As Catholics we tend to classify our prayer life according to personal or liturgical, or, if you will, private and public. Our personal prayers are just that, personal, private and intimate.
Sometimes they are entirely original; sometimes they are borrowed because someone else’s words fit where we are coming from.
At other times there are no words at all ...or too many words. Often a tear, a groan, a sigh says it all.
Liturgical prayer comes into play as we recognize that we are part of a community and we pray common prayers together with one voice that we may be one as Jesus wants us to be. These are mostly prayers preparing us to celebrate our common union through Holy Communion.
The ancient Jews, our fathers and mothers in faith and prayer made use of an interesting blend of personal and liturgical prayer. Remnants of this are the 150 psalms that still form a significant part of our Scriptural prayer treasury.
As I understand it, every psalm began its life as a personal prayer most often sung to the accompaniment of an instrument. Sometimes it was a lament, (an ancient form of the "BLUES") ...sometimes it was a song of joy or praise or thanksgiving.
Though essentially personal, it was, however, voiced in the public arena of the Temple.
If it was interesting enough an audience might well be attracted and comments of support or of antipathy might be addressed directly to the psalmist, the one bearing his or her soul.
On occasion a priest would interrupt the process and gravely put in his two cents worth.
And so it was that the distinction between personal and public prayer could become somewhat blurred.
Every psalm represents a personal experience of God. The psalm, a few verses of which we have just prayed, Psalm 31, is a song of lament and is one of those attributed to King David. It follows a typical pattern.
The psalmist thinks that he has been badly treated and so turns to God to get involved and make it right.
No matter how grave the crisis there must be an expression of hope and of trust and a conviction that once God gets a clear picture the wicked adversary will be severely dealt with.
Needless to say, the Temple walls heard countless psalms but some were copied and repeated and used in ceremonies and of that number we have, to this day, 150 of which about half are said to have been composed by King David. (One suspects that King David had some advantage when it came to publishing and distribution!)
Presumably all of the 150 psalms began life, like all the rest, as personal expressions but became essentially liturgical or communal prayer songs and, as such, have been passed down to us.