By Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap.

In France I once saw a statue carved out of a huge tree trunk.  The statue portrayed the young boy, Jesus, sitting on Joseph’s lap.  Joseph had his arms outstretched around Jesus holding out before both of them a scroll and together, with mouths in full voice, they were singing the Psalms in prayer. By praying the Psalms with his foster father, Jesus came to know the love and kindness of his eternal Father, and so came to know that he was truly the Father’s Son. The Psalms and Canticles of the Old Testament are to be foundation of our Christian prayer – of praying to the Father in union with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Any of us who have prayed the Psalms know that they express the whole range of human emotions and feelings – joy, sadness, fear, love, praise, anger, etc. We tend to gravitate to those Psalms that express the emotion that we are presently experiencing.  If we are sad because of the death of a loved one, we pray Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd;/ there is nothing I lack.”       

However, the Psalms and Old Testament Canticles are to be used not only for expressing our various changeable emotions, but they also are to teach us how to pray and to foster prayerful Christian hearts and minds after the manner of Jesus.  For example, few of us long for the presence of God as we ought, yet a number of the Psalms engender within us this very longing.

O God, you are my God—
 it is you I seek!
For you my body yearns;
for you my soul thirsts,
In a land parched, lifeless,
and without water. (Ps. 63:2).


As the deer longs for streams of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God. (Ps. 42:2). 

The same is true with regard to praise.  As Jesus wholeheartedly praised his Father by praying the Psalms so can we learn to do the same.
Praise the LORD, my soul;

I will praise the LORD all my life,
sing praise to my God while I live. (Ps. 146:2). 

The Canticle in Daniel beautifully expresses how we are to praise God in union with all of creation – living and non-living. 

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.
You heavens, bless the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever. (Dan. 3:57-59 cf: Dan 3:57-85). 

Jesus, as the faithful Son, was always obedient to his Father.  This obedience was nurtured through his praying of the Psalms.  Thus, like Jesus, we can learn to be obedient children of the Father as we pray:

I call with all my heart, O LORD;
answer me that I may keep your statutes.
I call to you to save me
that I may observe your testimonies. (Ps. 119:145-146). 

Thus, the Psalms and Old Testament Canticles not only express our own personal thoughts and feelings, they also, and more importantly, further within us a truly Christian form of prayer.  In praying the prayers of the Old Testament we nurture our minds on the truth of the Father.  We cultivate Christian hearts after the manner of Jesus.  And, we embrace Christian emotions and sentiments cultivated on the life of the Holy Spirit.

A list of Old Testament Canticles follows: Exodus 15:1-18; Deuteronomy 32:1-4; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Chronicles 29:10-13; Tobit 13:1-18; Judith 16: 1-17; Wisdom 3:1-9; Wisdom 9:1-6, 9-11; Wisdom 10:17-21; Sirach 31:8-11; Sirach 36:1-5, 10-13; Sirach 39:13-16a; Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 9:1-6; Isaiah 12:1-6; Isaiah 26:1-4, 7-9, 12; Isaiah 33:13-16; Isaiah 38:10-14, 17-20; Isaiah 40:10-17; Isaiah 42:10-16; Isaiah 45:15-25; Isaiah 61:6—62:5; Isaiah 63:1-5; Isaiah 66:10-14a; Jeremiah 7:2-7; Jeremiah 14: 17-21; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Jeremiah 31:10-14; Lamentations 5:1-7. 15-71, 19-21; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Daniel 3: 52-90; Hosea 6:1-6; Habakkuk 3:2-4, 13a, 15-19; Zephaniah 3:8-13.
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Father Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap. is Executive Director for the Secretariat for Doctrine at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.