The Psalms: An Efficacious Prayer in This Time of Epidemic

April 09, 2020

The following spiritual-theological reflection was authored by Fr. Patrick Troadec of the Society of Saint Pius X.

Reading the Psalms in the Current Situation

Reading the Psalms, which form the substance of the Divine Office, occupies an important place in the life of a priest. The prayer of the Church extends the prayer of Christ through time. That is why she is always listened to by God. Pope Pius XI said: “Who can tell how many chastisements priestly prayer wards off from sinful mankind, how many blessings it brings down and secures?”

It is a prayer so profound that it can adapt perfectly to all of life’s circumstances. So, I would like to apply it today to the present situation.

You will see, dear faithful, how this prayer makes God better known, especially His justice and His mercy. It also shows the steps to be taken to achieve true conversion and to attract divine graces to our country and to the Church. Finally, it gives a point of reference to maintain serenity in the midst of trials. Far from trying to be exhaustive, as there are so many examples, I would like to content myself with applying several verses from the Psalms to the present situation.

For you, dear faithful, who are not familiar with the prayer of the Psalms, this period of confinement can be an opportunity to discover it and use it for your own sanctification and to open your soul to the great intentions of Church.

Divine Justice and Mercy

Many Catholics today have formed a false idea of God. The author, an anonymous monk, of L'Ermitage already recognized this in 1969: “We have lost the sense of God in favor of an erroneous sense of man, who no longer poses as nothingness before the divine Being, but as someone God has to consider. It would be surprising if this atmosphere has not contaminated you.… Tirelessly study the Bible to discover God therein as He reveals Himself. Do not place the loving God of the New Testament in opposition against the God of fear of the Old: this is an illusory antithesis. There is only one God who neither varies nor contradicts. What He was before the Incarnation, He remains after it. It is man who has changed.... Only superficial minds, strangers to the real problems of the interior life, can think that mercy has disarmed God’s justice.”

That God is merciful poses no problem for a Catholic, but that He is just and consequently punishes unfaithful men, is more difficult to accept. Also, to get a just idea of ​​God, it is good to meditate on His justice and mercy. While the Psalmist’s words about divine justice help us to take our lives seriously, those who evoke His mercy allow us to maintain confidence in Divine Providence and to regain the courage to continue our journey with love towards heaven.

The Two Ways

The Psalter begins with these words: “Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he shall meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:1-2).

The Psalmist shows that there are two paths: one leading to happiness and the other to unhappiness, one to Heaven, the other to hell. The first word of the Psalms is “blessed” because God created us for happiness. And the last word of this first psalm is “perish”: “For the Lord knoweth the way of the just: and the way of the wicked shall perish” (Ps. 1:6).

“To perish” implies the eternal death of the sinner. In the Our Father, the prayer par excellence of the Catholic, the first word in Latin is Pater, Pater noster qui es in Caelis, and the last word is malo, libera nos a malo, deliver us from evil. We therefore have the choice between living for God, who is our Heavenly Father (Pater), or moving away from Him by doing evil. God has given man the freedom to walk toward Him with love, but man can refuse the love of God and move away from Him. It is therefore not indifferent to do good or evil, because if God is merciful to the repentant sinner, He is likewise just.

God’s Justice in the History of the Chosen People

God is just. This is why on the last day, He will “render to every man according to his works” (Ps. 61:13). Meanwhile, the sins of men irritate Him and draw the scourge of His anger to the world.

When the Psalmist speaks of the wrath of God, he does not mean that God has passions, but that God punishes the wicked who do not return to Him. St. Augustine explains it: “When God threatens, it is not in anger because He does not experience distress, but it is like being angry because He punishes and avenges justice.” The Psalmist uses expressions that are thought provoking! Deeply marked by the intensity of divine chastisement, he exclaims: O God! “Who knoweth the power of Thy anger, and for Thy fear can number Thy wrath?” (Ps. 89:11-12).

