The Liturgy of the Word: Responsorial Psalm

After the First Reading, the Liturgy of the Word continues with the Responsorial Psalm. We go from the simple “the Word of the Lord…Thanks be to God” to a more specific invocation and petition usually inspired by the readings.

The Responsorial Psalm
The psalms are older than Christianity itself. In reciting them, we take up formulas of worship that were used by the Jews in the Temple centuries before the coming of the Messiah. They’re a proclamation of the Word of God in which the listeners also participate through the refrain ordinarily taken from the readings of the day.

A prayerful response to God after hearing His Word
Through the First Reading, we’ve been listening attentively to the Word of God, and the Responsorial Psalm gives us our turn to respond. Why not sing the whole Psalm? The cantor singing the Psalm (or the lector reciting it) gives us another opportunity to meditate on how the Church raises her voice to God: what does she ask for? What was she praising? Many of the hymns we sing in Mass are inspired by this: the psalm is not only something addressed to the listeners by the cantor, but a prayer addressed to God. In this moment the cantor leads the faithful praying to God, and even the priest or bishop celebrating responds: together all of us gathered in worship praise God through the psalm, and we become the chorus of that prayer through reciting or singing the refrain.

Through our liturgical prayer, the whole Church prays to God. Sometimes our moods or concerns may not reflect what we’re saying in the psalm: they could be joyful and filled with gratitude when we are suffering and in need of consolation. The psalm enables us to go beyond our own prayer to that of the Church’s: we join our hearts in joyful psalms to everyone with cause for rejoicing and join our hearts in psalms of supplication with everyone suffering trials and in need of consolation. Sometimes they serve to sober us or cheer us when the reasons for our happiness or discomfort are superficial.

It’s not just the psalm today that helps us to pray and pray well: the psalms are a school of prayer that should shape all our conversations with God and all life’s aspirations. Let’s turn the Psalms into our vocabulary for prayer and for life.

Fostering meditation on the Word of God
When we respond to the cantor, we have an opportunity to foster meditation on the Word of God through repeating one thing drawn from the readings or the purpose of the celebration. In today’s world of information overload, it’s all too easy to let something enter one ear and pass out the other: it’s the reflex that makes us respond “fine” when someone asks us how we’re doing, even when we’re miserable.

Sometimes we have to repeat something to help it sink in. Our response helps some aspect of the readings of the day to reverberate in us a little, in our minds and hearts, so they don’t just pass through our ears and vanish. We make them not just God’s Words, but our words.

As we meditate on the psalms and respond with our hearts and minds, let’s make God’s Word reverberate deeply in our lives.

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