That is the question that Ambrose of Milan asks in his commentary on the psalms and then goes on to answer it his own question thus:-
David expresses it well: ‘Praise the Lord, for a song of praise is good: let there be praise of our God with gladness and grace.’ Yes, a psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, a hymn in praise of God, the assembly’s homage, a general acclamation, a word that speaks for all, the voice of the Church, a confession of faith in song. It is the voice of complete assent, the joy of freedom, a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness. It soothes the temper, detracts from care, lightens the burden of sorrow. It is a source of security at night, a lesson in wisdom by day. It is a shield when we are afraid, a celebration of holiness, a vision of serenity, a promise of peace and harmony. It is like a lyre, evoking harmony from a blend of notes, Day begins to the music of a psalm, Day closes to the echo of a psalm.
For those of you who didn’t know Ambrose is often credited with being the person who introduced hymns into western worship, he certainly has a way with words about him, his commentary could almost be mistake for a psalm in its own right. I therefore find it interesting that nearly 1,700 years after he wrote these words and encouraged the Western Church to include singing in its worship – not only psalms but all music by voice or instrument directed towards God – that the love of hymns has meant in many churches the singing of the psalms has died out or in dying out. In fact even the reading of the psalms is something which appears to have disappeared from many a service outside daily prayer. Even if the psalms aren’t sung Ambrose’s observation on the rhythm of the psalms bringing about great beauty and harmony to our days and reciting them every day is surely something we would all benefit from.
So with Advent just around the corner I have decided that this year during Advent I will post the psalm for Morning Prayer along with what I hope might be a helpful picture over on Advent Jottings. I encourage you to take time with the psalm to bathe in its words and rhythm and maybe find anew a source of comfort strength and praise for the whole of the year ahead.