Some Psalms are prophetic, others contain lessons in wisdom, still others are historical. These recall the history of the chosen people and highlight the divine blessings on the one side and on the other the ingratitude of Israel towards its God and the just chastisements which result from it. This is particularly the case with Psalm 105 (Ps. 105:7-30):

Our fathers understood not Thy wonders in Egypt: they remembered not the multitude of Thy mercies: And they provoked to wrath going up to the sea, even the Red Sea. And He saved them for His own name's sake: that He might make His power known… And they believed His words: and they sang His praises. They had quickly done, they forgot His works…And they coveted their desire in the desert…And they provoked Moses in the camp, Aaron the holy one of the Lord. The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan: and covered the congregation of Abiron. And a fire was kindled in their congregation…they hearkened not to the voice of the Lord. And He lifted up His hand over them: to overthrow them in the desert; And to cast down their seed among the nations, and to scatter them in the countries. They also were initiated to Beelphegor: and ate the sacrifices of the dead. And they provoked Him with their inventions: and destruction was multiplied among them. Then Phinees stood up, and pacified Him: and the slaughter ceased.

Unfortunately the description of the infidelities is not finished. I do not mention them here in detail so as to come to the end of the Psalm which reports God’s attitude before so many infidelities and His reaction when the people finally admit their wrongs: “And their enemies afflicted them: and they were humbled under their hands: many times did He deliver them. But they provoked Him with their counsel: and they were brought low by their iniquities. And He saw when they were in tribulation: and He heard their prayer. And He was mindful of His covenant: and repented according to the multitude of His mercies. And He gave them unto mercies, in the sight of all those that had made them captives” (Ps. 105:43-46).

Psalm 77 already mentioned the infidelities of Israel, the chastisements that followed and the returns to God whom they provoked even if these conversions were often superficial (Ps. 77:32-38):

In all these things they sinned still: and they believed not for His wondrous works. And their days were consumed in vanity, and their years in haste. When He slew them, then they sought Him: and they returned, and came to Him early in the morning. And they remembered that God was their helper: and the most high God their redeemer. And they loved Him with their mouth: and with their tongue they lied unto Him: But their heart was not right with Him: nor were they counted faithful in His covenant. But He is merciful, and will forgive their sins: and will not destroy them. And many a time did He turn away His anger: and did not kindle all His wrath.

In Psalm 106, the Psalmist again establishes the link between fault and punishment: “He [God] took them out of the way of their iniquity: for they were brought low for their injustices” (Ps.106:17).

God’s reaction to the sins of Israel in the days of Moses has been found throughout the history of the chosen people. Witness the promise of God made to David to bless him and his descendants as long as they are faithful to Him and to punish them if they violate His Law as it is recorded in Psalm 88 (Ps. 88:29, & 31-34):

I will keep My mercy for him [David] for ever: and My covenant faithful to him…And if his children forsake My law, and walk not in My judgments: If they profane My justices: and keep not My commandments: I will visit their iniquities with a rod: and their sins with stripes. But My mercy I will not take away from him: nor will I suffer My truth to fail.

God’s Justice in the History of the Church

An overview of God’s attitude towards His people in the Old Testament is very enlightening for discerning divine pedagogy and understanding events affecting the Church and the world since the coming of Jesus Christ. As Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre rightly said in Spiritual Journey: “Just as the Israel of the Old Testament had a troubled history because of continuous infidelities towards God, which were often the works of its leaders and its Levites, so does the Church Militant in this world know without end periods of trial on account of the infidelity of its clerics and their compromises with the world. The higher they come from, the more scandals provoke disasters” (p.54). Without going into details, how can we not see that the doctrinal and moral deviations of many men of the Church even in its hierarchy joined to the immoral laws promulgated in so many countries of the world can only attract a just divine chastisement on our poor world.

