Book of Psalms

Article

A collection of Divinely inspired hymns or poems in the Canon of the Old Testament as accepted by Jews and Christians; also known as the Psalter of David of 150 Psalms (Council of Trent). Psalm is from psalmos, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Mizmor (the title prefixed to 57 hymns in the collection), signifying “a song to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument, the psaltery or lyre.” The Hebrew title of the book is “Tehilim” (hymns or songs of praise). Though David should be regarded as the chief author, since 73 psalms bear his name, he is not the sole author. Others designated in the collection are: Moses, Psalm 89; Solomon, Psalms 71 and 126; Asaph, a choir leader (1 Par. 6), Psalms 49, 72-82 (probably composed by members of this family at different times between David’s reign and the Exile, 583 B.C.); Eman, Psalm 87 (sons of Core mentioned); Ethan the Ezrahite, Psalm 88. The Sons of Core (2 Par. 20), is a designation of a guild of Temple singers, who composed or collected Psalms 83, 84, 86, and perhaps 87. Psalms bearing no mark of authorship are called “orphan psalms.” While a few psalms may have been composed in the Machabean era, the vast majority were not only written, but the collection appears to have been practically completed, c.529 B.C. Although the number 150 is traditional, the enumeration of individual psalms, between Psalm 9 and Psalm 146, has not been uniform in the different versions. We need not assume that the present form represents the original in its entirety. The Biblical Commission admits the acceptance of the theory that alterations, omissions, and transpositions may have taken place even in the Miserere, for liturgical, musical, or other reasons, provided the inspiration of the entire work be accepted. The Vulgate represents a translation made from the Hexapla by Saint Jerome in 392 to replace a correction of the Vetus Latina which he himself had made, c.383. The latter is still used in the Missal and in the Office as recited in Saint Peter’s, Rome.

The Book of Psalms is divided into five sections, based to some extent upon the titles, each section save the last closing with a doxology:

  • Psalms 1-40
  • Psalms 41-71
  • Psalms 72-88
  • Psalms 89-105
  • Psalms 105-150

The Biblical Commission directs that the importance of the titles, especially with regard to authorship, be not lightly set aside. Nearly 100 psalms have titles indicative of authorship, historical occasion, musical notation, or type of poetry. Each of the psalms has its own theme and purpose. Broadly speaking, eight classes may be distinguished:

  • hymns (thanksgiving, praise of God, His attributes and works in Nature and Grace), 8, 17, 102-106, 145-150 (Alleluiatic)
  • petition, 29, 63, 73, 93
  • didactic (moral), 1,48, 118
  • penitential, 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142
  • imprecatory, 17, 34, 58, I 68, 78, 93, 108, 129
  • historical accounts of God’s Providence toward Israel, 75, 104, 105, 113, 134, 135
  • Gradual, or pilgrim, 119-133
  • Messianic, 2, 15, 21, 44, 68, 71, 109

The Divine character of the Book of Psalms is vouched for by Christ and the Apostles, who use it more than any other book of Scripture. In the Church it has always been regarded as a source of Divine truth. Its use for public worship and private devotion passed from the Synagogue to the early, Church, which, following the example of Christ, employed it in the celebration of the Eucharist, and other liturgical services. Today the Psalter forms the main part of the Breviary, the whole being recited normally in the course of a week. It is employed in the Introit, Gradual, and Offertory of the Mass.

MLA Citation

  • “Book of Psalms”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 6 February 2013. Web. 22 November 2018. <>