when he puts into the mouth of the disappointed old King: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child!”

Psalm 40:6–8 gives the real inner attitude of thanksgiving, which is an open ear and a ready step to do God’s will: I am coming to do your will, O God.

This is the response of love: to please God in all that we do.


Name three things/events/persons which make you truly grateful.

How were these psalms sung?

As composers of Responsorial Psalms, you may be wondering how the psalms were originally sung, and what they sounded like.

Here is a video ( of the Lament Psalm 22(21): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” sung in Hebrew, with pictures of the Holocaust:

You will recall listening to the Gospel of Matthew, last Palm Sunday of the Passion, where Jesus cried out those very words of the Psalm: Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani!

And here, according to the various Books of the Old Testament, we may be able to get a glimpse of how the Psalms of Praise were sung. Take time to look up the Biblical references given:


  • Voices of the people (Ex 32:4; Ps 136; 1 Kgs 1:39–40; 1 Chron 16:36.
  • Musical instruments: strings: harps and lyres (Ps 92:3; 150).
  • Wind instruments: trumpets, horns, flutes, pipes (Ps 47:5; 98:4–6; Dan 3:4–5, 15).
  • Percussion: tambourines, drums, cymbals (Ex 15:21; Ps 150).
  • Hand-clapping: (Ps 47:1).
  • Body movement: dance (Ps 30:11, 149:3, 150:4; Jgs 11:34; 1 Sam 18:6; 2 Sam 6:1–21.)
  • Stretching out of hands: Ps 64:3; 134: 2; 141:2b.
  • Bowing: Ps 5:7.
  • Prostration: Ps 95:6.
  • Kneeling: Ps 95:6.
  • Congregational participation: Ps 47 & 98. See also 1 Chron 16:36.
  • See also Neh 12:27–43 for an idea of a liturgy of praise.