As for France, she too is unfaithful to the promises of her baptism. Also, she deserves an exemplary punishment. Remember the words of St. Remy after he poured holy water on the head of Clovis: “Learn, my son, that the Kingdom of France is predestined by God to the defense of the Roman Church, which is the only true Church of Jesus Christ. This Kingdom will one day be great among all the Kingdoms ... It will be victorious and prosperous as long as it is faithful to the Roman faith. But it will be rudely chastised whenever it is unfaithful to its vocation.”

Pope St. Pius X updated these words on November 29, 1911 in saying: “The people who made an alliance with God at the baptismal font of Rheims will return penitent to their first vocation ... Faults will not remain unpunished, but the daughter of so many merits, of so many sighs and of so many tears will not perish.”

And alas ourselves! are we really faithful to the immense graces received without merit on our part? How can we fail to see that we too have angered the good Lord with our guilty conduct and drawn His just anger on us! So we should beg Him to take pity on us so that He will have mercy on us.

God’s Mercy

If God is infinitely just, he is also infinitely merciful. Many of the Psalms proclaim it. In this way, Psalm 102, which closes the Psalms during the office of Compline on Saturday exalts the divine mercy. It contains these so consoling words (Ps. 102:8-11):

The Lord is compassionate and merciful: longsuffering and plenteous in mercy. He will not always be angry: nor will He threaten for ever. He hath not dealt with us according to our sins: nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For according to the height of the heaven above the earth: He hath strengthened His mercy towards them that fear Him.

Two verses later, the Psalmist returns to the same idea: “As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on them that fear Him: for he knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust” (Ps:102:13-14).

God’s love for us is that of a father for his children. Our Lord will develop this idea to the sublime through the parable of the prodigal son.

The Psalmist indicates fear of God as a condition for benefiting from the divine mercy. Fear of God implies with the recognition of His existence the reverence that one should have towards Him. This explains the content of the collect of the Mass for the Deliverance from Death in Time of Pestilence: “O God, Who willest not the death of the sinner but that he should repent: welcome with pardon Thy people’s return to Thee: and so long as they are faithful in Thy service, do Thou in Thy clemency withdraw the scourge of Thy wrath. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In this collect, we rely on the good will of the Catholic people to benefit from divine mercy.

Justice and Divine Mercy

Quite often, the Psalmist joins the two divine attributes of mercy and justice. The term mercy precedes that of justice to show that God is first and foremost merciful. The Psalmist thus sums up God’s design when he writes: “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth,” [truth being synonymous with justice here, ed. note] (Ps.24:10).

Commenting on this verse, St. Thomas puts forth some very profound reflections that deserve to be pondered. He says, “Mercy is an analogical term. Mercy in man is manifested when he sympathizes with the misfortunes of others. However, God does not exercise His mercy according to this mode because He is impassible and therefore cannot sympathize. On the other hand, His mercy consists in warding off adversity in everything.

Likewise, justice is also an analogical term. Man is just when he renders to everyone what is due. But God does not owe anything to anyone. However, the term justice is appropriate for God in the sense that He gives to each according to his measure.

In the works of God, mercy precedes His justice. God creates by mercy because He owes nothing to nothingness, but then, once things are created, He grants to each of them what to Him is appropriate according to his measure, and in this is manifested His justice.

Likewise, in the order of grace, the first justification of the sinner is a matter of mercy, and after being justified, God gives the rewards to each one according to his measure.”

God being just and merciful allows earthly life to be strewn with pitfalls. This allows us to expiate at least in part here below for our faults and helps us to realize that real life is not here below, but in Heaven.

Justice and Divine Mercy in the History of the Church

Throughout the history of the Church with regard to her members, God has preserved the attitude He had in the Old Testament with regard to His people. When they are unfaithful to His grace, He manifests His justice by allowing them to undergo various ordeals, including epidemics. His chastisements are both an effect of His justice and an effect of His mercy. They demonstrate His justice because sins deserve to be punished, but also His mercy since God wants to bring back to Him the souls that He has redeemed by His blood so as to lead them to heaven.

