Christians have sung, chanted, and prayed Psalms for more than two thousand years – a practice of worship inherited from our Jewish ancestors in the faith. We pray them during Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and in private meditation, for example. We pray them, but do we really understand them and the way they fit into the story of salvation?

In Psalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way, popular theology professor and bestselling Catholic author and speaker John Bergsma helps us to understand the Psalms by examining them in light of the story of Israel and the salvation of the Jewish through the coming of Jesus.

Bergsma addresses common questions about the Psalms:

  • Do the Psalms really predict Jesus?
  • What do we make of the so-called curse Psalms?
  • Why do we pray the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours?
  • How do I read and pray the Psalms?

“Of the Psalms flow out of the Davidic Covenant, and so it is crucial that we grasp how different the Davidic Covenant was from the Mosaic. The Mosaic a Covenant was established between God and the people of Israel with Moses acting as a go-between or mediator. The Davidic Covenant was established between God and David, but is greatly affected Israel, too, since David was their king and sacred representative. God established the Mosaic Covenant on Mount Sinai (aka horrible) but the Davidic on Mount Zion. Moses sanctuary was the portable Tabernacle tent, but David sanctuary was the permanent stone Temple built by his son Solomon. Moses instructed the people through the Law a parenthesis like Deuteronomy), but David's son instructed the people through the Wisdom literature (like Proverbs). Moses established Israel as a kind of national Republic, but David's government was an international kingdom. Moses worshiped in silence, but David introduced singing. Moses preferred the burnt offering (ola), but David encouraged the thank offering (todah). As result, worship under Moses was sober and solemn, but under David it was joyful and enthusiastic,” he wrote.

That's just one example of the expert simplicity with which Bergsma conveys his message and takes us deeper in our appreciation of the Psalms. The chapter titles explain the comprehensive wealth of information that lies within the book:

  • One: What's a "Psalm"? Who Wrote Them? And All That Stuff
  • To: How the Psalms Fit into the Story of Salvation
  • Three: More about David
  • Four: The Story the Psalms Tell
  • Five Introducing the Psalter! (Introducing the Psalter!)
  • Six: Book I of Psalms: Weeping and Moaning
  • Seven: Book II of Psalms: Triumph and Rejoicing
  • Eight: Book III of Psalms: Descending into Grief
  • Nine: Book IV of Psalms: Waiting Around in Exile
  • Ten: Book V of Psalms: Woohoo! The Exile Is Over! At Least Mostly
  • Eleven: Different Ways to Read the Psalms

Bergsma has included a series of cheerful and helpful charts and graphics throughout the book (excellent for those of us who are visual/spatial learners) and the final chapter does not disappoint. It includes a chart with a list of feelings and their corresponding Psalms.

For example, there are Psalms for when you're feeling happy, pensive, fearful, repentant, perplexed, sleepy, indignant, sick, romantic, scared, brokenhearted, greedy and weary. That's quite a range of emotions and situations!

With all that's packed into it, this could easily be a massive volume. Instead it's just about 150 pages – an easy and yet substantial read. And, I might add, an important read. As Bergsma himself explains in the introduction:

The whole collection of 150 Psalms is far and away the most popular poetry collection ever published in world history. It has been translated into almost every human language. The Catholic Church and other Christian churches use these poems daily in worship and prayer. The book of Psalms is, in fact, the only book of the Bible usually read at almost every Mass.

Exactly, and that's why you'll find Psalm Basics for Catholics to be a helpful guide for better understanding and appreciating the Psalms.

Psalm Basics for Catholics: Seeing Salvation History in a New Way
Ave Maria Press, 2018