Consequently, today the greatest evil to fear is not the coronavirus, even though it can lead to death, but eternal hell. Thus the Psalmist, remembering the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians in the time of Moses, stated: “The Lord smote Egypt with their firstborn: for His mercy endureth for ever” (Ps. 135:10).

Today, God allows the proliferation of the virus worldwide to remind proud man of his limits.

God’s Just Intervention Today

The prayer of the just before the momentary triumph of the unbelievers

Even before the forgetting or even the negation of important points of Catholic doctrine by men of the Church, before the promulgation of increasingly immoral laws and so many disorders perpetrated by our contemporaries, we were heartbroken and we made ours this verse from Psalm 118 which deals with the law of God: “I beheld the transgressors, and I pined away; because they kept not Thy word” (Ps. 118:158).

Seeing so many accumulated sins, we have asked ourselves how long man would proudly oppose the will of God and tear down what is left of Christianity. Thus, we could put on our lips these words of the Psalmist: “Arise, O God, judge Thy own cause: remember Thy reproaches with which the foolish man hath reproached Thee all the day. Forget not the voices of Thy enemies: the pride of them that hate Thee ascendeth continually” (Ps. 73:22-23).

In Psalm 93, the Psalmist returned to the same idea: “Lift up Thyself, Thou that judgest the earth: render a reward to the proud. How long shall sinners, O Lord: how long shall sinners glory? Shall they utter, and speak iniquity: shall all speak who work injustice?” (Ps.93:2-4).

So many sins committed by the godless and by many Catholics could only one day or another attract a just intervention from God in the form of a plague.

The frantic search for wealth and pleasure stopped by the coronavirus

God is the master of the universe. He has given man freedom and lets him use it as he pleases. But when he abuses it, the good Lord always ends up intervening one day or another to put an end to his disorders and to incite him to come back to Him. As long as the prodigal son had something to eat, he forgot his father, but when he found himself in such misery that he could not even feed on what was fed to swine, he remembered his father. He came to his senses and taking his courage in both hands, returned to his father, heartbroken in repentance (Lk. 15:11-32). May the ordeal we are going through today lead many of our contemporaries to imitate the prodigal son!

Modern man has built a world based solely on money and pleasure. And suddenly, the test that arrives unexpectedly collapses his scale of values suddenly and leads him to the harsh reality of the fragility of his existence. Thus is being reproduced today what the Psalmist said: “The Lord bringeth to naught the counsels of nations; and He rejecteth the devices of people, and casteth away the counsels of princes” (Ps. 32:10).

“The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord and against His Christ… He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them. Then shall He speak to them in His anger, and trouble them in His rage” (Ps. 2:2, & 4-5).

The “laughter” of God symbolizes the fact that God is above human intrigue. Whatever man does to prevent the purpose of God from being realized, it is always God who has the final say. Let us hope that this just intervention by God in the form of the epidemic which assails us will bring man to a conscious realization of his foolish pretentions and help him to turn to Him.

A Vain Fear

“They have not called upon God: there have they trembled for fear, where there was no fear” (Ps. 52:6).

St. Augustine comments on this verse saying, “They did not call on God.” It follows from this that they do not have peace of mind. “They trembled for fear.” Is there any reason to fear, in fact, when one loses one’s wealth? There is nothing to fear there, and yet there is fear. But if someone loses wisdom, there is reason to fear, and yet we do not fear ...”

The Bishop of Hippo shows that the absence of prayer leads to vain fears. Prayer, by uniting with God, helps us to prioritize the value of things and to dominate, or at least temper, the fears that may arise from the coronavirus epidemic.

Did not Our Lord say, “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28)?  May the coronavirus plague lead us and our contemporaries to detach ourselves from sin so that we can avoid the much more terrible plague of eternal hell!

Divine Appeal to Governments

We hope our governments will soon understand this divine warning: “And now, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth. Serve ye the Lord with fear: and rejoice unto Him with trembling. Embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish from the just way. When His wrath shall be kindled in a short time, blessed are all they that trust in Him” (Ps.2:10-13).